Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Christian Music and Pop Culture

Over the course of my writing I have shared my love of music.  Visit my personal and business Facebook pages and you'll see how I consider my music.  Speaking of my business, it is in the music industry.  One could say, I'm an addict.  You would be correct in that assessment.  Dive deep enough in this blog and you might see some posts about pop culture or current events.  I'm not a lover of pop culture, but I'd like to think I know just enough to be slightly dangerous.  I can recognize references most of the time, and might even give you a witty reference too.  But, please don't ask me to know about every pop culture reference you give me.  If you expect that, sooner or later you will get a deer caught in the headlights look.  If you want someone who is a pop culture junkie, hop over to my brothers blog, you'll be much more satisfied.

Today, I'm gonna combine my observations of pop culture, and associate the topic with a song.  Not just any song, but a Christian music genre themed song.  Think it can't be done?  Well, I'm out to prove you wrong.  More than just prove you wrong, I also hope to stir some thinking in your perspectives of faith and pop culture and how these two are more connected than you think.  There is no topic off limits, but for the sake of a shorter blog, I'm limiting what I put here...for now.

Topic one, the big one that currently has caused christians to prove how ignorant they are.  The red Starbucks cup.  Initially, not knowing the "controversy," I immediately started singing the hit Toby Keith song.  Then I learned what the commotion was about.  I shook my head.  Disbelief at how absurd this "Pastor" was in his outrage over a cup.  A CUP!!!  I've read many a blog, many posts and even participated in discussions about this stupid cup.  Then it hit me.  The color red.  It's associated with Taylor Swift album and song names, gangs and blood.  BLOOD!  YES!!!  Blood runs red.  It flows out of our bodies when cut.  More importantly, Petra gave us a song in 1981 that shared what the color red symbolizes.  Yes, The Coloring Song is really what red should be about, instead of a stupid cup from an establishment selling over priced and over acidic coffee.

Current event number two takes me to a very sore subject for many.  Race aside, everybody has an opinion, a story or even an example.  Me, sure I have an opinion, but the significance of the opinion is limited due to my life experiences.  But, I do know that at some point in time the race relations in this country have to improve and hopefully will improve.  I'm not the only one that has this hope and belief.  KB shares this hope in his song I Believe.  A great song, great message and one that gives me hope.

October 21st, 2015 has come and gone.  All the fun associated with this date brought back many memories, skits on late night TV and a city hoping that fiction became reality as it watched its lovable Cubs take one the Mets of New York for the right to play in the World Series.  The Cubs failed.  But, those cool shoes are in the prototype stage at Nike headquarters.  Hover boards do exist, but not perfected.  Flying cars are close, but Volkswagen still has a long way to go.  But, as I watch the video for American Noise from Skillet, I can't help but see a lot of the 80's in the video.  I also can't help but think that maybe, just maybe Marty McFly had to interpret all the noise he was seeing in 2015. 

Somehow, Bon Jovi has lasted the test of time in the music industry.  Just today I see a Facebook post from August about him severing his relationship with his record label.  No, that isn't relevant, but just the name Bon Jovi is.  Ask my teenagers and they know Livin' On A Prayer.  Go to any wedding and you are certain to hear this song.  Yes, even the Christian band Spoken and now their lead singer Matt covers the song.  I'll give you that the song talks of love and a relationship, but I believe we should always live in prayer, not just on prayer.  Manafest talks about this belief in one of his newer songs, aptly named Pray.

There you have it.  Four current events/pop culture references that I can associate with Christian music.  I did have to stretch a little with one, but the significance is not lost.  Yes, some of this is to simply poke fun, but even in poking fun, there is an underlying seriousness to our society.  Where are we placing significance in relationships, entertainment and dreams of the future?  What are we doing to heal differences?  What is causing our umbrage with everything?  

Want more fun?  Give me another current event or pop culture reference and I'll do my best to connect it to Christian music.  Yes, it can and will be done.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Get Dressed! Or Go Back To Work At The Gentleman's Club

Friday night and your favorite band is in town.  SWEET!!!  Get out of school or out of work and hurry to the show.  Sounds fun and something you might not put much thought into other than who's driving and where you're stopping at for dinner.  If you really had to think about the evening, you might have even planned on being the first few in the door to make sure you could get as close to the stage as possible making sure the sweat of the lead guitarist fell on you while he head bangs.  At the end of the night, your plans were a success!  Not only did you get to enjoy every bit of sweat dripping on you, but you got to take your first stage dive.  I'm pretty certain you were glad you chose to wear shorts to the show too, that way you stayed somewhat cool in the hot and sweaty packed like sardine venue.  Overall, best concert you have ever attended.

Now, for those of you reading this knowing that a hardcore show is not for you, I'll give you something up your alley.  But, you actually have to choose what event it is you attend.  Not being mean, but there are too many things I could place you at, places I might not be able to provide the best visual for you.  Sorry.  Go ahead, visualize that Friday night that is now the best Friday night you've had in a long time, if not ever had.  How much thought did you put into going?  Did you plan on stopping at 'Doba on the way?  Was that stop at Dairy Queen on the way home your idea or a mutual decision between you and your spouse?  Would you tell your friends to catch the next performance by the local symphony?  Did you feel under dressed when you set foot at the Civic Center production of Cats?  I told you, too many scenarios available in describing your Friday Night event.  Hopefully, your visualized your fantastic night out on the town.

