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Small-town guys seeking to live up to poetic name

ATLANTA (BP)–After months of searching for just the right name for their band, Danny Stephens and Michael Johnston were listening to the “Braveheart” movie soundtrack on a drive from Atlanta to Nashville last year when they came up with Small Town Poets.
“Several years ago, Michael and I met in a creative writing class during high school — a poetry class,” keyboardist Danny Stephens explains. “Ever since we’ve been writing poetic lyrics together. The songs are really built around those lyrics. We met and grew up in a small town, along with our drummer Byron (Goggin). That’s Tifton, Ga. Thus the name Small Town Poets.”
After hooking up with bass player Miguel DeJesus and guitarist Kevin Breuner, these small-town guys have seen big-time success after the release of their first self-titled CD in March. Their initial single, “Prophet, Priest, and King,” has become a top-10 Christian radio hit and their first video has topped the Z music charts.
But don’t think they’ve let their head swell over their recent stardom either. They’ve built an important mentoring relationship with the pastor of their home church in Atlanta. Frank Cox, pastor at North Metro Baptist Church and president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, meets with the group regularly when they are in town.
“It’s incredible,” says lead singer Michael Johnston. “When the guy preaches the Word, his messages are always so relevant; it’s very encouraging to have that same person being so encouraging (to us).”
But does their spiritual mentor and good friend Frank Cox enjoy the college rock music Small Town Poets play?
“I don’t really know what he thinks of our music … ,” Johnston says. “Being the leader and mentor that he is, he’s more interested in us and our relationship with God than he is about us and our music. He makes sure that our music is scriptural and godly.”
Although Cox keeps Small Town Poets group accountable for the spiritual nature of their music, this group needs little help developing quality lyrics. Most of the songs on their debut CD were written or co- written by either Stephens or Johnston. “When you give yourself a name like poets, you’re holding yourself up to pretty high standards,” says Stephens. “If your lyrics are bad, you’re going to get trashed by reviewers and critics. People are going to expect, if you call yourself poets, you’re going to be poetic.”
And whenever this songwriting team writes songs, they don’t have to go very far. They write about their own quests, questions and experiences.
“Good writing is honest writing,” Stephens says. “We learned that in the creative writing class where (Michael and I) met. So anything that happens in your life that can encourage, teach or interest others, just write about it in an honest way.”
This fall, Small Town Poets will join another acclaimed songwriter Geoff Moore, as well as Out of Eden, for a 100-city tour lasting until next May. As a new band, just off their first CD, they expect to learn quite a bit from a seasoned band like Geoff Moore and the Distance — “especially (a band) so credible with youth pastors and who works so closely with them,” Johnston says.
Whatever they learn, the tour will be a turning point for Small Town Poets. In the year and half they’ve been together, they estimate they’ve performed at about 60 to 70 venues, nothing like the massive tour that’s planned for this fall.
“Things are going to change,” Johnston says, looking forward to the next level. “We haven’t been pushed to the limit as far as performance goes.”

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  • Tobin Perry