After making all the 7:05 p.m. start times for Minnesota Wild games this past season, Sara Renner clearly knows how to be punctual. Now if she can only teach it to her bandmates, who struggled to finish a rehearsal on time two weeks ago as guitarist Nate Sabin got tied up toying with a part.
"I have to wait till the spirit moves me," Sabin quipped as Renner's band, the Elements, practiced inside the Apostolic Bible Church on St. Paul's East Side.
"Can the spirit move you in 15 seconds or less?" Renner deadpanned back.
A veteran of the local Christian music scene, Renner, 36, stepped in front of a new crowd this past winter and spring by singing the national anthem at Wild home games. Actually, she often sang two national anthems, since the Wild's frequent pairings with Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton meant she also had to master Canada's best-known song (besides, perhaps, "Summer of '69").
"I've become the local go-to person for 'O Canada,'" Renner said with a bit of mock pride, noting that the St. Paul Saints also called her to sing on their Canada Day game. "It's a lot easier to sing than ours."
Renner actually loves the anthem gigs, but is clearly prouder to sing her original, faith-based music to more new crowds this month at the Taste of Minnesota and the hugely popular Christian pop music bash Sonshine Festival in Willmar, Minn.
At Taste, she and the Elements will head up the new Heart of the City Christian Music Stage on Saturday night.
"I've sung around beer drinkers plenty times before," Renner joked, comparing the gig to her Wild experience.
My contempt for St. Paul's stale July 4th bash is well-documented, but the Taste's Christian stage at least brings in something new to Harriet Island this weekend. I can't help but wonder how non-Christians feel about the city's sponsorship in this case, but hey, I consider an REO Speedwagon booking way more questionable in terms of city business.
"I don't think any of us have any intention of being too in-your-face about what we believe in," Renner said. "We feel strongly about what we believe in, but it's still like any other music. What sets Christian music apart is the content, and I feel like what we have to offer is positive and can encourage people and provide joy -- all good things for the Taste of Minnesota."
As for Sonshine '08, Renner's group earned a July 19 slot on the main stage after winning a battle of the bands competition at downtown Minneapolis' only Christian music venue, Club 3 Degrees. It seems odd that a group of seasoned players (keyboardist Billy Steele, bassist Jeffrey Bailey and gospel singer Tonia Hughes are among the Elements) would have to compete for a slot at the event. Renner admitted, though, "our kind of Christian music isn't really what's in right now."
Their kind of music is an interesting hybrid of traditional gospel music, jazz and R&B, plus contemporary Christian pop. The mixed racial makeup of the Elements is thus rather symbolic of the sound.
"I'm not trying to be something I'm not," said Renner, who grew up in north Minneapolis and was exposed to black gospel music there. "I really love that music, though, and I always try to find a way to balance it in my music."
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