No matter what your perfect night on the town looked like, how did you dress?  Did you just throw something on?  Did you have to get all dressed up in your semi formal best?  Were your dancing shoes a part of your attire?  Or, did you let your wild fan self out, rip off your shirt and paint yourself in your favorite college team colors for their basketball game?  I'm pretty certain you dressed according to situation, event, venue requirements and possibly an expectation based on visiting Broadway or The Apollo.

Fast forward to Sunday mornings.  You attend church on a regular basis.  Your Sunday best always find you in slacks, button down shirt and tie if you're a guy.  Ladies, you doll yourself up and put on the summer dress making sure to cover areas that might cause guys to look at you.  Your make up enhances the already beautiful face God gave you.  Jewelry accentuates your outfit, and the heels or flats simply matches your mood - prim and proper or semi relaxed.  How many of you have just seen yourself in front of the mirror in this attire?  I challenge you to think about this process.  Why are some of us still stuck on our appearance when we go to church?

Old theory here, some are stuck on appearance based on the belief that, "Give your best for God," means in everything, most importantly their attire on Sunday.  Okay, I agree with giving our best for God, or in all things do them as if doing it for the Lord.  I don't believe this applies to dress codes in church.  Think about it.  What is church?  Our feeble minds have made church - the building - more than what it is.  To me, it is a building.  A building people meet with mostly like minded people, worshiping, learning, teaching and enjoying fellowship.  And sadly, this is what we, simple minded people, have made church.  But what does the Bible say about church?  Better yet, what does God say about church?  Besides addressing churches in Revelation, and the examples given us by Paul in Acts, what is most important about church?  Matthew 18:20 states two or more.  To me, that means you can have church anywhere!  How cool is that?!?!?

Get past the coolness of having church anywhere (I know people that do, and I have done so myself) and humor yourself for a minute.  You are at your favorite neighborhood grocery store, grabbing a gallon of milk for your cereal.  Since you just rolled out of bed, you're still in your PJ's, breath stinks and hair slightly disheveled.  You really don't expect to see anyone at 730 in the morning, but you just happen to run into the youth leader of your church.  He/she looks fairly similar to you, and since you try to be nice to everyone you both strike up a conversation hoping the other can't smell your morning breath.  Suddenly, another person from church shows up, joins the conversation and by the time you realize y'all have been chatting for about 20 minutes, each of you have shared the joys and heartaches of the week.  Before parting, you quickly pray for each other, share side hugs and go about your day.  Now, how were you dressed?  You may not have been in a church, but you had a quick 20 service.  I'm willing to bet, you didn't rush home to change and clean up.  Just a thought.

Last example time.  All of us know someone who needs a little hope.  Sometimes, that hope is in the form of going to a place where they can be accepted for being them.  They just want to show up, see a smiling face or two and hear something that can give them a glimpse of hope and something better than what they currently know.  This place for them is the church just up the road from home - your church.  She walks in the front door in clothes that will make your mom blush.  Sure, you got all cleaned up and dressed in the Sunday best you've known and loved.  But her, if you didn't know any better you'd think she just walked in off the streets where the John's like to visit.  Again, since you try to be nice to everyone, you greet her.  That simple greeting, and your smile, comfort her just enough to return the greeting.  Something else happened in that brief exchange and suddenly you both are engaged in a full conversation.  This is where you find out that she needs hope, needs acceptance, needs love, and needs God.  Her visit today comes on the heels of a 36 hour weekend at work.  She's tired of what she dealt with, the constant heartbreak she feels in a job she feels trapped in.  Her boss wanted her to work longer that Sunday morning, but something told her to leave and visit your church.  You understand her feelings, up until the point she tells you her place of employment is the local Gentleman's Club.  This is where you are broken.  Broken for her, but more importantly broken by God.  He's brought this young lady into your church and your life to break how you feel about how others dress in church.  It's not uncommon for people to go straight to church from work and you've always had a problem with it because they weren't dressed as nicely as you.  Here, on this particular Sunday, God placed this young lady in your life, in minimal clothes, fresh out of hope with no one in her life loving her for her and not her body.  Both of you leave church that late morning changed.  She now has hope and you now have a fresh perspective on church attire as well as a new friend and sister in Christ.

Now, how do you feel about church attire?  Are you willing to put behind you the normal?  Are you willing to be uncomfortable?  Are you willing to take in the couple of teen boys in jeans and make them feel welcome?  Can you look past yourself for the better good of your church and be excited to see people in church?  People have left the church because they don't have your Sunday best.  They have their Sunday best, which could be the tattered pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, a greased up pair of Carhart's, or even a short skirt with low cut top and high heels.  It is their Sunday best, what they are comfortable in, and what they thing God will accept them in.  Instead of using our feeble mind, think like and act like God - accept them because God already has.  He has given them hope.  What will you give them?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Thriving Local Music Scene, Just Not Yours

"Friday night, let's go.  Let's all have fun tonight.  All right, here we go.  Here we go tonight."

Slick Shoes had it right with those words.  You are looking for something to do after a long week of stress, frustration, aggravation and nights of boredom.  Work has lead you to near homicide, all those math problems and history lessons aren't making sense (not to mention learning onomatopoeia, oxymorons and past participles), and your siblings have been driving you nuts.  Other than all of this, you have had a great week of...well...nothing.  But, you made it to Friday!  So what are you going to do?

