Farewell, Third Day: A Look at the Legacy

Legacy. Priscilla Chan, a philanthropist and spouse to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is quoted as saying “We–the current generation–have a moral responsibility to make the world better for future generations.”

In the music industry, this has often been fulfilled over the course of time. We’ve seen legacies left and ways paved by many, from Elvis Presley and The Beatles to Larry Norman and Petra.

After time has passed, this generation will be able to reflect on the music and legacy left by a group of high school kids hailing from the Peach State (Atlanta, Georgia) who decided to form a band. Initially, singer Mac Powell and guitarist Mark Lee experimented with the band Nuclear Hoedown, but later initiated a southern rock band that would garner some impressive statistics: 1 American Music Award, 4 Grammys, 24 Dove Awards.

Over their 27 years as a band, Third Day has indeed left an indelible mark not only on the industry, but by leaving behind impactful songs that will transcend generations. For the majority of their tenure, Third Day was comprised of Mac Powell (a dude who was made with vocal chops for southern rock), Mark Lee (one of the most brilliant songwriters who happens to be a solid guitarist), David Carr on drums, Tai Anderson on bass and Brad Avery tickling the ivories. The lineup has changed a bit in the last few years, but Mark Lee and Mac Powell have been constants.

Among their many legacies, Third Day paved the way for the industry as we know it today, from their freshman self-titled debut through their final studio album. It may be too early to know the full impact of their legacy; only time will tell. However, it’s not too soon to reflect back on what they’ve meant to so many fans. Their early records were rooted in southern and grunge rock, with tunes like “Consuming Fire,” “Blackbird,” “You Make Me Mad,” “Alien” and “Sky Falls Down.” Their sophomore project, Conspiracy No. 5, garnered a Dove Award for Rock Album of the Year along with a Grammy nod for Best Rock Gospel Album, an award they’d later earn for Come Together and Wire. Over time, they updated their style to a more pop rock vibe on their later records, all along continuing to earn accolades, recognition and chart success.

Beyond their musical impact, Third Day was uniquely able to sing about some very challenging and soul-searching subject matters. Their lyrics contained themes of broken people in need of grace and hope, messages that can be found throughout rock and roll today thanks in part to their willingness to go deeper in their message than simply praise songs written for Sunday mornings (they found space for Sunday music, too–but more on that later).

“Thief” is a song from their debut record that tells the story of the cross from the forgiven thief’s point of view. “Cry Out to Jesus” and “I Need a Miracle” are songs with messages of hope for those going through a dark season; the latter was written because of the former. The story goes that the band met a couple in New Jersey after a concert whose son had been depressed and drove deep into the woods to end his life. But he turned on the radio to hear “Cry Out to Jesus,” which gave him encouragement to keep going.

Third Day also was one of the first rock/pop bands to release worship albums with Offerings and Offerings II, which led the way to an explosion of bands crossing over to worship (here’s looking at you, Newsboys). This became a trend in radio that shapes what is played in most Christian formats today: a blend of pop and worship, with very little room for music that pushes boundaries.

Their final album, then, is an ironic indication of the state of the industry they helped shape. In 2017, Third Day released Revival, a passion project in which the band returned to their southern rock roots. It is among their best work, filled with plenty of hooks, plenty of rock, and showing off those familiar vocal chops provided by Mac Powell. Though it is deserving of attention, Mac Powell put it best during their final show in Nashville: many folks haven’t heard of it because the founding members decided to do a project they would proud of. Unfortunately (and ironically), it is not music friendly to the radio format Third Day has helped usher in, so it is not a record that was recognized by many fans.

This adequately sums up the state of the industry: there is a small subset of artists getting the bulk of the national airplay from radio, and a growing alternative and underground made up of independent rock and hip-hop artists, making music that still speaks to the deepest, darkest parts of our soul and gives us hope to carry on.

It is hard to be in a successful band for 25 years. After their recent hiatus, Third Day recently embarked on a 12 city farewell tour to say thank you to longtime fans. Perhaps it would be fitting, years from now, if we can reflect back on this moment as the beginning of a Revival in the music industry — a time when creativity is rewarded and lyrics are real and honest. That would be the most fitting legacy of all.

So thank you, Third Day, for staying true to your roots, and for leaving us with music that gives us hope to carry on through the toughest seasons of life.

This post was written by contributing writer Matt Durlin.

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