Rolling Hills Community Church in Franklin, Tenn., hosted a concert last week featuring Tenth Avenue North, Francesca Battistelli and Jason Gray. The evening, sponsored by local radio affiliate WAY-FM and World Vision, had been moved several times due to Nashville’s flood in May. However, the change in dates did not affect the turn-out. The concert was sold out, and the capacity crowd was filled with a mix of youth and families.

Jason GrayUnfortunately, the venue for this show was far from ideal with poor acoustics and poles holding up the ceiling that blocked views of the stage. Since a full band sound did not fare well given the poor sound quality, opener Jason Gray actually shone with his short acoustic performance—just the songwriter and his guitar. And a fine opener he was, even eliciting a standing ovation at the end of his set. Not only were his musical selections enjoyable, but his banter provided immediate engagement with the audience right from the start of the evening. He led with his most popular radio hit to date, “More like Falling In Love,” and got the audience singing along immediately. His banter ranged from the serious to the silly, but all of it put the crowd in a good mood and paved the way for the high-energy acts to follow.

Francesca BattistelliA very pregnant Francesca Battistelli made her way to the stage next for a full 45-minute set which included hits from her debut, My Paper Heart (Fervent), and a few new songs from her forthcoming album, expected to release in 2011. Battistelli’s vocals were drowned out by her backing band, so some of the slower selections better showcased her voice. Six weeks away from her due date, it was obvious the mother-to-be was tired, and there was definitely a lack of energy throughout her performance, the songstress having to stop several times to lean on the mic stand and catch her breath. “In case you were wondering, this isn’t a basketball under my shirt… It’s a baby!” she said during the set before introducing her band members including her husband on drums.

The two new selections she performed indicate that the new album will maintain the slick pop anthems and beautiful ballads heralded on her debut. “Angel” is a lush, slow-tempo song about being there for a friend in need, while gem “Don’t Miss It” is an up-tempo mantra about life being short and not wasting a minute that God has given us. Appropriately, she ended her set with smash hit “Free To Be Me.” Kudos to  Ms. Battistelli for continuing to showcase her vocal chops on the road so close to her due date!

Jason Gray came back out following Francesca’s set to talk about his work with World Vision. Following a short intermission, where attendees were encouraged to check out the World Vision info table and sponsor a child, the crowd was ready for Tenth Avenue North.

Tenth Avenue NorthThe Dove Award-winning band’s set used more lights and fancy production compared to the others, but like Gray and Battistelli, they suffered from poor sound quality. Opening with a few new tracks from its brand-new album, The Light Meets The Dark  (Reunion), the band ripped through “Strong Enough to Save”  and “All The Pretty Things.” Fans of the band’s contemporary radio hits as well as those who own the albums might have been surprised with the out-of-the-gate rock the guys performed from the very beginning of their set. Live, the band took the new songs to a whole new level , turning them into full-on rock pieces. The audience seemed to embrace it and enjoyed the energy emitting from the band. The bad acoustics and obstructed views didn’t seem to bother many of those in attendance who sang every word as the band ran through all of their radio hits including “Love Is Here” (which even sounded ramped up in this setting), “By Your Side,” “Hold My Heart” and their current single “Healing Begins.”

The set was part worship, part full-on rock show, with Tenth showcasing strong musicianship and a tighter cohesiveness on stage than previously highlighted. In between songs, front man Mike Donehey touched on some deep theological topics, which he’s known to do. Rarely has there been a front man so young who possesses such a passion for the Gospel, and his love and sincere desire for evangelism shone through in his dialogue surrounding songs.

Overall, the evening showcased some of the brightest new talent in Christian music, and the energetic capacity crowd proved that these artists already have a strong following. The message of World Vision was a focal point of the evening, resulting in numerous child sponsorships. Despite the fact that the venue was not the best place to showcase the talents of these young, up-and-coming artists, kudos to Rolling Hills Community Church, WAY-FM and World Vision for making the evening feel like a night of community—a much-need balm in the healing process that continues to take place in Franklin and other surrounding areas in Middle Tennessee in the aftermath of this spring’s flood.