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Nov24FriBlue East brings the gospel to the youth of Newfoundland and Labrador. November 24, 2017 by Kristin Ostensen
Whether he’s playing at a small corps in Newfoundland and Labrador, or a convention for hundreds of young people, Robbie Lee’s purpose as the lead singer of Blue East is the same.
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“All we are is a conduit,” he says. “Jesus has love for everybody, and our job is to take that love and spread it, and we can’t think of a better way to do that than through music.”
This past year, Blue East has had plenty of chances to do just that, performing concerts, appearing on television and leading worship at events such as the Army’s Mobilize—Newfoundland and Labrador congress. And with more opportunities to come in the months ahead, this band of young Salvationists is eager to keep spreading the gospel message—and make its mark on the music world.
Based in St. John’s, N.L., Blue East has six members—Lee (lead vocals and guitar), Caleb Pond (drums), Josh Holloway (bass), Hunter Madden (guitar), Jacob Riche (keyboard) and Bryan Abrahamse (guitar and other). All of them grew up in The Salvation Army and currently attend St. John’s Temple or St. John’s Citadel.
Being a part of the Army has been formative for them, both spiritually and musically. “My dad started me on a baritone when I was six years old, and I’ve been playing brass ever since,” says Holloway, who is currently studying music at university. The others echo his story—Army music camps in Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond, young people’s band, singing company, worship team and more were where they learned the skills and love of music that make Blue East possible today.
The band’s name is a shout-out to their east coast roots, and their musical style reflects that cultural foundation.
“The traditional Newfoundland music, with mandolins, banjos and different drum beats, is definitely there in the roots of our music,” says Lee. “We’ve mixed folk music with a soft-rock feel, so I would say we’re a folk worship band.”
Paving a Way
Lee, Riche and Pond have played together for many years, with the other three coming on board more recently.
“When I first started attending St. John’s Temple, they asked me to play with them and it was awesome,” Holloway remembers. “And then, over time, we started talking about our love for God and for music, and we wanted to do something special—something that we didn’t see being done here in The Salvation Army in Newfoundland.”
Blue East started playing at their home corps and then received invitations to other corps in the Newfoundland and Labrador Division. Leading worship at the division’s FUSE 2017: Disturb the Present youth retreat in the spring was a highlight of the year for the band, particularly for Abrahamse.
“At one of the sessions, we were playing after the sermon and the atmosphere that God created was mind-blowing for me,” he says. “To be in his presence and witness his presence move through the crowd, through our music, was breathtaking.”
In April, at the recommendation of a mutual friend, Blue East was invited to open for another local band, The Informants, at a concert at the Majestic Theatre in downtown St. John’s—a gig that has opened many doors for them.
“We only played for 20 minutes but a lot happened in that 20 minutes,” says Lee. “Directly after the show, the leader of YC Newfoundland came up to me and asked us about playing at the next YC.” Other invitations to play at churches followed and Facebook videos recorded at the event spread their sound beyond those who attended the concert in person.
“That concert got our name out there and made my life a lot busier, in a good way,” Lee laughs.
The band hit their biggest stage yet in October, playing at the annual YC Newfoundland in Gander, N.L., an interdenominational convention that draws hundreds of young people from across the province.
“For all of us, it’s been one of our dreams to play at YC,” says Abrahamse. “Going to past YCs, we got to see all these musicians that we admire, all these worship leaders we look up to, and now we’ve got the opportunity to share the gifts that God gave us, to grow his kingdom at YC. That’s a great thing about God—when you do things for him and give him your heart, he paves a way for you.”
Room to Grow
In the lead-up to YC Newfoundland, Blue East put the finishing touches on their first CD, which includes songs written by Lee and songs written by the band as a group. While the songs have a Christian message, they are intended to be accessible for all listeners.
“Something that I appreciate about the way we perform and the way we worship is that we’re not explicitly saying Jesus in all of our songs,” says Riche. “They can apply to any audience—it can be a love song, it can be a worship song. We want to bring Jesus into people’s hearts, but the gospel can be communicated in many different ways.”
For Blue East, using different ways to communicate the gospel includes embracing various musical styles in The Salvation Army.
“I’ve talked to people in the Army who say, ‘We’re band people; we’re not worship team people.’ It is possible to be both, believe it or not,” Lee says with a smile. “I think, in Newfoundland, there is a good mix between band, songsters and the worship team. But I also believe the contemporary worship team has room to grow.
“William Booth took the popular songs of the day and made them about Jesus,” Lee continues. “People loved it, and that’s one of the ways he attracted people into The Salvation Army. If we want to continue that tradition, then we have to do that with the music of today.”
As committed as they are to producing the best music possible, that focus on evangelism and worship is central to all Blue East does.
“As a worship team, we always need to remember that it’s never about the musicians,” says Riche. “We have to ask ourselves: Are you there to sound good? Or are you there to create an atmosphere of reverence, praise and worship? That’s what we should always strive for.”
Follow Blue East on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BlueEastNL