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Gone Fishin’

By Jennifer McClure

This a cappella trio shares the gospel with kids and parents alike

Suited up in red, white and blue hockey jerseys, Go Fish takes the stage prepared to lead a throng of preschoolers and elementary school students hyped on each other’s energy in 90 minutes of organized silliness.

Jamie Statema, Jason Folkmann and Andy Selness quickly transition from song to song. Keeping everyone on their feet and moving has proved the best method for holding preciously short attention spans. But their concerts contrast with the band’s 10-year history, which more resembles a path painted with unexpected opportunities than any strategically planned set of songs.

Last year, fan-created videos on YouTube brought the Twin Cities-based trio unexpected attention. One, picturing snapshots of the band set to their song “Christmas With a Capital ‘C’ ” was viewed more than 7 million times by the close of the Christmas season. Another video — which uses clips from The Passion of the Christ and various films to illustrate “It’s About the Cross” — has garnered more than 700,000 views.

Of all the songs on Snow, their 2006 Christmas album, those two songs, founding member Statema says, “most blatantly laid out the gospel.” Clearly presenting the gospel holds special significance for Statema, who knows firsthand the influence a band can have on a child’s life.

He was 10 years old at the time. It was his first concert — a Christian rock concert — and it blew him away. From the music to the lights to the excitement, he loved everything about the experience. Though raised in a Christian home and presented with the gospel several times before, he says that night it just clicked. He accepted Christ as his Savior.

“You never know what kid is sitting in your audience who may be impacted enough to dig into the Bible and become a preacher or a missionary,” he says. “The eternal stuff is what makes it exciting. Record sales and radio singles, in the big picture, are pretty meaningless.”

When Go Fish first splashed into kids music, their 2003 album, Splash, was supposed to be a one-time, “just for fun” project. But five years, four albums and one DVD later, they’re still producing and performing energetic Christian kids music and having a blast doing it.

The trio admits the switch to kid-appealing music was unexpected but refreshing. Goofy photo shoots and casual apparel could replace concerns of whether they had the “cool factor” to appeal to teens and 20-somethings.

“We were very thankful when we could throw that factor out the window; it is so not us,” Selness says. “We’re just a bunch of good ole Midwest boys.”

The welcomed transition came when response to Splash sold out concerts, bringing nearly 8,000 people to six venues their first weekend of the tour.

Since that first album, they have sold 400,000 kids albums. Their 2007 release Snazzy was Dove Award nominee for Children’s Album. Most importantly, all three have become fathers — with a total of three girls and three boys ranging from a few months to 4 years in age.

“When you get a little older and get married and have kids, it’s hard to remain cool in the mainstream industry,” says Statema, who has two sons, ages 2 and 4. “With us, the more kids we have the more street credit we have with the parents.”

Not to mention adding to their fan base.

“My two oldest girls absolutely love our music,” says Selness of his 4- and 2-year-old daughters. “If they could wear their Go Fish T-shirts 24/7 they would. It’s very rewarding to see my own kids really take hold of it.”

With “great music for kids that won’t drive parents bonkers” as their slogan, Go Fish has set a simple standard to guard against producing kids songs that get on everybody’s nerves or ones that never end.

 “If the song is lame to us,” Folkmann says, “it’s never going to make it on a CD.”

In today’s culture, kids and parents sometimes seem to be traveling at warp speed in opposite directions. Having entertainment that young children, older siblings and parents can all enjoy is something Brian Dollar, kids pastor at First Assembly of God in North Little Rock, Ark., says he appreciates about Go Fish music.

“Every opportunity that provides something parents and kids can get into, while at the same time strengthening family relationships, means a lot to God because families mean a lot to Him,” says Dollar. He and his wife with their 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter are all Go Fish fans, owning several albums and listening in the car or at home.

The response to Splash showed Go Fish the need for kid-friendly music that doesn’t get on everybody’s nerves while delivering Christian, biblical messages in fun, energetic music.

“This is a market sometimes lacking substance and content,” Selness says. “There’s super kidsy stuff targeted toward preschool or young elementary audiences, but there just seems to be a huge gap for anything in between that and jumping into the pop world.”

Research from the Barna Group shows 43 percent of Christians in America accept Jesus Christ as Savior before their 13th birthday, and 64 percent before they are 18 years old. Go Fish questions why the Christian music industry has not put more emphasis on reaching kids.

“Kids music has this stigma that it’s un-cool, and we just think it’s the greatest thing ever,” Statema says. “If Christian music exists to share the gospel, then we need to be focusing on these families with young kids.”


JENNIFER McCLURE is assistant editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at Going Up? (jmcclure.agblogger.org).

TPExtra: MP3 download of “American Kid” by Go Fish

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