It started with great music.
It started with a bunch of ministers.
The combination --like peanut butter and chocolate-- has proved deliciously sweet.
The story of Connections Band is as remarkable as what the band has achieve in its short history. The band started from a chance meeting at a yearly clergy retreat for United Methodist ministers one October.
"I had this incredible room that I'd been given at the retreat," says Eric Folkerth. "I invited people over to hang out one night. This guy with red hair who I'd never met showed up, and we played Dan Fogelberg songs until one in the morning."
The red haired stranger was Rusty King, Minister of Music at Spring Valley UMC in Dallas.
The two were joined by Paul Escamilla and John Fleming, whom both had known separately for years.
In the years that followed, Rusty, Paul, Eric, and John would recreate their late-night "jam sessions" at that same October retreat. They were soon joined by original founding members, Frank Rahm and Ann Willet.
The current "Core Members" are Folkerth, King, Rahm, and Brian "Doc" McPherson.
After one of their late-night sessions, King came up with a crazy idea.
"He just said, 'Hey, why don't we do a Dan Fogelberg Tribute Show.'" Folkerth remembers. "And I thought to myself, 'sounds fantastic to me, but who would come?'"
Turns out, more than 250 people came to the group's first show in March of 2004, and the "magical night" raised almost $2,000 for missions.
"I think we believed that after that we had something special here and we ought to see where it would take us," said King.
It has taken the band to forty-nine concerts, almost a dozen "cover shows" of artists like Fogelberg, James Taylor, Carole King, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Elton John, Billy Joel, and Stevie Wonder.
The band has now played before tens of thousands of people, and raised $300,000 for missional causes.
"Nobody in the band ever imagined we'd have the success we have had," says Fleming. "And I think we are all just incredibly grateful to God and to all of our marvelous members and fans."
Frank Rahm says the band has struck a chord with its fans.
"We now have fans who come to all our shows --sometimes as many as a thousand of them-- who like what we do and keep coming back for more. People are hungry for a quality evening of entertainment, where it's not some smokey, smelly room , but instead a place where you could bring your whole family."
The average attendance at shows is between two and three hundred people.
The focus, though, is not only on the music, but also on the mission. At each show, a "love offering" is taken for one of two causes: "Imagine No Malaria," and "United Methodist Committee on Relief."
None of the almost forty musicians in Connections ever gets paid for a gig. They volunteer countless hours of their time in rehearsal so that money can be raised for this great missional causes.
"I think we benefit from low expecations," Folkerth muses. "People think, 'a bunch of ministers...how could that be good?' Then they hear us, and are often blown away. We'd like to think that inspires them to give even more."
Currently, Connections is touring the Dallas area with their "Summer Party Set" show, a bunch of our most high-energy songs from our other shows.