Friday night lights?  If you live in a big city your sure to find a football or basketball game.  If you live in a smaller town and the high school sports team is across the state (or county), you probably don't want to drive all that way to watch just a half, so you decide to go bowling.  Maybe the local hang out spot is the ice or skating rink.  Or even better, you want to catch that new movie with Kevin Hart in it.  No matter the option you choose, you and your closest friends have something to do.

Notice though, of all the options, there is no mention of a concert?  Think about this, you're a huge music fan.  You have all these options, but none of them is a concert.  Certainly there is a club you can go to.  Isn't there a church bringing someone in this week?  I mean, you got friends in a band, and they're always up for a show.  Or how about the youth worship band, don't they write original stuff too?  Of course, the bowling alley might have a band playing in their bar, so that would count as attending a concert, even if you're not really watching their performance.

Well, for most of us music lovers, especially Christian music lovers, the local club has shut down, or only does a show once a quarter.  Our favorite band doesn't fit into the "mold" of what our towns churches like.  Sure, there are some pretty cool bands that your friends are in, but they only get gigs at bars and maybe you're just not old enough to get into the bar.  That youth worship band does indeed write original stuff, but they are the worship band at the Nazarene church and the Baptist church a block up the road won't bring them in because, "we don't want to steal another churches youth."  Raise your hand if this paragraph sounds familiar.  And if you're a pastor reading this thinking you would never exclude a band because of genre or church they attend, I'm calling your bluff.

Today's local music scene, especially for the Christian music scene, is hit and miss.  Sadly, the hit ratio is smaller than the miss.  If you're like me, you check the tour schedule of your favorite band and don't see a local stop.  You might not even see them stopping in your state.  Why is this?  Why do your favorite bands never stop in your town or even your state?  Why can't anybody keep the club open for longer than six months, or sometimes a year?  Why doesn't your church bring in your favorite band, especially when your entire youth group loves them too?  Heck, that band is playing an hour to two hours away, can't they just make that drive up the road and play your church?  Of course, there are cities that seem to always have concerts.  Denver, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Seattle and more seem to always get the cool concerts with your favorites.  But, you don't live close to attend those events.  So, why can't this happen for your town/city?

These questions have no easy answer.  The answers vary from routing to finances and from location to radio success.  How did you hear about your favorite band?  Did you hear them on the radio?  If you didn't hear them on the radio, there is a strong probability they may never play your town.  Can you find their music at your local Christian bookstore?  Oh, if their music isn't carried at the bookstore, or if your town doesn't have a bookstore, you might have to continue to travel in order to catch them in concert.  But what about that youth worship band that does write original tunes?  Can't they play every once in a while?  Sure, but maybe they are tired of playing for free.  See all the reasons a band can't or won't are just as varied as the styles of music you listen to daily.  All of these reason combine to present our local music scenes with problems.

Here is my perspective, the numerous reasons we are seeing a huge decline in local music scenes.
1. Are local bands/artists making themselves available to perform?  Are they working/hustling the streets/schools/churches/clubs/bars to get the gigs?  Are they opening for those bigger national bands when they roll through town?  Better yet, is their music actually good?  Do they believe in their music as much as they want others to believe in it?  Many of today's bands and artists want the instant gratification.  They figure if they put together a YouTube video, they'll garner enough likes that someone should notice and be signed to a label immediately.  Sure, they may do a talent show or two and win one of them.  But, with that talent show victory they again think there should be an automatic record deal waiting for them.  What is forgotten in this whole belief system is how much work it takes to get what they feel they might be entitled to.  They forget that they are still local and no one outside their town knows who they are (except maybe a few hundred YouTube followers).
2. The cost of bringing your favorite band to town is becoming a very expensive thing to do.  Promoters burden the cost of the bands meals, their hotel stay, the cost of renting (depending on concert location) the venue, staging (if needed), sound (if not provided by tour), printing tickets and sometimes even more, and that is on top of how much the band is getting paid to play.  Yes, that is the cost of doing business and rarely do you hear a promoter complain about those costs.  But, when you have the local band playing and asking for money on top of the national band getting paid, that's a whole lot of cash being spent for 3-4 bands.  Does the local band deserve to get paid, yes in certain circumstances, but most of the time just getting to play with the big boys, keeping merch sales and hanging out in the green room with free food should be enough pay.  Do the national guys deserve to be paid?  Heck yeah!  This is their job!  A man is worthy of his pay isn't just something the working guy made up one day.  The Word says it (Luke 10:7 and 1 Timothy 5:18)!  However, it is these expenses that are putting clubs out of business in smaller towns.  Many of your national artists and bands ask for a lot of money.  Yes, they have business expenses too, but sometimes even I wonder how much the cost of business really is for a band of 4 guys/gals, the bus driver, sound guy, light guy and road manager.  Even some of the local/regional bands that ask for and deserved to get paid are now asking for upwards of a thousand dollars or more.  Yes, they too have business expenses, but to drive maybe two hours to play, spend a hundred bucks on gas and getting free food certainly can't add up to a thousand dollars.  No wonder these smaller towns can't get a good local scene going.
3. Lastly, if you hear your favorite band on the radio, and only on the radio, are you really a fan?  If you had the chance to see your favorite band live, would you spend $20-$25 for the ticket?  What if there was something better that came up the night they were playing?  Or maybe you read on one of your friends Twitter page that the band was awful live and it isn't worth going to their concert.  Yes, from experience I can tell you I have seen all of the above happen.  People don't want to pay $20 or more for a ticket, especially when they hear they aren't good live.  Yes, I've had people tell me they didn't go to a concert because they would have missed out on going to the gym or their favorite TV show was on that night.  Yet the one that just kills me is when a youth pastor/pastor/worship leader says they won't take their kids to the church across town to see a band everybody likes simply because it is at a different church or, "They can learn more from my lesson than what any band might share with them."  SERIOUSLY!!!  Are any of these good reasons not to support a band, not to mention a club that might be closing their doors in three months if they can't bring out 100+ kids to their next concert?  No, they are not.

