The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Thursday afternoon, Fireflight lit up the main stage at the Ichthus Festival that was already scorching under 90-degree heat. Lead singer Dawn Michele made the edge of the catwalk her home, and the band, led by guitarist Glenn Drennen, seemed to relish the opportunity to play for the big crowd.
The Florida-based band was showing a maturity in performance and energy that fulfills some of the promise in its 2008 monster hit, Unbreakable. The song still sits near the end of Fireflight’s set, but it wasn’t the carrot to keep you listening that many hit singles turn out to be. This set was engaging in its own right, and it sort of made me forget how disappointed I was in Fireflight’s latest album, Now, which came out earlier this year.
It sounded like a band trying too hard, trying to recapture that dramatic energy of the breakout hit with histrionic – not dramatic – songs and performances. On the other end, there was too much gloss. “It sounds like Christian music,” my teenage daughter said in an assessment that was not meant as a compliment. To my ear, it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t as authentic or engaging a statement as I was hoping for from a band this far into its career.
It felt like Fireflight lost edge and was starting to sound like the product of a Christian music machine that always seems to like things a little sanitized, even if fans and critics say that’s not what they want.
Thursday, the edge was back. There was an abandon in their performance and urgency in their message that overwhelmed the heat and the crowd to create one of the most bristling moments I saw at Ichthus this year.
It was a direction Fireflight should try to follow the next time they go into the studio, because they do have the makings of a great band.
See more: Photo gallery from Thursday at Ichthus.
Jan7Filed under: Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion, Uncategorized; Tagged as: 2012 Christian albums, 2012 Christian rock albums, 2012 contemporary Christian albums, Abandon Progress, Believer, Brian "Head" Welch, David Crowder Band, Demon Hunter, Diamond, Fireflight, Give Us Rest or (a requiem mass in c [the happiest of all keys]), Jaci Velasquez, Kutless, Lights Go Down, Now, P.O.D., Scars and Stories, Superchick, The Fray
It has been the season for Top 10 lists, but now is the time to start building new ones for the new year.
Now that the holidays are in the rear view, here is one last list of 10: Christian pop albums that are coming in 2012 and I look forward to hearing.
David Crowder Band, Give Us Rest or (a requiem mass in c [the happiest of all keys]). You won’t have to wait long for the final album from the David Crowder Band: It drops Tuesday. It will bring to a close the career of one of the best, most literate and adventurous bands of the past decade, and it pulled off the rare feat of putting its own mark on worship music. And leave it to Crowder to bow out with an album title as hard to memorize as a verse of Shakespeare.
The Fray, Scars and Stories. With crossover hits in How to Save a Life and You Found Me, The Fray is a hugely important act to the Christian market. And this will be an important album because after the smashing success of 2005′s How to Save a Life, the band’s eponymous 2009 album received a mostly cool critical reception. The Feb. 7 release will say a lot about The Fray’s sustained importance.
Jaci Velasquez, Diamond. Velasquez was one of the big stars the early 21st century in contemporary Christian music but then faded from prominence. Her 2008 release, Love Out Loud, boasted a few hits, so maybe she can build back some momentum, particularly in the contemporary market, if the Feb. 7 release lives up to its name.
Fireflight, Now. Will the new album have another great anthem, like Unbreakable? As the band releases its fourth album, Fireflight has gone from breakout star to the establishment, and fourth albums are usually significant in the careers of artists with enduring careers. File this March 6 release under “highly anticipated.”
SuperChick, untitled. We can see on the band’s Web site, Superchickonline.com, that the Brock sisters and their insanely talented bandmates have been in the studio quite a bit. The album is promised this spring.
Brian “Head” Welch, untitled. The former Korn guitarist and co-founder has been in the studio with producer Jasen Rauch (Red and Pillar) readying a new EP for release early this year. It will be his second album since he converted to Christianity, and he’ll be bringing the tunes to Wilmore’s Ichthus Festival in June.
