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Christian trio Phillips, Craig and Dean encourages audience participation

Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig and Dan Dean say they are excited to be performing their own special blend of voices and praise songs starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Sanford Center. SUBMITTED PHOTO

BEMIDJI - A group of pastors/singers will be telling the audience, "It's gut check time," at 7:30 p.m. Friday when Phillips, Craig and Dean take the stage at the Sanford Center.

This contemporary Christian music trio has been singing together since 1991 and Bemidji Mayor Dave Larson said he's enjoyed their music since the beginning.

Larson first heard the group when his daughter, Theresa, took him to a concert along with her college friend. The friend's dad was in the group (Dan Dean), and Larson has been a fan for years.

"I want the people of Bemidji to know how fortunate we are to have a group of this stature perform here," said Larson. "I have all their CDs and play them often."

Larson, a member of the Tenstrike Community Church, prays weekly with a group that asks for guidance for city officials in their decisions and the welfare of the city.

"We did play in Bemidji before," said Dean. "I can't remember the year but it was in December or January and not the kind of weather a Texan is used to - brrr cold.

"On the whole, Minnesota has been very good to us. It is one of our top five markets for sales."

The singers, Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig and Dean are all pastors of non-denominational churches leaning to the charismatic. And that means they expect the audience to sing along, clap their hands and enjoy. As Dean explained, during a recent phone interview, the group is offering an authentic relationship with God among fellow Christians.

"We offer a more realistic approach," said Dean. "We like to join with other believers and support each other. Our music has more depth; we are more of a worship band although we didn't start off that way. About five or six albums ago, we did our first praise and worship CD and it was a huge success."

It was the way they wanted to go in the beginning, but the record company they signed with did not want them to go in that direction; praise and worship genre. The group said it a "ton of songs" that were not praise and worship when they originally went down a Christian pop road.

"Our music is vertical," Dean said. "It is written for God and to God rather than horizontal which is singing to somebody. We encourage our audience to join in with us and have the words up on screens.

"We support each other through the good times and the bad times; people have a hunger for that," Dean added. "'Revelations,' a song we released a couple of years ago, was the longest running No. 1 Song of the Year (17 weeks) and our biggest hit ever."

The group has released 12 albums, and earned 18 No. 1 radio singles and nine Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Award nominations. They took the 2010 Dove Award for Inspirational Album of the Year, "Fearless."

For this tour, the group is promoting its newest and 13th release, "Breathe In" which features the singers and their full band, who will also be on stage with them for this performance. There will be three musicians and the singers all play instruments as well.

For ticket information, call the box office at the Sanford Center at (800) 745-3000 or visit the Ticketmaster outlets at both Lueken's Village Foods branches in Bemidji. Tickets will also be sold at the door the night of the performance.