Suburban Christian band ascends to the big time
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After a decade of making music, a Christian rock band with close ties to Judson University in Elgin finally is enjoying the spotlight.
Citizen Way is composed of two pairs of brothers: lead singer and guitarist Ben Calhoun, 32, and guitarist and singer Josh Calhoun, 28; and bass player Ben Blascoe, 31, and drummer David Blascoe, 25, all originally from Wisconsin.
Three singles from the band's first album, "Love is the Evidence," have charted as top 10 singles on Christian radio in the past 18 months, they said.
The group also has played larger venues, opening for sporting events at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates and Toyota Park in Bridgeview.
It's a first for the band, too.
"I just don't want to wipe out on our way to the stage," Ben Blascoe joked.
But he does take the band's mission seriously.
"As Christians and followers of Christ, we genuinely believe that this is God's calling in our lives through the talents he's given us," he said.
"If it weren't for that element, this wouldn't be worth it. Our families share that belief."
Citizen Way formed in 2004 at Judson, when Ben Blascoe was a freshman and Ben Calhoun a resident adviser. Later, Josh Calhoun transferred to Judson.
Ben Calhoun now serves as the director of Darkroom Studios, the music recording studio at Judson, where he lives on campus with his family.
Ben Blascoe and his family live in Elgin, while the other two band members live in Wisconsin.
The band established itself by playing at events organized by Fox Valley area churches, such as retreats, camps and youth rallies.
"I personally didn't think it was going to lead to being a professional musician by any stretch of imagination," Ben Blascoe said.
Later they gained some recognition by opening for touring Christian bands that came to the Chicago area.
Last year, Citizen Way joined Grammy Award-nominated Sanctus Real on a 21-date tour, in addition to a 53-date tour with Big Daddy Weave, both Christian bands.
Altogether, Citizen Way played 125 shows and spent 165 days on the road in 2013, putting 50,000 miles on their van in the second half of the year alone.
Ben Calhoun said a turning point for him came about four years ago, when he quit his full-time job as admissions counselor at Judson to fully devote himself to music.
"I was sink or swim," he said. "I just remember reeling, feeling like this is just what I have to do."
Ben Blascoe followed suit in December 2012, when he left his part-time job in security for Harvest Bible Chapel in Elgin.
The musicians describe their style as melodic rock pop, with most songs on their debut album penned by Ben Calhoun.
"There is always something for everyone to grab onto, both musically and literally," Ben Blascoe said. "We'll have 6-year-olds and their grandparents at a concert."
Their second album, currently in the works, will feature more cowriting among the band's members.
So what's it like to work so closely among brothers?
They've never come to blows, although things did get dicey once when Josh Calhoun angrily threw a drumstick at his brother, they said.
"We say (working with brothers) is our biggest strength and our biggest weakness. It's been more our strength lately. Not many bands last two years, let alone 10," Ben Blascoe said.
"We know each other so well, we can give each other the grace that's necessary when you're in a tight space too long, but we also know when to confront each other about something."
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