Demon Hunter, untitled. The band with the best name in Christian rock has promised its most aggressive album to date, which is really saying something for Demon Hunter. Giving some serious heft to frontman Ryan Clark’s promise is the return of producer Aaron Sprinkle. It also will be the band’s first album with Living Sacrifice and Showdown guitarist Jeremiah Scott. Push play with an oven mitt.
P.O.D., untitled. A recent listen to 2001′s Satellite reaffirmed my firm belief that it is the best Christian rock record ever. Period. The boys from the South have had several releases since then, but none had that record’s visceral charge. Will a 2012 release under the guidance of Howard Benson recapture the fire?
Lights Go Down, Abandon Progress. Hawk Nelson frontman Jason Dunn is spending his Canadian winter in the studio, readying the debut of his new side project. No release date has been announced, but Dunn has been posting a lot of music on the Lights Go Down Facebook page (Facebook.com/lightsgodown). As Jon Foreman’s forays in recent years have shown, these enterprises can often be refreshing to both the solo artist and his primary act.
Dec31Filed under: Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion; Tagged as: Aaron Gillespie, Anberlin, Britt Nicole, Chris August, Disciple, Family Force 5, Fireflight, For Today, Francesca Battistelli, Ichthus Festival, Jason Castro, Josh Garrels, Josh Wilson, KJ-52, Kutless, LeCrae, Living Sacrifice, MikesChair, Newsboys, NewSong, Project 86, Red, Remedy Drive, Rupp Arena, Sidewalk Prophets, Skillet, Sleeping Giant, Superchick, The Almost, the David Crowder Band, The Letter Black, Trip Lee, Winter Jam, Underoath
The new year hasn’t started, but we already can tell Christian music fans about a few things to look forward to in Central Kentucky in 2011.
Chief among them is, of course, the Ichthus Festival, which already has started releasing the lineup for the event, which will be June 15 to 18 in Wilmore.
Some of the new names coming to the main stage include longtime fan favorites Anberlin and newcomers The Letter Black, along with mainstage returns by Family Force 5 and Disciple, who weren’t there last year. There are a number of returns from last year, including Skillet, Superchick, Red and LeCrae, who brought some highly credible hip-hop to the main stage last year.
Christian music has had trouble embracing hip-hop over the years, but this year’s festival will be further evidence that hard rock is having no trouble finding its way in the genre, with heavier acts on the main stage and the growing prominence of the Deep End stage, which will feature acts including Project 86 and The Almost, Aaron Gillespie’s Underoath side project, which has grown into a substantial act in its own right.
Ichthus 2011 will again open on Wednesday night, with a community concert like last year’s Tobymac, Newsboys lineup, and it will include the acoustic Galleria stage. In years past, Ichthus had a grand lineup announcement, but now organizers trickle it out primarily on their Facebook page (Facebook.com/ichthus).
In addition to the acts mentioned above, the lineup thus far includes Jason Castro, Fireflight, Remedy Drive, Mikeschair, Chris August, Sleeping Giant, For Today, Josh Wilson, Josh Garrels, Living Sacrifice, Trip Lee and Britt Nicole.
Tickets for Ichthus 2011 are on sale at Ichthusfestival.org. (If you are reading this Dec. 31, you can still get in on bargain basement rates if you buy before the new year.)
Long before that, when the weather will be more like it is now, Winter Jam will hit Rupp Arena for the fourth straight year. And for the third straight year, it will be a Saturday night. On March 12, the set will feature Newsboys, the David Crowder Band, Red, Kutless, Francesca Battistelli, NewSong, KJ-52, Sidewalk Prophets and Chris August. Newsboys were here last year in their reconstituted lineup featuring Michael Tait, and event hosts NewSong and Francesca Battistelli have been at the Rupp event before. But the rest of the lineup is new to the event, including the Crowder Band, a onetime Ichthus staple whose last big local date was a fall 2009 show at Southland Christian Church.
As in previous years, admission for Winter Jam is $10 and only at the door. For more information, go to Hearitfirst.com/winterjam.
The last time Fireflight visited Ichthus, they were riding on the success of one of the biggest songs in Christian rock, but they showed up on the Deep End stage.
