The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
We got a chance to talk to Tim Foreman and Drew Shirley of Switchfoot before their set Thursday night at the Ichthus Festival. Click play to hear our chat. (Btw, the guy who walks through toward the end of the interview is Relient K’s Matt Thiessen.)
By the way, the line-up for Questapalooza was announced this morning, and Switchfoot tops the bill, which includes fellow Ichthus 2010 artists Newsboys, for their third Lexington-area show this year, and last year’s Questapalooza opener Group 1 Crew. The show is Sept. 5, and tickets go on sale July 4.
Ichthus stayed true to the form of recent years, ending the festival on a worshipful note Saturday with the Main Stage pairing of Casting Crowns and BarlowGirl.
One of the things many people were commenting on over the weekend was the strong pairings of evening headliners – the rock night of Skillet and Red, modern rock of Switchfoot and Relient K -and the Saturday night duo had sort of a worship/traditional contemporary Christian music vibe.
Saturday’s headliners had tough acts to follow.
TobyMac and Switchfoot fielded big, lively bands Wednesday and Thursday respectively, and then Skillet came with that and Fourth of July-worthy pyrotechnic show.
Crowns, by comparison, put most of the responsibility for filling the amphitheater on the shoulders of lead singer Mark Hall. Barlow Girl, which in previous daytime Main Stage outings (they were one of the bands that braved the snow day in 2005) was packed to the center of the stage by the equipment of later acts, seemed a little lost spread out across the entire main stage, Saturday night.
Sanctus Real, playing earlier in the afternoon, delivered the most lively set I got to sample on the Main Stage Saturday.
For those who wanted to rock a little more before going home, there were offerings on other stages such as Disciple and Pillar on the Deep End, and many took in those shows. This year, the Deep End really did claim the title of Main Stage Jr. as much as it ever has.
And this was as complete a festival as Ichthus has put together. From this perspective, it was a little like going to New York: Not enough time to do everything you want to do, even with the extra day. It hardly feels like a weekend in rural Kentucky, until you look around at the hills and cows – and we don’t mean the Chik-fil-a cow.
Before Thursday night’s concerts, we talked to members of Switchfoot and Relient K – audio from those chats will be coming soon – and both groups talked about how gratifying it is to hear a crowd sing their songs back to them.
It can also be pretty gratifying for the audience.
Switchfoot’s performance, in particular, demonstrated how much having songs the crowd has taken to heart can create an intimate atmosphere, even in an amphitheater packed with thousands of people.
We heard how well the crowd knew the Switchfoot catalog when frontman Jon Foreman turned the microphone over to the audience during Dare You to Move and the crowd called it back to him crisply. Relient K’s set demonstrated the same familiarity, unintentionally, when frontman Matt Thiessen’s microphone briefly failed, and the audience picked up the lead.
Members of Switchfoot, which has bounced between mainstream and Christian markets, like to say they are not preaching or performing with an agenda. But Foreman delivers plenty of exhortations from the stage, and a talk about civil rights leader John M. Perkins and comments such as “Works cannot be separated from faith, my friends” seemed to be taken to heart by an audience that knew exactly where he was coming from.
Music spread out across the festival site Thursday, including the new Galleria stage, which is billed as an acoustic stage, though acts such as Bluetree and Phil Keaggy plugged in. Keaggy reportedly commanded an audience of musicians and festival officials created an impromptu autograph session after one of his sets.
The main stage at the Ichthus Festival is about as loaded as it has been in several years, with a good variety of artists from the contemporary worship sounds of Casting Crowns to the pyrotechnic rock of Skillet. So, we’re curious who the masses are dying to see here.
Please take the poll below or, if your favorite is not listed – Vizu allows a maximum of 10 answers, so I just listed the evening acts – please reply below or direct message @copiousnotes on Twitter.
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.
Dec25Filed under: Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion; Tagged as: 2009, Awake, Beauty Will Rise, Bluetree, Church Music, David Crowder Band, Derek Webb, Flyleaf, Forget and Not Slow Down, God of This City, Hello Hurricane, Israel Houghton, Memento Mori, Monster Monster, Relient K, Skillet, Steven Curtis Chapman, Stockholm Syndrome, Switchfoot, The Almost, The Power of One, Top 10 Christian pop albums
To be totally honest, 2009 was not collectively a great year for Christian pop music.
