Growing up in rural South Carolina, brothers Bear and Bo Rinehart were allowed to listen only to Christian music, and they hated it.
"For us, as music fans, especially in those formative years learning about guitar, there were a lot of great records out there that you obviously couldn't listen to," Bear Rinehart says. "The format was just so limited, as far as we were concerned."
In one of those funny tricks life seems to play, the Brothers Rinehart ended up forming Needtobreathe, a band that started out as hitmakers in the Christian rock market. Needtobreathe's achievements include three-consecutive Dove Award wins for rock/contemporary recorded song of the year for Washed by the Water in 2009, Lay 'Em Down in 2010 and Something Beautiful in 2011.
The band is also on a two-year win streak for group of the year and could extend both streaks this year at the Doves as they are up for group of the year, recorded song for Slumber and rock/ contemporary album of the year for their fourth effort, The Reckoning. The Dove Awards take place April 19 in Atlanta.
But like their own music-listening selves, Needtobreathe's audience has expanded in recent years thanks to hits on alternative and adult alternative mainstream charts and a really high-profile gig opening for Taylor Swift last year.
That tour brought Needtobreathe to Rupp Arena in October, and now the band is heading back to town Tuesday with its own headlining tour at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
That brings Needtobreathe to the University of Kentucky campus, and if you are looking for a connection to Big Blue Nation — albeit —tangential — look no further than Rinehart's first name: Bear.
"It's very true," Rinehart says when asked if he was named after former UK football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, who went on to legendary fame as the coach at the University of Alabama. In fact, his brother Bo's real name is Bryant.
"I think the first picture of me is in a onesie that says 'Bama, I'm Comin'" Bear Rinehart says. "My parents were pretty big Alabama fans."
Rinehart did go on to play wide receiver, but at Furman University in South Carolina. He also was playing guitar and singing, often with drummer Joe Stillwell. Meanwhile, Bo, 15 months younger than Bear, was at Clemson and formed a musical alliance with bassist Seth Bolt. After college, the duos joined forces to form Needtobreathe,
Bear Rinehart, who says he has warmed to Christian music and gotten to meet Christian rock heroes such as former members of dc talk, says the group never aimed specifically for the gospel market.
"We were pretty naive about what we were trying to do," Rinehart says of Needtobreathe's early days. The group's initial efforts did have spiritual themes, like the music they grew up listening to as preacher's kids, he said.
"We wanted to be able to sell the record to kids like us," Rinehart says. "It's like anything else: If you make a country record when you first start out, you're forever a country artist. People want to label it in some way."
As for the recent shift toward a broader audience, particularly with last year's album, The Reckoning, Rinehart says the band hasn't done anything to spur that shift.
"I don't think you make your audience who it is," he says. "You make your music, and the audience forms itself.
"We didn't intend to have it one way or another, and we've never made any shift in terms of the music. We always felt like we approached every record in the same way as far as writing songs that we're honest about and believe in."