Sure some of this might sound a little scathing.  I will admit to it being that, and maybe just a little cynical.  Rest assured though, I care about the state of local music scenes.  I would love to see a Murray Hill Theater (Jacksonville, FL) type venue in every state (more if possible).  I'd love to see more bands like Seventh Day Slumber do Small Town America tours.  I'd would really love to see churches pull together and send youth to another church to see Children 18:3, Tedashii or Francesca Battistelli.  I would really love to see the Lutheran church invite the youth worship band from the Assemblies of God church to open for a TFK or Skillet.  Even better, I would love to see the day when churches would come together and pay for a concert more than just once a year.  And when they do that, include the youth in the planning and working of the event.  The Christian music industry, and the local scene that supports it, would be amazed at what each town could do.

So, who's ready to go to the next local concert?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Musical Influences of a Lifetime Part 2

Today I share with you my musical influences.  Yes, I have shared some previously.  Yet, of those, I have never shared the albums that molded my upbringing and my tastes.  Part 1 Michael shared his journey.  As I read through those albums I remembered many albums that I hadn't thought of for many years.  Some of those albums were from artists that Michael selected, and others from the few artists he only mentioned.  For me, there are to many albums to select from (Michael had the same problem when asked to guest write), but I will indeed present the top 5 most influential albums of my lifetime (up to recent).  Without further ado, here they are.  Enjoy.

WARNING: This list, and any artist/band in list does not mean anything other than that of an influence.  I can not confirm the quality of artistry of said album(s) or artist(s).  One or two selections might have been great selections during their days on the charts but does not mean...or might not mean the inclusion in list speaks of any longevity.  NO MOCKING!  You have been warned!

HONORABLE MENTION: Because some of these are to good to not mention but had to be cut.
To Hell With the Devil - Stryper - Video for "Honestly"
Atomic Arena - Barren Cross - Video for "Imaginary Music"
Sigh No More - Mumford and Sons - Video for "Roll Away Your Stone"
Upbeats and Beatdowns - Five Iron Frenzy - Video to "The Flowery Song"

And now the Countdown:

5. Can't Slow Down - Lionel Richie
Released in 1983, Lionel was topping the charts of the Top 40 world well into 1984 with several singles on this album.  With the few stations my parents listened to, he seemed to be on most of them.  Sometime during early 1984 I received a gift certificate to a music store in my hometown.  I was excited!  I was given an opportunity to get my own music.  When my parents took me to go purchase the music of my choice, the only words of wisdom my father provided me were, "I don't care what you get, just make sure the lyrics are clean and it is something you want."  Not wanting to be to rebellious (yet), Lionel found his place in my musical collection.  "Hello" was the hit of the album.  The song hit #1 on Billboard for a few weeks, had a video and one unforgettable line, "Hello! Is it me you're looking for?"  Sure, I had heard the other hit song called, "All Night Long (All Night)," but it was the piano and the guitar solo of "Hello" that hooked me.  I played that album (tape if not mistaken) frequently.  Being this was my first ever album I bought, I didn't really know the impact it would have on my musical adventures.  It was also the album that I learned I would never have problems with my parents telling me I couldn't listen to something as long as the lyrics weren't horribly perverse or vulgar.

4. Beat The System - Petra
This album was another first for me.   Released in 1985, if featured the radio single "Hollow Eyes" which somehow received airplay on the Christian radio station in Seattle.  A station that regularly played Amy Grant, Philip Bailey, 2nd Chapter of Acts and Sandi Patty, this single sounded nothing like the piano driven music of the above mentioned artists.  I sounded more like rock music!  Late that year, my parents took me to the Christian music bookstore to buy some music.  Not only did I find this album and buy it, but I scored it in CD version.  Yes, aging myself just a bit, this was during the huge transformation from vinyl to CD.  Sure, tapes were still big, but this was a CD and I had to keep up with technology, especially since we had just gotten a CD player for me to have in my room.  Once I began playing the CD I discovered the greatness of Petra.  Imagine going from the adult contemporary sounds I usually heard to the synth heavy rock of songs like "Computer Brains,"  "Witch Hunt," and "God Gave Rock and Roll to You."  My musical tastes were not only opened, but suddenly changing to a harder and slightly more rock sound.  And, the change didn't end here.

3. Sons of Thunder - Sleeping Giant
My tastes in music have always been vast.  I have always listened to harder music and loved it.  From 80's hair bands to 90's grunge, Seattle had some of the best music available in the late 80's and early 90's.  Bloodgood, MXPX, Pearl Jam and Nirvana all called Seattle and the area home.  But it wasn't until this 2009 album that I really found the one hardcore album that influenced my love of hard music.  Actually, it was seeing these guys live for the first time that led me to purchasing this album.  Not only were they a hardcore band, they were a worship band.  Sure, the title track was good. Yes, the songs are really deep lyrically.  "No One Leave This Room Sick" killed it and spoke of healing available for anybody.  Yet the one that got me, and when seen them playing it live with White Collar Sideshow, was "He Will Reign."  This song alone took 200 plus hardcore kids from a very large mash pit into instantly worshiping God in reverence.  Yeah, a sight to see.  Even better, this album (CD) still receives heavy rotation in my truck, as does the follow up album "Kingdom Days in an Evil Age."