A lot of what passed across my desk was formulaic and tepid fare that inspired indifference. It sounded like an industry trying too hard to target demographics and not offend anyone while forgetting that what it’s supposed to do is make inspirational music.
But there were several albums that made me giddy with their independence and imagination. And those are the sorts of albums that make it a pleasure to sit down every December and write a list of my Top 10 Christian pop albums of the year.
1. Derek Webb, “Stockholm Syndrome” – Here are two things I really want in music: a strong point of view and creativity. In recent years, no one has delivered like Derek Webb. Webb didn’t take cover with this album, getting in the faces of Christians and challenging them to examine how they present themselves. Does the nation, the world, know you are Christians by your love? No would be his answer to evangelicals who seem to take comfort and pride in their self-perceived persecution. “Stockholm Syndrome” is the album Webb has been working toward for his entire solo career, an audacious challenge to his brothers and sisters in the faith he holds dear. But it is not just a great piece of advocacy, it is a great piece of music with Webb, traditionally a man with an acoustic guitar, exploring his themes with electronic and electrified soundscapes. You like to put masterpieces atop this list, and “Stockholm Syndrome” is one.
2. Flyleaf, “Memento Mori” — This young Texas quintet gave Mr. Webb a huge challenge in my estimation. They have all his confidence and clarity plus amazing musicianship that extends far beyond enigmatic frontwoman Lacey Mosley. “Memento Mori” is as skillful a blend of goth and hard rock sensibilities — two things many people have a hard time understanding together — as there is on record. If Flyleaf continues its upward trajectory on album three and future efforts, the band will have a legendary career.
3. Steven Curtis Chapman, “Beauty Will Rise” — It’s always a bit unnerving hitting the play button for the first time on an album you know was born of personal tragedy. There are several lines it is so easy to cross between legitimate art and, say, wallowing in self pity or seeming to try to profit from tragedy. Chapman, in his first album since the accidental death of his 5-year-old daughter, came no where near any of those lines. He did deliver a powerful testament to faith and how it can deliver you through pain.
4. Switchfoot, “Hello Hurricane” – With a solo and side project by frontman Jon Foreman, Switchfoot’s future seemed a little iffy. But this turned out to be the band’s most focused effort since 2003′s “The Beautiful Letdown.” The songs were examines faith and life, and much of the album sounded like the explosive release of a man who really wanted to rock after several mellow excursions.
5. Israel Houghton, “The Power of One” – I don’t think anyone ever mistook Israel Houghton for being restrained by his group, “The New Breed.” But with this solo effort, he was freer to move around the many styles at his disposal to make a very individual statement.
6. David Crowder Band, “Church Music” – Calling a David Crowder album “inspired” is sort of like calling a sunset gorgeous. True, but we’ve come to expect that. Still, “Church Music” took this great idea of using the form of a mainline church service to build a pop music statement of faith. Inspirational music indeed.
7. Relient K, “Forget and Not Slow Down” – Hardly typical ReK, this album was largely the product of a very lonely few months for frontman Matt Thiessen, and it largely tapped a different set of skills than are normally seen in the band’s trademark punky pop. It was a more introspective style that, if you hadn’t paid much attention to it on other Relient K albums, could change the way you think about the group.
8. The Almost, “Monster, Monster” – First, Underoath drummer Aaron Gillespie created The Almost by himself, playing and singing everything on the debut, “Southern Weather.” Then, he recruited a band to tour it. Then, the band became the band, recording this follow up that sounds like Gillespie’s original vision augmented by other strong ideas.
9. Bluetree, “God of This City” – Did we just hear the next great worship band? We were first introduced to Bluetree through Chris Tomlin’s recording of “God of This City.” This North American debut showed us Tomlin was drawing from a deep well with this passionate Irish band.
10. Skillet, “Awake” — Some have complained this is typical Skillet. But typical Skillet is pretty darned good — why do you think we hear “Hero” every week during Sunday night football — and “Awake” does show John Cooper’s growth as a songwriter and subtle adjustments to their sound that reveal a band not resting on its formula.
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.
Review: Relient K, Forget and Not Slow Down
Direct comparisons between bands can seem a bit disrespectful, and maybe easy. But the parallels between the Beach Boys and Relient K are a bit too hard to avoid in light of the Canton, Ohio band’s recent offerings.