But that hit, Unbreakable, set the stage for a triumphant return closing out the afternoon card on the main stage Friday.
Lead singer Dawn Michele said being on the Winter Jam tour, which stopped by Rupp Arena in March, helped prepare her for playing to festival main stage crowds.
“We never played an arena tour before,” Michele said, backstage at Ichthus. “Playing in a venue that size definitely makes you concentrate on your communication.”
Even more daunting a task than playing to the big houses was following a big hit.
“We felt like Unbreakable was a miracle,” Michele said. “How do you follow a miracle?”
She said a tradition of personal upheaval in band members’ lives continued with the new offering, For Those Who Wait, “and it gave us a lot to draw from.”
And the impact of now being viewed as hitmakers showed when For Those Who Wait came out: It tripled the sales of its predecessor. Friday’s show was another case of Fireflight living up to its new status.
Third Day’s Mac Powell walked into enemy territory Saturday night.
Stepping up to the microphone in the home of the University of Kentucky Wildcats, he admitted, “I’m a big Alabama Crimson Tide fan,” to a hearty round of boos.
“How can you boo me when you destroyed my team?” he asked, referring to Friday’s 73-67 UK victory over ‘Bama in the SEC Tournament. “You gotta admit we drained y’all. You barely beat Tennessee,” he added, to laughs from a crowd well aware the Cats pasted the Vols by 29 points Saturday afternoon.
Powell moved toward common ground saying, “Can we all agree that Tennessee orange is just nasty? Well tonight, everybody’s on the same team. We all love Jesus, right?”
With that, the Christian Southern rockers launched into Born Again from Revelation, the Georgia band’s latest chart topper. And Third Day topped the bill at Winter Jam 2010 which rolled into Rupp Arena Saturday night for the third straight year.
This year’s edition attracted 14,756 fans to Rupp for a show that featured Central Kentucky’s first chance to see Newsboys with Michael Tait as the lead singer. The band’s set featured Tait working all sides of the stage and a catwalk that took him to the center of the arena, where he briefly took flight on Jesus Freak, a monster hit for his old band, dc talk. The new Newsboys’ set included the hit Something Beautiful, new material from the band’s forthcoming album Born Again and classics like Shine.
Both Tait and Newsboys, now nearly a year into their partnership, seemed to be invigorated by the new act. At the end of their set, Tait introduced his bandmates ending by saying somewhat emphatically, “My name is Michael, and we are the Newsboys.”
Rounding out the lineup were Fireflight, delivering their smash, Unbreakable, and stuff from their new album, For Those Who Wait; Tenth Avenue North setting the stage for Third Day with a set from their debut album Over and Underneath, and Newsong once again playing host to the event.
Winter Jam has one more Kentucky stop in Louisville March 28, which will close the tour.
Mar6Filed under: Ichthus Festival, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion; Tagged as: Born Again, Breakfast, dc talk, Duncan Phillips, Fireflight, Ichthus Festival, In the Light, Jeff Frankenstein, Jody Davis, Mac Powell, Michael Tait, Newsboys, Peter Furler, Rupp Arena, Shine, Something Beautiful, Tenth Avenue North, Third Day, TobyMac, Winter Jam
Last winter, Christian music fans received some of the most shocking news in the genre’s history: Newsboys frontman Peter Furler was stepping down from the microphone, and former dc Talk singer Michael Tait was taking over.
Third Day frontman Mac Powell said the move, fusing two of the biggest bands in Christian rock history, was like McDonald’s joining Burger King.
Tait was as surprised as anyone when he got the call.
“It was a pretty heavy mantle,” Tait, 43, recalls. “They said, Peter wants to step down and spend more time with his family — his mom and dad are getting older, living in Australia. But the Newsboys don’t want to quit, and you’re at the top of a very short list of able cats. I thought, ‘Oh boy.’ Newsboys were my old competitors, if you will, back in the day.
“So I prayed about it, and thought about it and said, ‘This could be fun. Let’s see what happens.’ But to tell the truth, I went into it with one eye open thinking, we’ll see how it goes.’
