"As the bus rolls in, two eager fans rush to greet it. The band members unload and there are questions: "Man, hows the rock n roll life?" "Whats it like living in a mansion and owning a yacht?" Ralphie Barrientos of Three Crosses just smiles.
Time passes, and Ralphies still smiling. He reflects upon the common misconceptions people have about a music ministry. "Lots of people think its all glitz and glamour," he says. "But there are plenty of bad nights sleep, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, breakdowns, and time spent at truck stops at 3 oclock in the morning."
But to Ralphie, the bands keyboardist, every moment is a gift from God, and he wouldnt trade any of it for all the yachts and mansions in the world. "At times I might think to myself, Whats God having me do out here? But I cant complain. Im doing what Ive always wanted to dotraveling around the country and playing music. On top of that, Im serving the Lord. I never thought in a million years Id be able to do that. It is incredible."
Based out of New Jersey, Three Crosses probably spends an average of 15 hours traveling to each tour date, be it major festival, arena concert, youth convention or small town. In fact, the band members, who are doing their own management and booking now, feel Gods leading toward the latter. "We got to thinking that God moves everywhere. He doesnt need us to do it, but it just seemed like He was opening up a door or avenue leading us to the smaller towns, not to exclude or say we wont do big towns, of course," he explains. "In other words, there is no town too small."
According to Ralphie, there has been a tremendous revival happening at these shows. Between 300 and 400 people attend, and 20 to 30 percent of those come forward at the end. He attributes the response to the Holy Spirits moving.
Regardless of where they play, the band makes time to meet the people who come out. "No matter what, we have a responsibility when were up there on that pedestal," Ralphie says. "We need to make ourselves accessible. If were going out there as Christians in a music ministry, then we need to remember to keep our hearts in that warm place. Theres nothing worse than a Christian with a cold heart. If people want to talk, then we feel we need to make ourselves available.
The six-man band has built relationships across the states. And they have the pictures and letters to prove it. Just check their website (www.threecrosses.com) for proof.
Better yet, listen to Skinny Flowers. The album is an autobiographical sketch that chronicles the bands life on the road. The names have been changed, but the experiences, the inspirations, are the same. "The first single, Maybe Tonight, came from a discussion we had with a younger person who was confused and didnt know which way to go," explains Ralphie. He was having a struggle about accepting Jesus. A lot of the people we meet, whether young or old, are people who grew up in the church and know who Jesus is. But they just never found the spot to meet Him and start that personal relationship."
Ralphie starts naming the songs and stories one by one. "Maggies Prayer comes from a person who chose to run away from her problems." She left home because she didnt fit in/ They said she was running from God/ But Maggie didnt know who their God was. Ralphie meets thousands of Maggies from town to town but, though each situation may differ, hes always touched by each one. "We get letters from time to time from folks and I dont think theres one that hasnt affected me because they are all incredible stories of someone being touched by God. Again, I feel so privileged and blown away that I would be part of something like that."
The albums title comes from a line in the song "April and Me." Lead vocalist Steven Pasch was at home, playing in the yard with his 2-year-old daughter, who was picking dandelions, thinking they were flowers. The wind had blown away the seeds, leaving only stems, and April didnt know what to call them. In his wit Steven told his daughter they were skinny flowers. So, she goes and picks a whole bunch and says, "Here, Daddy, have some skinny flowers." As the band and the label were discussing what to call the new project, they decided to go with the line, especially because of the personal meaning behind it.
Ralphie pauses for a moment to ponder the many stories, and then he describes a song that reflects the bands own personal journey. "Seeds of Sorrow, came from us thinking about how hard life on the road can be in a music ministry. We made the analogy of the farmer who is planting seeds and working his field while facing elements that he cant control."
Ralphie compares those elements to the familiar problems that plague the band on occasionthe sleepless nights on the bus and the costly repairs of breakdowns. "At first, these elements seem to ruin the field or deter you from continuing to plant. But in the end, the harvest is still there."
Ralphie laughs and says its funny theyre using that analogy right thenlooking out the window of their bus, theres farmland everywhere. "Yet," he continues, "the farmer has to keep going because of the harvest. Its kind of the same thing for us. We just have to remember its all for good. It goes back to Scripture. When you are doing work in the name of the Lord and youre seeking His righteousness in it, you might not understand whats happening along the way. But all of that work is for good. In the end, the harvest is always there for us as well. Its the harvest that keeps the band going. Its amazing to think back and see how lives are being changed because God is using us as vessels. Thats what makes the work worthwhile."
Three Crosses got its start in 1994. Both Ralphie and Steven were making strides in secular music, but it was Gods orchestration that brought them together as Christians to form a band that would be signed by Benson Records only 90 days after its creation. Since, the band has toured with Petra, Michael W. Smith and Jars of Clay.
Though Three Crosses music continues to evolve, Skinny Flowers still reflects their signature style. Listen closely and you may be reminded stylistically of the Eagles, the Allman Brothers or even Rod Stewart.
Theres an element of Southern rockan anomaly considering the bands New Jersey roots. "Thats the craziest thing," Ralphie laughs. "We recently did a festival with Third Day and Mac Powell was like, Man, I dont know how you guys pull it off being from New Jersey. Im telling you, I hear some Southern influence."
Their most obvious influence, of course, is Jesus. Each song is firmly rooted in the Gospel, and they want to keep it that way. Ralphie hopes listeners will keep the band in their prayers. He has three specific requests: For God to keep them humble; keep them safe on the road; and give Three Crosses a burden on their hearts to seek Him more personally every day. "Its all about perseverance," he says. "There was a word God gave me early in the ministry and it was persevere. He let me know it wasnt going to be an easy time. Everyone has to go through some trials and tribulations, but the key is to stay steadfast and true and to continue seeking His righteousness. Then the Lord will give you the desires of your heartand that doesnt mean mansions and yachts. God knows what your goals are."
And with perseverance, the harvest will come.