Two decades later, Skillet back in Tupelo Thursday

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@brandonspeck

Tucked away in the back of Tupelo’s Megasports Go-Karts and Fun Center, Skillet cut its teeth in front of a few handfuls of teenage rock ‘n’ roll fans.

Nearly two decades later, Megasports is gone, but Skillet is still relentlessly touring.

“Oh my gosh, that’s ages ago,” said Skillet lead vocalist John Cooper, the sole remaining member of the trio that played those Tupelo days. “It’s funny, when you tour and you go back to the same places over and over, in some ways it seems like a long time and in some ways it doesn’t.”

Cooper and the foursome (Korey Cooper, wife/rhythm guitar/keyboard/vocals; Jen Ledger, drums/vocals; Seth Morrison, lead guitar) returns to Tupelo Thursday to headline Winter Jam Tour – right across the road from the building that formerly housed Megasports.

“It’s been nearly half my life from that time,” Cooper said. “A lot of great memories from that time. Some bad memories, too, but a lot of good ones.”

The hard rock outfit is the hardest rock band on the eclectic Christian tour, that also includes rock acts Family Force 5 and new band Veridia. There are also contemporary acts like Jeremy Camp and Francesca Battistelli. Doors open at 6 p.m. Show starts at 7. All seats are general admission and the show is free, with a suggested donation of $10.

Since those early days in Tupelo, Skillet has released nine albums, two Grammy-nominated, and has sold more than 2 million records in the US alone. Cooper and Co. no longer have to set up and take down their own set. Back in the day, that kept them from enjoying the go-karts and hitting cages on the trip from hometown Memphis to Tupelo.

“Now it’s more like press, and press, and running the business,” Cooper said, “but not actually doing the physical work. We have a little more time to focus on other things.”

The natural question for a rock band started in Memphis and playing in Tupelo could easily revolve around native son Elvis Presley. But Cooper, nowadays the face of an internationally-acclaimed hard rock band, has no such story to tell.

“I wasn’t allowed to listen to rock music. So Elvis was kind of like the anti-Christ at our house,” Cooper said. “I couldn’t even listen to Christian rock music for years and years. My parents are very religious and they really believed that, you know, drum beat was from the devil and all that kind of stuff and thought the devil was using Christian rock music to get people out of Heaven and into Hell.”

Cooper fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll at friends’ houses and coupled with his faith, has turned into his passionate pulpit.

“I just fell in love with rock music. It was passionate and aggressive and it described the way that I felt,” Cooper said. “I got really into Christian music because I loved the idea that this music that meant so much to me could be used for a good purpose, could have a good message.”

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