After more than three decades of performing with a band in front of sold-out auditoriums and packed churches, Steven Curtis Chapman put himself in unfamiliar territory a few years ago: alone onstage with only his guitar and a deep catalog of songs.
Though a bit nervous at first, Chapman has warmed to the water and has continued his “SCC Solo: Hits, History and Influences” tour for a fourth season, bringing it to the Waco Hippodrome on March 27.
“I have loved it so much since day one,” he said in a recent phone interview. “It’s almost like ‘Let’s go on an adventure!’ . . . I’m surprised how much I enjoy it.”
Chapman, one of the most popular and successful musicians in contemporary Christian music, finds himself revisiting his roots each night of his solo show: growing up in his dad’s music store in Paducah, Kentucky; leaving with his brother to pursue a music career in Nashville; playing for tourists at Opryland and the Grand Ole Opry at age 19; then finding his life changed when gospel great Bill Gaither recognized his songwriting talents and steered him into Christian songwriting.
“It’s a pretty profound experience for me, talking about where songs came from and my influences,” said Chapman. Although his life journey is illuminated by songs from his multiple-million-selling albums and hymns sung in thousands of churches, there are dark times, too, such as the death of the Chapmans’ daughter Maria Sue 11 years ago, killed when a son accidentally hit her when pulling his SUV into their home driveway.
The smaller-scale show not only allows more emotional intimacy with his audience, but has opened doors where audience members have shared their stories of how his songs have spoken to them.
At age 56, Chapman keeps tackling projects that pull him into new territory. He recently performed a concert with his band and the Paducah Symphony Orchestra that proved a delight. “I’m playing with world-class musicians, my band and a 50-piece orchestra — my senses were overloading,” he recalled.
In 2017, he released a memoir, “Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story,” which made several best-seller lists, and this month releases a new album that revisits the music of his childhood, “Deeper Roots: Where the Bluegrass Grows,” at Cracker Barrel restaurants. That album features bluegrassers such as Ricky Skaggs as well as Chapman’s dad, brother and daughter-in-law. “I have always loved that music,” he said.
Returning to Waco brings a cluster of family memories for Chapman. “It’s a special place — part of my story for sure,” he agreed. His daughter Emily, 33, graduated from Baylor University in 2010 and is the executive director of the international foundation Show Hope that Chapman and his wife Mary Beth started to match orphans with adoptive parents.
Son Will married a Baylor student, Jillian Edwards, a singer-songwriter in her own right who sang on a track of Chapman’s bluegrass album “Deep Roots.” Will performs with his brother Caleb in the band Colony House, which has played Common Grounds several times in the past and is presently touring with Switchfoot.
Caleb and Will will join Chapman for several shows around Easter, then after his spring tour, Chapman plans to spend some time not solo, but with his wife. “I think I have a long honey-do list to work on,” he laughed.