2. Jesus Freak - DC Talk
So many lists will feature this album.  If you are in the Christian music industry, you know this album.  Many of today's artists were influenced by this album.  This album very well could be the most talked about album ever for those who love Christian music.  And, the title track is the one song that might have changed the face of not just the band, but also Contemporary Christian Music and the CCM radio format.  My love for these guys began in 1989 with the song, "He Loves Me" and the soulful sounds of Michael Tait.  Their sound continued to grow on me with 1990' Nu Thang and 1992's Free At Last.  But, their sound changed forever in 1995 with this album.  Instead of mostly rap with some rock, they were now mostly rock with some rap sprinkled into some of the songs.  The change was awesome!  "Colored People" addressed the beautiful difference, and yet the similarity of the human race, how messed up we as a society are, and learn to accept the differences in each race, forgiving where needed, and loving no matter the difference.  "What if I Stumble" shared their fear of what others thought if there were a time one of them were found out to not be perfect (and how it would affect everyone involved in their lives and/or fans).  Finally, after all the hits, it was their cover of Charlie Peacock's  "In The Light" that became my favorite on this album.  This was a song of admission of failure and a need to have a Savior, and a plea to live as Christ wants us to live.  Yes, this album gets rotation in my truck as the CD has found a home there.

1. I Predict 1990 - Steve Taylor
Had you asked me in 1985 who Mr. Taylor was, I would have given you a blank stare.  One Sunday night in 1987, a visiting youth pastor asked if I wanted to go to a video screening of some song by some guy named Steve Taylor.  Thankfully, my parents agreed to let me take the trip to North Seattle for the screening.  Little did I know that, "Jim Morrison's Grave" would change my world.  That night I learned not only about the song, but I learned about a man and the brilliance of his art.  So, after the screening and a few days later, I made my way to the Christian bookstore and bought the tape of I Predict 1990.  Little did I know, but my local bookstore was one of the few stores that actually carried the album due to the controversy of the album art.  Controversy aside, the music was phenomenal!  From the first song, "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good" to the final song, "Harder To Believe Than Not To," every song I heard had meaning.  Sure, many of the songs (along with the album cover) were satirical in nature, but they were speaking truth in how unconventional the Christian thinking was of the day (and at times, still is in my opinion).  "What Is The Measure of Your Success" addresses the perception of success and leads into "Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel A Lot Better."  From perceived success, to the pursuit of said success, boiled down to just giving up hope, no matter how successful you are.  From satire to the serious tones of "Principled Man" this album gained a place on my permanent rotation.  Yes, to this day I still pull up Spotify and give this album a spin.

There you have it.  The albums that have shaped my musical tastes.  Yes, they are vast and heavily 80's influenced (yup, aging myself again).  Amazingly, the longevity of these artists is amazing and somewhat remarkable.  From movies (Steve Taylor and Lionel Richie) to solo careers (all of DCTalk).  From college speaking gigs (Tommy Green of Sleeping Giant) to college professor (Steve Taylor).  Be it a band being rumored to be reuniting (DCTalk), having reunited (Petra), to a band still in its prime (Sleeping Giant) or an artist still going strong (Lionel Richie) or someone who sings that put a band together for a return to touring (Steve Taylor), nothing can change how these albums have influenced me, nor can anything replace them on this list.  If you heeded my warning at the beginning, you are not mocking these selections (well, maybe a little as I am a little on a couple of them), but you made it through the list.  Hopefully, you have discovered some new (or older) music which I can only wish you will like.  Enjoy the links.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Musical Influences of a Lifetime Part 1

As many of you have read here over many a post, I'm a music junkie.  It is my passion.  I pass time listening to music, working in music and discovering music (sports and family also consume my time, but that is another post all together).

Today, I introduce a friend of mine with a very similar passion for music and the industry.  Meet Michael Reed, husband, father of three and one that I call friend and brother.  Our paths crossed a few years ago when he was in the music industry.  He was the manager of a band, and I was the booking agent.  Not only did we work well together, but we instantly hit if off like long lost relatives.  We understood each other, respected each other, and thought like each other.  Shortly after that work relationship began, it ended.  No matter though, we had formed a friendship that would grow into something neither of us ever imagined.  No matter the circumstance (cancer, loss of job, new careers, mental illness, child illnesses) our friendship has become a rock for both of us.

Now, it is my pleasure to share with you part one of a two part blog about music, the never changing constant in the friendship Michael and I have.  This two part blog highlights the music that has made us who we are.  The albums that inspired us to live, to love, to breath, encouraged to carry on and more importantly, are part of what we are today as people, as husbands, as fathers.  Enjoy Michael's journey through his top albums that have influenced him and his life.

Preface: I grew up in a traditional non-traditional home. On the outside we were a very happy family. On the inside was a whole lot of dysfunction. We were always the first ones at church. But as quickly as the church clothes came flying off on Sunday mornings, I found myself growing up with chaos all around me. I found myself lost. Dazed. Confused. I was constantly picked on due to my height (I have a growth disorder and have not grown since the 6th grade). I suffered from constant depression. I had very few friends. And I engulfed myself into one thing: music. I was a trumpet player. But my dream? I wanted to SING. So I blared my cassette tapes (yes, I am admitting my age) as loud as I could to drown out the chaos that was outside my bedroom walls.

