Keith Roberts has loved music since he was a youngster. He began playing the drums when he was about 10 and the guitar at 16. In his mid teens he started playing the drums as a member of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church's "Life Teen" program.
At 18, he began to write music.
"It's mental health for me," said the 24-year-old. "It started as a release to deal with my own problems and my own issues, and then I realized that when I played for other people my songs were helping them, too, and that encouraged me to stick with it."
Roberts wasn't writing just any songs. While attending a Christian conference in Steubenville, Ohio, he dedicated his life to Christ.
"Just being there and seeing people on fire, something in me just changed, and I realized I needed to be living my life for Christ," said Roberts, who was 16 at the time.
After graduating from Springstead High School, Roberts attended the University of South Florida but left after two years to pursue music full time.
Soon afterward, by happenstance, he was hired as worship leader at Nativity Catholic Church in Brandon. One of the priests knew Roberts, so when the congregation lost its music director, he offered him the position.
"It's nice to have some security while doing my own stuff," he said.
In addition to the Brandon position, Roberts has performed at Holy Cross Lutheran Church and his home church, St. Frances, both in Spring Hill. He tries to focus on Tampa and the larger cities because of the bigger audience he can draw.
Roberts gained considerable live, onstage experience touring the country with a group called Chasing7 from May 2001 to February 2002. During the 15 months, he and the group also released a CD, Run.
Self-taught, Roberts believes experience has made him better. It also helps that close friends and acquaintances have taken a keen interest in his music.
"They saw something in me and say "you have something, keep working on it.' Those are the things which have made me better."
His biggest supporters are his parents, Steve and Cheryl Barnier _ Roberts is Keith's stage name _ who moved from Hyde Park, N.Y., to Spring Hill with Roberts and two siblings in 1985.
"They believe in me more than I do in myself, and they have been the backbone that keeps me going. Their reaction has always been "go for it,' " Roberts said. "It's funny for me to look back at my music from the beginning because I felt it was so bad. I once said to my parents "Why didn't you stop me?' "
"I feel blessed that God was able to give him this musical talent," said Cheryl Barnier. "He's been writing a while, and his music has such a powerful message. We're excited about it.
"He's such a private person, and when he's giving a concert it's like the Holy Spirit takes over, and he's not just singing the words and music, he is ministering to the people."
"Cheryl and I have watched him perform," said Steve Barnier, "and we listen to his music and watch the interaction with the crowd, which is amazing. His message is so strong, it hits you between the eyes," said the 49-year-old building contractor.
"Keith is his own worse critic, always striving for success, because he wants to spread God's message," added his mother. "His ministry is for God's glory and we pray that God will bless his efforts. Despite all the accomplishments, he's still humble about it."
Olivia Barnier, Roberts' wife of two years, has watched that humility up close. The 24-year-old fifth-generation Brooksville native met her husband while in high school during a church retreat. A cradle Catholic, she became serious about her faith in her senior year at Springstead. Like her husband, she got involved in the church's "Life Teen" program.
Two years ago, she began working with the Christian radio station Spirit, WBVM-FM 90.5, and is now the music director.
Barnier said her husband's music cuts right to the soul.
"It's probably the greatest gift he has. Whether he's telling a story or just relating to pain we go through as Christians, his words get to where you need to hear it," said Barnier, who also serves as her husband's manager. "I think that's his strong point, along with his choruses and different musical styles. Every song is a different creation."
She is especially excited about "Apostle Dream," one of the first songs her husband wrote. The song tells what it was like to have walked with Christ, washed his feet, watched him heal the lame and stroked his hair. She said many people who have watched him perform said they had the same thoughts, and talked about how cool it was that Roberts had put their thoughts into words.
"To see the fruits of his labor because of (the song's) popularity is really awesome," said Barnier.
Last November, Roberts released his first solo CD, Deeper, which includes nine original songs, and recorded an eight-song demo. He said about 1,000 have been sold, which is considered good for an unknown, independent artist. As a result of the CD, he has performed in 30 shows. "My recognition must come from radio play and concerts," he said.
Having already written the music and lyrics to 60 songs, Roberts hopes to produce another CD in 2004.
Also in the works is a tour, "God is Good, Pass It On," which will be partly sponsored by World Vision, an organization that feeds and shelters thousands of youngsters and gives them an opportunity to learn about the Bible.
Covenant Christian Church congregations are co-sponsors and will host the concerts.
The tour is scheduled to begin in January 2004 and will offer about 100 performances in the United States, London and possibly Australia.
Although Roberts is "getting by now," his goal is to relocate to the Christian music Mecca by the end of next year.
"For things to really break on a national level, we would have to move to Nashville," he said. "It is the place of Christian music. We hope by then to be touring full time, and our income would come from road performances."
But performing is only a means to Roberts' ultimate goal, which is "to lead people to Christ, whether playing to 2,000 people in an arena or two homeless guys on the street.
"I try to make my music more socially relevant and ministry centered," he said. "Obviously, I try to write music that people will listen to, but I want to touch people's heart with real-life issues."
For more on Keith Roberts
Keith Roberts' CD, Deeper, can be purchased at Ave Maria Book Store in Brandon, Tampa Christian Supply in Tampa and at his Web site, www.keithroberts.info. For bookings and information, write to Keith Roberts, c/o Pilgrim Management, P.O. Box 308, Brooksville, FL 34605, or e-mail keithkeithroberts.info.