“Now, 130 shows later, I freaking love it.”
The singer says it’s like being in a garage band without the hassle of hauling amplifiers and sleeping in the back of a van.
Central Kentucky audiences have their first chance to see the Tait-fronted Newsboys on March 13, when the band plays the annual Winter Jam concert that is stopping at Rupp Arena for the third straight year.
They’ll be joined by headliners Third Day and supporting acts such as Fireflight and Tenth Avenue North.
Out of all those acts, Newsboys definitely sports the biggest curiosity factor, particularly since it has not released a new album since Tait took over. Read the rest of this entry »
The song was a massive hit for the Orlando-based band, garnering mainstream exposure as well as Christian-market stardom. It was the sort of song that can launch a band to the next level, if the band is truly ready to go there.
Unfortunately, For Those Who Wait really makes Unbreakable seem like a singular stroke of genius rather than a genuine sign of artistic growth. Nothing on the new album matches the intensity or creativity of that song, an interpretation of Jesus saving an adulterous woman from stoning.
The album starts off earnestly with strings that curiously echo The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby ushering in the title track. Then we are off on a steady stream of soaring, glossy anthems that blend into one another. Many of them seem to be trying to recapture that Unbreakable magic — gritty power rock with soaring vocals about overcoming adversity — but they just don’t quite get there. The word “overproduced” leaps to mind, as you get the sensation of a band trying too hard to be perfect. Name, for it’s quiteness, is maybe the most striking track on the album. But for a hospital ballad, it is surprisingly unmoving, reminding listeners of the Superchick classic We Live rather than drawing them into this song.
And therein lies the major problem: Despite a singular hit, Fireflight seems more inclined to sound like other bands than find its own voice.
Ichthus 2010 will boast a four-night mainstage lineup featuring the return of Switchfoot, which will top a Thursday night schedule that also includes Relient K.
The 2009 festival had a subdued schedule with organizers keeping the tight economy in mind and wanting to put an emphasis on teaching. But the lineup for this year’s event, June 16-19, is loaded with star power, and organizers say they are still putting it together.
And they are providing a fourth night of music. Since moving to the summertime in 2006, the festival has started quietly with a free set for early arrivals by smaller artists on the Deep End stage. But you don’t start quietly with TobyMac. He leads the headliner lineup Wednesday, followed by Switchfoot Thursday, Skillet Friday and Casting Crowns Saturday.
Also scheduled are Thousand Foot Krutch, SuperChick, DecemberRadio and Stellar Kart Thursday. Friday includes Red and Fireflight, whose “For Those Who Wait,” is due Feb. 9. Saturday’s lineup will also include BarlowGirl.
The festival is also putting headliners on the Deep End Stage. The Devil Wears Prada Friday night and Anberlin Saturday have been announced already. Like we said, the schedule is still being made, so it could get even better.
Until the end of the month, weekend tickets are $69 adults, $34 ages 7-10. Ichthus is billing these as the lowest ticket prices in six years.
We’ve seen a lot of dream tours lately.
Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman went out for a show that hit Rupp Arena earlier this year. Another heavenly lineup was Third Day, Switchfoot and Jars of Clay – who didn’t get to Kentucky.
Thanksgiving weekend will close out with another great headlining duo, playing in Louisville, that offers a compelling look at the current state of Christian rock.
Winter Wonder Slam blows into Broadbent Arena with TobyMac and Relient K topping the bill.
With its growing mainstream cred, it seems a little surprising Relient is still taking part in faith-based tours. But as targeted at general-market listeners as its latest album, “Forget and Not Slow Down,” is, it’s also a reaffirmation of the band’s faith base. And by teaming with Toby, Matt Thiessen and company help present a microcosm of the best of Christian rock that is both reaching out and playing to the choir.
TobyMac has yet to score a mainstream hit, though that is certainly not due to a lack of quality, as Toby and his Diverse City Band offer a blend of hip-hop and rock that is second to none. And Relient K has moved out into the marketplace by being another crack ensemble that has shown a faith-based band can write songs with mainstream appeal, and secular audiences don’t mind.
