Andrew Peterson used to be known primarily to college audiences.
"When I was just out of college and playing a lot, I had kind of a folky thing," Peterson says of his initial forays into the Christian music scene in the late 1990s. "But it's kind of grown over the last 10 or 12 years, and all those college students I used to play for are now grown-ups."
Whether he's entertaining those longtime fans or attracting new ones, Peterson will be back on campus Thursday night playing for the Christian Student Fellowship at the University of Kentucky.
Peterson now hopes to be playing to the sort of audiences he saw checking out artists who inspired him early in his career.
"I remember thinking when I went to my first James Taylor show how nice it was that everybody in the audience, myself included, had kind of dressed up to see the show, and I saw parents there and kids there and grandparents. And I remember thinking how beautiful it was that this storytelling music washes over a greater swath of the demographic.
"And I remember when I started playing guitar that I hoped my music wouldn't get pigeonholed into a certain whatever."
Peterson says storytelling music, in the style of Taylor, Paul Simon or Counting Crows, is a particularly effective way to share a message of faith.
"It has a power to communicate to people in a way that sermons or books can't really do and works in ways even the writer doesn't understand. Rich Mullins was the first Christian songwriter I heard who approached those kinds of songs. Since I grew up in the church, I always had this sort of tug that I believed these things, but I never heard any kind of music that carried that kind of story and had that beauty until I heard Rich Mullins. Then I said, 'Ah! That's what I want to do with my music.'"
A key to successful songwriting for Peterson is focus. He tries to tell short, modest stories rather than shoot for broad themes.
"The kind of Christian music I really don't have a taste for is the kind that tries to tell the story of the world in three minutes," he says. "That's too much weight for a song to carry.
"If you zero in on the minutiae of your life, you'll find that the bottom drops out and there is this deep well you can draw on for even the tiniest things."
Peterson has had moments during his career when he felt a bottom dropping out. After his debut, Carried Along, won critical acclaim and put him in the company of such other young, rootsy Christian singer-songwriters as Bebo Norman, Caedmon's Call and Jill Phillips, Peterson's sophomore effort, Clear to Venus, had the unfortunate release date of Sept. 11, 2001.
"It was a scary time," he says. "I could not afford to not do shows, so we were out on the road trying to play shows, and audiences were like half what they had been. People were afraid to go to shows, and it was just a weird, weird time."
That, a floundering economy and the effect of downloading all hit Peterson, who was dropped from Essential Records after three albums and released several albums independently before being picked up by his current label, Centricity Music.
And his storytelling career has expanded to endeavors such as writing the young adult fantasy series The Wingfeather Saga. With last year's Counting Stars checking in at No. 5 on Christianity Today's list of the best albums of 2010, Peterson seems to have settled into a successful adult career.
He surmises, "I'm very blessed to be where I am."
The end of the road
When Skillet comes to the Ichthus Festival this summer, it will be missing a familiar face: guitarist Ben Kasica. In an announcement Monday, the band said Kasica, who has been with the group 10 years, is leaving to pursue other interests.
"Joining the band shortly after turning 16 and basically growing up on the road, I had no idea how long the ride would last but have enjoyed it immensely and been thankful to God for everything I've been a part of," Kasica said in a message sent to the band's e-mail list and posted on its Myspace page. "After getting off the road, I will be focusing on building my other companies, producing and developing artists at Skies Fall Studios and designing for LifeLoveMusic Clothing. I also look forward very much to being home and catching up on church life, family and friends."
In the same statement, Skillet frontman John Cooper said, "I've seen Ben transform from the kid who was nervous to play a guitar solo, to the rocker who now plays a solo ... with his teeth! I always knew the time would come for Ben to leave and pursue other dreams, and now it is here. We are a family and we are going to miss him."
Kasica's departure leaves a significant hole for Skillet to fill, at least on tour, as the only other guitarist, Korey Cooper, splits her stage time between guitar and keyboards. The statement did not say how Kasica's spot would be filled.
Ichthus-goers have until April 15 before festival tickets go to their full pre-event price. Full festival tickets are $83 adults and $44 for ages 7 to 10. The festival is June 15 to 18 at Ichthus Farm in Wilmore. Call (859) 858-3001, Ext. 110, or go to Ichthusfestival.org.