I went through the typical teenage phases of rap and hip-hop and grunge. But nothing really satisfied me. That is, until the 7th grade. I went to a "Christian" summer camp for a week. And it was life changing. People accepted me for who I was, not for what I wasn't. It was at this camp that I was introduced to the world of Christian music. And it was at this camp that I heard album #1 for the first time.

#1 Michael W. Smith i 2 eye

This may be an "old" album on many aspects, but i 2 eye  introduced the world to Smitty. The modulations, key changes, and the ability to make it all flow so simply attracted me to his style. Then, I actually listened to the words. One of the greatest songs ever written is "Secret Ambition". I played this song so much I actually ruined the cassette! The melody and the catchiness of the chorus all spoke to me in ways I could never imagine as a young man.

As I grew up my tastes changed. Smitty and Amy Grant used to be the only option for mainstream Christian music, but as times changed other amazing artists came forward. And using Smitty, Amy Grant, Carmen and Stephen Curtis Chapman as their foundation, Christian music EXPLODED into a more mainstream style. All of a sudden there were actually DIFFERENT TYPES of Christian music to listen to. Enter Casting Crowns.

#2. Casting Crowns Lifesong

Wow. You mean I can listen to music and praise and worship at the same time!!?? Yes, please!!! Casting Crowns came to the scene in the early 2000's and swept the world with their incredible blend of worship and pop. Mark Hall, lead singer, made it a point to only tour through the week so that his family could be together on Sundays for church. He, to this day, is still a youth pastor at his Georgia home church.  With songs like "Who Am I", "Lifesong", and "Praise You In This Storm" this album is a constant reminder that God is with us no matter how impossible the obstacle seems.

With the "Praise and Worship" era in full swing, Christian music transformed again. Someone realized even though we are Christian we can still have our "boy bands." Hello Tenth Avenue North. We have been waiting for you.

#3. Tenth Avenue North Over and Underneath

Tenth Avenue North erupted with their first hit "Love Is Here" but as you listen to the album you realize that these guys have really experienced issues in their lives. "Times" discusses the struggles with depression. "Beloved" shows the immense love of a marriage. The hits go on and on with this amazing blend of pop and rock and no matter what stage you are at in your life, there is a song on this album for you.

There is an open argument about whether old school Christian music is better than today's Christian music. My opinion has always been this: It doesn't matter HOW someone gets to know God, as long as that person finds God. But, for the sake of argument, what if you could blend the old with the new? Thank you, Newsboys.

#4. Newsboys Restart

The Newsboys have been around for a LONG time. They have transformed many times over the years, and with each change their style has become something different. With the addition of Michael Tait as the lead man, the Newsboys engulf the old with the new, and a whole new generation has become Jesus Freaks. Their award winning song "We Believe" is an anthem to all Christians, young and old. "That Home" is a tribute to Michael's mother who passed away last year and shows the passion of a mother and her son. "That's How You Change The World" is a decree for all of us to stand and make a difference. It is a great album full of life, heart, and love.

So now what does the future hold? Christian music today is much different than it was 20 years ago. With bands like Red, for King and Country, and countless others the future looks bright for mainstream Christian music. But one artist, to me, sticks out. Not necessarily because of her abilities...but because of her life.

#5. Plumb Need You Now

Plumb has been around for a few years, but it was when she poured her life into her songs that people really began to take notice. The title track "Need You Now (How Many Times)" was written in a very dark place in her life where she almost lost her husband. "Lord I'm Ready Now" talks about letting go and letting God take over. Her music comes from deep within her soul and you can feel her passion in every note she sings.

So there you have it. My top 5 albums. I encourage an open mind and open heart when listening to this music. God DOES change lives through music. After all, he changed mine. God bless.

Thank you, Michael, for your contribution to the blog.  For more of Michael's story, head over to his blog,  It is a great blog, and a story of healing, entitled, "Being Mentally Ill Without Being Mentally Ill."  Part 2 of this blog coming later this week.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Coming To A Festival/City Near You...Or Not

February is upon us!  Sure, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and assured us of another six weeks of winter.  Since then, Boston and the Northeast have been pounded by snow storm after blizzard after snow storm.  The mountains of Colorado and plains of Wyoming are preparing for a fun couple of days of snow.  Heck!  They're even talking snow in the deep south (Carolina's, Missisippi, Atlanta, Tennessee) for next week.  Despite all the snow, and the seemingly constant rain in the Pacific Northwest, there are many planning for summer.  Not just any summer either.  I'm talking the summers spent in a lawn chair with the sun umbrella covering you from any potential burn.  It's just you, your family and friends and the sound of good music from afar.  Well, maybe the music isn't too far off, and maybe you have 30,000+ other friends with you.

That is right!  Music festival after music festival is nearing the final stages of securing your favorite band to play your hometown festival.  Maybe your hometown festival is a couple hours away, but it is your festival and you can't wait to attend it every single year!  They always bring in some of your favorite bands, occasionally you get to meet some of the artists, and you always get to buy a T-shirt (or five) and a couple CD's.  So, now that you are getting just a little excited for your hometown festival, did you know there is something wrong with it?

Yes, you heard right.  There is something drastically wrong with many of today's Christian Music Festivals.  From the smallest and newest upstart festival to the well established attended by the tens of thousands, there is indeed something drastically wrong with them.  Most people in attendance don't see it though.  Sure, maybe you notice that there just aren't as many people as last year, but maybe they had other things to tend to or they just couldn't afford it.  Other than what one sees on the outside, you just don't see what is wrong.