So here it is, a tour that shows you where Christian rock is going: in several different directions.
Coming next year
One big marquee tour making a return to Rupp Arena for the third straight year is Winter Jam, the Newsong-presented tour on which the venerable band willingly plays second fiddle to current chart-toppers.
Headliners for the 2010 edition, which will be at Rupp on March 13, are Third Day, Newsboys, Tenth Avenue North, Fireflight, Sidewalk Prophets, Robert Pierre, and Revive. This will be the area’s first chance to hear Newsboys with former dc talk member Michael Tait on lead vocals.
Tickets are $10, and they are available only at the door.
- If you are looking for the David Crowder Band concert review that appeared with the print version of this column, click here.
Feb24Filed under: Ichthus Festival, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture; Tagged as: Chris Tomlin, Delirious, Disciple, Dove Awards, Family Force 5, Fireflight, Francesca Battistelli, Gospel Music Channel, Hawk Nelson, Ichthus Festival, Israel Houghton and New Breed, Justin Lookadoo, Kutless, Natalie Grant, Shane Claiborne, Skillet, Stellar Kart, The Afters, TobyMac
The Ichthus Festival is still working on the overall schedule for its 40th edition, but it has locked in the headliners.
The nighttime pairings bring distinct flavors to each evening. June 11 is very youthful, dancy rock with Family Force 5 and Hawk Nelson. June 12 looks to be rock night with Skillet and Kutless, and then things get worshipful on the closing night with Israel Houghton and New Breed and Delirious. Festival director Jeff James says they plan to make a big deal out of the Delirious set, as it will be the band’s last festival appearance. The groundbreaking worship band is splitting up later this year.
Other bands already announced include Fireflight, Disciple, Stellar Kart, and The Afters. We’ll let you know when acts are added.
Speakers already announced include Justin Lookadoo, whose Saturday talk last year included a skydiver, and Shane Claiborne, a Philadelphia-based minister whose Ordinary Radicals ministry was profiled in a film by the same name, which played at the Kentucky Theatre last year.
If you’re already planning to go, there are just a couple of weeks left before the next ticket price increase, March 14.
Ichthus and Winter Jam: Ichthus is also partnering with Winter Jam, which comes to Rupp Arena March 7, to round up volunteers. According to an Ichthus e-mail, the volunteer period would be from 3:30 p.m. until the end of the evening. If you’re interested, e-mail email@example.com. Winter Jam features TobyMac, Hawk Nelson and others. We had a good interview with Toby that we’ll bring you next week here and in the paper.
Dove nominations: Late last week, the Gospel Music Association announced nominees for the 2009 Dove Awards, and once again, Chris Tomlin leads the pack. His most recent effort, Hello Love, helped him garner seven nominations and further solidifies his place as his generation’s Michael W. Smith. Close behind the Texan are Natalie Grant and newcomer Francesca Battistelli, with five each.
Battistelli, by the way, is on the Winter Jam lineup. She made a big splash last year with I’m Letting Go.
This year, the awards are letting viewers weigh in on two key categories: Artist of the Year and New Artist of the Year. Voting in these categories will begin Feb. 26 and go through the broadcast at 8 p.m. April 23. The fan vote will count as one-third of the overall vote in those categories. Here are those nominees:
- Artist of the Year: Casting Crowns, Steven Curtis Chapman, Fireflight, Marvin Sapp, Third Day, TobyMac, and Chris Tomlin.
- New Artist of the Year: Addison Road, Francesca Battistelli, Fee, Jonathan Nelson, Remedy Drive, Chris Sligh, and Tenth Avenue North.
Once again, the Doves will be carried on the Gospel Music Channel, which is not available in Lexington on Insight cable. It is available on Dish Network at Channel 338. Click here if you’d like to send Insight a notice that you’d like to see GMC added to the lineup. Gospel Music Channel is available on other Central Kentucky cable systems.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich