Taking a gospel trip with Zack Shelton and 64 to Grayson

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Zack Shelton shares the gospel during a concert at Graefenburg Christian Church, May 20, 2018.

By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com

Trying to find a place to pin Zack Shelton and 64 to Grayson along the musical road isn’t impossible, but it’s close.

There’s some unmistakable country influence on this dynamic Christian band, but like all successful groups, the sound is one of its own. It can be progressive or traditional. Think anything from Chris Stapleton to George Strait to Hank Williams.

“I get this question a lot,” laughs Shelton, the son of Thomas Shelton, a veteran of over 30 years in the gospel music industry. “It can sometimes feel lonely doing this style of music because there aren’t a lot of other artists who tend to lean in our same direction.”

Shelton put the band together while he was a student at Kentucky Christian University, which is located in Grayson, just off Interstate 64, hence the group’s catchy moniker. Located in northeastern Kentucky, it is part of the general area that spawned the careers of country music greats Tom T. Hall, Bobby Bare, The Judds, Billy Ray Cyrus, Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs.

While none of the band’s members grew up near Grayson, it is fitting the group came together for the first time at a distinctly Christian college that happens to be located in a hotbed of country music.

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Zack Shelton, left, and Craig Cunningham perform at Graefenburg Christian Church.

“My country music roots are showing, and I do try to keep my lyrics very realistic and genuine,” says Shelton, who has had opportunities to play with Charlie Daniels, Josh Turner and the Gaithers. “People have called our style many things from Newgrass to God-country. I’ve stopped trying to place myself in a genre and just write what makes sense to me.”

That’s evident in the title track from the group’s latest album. The band’s three members incorporate lyrics from some of the great hymns — Softly and Tenderly, Amazing Grace, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, among others — for a reflective look at Christian growth. The chorus ends,

Each melody, stanza, harmony note, and ancient word ever true

Are standing on the promises that echo between the pews.

The latest work contains some high energy country-rock along with rousing rendition of “I Saw the Light” and “I’ll Fly Away” and a soul-searching ballad, “Audience of One,” which Shelton says is his favorite song on the CD. “It’s a conversation I had with God last year which started a chain of realizations and decisions,” Shelton said. “I’m still working through it to this day.”

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Zack Shelton, the son of a gospel singer who put together 64 to Grayson while a student at Kentucky Christian University.

The second verse says,

When I don’t feel that my faith has moved a mountain

That my song has changed a heart

That my story is worth telling, or that it even had a start

I think back, to how Jesus’ life began

He was here to die for me

Now I’m here to live for Him.”

Whether on a CD or in one of the group’s energetic concerts, like I saw at Graefenburg Christian Church, near Frankfort, on May 20, the group seeks to live for Him and challenge others to do the same. “As a Christian, we believe that everything we do is to be for the glory of God,” Shelton says. “Even a plumber has an opportunity to be a vessel spreading the Gospel. Our skills have allowed us to hold the attention of acquaintances and strangers for an uninterrupted amount of time in concert.”

The vision to serve full-time through music materialized six years ago. “In early 2012, I started pulling my resources to book a tour for that summer,” Shelton remembers. “I sold my 97 Camry, bought a van and loaded it up with a small sound system and hit the road with the band. We played 60 shows that summer, recorded a studio album and after that, I went back to KCU to finish my senior year. After graduation, the momentum we had built gave us an opportunity to proceed and we have still been going since.”

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Craig Cunningham, who plays several different instruments, joined 64 to Grayson while a student at Kentucky Christian University.

The group is popular in churches which is understandable given the deep roots at KCU, but Shelton says the group is not limited in its travels and plays 200 events a year. The group is now based in the Cincinnati suburbs of northern Kentucky.

“We’ll go anywhere we are asked, within reason. We do play a lot of churches, but also fairs, festivals, schools, you name it,” Shelton says with a laugh.

“We’ve played birthday parties, wedding receptions, house shows, live streams, camps, we even pushed through a power outage once and played an acoustic gig in the pitch black! People literally held flashlights just so any of us could see.”

Zack Shelton and 64 to Grayson might not be on everyone’s radar just yet, but it’s likely just a matter of time. The band has been named one of the “Top 20 Most Prospective Groups” by Music Connection magazine in 2014 and has a loyal and enthusiastic following four years later.

The journey isn’t easy, but Zack Shelton and 64 to Grayson put their hearts into the mission every day. Says Shelton, “We use our opportunities to spread joy and grow the Kingdom of God.”

For more information see http://www.64toGrayson.com.

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Zack Shelton shows some volunteers from the audience how they are supposed to keep rhythm during a fun time in 64 to Grayson’s concert. (Photos by John Herndon)

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