Sadly, today's Christian music festivals are all a reflection of the music industry as a whole.  People just don't care.  We tend to like what we hear on the radio.  Maybe our friend likes a band, persuades us to give them a listen and we like the one or two songs of the band.  We decide with all the music we listen to and hear that we just want the songs we know.  We head over to iTunes or Amazon (or our favorite digital download site), cop the songs we know and love, and done.  We have the music we love.  We have effectively supported our favorite artists.

Great, we have supported their music through a purchase or two.  But, we haven't purchased their whole album.  We only know the radio friendly songs.  We don't realize that song 7 on their newest album is the one that reflects who they are as people and a band.  But, such is the plight of today's American society - like what we know, get what we like and want, and only have enough attention span to download just the one or two songs.  There is always something better to do with our time than download music.

Now, dig a little deeper than just being familiar with an artists music.  Festivals are long.  Having been to many, I'll confirm they are just long.  They start between 9 and 10am and by the time the headline act for the night is walking off stage after their encore, it is 11pm at the earliest and midnight at the latest.  Of course, some festivals (no longer around) ran even longer on their busiest days.  But the length of time is only the beginning of how long the festival is.  Add to that, you have to camp!  So not only are you sticky and sweaty from being in the sun all day, you might not get a shower, probably won't go to sleep until 1 or 2am, and then won't sleep well anyway since you're not in your own bed.  Repeat this cycle for two to four days, and you have one very long festival.  But, this is what makes a festival.  Yet, many are just not that into camping, going without showers (maybe getting a washcloth bath), living on minimal sleep and hanging out with thousands of others that are sticky, sweaty and smelly.

Another big hold up in attending a festival is paying for a ticket.  Why would anyone want to pay close to $100 (sometimes more) to go be uncomfortable to listen to mostly bands no one knows (unless you are indeed a local or are really into music).  This might seem shallow, but it is very true and words I have heard.  And really, most people don't want to pay to go to something they might not enjoy as much as they had hoped.  Which leads me to: why wouldn't anyone enjoy a festival filled with bands/artists they love?  Don't they have other things to do besides just the music?

Yes, there is the skateboarding/bike exhibitions.  There are the kids bounce houses and art areas.  There is the merchandise tent as well as the seeming miles of non band related merchandise to browse through.  There are prayer tents and baptism tanks, basketball hoops, video game consoles and more!  But, people are increasingly more apprehensive to pay to get all this and music when they can stay home, do the same activities and listen to the music they like and know as opposed to the lines and music they aren't familiar with.

Yet all the above mentioned aren't the biggest problems facing Christian festivals.  With decreased attendance, these festivals are now faced with decreased revenue.  This leads to decreased sponsorship money.  This leaves less money to bring in your favorite band.  Fewer bands with notoriety means fewer people.  Vicious cycle.  One that many festivals have not found and easy resolution to.  Those festivals that have figured it out, are now partnered with larger parent companies.

Years ago, many festivals blamed the economic crash.  Today, this excuse just doesn't work.  I blame money management, over priced bands (seriously, the just starting local doesn't need $1k, and the nationally recognized hot band of four years ago doesn't need $25k ),  Yes, each band deserves to get paid, but are they (or their management) asking to much?  Yes, many festivals charge admission to help cover costs, but is that admission to high an asking price?  Or is it not high enough?  Are people not thinking they are getting value in their purchase?  Tough questions, no easy answer.  But, there are some great examples festivals could turn to in their quest to maintain and increase success.

1. Free!  Of course many cynical individuals believe you can't get good quality for free.  But, I know you can.  In a sermon on how to reach people, churches needed to employ in reaching out to their neighborhood.  Free, food and fun - the three F's.  If festivals can't provide free food (vendors would go out of business), the least they could do is make the festival free and fun.  One of the largest and most successful festivals is Lifelight Festival.  It is free!  If you don't want to give them a dime as you walk in the park, you don't have to.  But, they do have collection buckets as you walk in, and then again during the evening session offering.  Somehow, they have managed to have money for every band and some for the next year.  And yes, when I attended there, I contributed at the gate and at the evening offering...just like many others did.  If people see a value, they pay for it.
2. Stop hiring a "professional" to fill the roster spots with the favorite bands of today.  Wouldn't it be just as easy to have an internal person listen to the radio, watch Radio U or JCTV, and stream music from the major stations across the nation to help determine which bands to book?  At the worst, they could cut their costs and leave a little more for the bands.
3. If they can't make the festival free, why not make them much cheaper to attend.  Road Show seems to be capitalizing off cheap tickets.  Sure, this is a festival and not just a few hours, but make them cheaper (closer to $30 tops).
4. Bands need to work tirelessly to put on a good show.  Yes, they are probably running on little to no sleep, but put on the best show you can.  People love to be entertained, and you just standing in one spot singing isn't entertaining.  Make people want to see you.  Make your performance the one people want to see and never forget.  Capture us and pull us out of out our ADHD culture placing us in a few minutes of pure bliss.
5. Lastly, even though it is hard, for the love of big hairy smelly people, provide showers for those camping.  Sure, it might cost a little extra, but provide that amenity - junior high girls, moms and germaphobes everywhere will thank you.

