by Christa A. Banister
Bluetree: God of This City
"For Greater things are yet to come, and greater things are still to be done in this city."
Even with an ocean separating the United States from Bluetree’s home of Belfast, Ireland, the band definitely identifies with the common struggle of desensitization to a seemingly constant stream of bad news.
With bombings, a long history of bloodshed between those who actually claim to love and serve God, and random acts of violence the stuff of daily headlines in Belfast, the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist Aaron Boyd admits that “you eventually grow so numb that when you hear that a car bomb killed 10 people, you immediately go on with the mundane business of the day without as much as giving it a second thought.”
That’s precisely why Boyd and his bandmates, which includes drummer Johnny Hobson and deejay Pete Kernoghan, have never been interested in writing feel-good worship songs that may incite a few goosebumps on Sunday morning, but don’t exactly inspire change and action once the church service has ended.
“What we often forget sometimes is that we’re the solutions,” Boyd says. “Jesus Christ has already done everything, and now, we are His hands and feet in the world. Let’s not just ask God to change everything, but let’s be a blessing and speak words of life into people’s difficult circumstances. That’s where I’ve been writing songs from—the simple truth.”
Driving the message home is Boyd’s emotive vocals and the album’s lushly crafted soundscape that brilliantly underscores the very real hope that’s alive and well when we actively pursue a relationship with God. While an unabashed attitude of worship runs through all of the songs on God Of This City, even a sunny track like “Each Day” wasn’t inspired when life was leisurely coasting along. Instead these songs reflect the highs and lows that inevitably come with the journey of faith.
While “Each Day” is ultimately an upbeat declaration of a believer’s unwavering trust in God, when Boyd sings of “You never leave me alone/Even when storms cloud my way/And I can’t see the breaking day/You never leave me alone,” the lyrics were actually born out a season of struggle when his daughter Lily was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis not long after birth.
“When I first heard the news, I freaked out. I didn’t even know what cystic fibrosis was,” Boyd shares. “This thing just rocks your world because you really begin to look at what you believe. God is a loving God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And I know He does not bless you with an incurable disease to teach you a lesson. He does not do that. So I suppose I got to a place where I struggled, even when I knew that God is a good God.”
And that’s exactly what Boyd hopes that listeners will experience when listening to Bluetree—hope not necessary dictated by circumstance—the moment when God does some of His best work and shaping.
Armed with encouraging words for a hurting world, Bluetree has made it a priority to live missionally, which eventually led them to a life-changing gig in the Red Light district of Pattaya, Thailand, a beautiful city badly tarnished by sexual slavery. Known as the capital of the world’s sex trade, Boyd admits he was “a bit frightened” by what he’d gotten himself into. But “the intense darkness” the band “simply couldn’t miss” inspired Bluetree to lead worship in the most unlikely of places, a club which doubles as a brothel known as the Climax Bar.
Proving yet again that “God works in mysterious ways” something special began happening during one particularly memorable two-hour set. As the band worshipped and prayed, a message of hope for the people of Pattaya emerged—a revelation that even in that darkness, God was still the God of these people. Despite all the depravity and darkness, whether they were the victims or even those who chased after the darkness, God loved them and pursued them—even if they weren’t even aware of it. And before long, it became apparent that this “prophetic shout over the city” wasn’t just for those living in Pattaya, but for the whole world.
You’re the God of this city
You’re the King of these people
You’re the Lord of this nation
The simple lyrics for what became Bluetree’s “God Of This City,” the title track of the album which releases in the States on March 3, not only blessed those listening in the Climax Bar that night, but also deeply resonated with another fellow worship artist, Chris Tomlin. In fact, when Tomlin first heard the words during the band’s 4 o’clock set in Northern Ireland one afternoon, he knew there was something particularly special about this anthemic cry for God’s intervention in every city on the planet.
After connecting with the band later on, a partnership was eventually forged, and “God Of This City” was not only covered on Tomlin’s critic and commercial smash Hello Love, but it played an integral role in the Passion’s recent world tour—something that Boyd still can’t believe.
“It has been one crazy journey,” Boyd confides. “It felt really amazing to be part of speaking into the Passion movement. I remember standing on a stage at a Passion event in Los Angeles, and I still couldn’t believe this was happening. Here this group of Irish guys were playing alongside David Crowder Band and Matt Redman, and I wondered ‘What is going on?’”
Since then, the band’s momentum has been nothing but fast and furious. “Everything has gone so crazy so quickly, and it’s only going to get crazier,” Boyd says. “But it’s all been so much fun, and we’re up for the challenge. We have a common goal and a great camaraderie as a band. And it doesn’t hurt that we’re all a wee bit crazy.”
But when Bluetree plays in a city near you, don’t expect them just to play a show and hit the road. “We don’t want to just roll in, do our thing and leave people with the Bluetree spirit or whatever. We want to build relationships with people,” Boyd says. “We want to be able to come back and see people we know. That’s what I love about my guys in the band. They absolutely love meeting people.” And that community spirit is befitting of the band’s name, which is all about being unique in a world that often reveres conformity. “If you’re in a forest and there’s nothing but green trees —everything being as you’d normally see it—but then you see a blue tree with blue bark, blue leaves, blue branches, well, it would catch your eye,” Boyd says. “And as Christians we’re called stand out, to be different—like blue trees.”
Christa A. Banister is a full-time freelance writer, specializing in music, movies and book-related reviews and interviews. She's also the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers (NavPress). Based in St. Paul, Minn., where she lives with her hubby Will, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog. For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.