It’s not that Matthew Thiessen and Co. sound like the California boys, though their last album, Fivescore and Seven Years Ago (2007), did include some familiar harmonies. It’s more that this is a band that bowed with numbers like Sadie Hawkins Dance and other tunes that made them seem like a sonic confection — appealing as a cupcake, but not much to it.
And that’s a sound that has never gone away. But what has been growing in each ReK album, particularly since mmhmm (2004) is a musicianship and thoughfulness that make each album a richer experience. Occasionally it’s gone wrong — I was one who found Fivescore’s Deathbed a bit much — but each album has been a growth spurt, and little to nothing is wrong with Forget and Not Slow Down.
The immediate impression is this is a meditation on loss, but more about regrouping than moping. Therapy is the linchpin track, describing Thiessen’s very real experience of self isolation during the time he wrote the album — “You won’t take my calls, and that makes God the only one who’s left here listening.”
Thiessen has developed a knack for taking the spiritual and putting it in temporal terms without diminishing its gravity. He can also take a well-worn cliche and give it new meaning such as Part of It, where he invokes the phrase, “It’s not the end of the world,” and adds, “When a nightmare finally does unfold, perspective is a lovely hand to hold.”
The notes hold equal “Ah” moments like Candlelight where the jumpy pop melts into into a lilting, swirling finale evocative of the lyric, “A solar flare shines through her hair.”
It’s one of numerous moments that could make a listener wonder how long Thiessen will find the pop band format sufficient for conveying his ideas.
One way that Relient K does not mirror the Beach Boys is in popularity. While they are one of the biggest bands in Christian rock and a significant player in the modern rock scene, sales of one Beach Boys hit probably equal ReK’s entire catalog. Forget and Not Slow Down will not change that. Despite its excellence, it may be the band’s least radio-friendly effort ever. But it is an effort that should make serious pop music listeners, Christian and otherwise, take notice.
Sep21Filed under: album review, American Idol, Louisville, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion, Reviews; Tagged as: Brown Bannister, Casting Crowns, GMA, Gospel Music Association, Into the Light, Jeremy Camp, Joanne Brokaw, Michael W. Smith, Newsboys, Phil Stacey, Relient K, Rich Mullins, TobyMac
Listening to Phil Stacey‘s Into the Light, you think, if this guy wasn’t on American Idol, he should have been.
His debut on Reunion Records under the guidance of legendary Christian producer Brown Bannister sounds very Idol, with songs that showcase soaring choruses and emotional lyrics, and Stacey definitely has the chops to deliver them.
His post-Idol debut on Lyric Street records was a refreshing sound for the Christian market, introducing some country songwriter cleverness in songs like It’s Who You Know, and bringing some genuine energy to the project. But Stacey says he was miscast as a country guy and pop was always where his heart was, hence the move to the Christian pop label and embrace by Christian pop royalty — Michael W. Smith is his labelmate.
The result is a solid album with catchy tunes like Inside Out and soaring worship ballads like One. He also pulls out a great Rich Mullins cover, Hard to Get, that could serve to show some younger listeners there’s more to the Christian pop legend than Awesome God.
What’s really missing here is any sense of Stacey’s own individuality, which seemed to be so present on that 2008 debut. With Into the Light, Stacey has been embraced by the Christian music establishment. On future efforts, he needs to avoid sounding like a generic contemporary Christian artist.
Is the GMA in trouble?: My fellow Christian music blogger Joanne Brokaw has an interesting post about recent cuts and layoffs at the Gospel Music Association and the just-annouced $1,000-a-plate Save the GMA fundraiser. Is Christian music’s umbrella organization in danger of going under?
Close, but not quite here: Yes, we do have Jeremy Camp coming Thursday night and Casting Crowns in a few weeks. But there are two Christian tours of interest not quite getting here, but they will be close if you’re the road tripping type.
~ If you’ve wanted to see Newsboys with Michael Tait out front, they get as close as Wilmington, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati, Nov. 15. Click here for Newsboys tour itinerary and ticket links.
~ You may also have heard plenty of TobyMac and Relient K live, but still find the concept of their Winter Wonder Slam tour together irresistible. It hits Louisville Nov. 29.
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