Finally, what is it that has killed...or is killing Christian music festivals?  I don't find just one thing.  I see many.  Ticket prices, poor band selection, a passive society, bands (or management) seeking to much, boring bands, festival saturation, financial mismanagement and more that I probably have overlooked.  All of this spells doom for many a festival.  So, if you love your music as much as I do, and you live close enough to a festival (nearly one in every state now), go check them out.  Support your favorite bands by supporting the festival.  If you're blessed enough to be going, it might just keep that festival afloat.

Good bye to: Purple Door, Tomfest, Rage, Music in the Rockies and Cornerstone.  Welcome back Ichthus and Heavenfest.  Glad to meet you Soulstock and Elevate.  For all the rest of the festivals, best of luck and many blessings to your coming year.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hardcore Show, Softcore Lessons

Many of you know the love affair I have with music.  Well, maybe not a love affair.  Maybe it is more of my sometimes daily trip to the therapists office.  Yes, music is my therapy.  Mostly it is through streaming that music, sometimes via CD while home alone or in the vehicle, and every once is a while it is by attending a live concert.  Monday, I was blessed to go see a live show.

As a former promoter (who dreams of playing that roll again), I have seen numerous concerts.  Some of those concerts I saw from afar, some I only saw tending to the constant demands of being the promoter.  One of those shows I saw from a prone position in a prayer circle in a makeshift prayer room.  Still others I saw backstage.  And, as any promoter has the privilege of doing, I've taken in my fair share of concerts/festivals as a guest of somebody (promoter or band).  But, this is not about those concerts.  No, it is about the once concert I attended Monday night.

August Burns Red, Miss May I, NORTHLAND, and Fit For A King were featured Monday.  Being a resident of Cheyenne, a tour this big rarely, if ever, travels through town.  So, along with a friend and acquaintance, we made the trek down to Denver to take in this show.  Sweet show.  Enjoyed Fit For A King (better than expected).  NORTHLAND was a huge surprise for me, and I found them pretty darn good.  Miss May I is not for me.  I wasn't impressed.  Sure, they are for some people, but I am not one of them.  August Burns Red was my highlight.  If you ever want to take in a hardcore show and they are on the bill, I highly recommend going to see them.  I would put them in my Top 10 list of hardcore bands any fan of the genre should go see.  Of course, this post isn't a review either.  Nope, it isn't.  This is a post of a few observations from Monday night.  Some serious, mostly just things that caused me to chuckle.  Hopefully, I present my observations in a way that will cause you a chuckle as well.  Now, sit down, buckle up and enjoy the ride of a hardcore concert through the eyes of me.

1. If you have ever been to a hardcore concert, you are familiar with the circle pit.  Which also means you are familiar with a mosh pit, stage dives and crowd surfing.  Riddle me this: why is it ALWAYS the big hairy sweaty dudes that take of their shirts thinking no one cares?  And, why are they always so eager to crowd surf?  Yeah, this is one reason I stay out of mosh pits.
2. Scene kids apparently believe they are entitled to the mosh pit.  Yes, you may have been waiting at the front of the line to get in the doors the second they opened, and yes, you had to go outside to get some fresh air after the first band.  But, you are now 5 songs in to the 7 song set of the second band, and returning from outside does not mean you are entitled to that spot you abandoned.  And please, for the love of my ribs, stop using your elbows to push your way back to that spot!!!  Okay, so I only got elbowed once, but one of the guys I was with was pushed and elbowed many times, including a couple times where beer spillage occurred (including once on me).
3. Amongst the items seen flying through the air: shirts, shoes and a couple bras.  Here I thought the throwing of bras was a thing reserved only for 80's hair bands.  Silly me.
4. Headbanging is a must for many in attendance.  So is drinking for those over 21.  I do neither.  I don't drink and my body is to old for headbanging.  However, the whole drinking while headbanging is a feat not easily done, especially for the guy in front of me.  The level of frustration over not being able to make solid beer can to mouth contact while moving head rapidly to the beat was too much for him, so he gave up...a lot...many times over.  Not sure if he ever finished the beer.
5. Apparently, all tall people migrate to the area in front of short people.  Yes, this happened on more than one occasion to me. 
6. Previous hardcore concerts I have attended have always had at least one band feature, "The Running Man," while on stage.  It is the only hardcore dance move that I not only know, but could actually pull off.  Monday was devoid of said move...until the second to last song pre encore.  I almost thought the days of hardcore were dead.  I was also ashamed that I would miss that little move.
7. People still haven't learned dress codes for concerts.  NEVER wear a band shirt of any of the bands on the bill.  Even if you buy one from their merch table before or during the concert, DO NOT put it on!  Nothing says, "I'm cool cause I'm wearing you product," by doing this.  It actually says, "I only wear this because I want to prove I'm a big fan but really know nothing about you."  Maybe I'm a snob, but I know I'm not the only one that feels this way.
8. Last but not least, band life is hard.  I see these guys on stage giving their all.  Sure, the accolades they receive are many while on stage and at their merch table.  But, what about before and after the show?  What about on the road?  They may see your tweet or post on Facebook, they may even retweet or respond.  But, how often do they do that?  How much support do they receive any time else?  Do you buy their merch?  Do you buy an album?  Or, do you put money in the tip jar?  Do you ever ask them how their day was or if they need a meal after the show?

Yeah, this is how my mind works.  Call me crazy, but I sure did enjoy all these matter how gross the thought of that big fat hairy guy that just rubbed sweaty belly to elbow/forearm with me is.