May 28, 2013

Olympic Mission

Dalton bluegrass band heading to Russia

By Chris Stephens
For The Daily Citizen

— Earl Brackin’s musical résumé is filled with bluegrass and gospel  successes.

The music minister for Church on the Hill in Dalton has experience arranging and writing commercial jingles, teaching in public and private schools, performing with the bluegrass band Spatial Effects and released his first solo CD “Looking for a Story” in the spring of 2011.

And coming in February 2014, he can add the distinction of playing at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“I didn’t grow up playing bluegrass music,” said Brackin, who also teaches praise band at Christian Heritage School. “Bluegrass is one of those things that God put into my life and he’s used it. I would have never picked it.

“My dad had a mandolin and I learned three cords so that I could play for my kids when I taught elementary students in the 1980s. Then a guy in my Sunday school class said his bluegrass band needed a mandolin player. Now they were pretty good and I told him I only knew three cords. He told me to hold it and sing while I learned.”

And learn he did.

From his solo album, “Looking for a Story,” his song “Big Leagues” was featured as the title track for Bluegrass Bands Helping Hands third project that helped raise funds for the Miracle Field, a baseball park for special needs kids.

“Grits on Her Lipstick” was selected to “Scenic City Sample,” a compilation CD of songs from Chattanooga area songwriters.

“Mystery of Your Smile,” was featured on Moody Radio’s Building Relationships with Gary Chapman.

“Missing You Today,” was selected to perform at the International Bluegrass Musicians Association’s songwriters showcase.

And “Little Joy,” was included on Bluegrass Bands Helping Hands second CD.

Brackin’s journey to the Winter Olympics in Russia actually began in Tel Aviv, Israel in October 2012. Brackin and his wife, Lisa, were participating in a Recycled Teenager’s trip to the Holy Land led by Rosie Mosteller through the Dalton-Whitfield Senior Center. Harmony International was responsible for handling all of the logistics for the trip.

Under the direction of Brad Matheson, who is the president and CEO of Harmony International, the group landed in Tel Aviv and then traveled to the Sea of Galilee by bus. It was during the bus ride that the group stopped to take a break.

“We’re just standing around, Brad is just looking around and I’m eating ice cream and Brad just out of the blue says, ‘I need a bluegrass band,’ “ Brackin said. “I thought, ‘Excuse me?’”

Mosteller then says, “Well, Earl plays bluegrass.”

“And I say, “What do you need it for?”

Matheson explained that Harmony International works with the International Mission Board (IMB) that does outreach at the Olympics by designing and trading pins and will    be in Russia with the Engage Sochi project.

“It really was a chance meeting,” Matheson said. “I was introduced to Earl and once I told him the opportunity was there, he’s really ran with it.

“We have previously worked with the IMB and our organization is about bridge building, taking the churches of the United States around the world for mission opportunities.

“Russia is really unique. They have generations of people who haven’t known Christ and we feel that this is way for us to build the church there again.”

According to the website, Engage Sochi is an IMB initiative that mobilizes Southern Baptists to reach the people of Sochi through mass evangelism and church planting before, during and after the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

“Trading pins is such a big thing during the Olympics, the trick is to draw a crowd,” Brackin said. “And Brad felt that since a bluegrass band didn’t need electricity, it would be a great way to engage the crowd and hand out pins.

“At that point it was time to get back on the bus and I didn’t pursue it the rest of the trip.”

Before parting ways, Brackin did give Matheson a CD he had produced in 2011 with a disclaimer that it wasn’t bluegrass, but acoustic music with bluegrass instruments.

“I told him, if you think you can use it great, but if not, that’s fine,” Brackin said.

Matheson loved the CD and was back in touch with Brackin in November and asked for some more CDs to take with him to Russia.

After not hearing anything, Matheson contacted Brackin in early 2013, telling him they wanted them to be a part of their Engage Sochi Winter Olympics team.

“The funny thing is, you would think that you would jump at the chance,” Brackin said. “My prayer was, ‘Lord, whatever you want. If you want to open those doors great, but if not, that’s fine.’”

Since receiving the invitation, Brackin has been busy putting The Earl Brackin Band together.

Joining Brackin (guitar) will be his daughter, Bea (dobro), Jared Spears (bass), David Taylor (mandolin) and Tod Brock (fiddle).

The band will arrive in Russia on Feb. 12, 2014, and perform a full concert in Moscow before traveling to Sochi. The band will then perform for four days while handing out pins and spreading the Gospel.

“Right now, we will be on the streets doing four to five mini-sets and of those, four or five songs will be instrumentals because it’s hard to sing on the street,” Brackin said. “We will do some standard bluegrass and then do one or two of my songs. The music on the streets will have a secular nature. We’re going to learn several sets and might do a hymn arrangement. We will just have to play it by ear.”

Efforts also are being made for the band to play a full concert in Sochi.

Matheson feels that the bluegrass music will connect with the Russian people.

“Russian folk music uses a lot of the same instruments,” he said. “So we’re hoping that will be a good bridge for us to reach some people and bring them to Christ.”

Brackin also hopes to take four non-musicians as a support team to help pass out pins. Lynn Murphy and Albert Levings are already on board. Murphy is an assistant professor of education at Dalton State College who also traveled to Israel with Brackin and his wife. Levings is the children’s minister at Church on the Hill.

The group will return to the United States Feb. 20, 2014.

“I’m excited to experience the culture and interact with the people and show them Jesus through bluegrass,” said Earl’s daughter Bea. “Not too many people get to do that.

“And I want to meet Shaun White.”

While still looking for a banjo player, Brackin also has started working to raise the funds needed to travel to Russia. The Earl Brackin Band will perform several concerts in the area during the summer and fall that will server as fundraisers.

On June 16, the band will hold a kickoff concert at Christ Community Church at 7:30 p.m. The concert is free, but donations will be accepted. To schedule a concert, please contract Brackin at ebrackin@optilink.us.

“My hope for this trip is two prong,” Brackin said. “In the past, they have done a lot of mass evangelism at the Olympics, and obviously we are wanting to see a lot of people come to know the Lord. But with this project, they want to plant a lot of churches that will remain after the Olympics leave and that these churches will continue to reach people.

“We are also hoping to be able to spend more time talking to people in the streets. We are hoping it’s more than just, ‘Here is a pin and here is the Gospel.’ We want to form some relationships. The world comes to the Olympics and we want them to have something to take back with them.”

Just as Brackin is sure that God led him to bluegrass, he knows that God is now leading him to the Olympics.

During the past year, Brackin has been working on an electronic press kit.

“Some of the places we want to play, you just have to have an electronic press kit,” he said. “We were working really hard and spending a lot of time on it, but it wasn’t working out like I liked.

“I felt like the Lord was telling me to just lay it down and he would send me where he wanted me to go. And that was a struggle. I mean, that’s not the way the industry works, but I finally said, ‘OK Lord.’ I would get up in the morning and instead of fooling with the press kit, I would pray, ‘Lord, send me where you want to send me.’

“God is sending me to the Olympics.”