Your Gateway to Music and More from a Christian Perspective
Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
June, 2, 2001
Montgomery County Fair Grounds
Reviewed by: Tony LaFianza
Festival Con Dios is a traveling festival, a walled in, self-contained area of vendor and sponsor booths, band tables, and a huge main stage arena. It claims it is "The first event of its kind in the entire music industry." A festival of some considerable size, and colorful design, it headlines the Newsboys (creators of the festival), Audio Adrenaline and O.C. Supertones plus an afternoon of more interesting up-and-comers. It is the kind of event that sprouts many questions for an experienced concert-goer. As we stood in line outside the gates, the questions began popping up in my mind: How is this "circus" moving from town to town? How long does it take to build all these tents, shelters, and stages? How many people are traveling with them to do all this work?
More questions came later, but these originate from the first impression of seeing this field, at least the size of a football field, overtaken with trucks, trailers, and canvas. The festival promoters get help from local organizations and promoters at each stop to set up and tear down. Modern trailers at both ends of the festival and at the midway are used ingeniously. The front gates are flanked by two trailers that multi-task as big walls, big signs, the box office, business office, and a Pizza Hut. There are eighteen wheelers stationed strategically inside the yard to separate the outer court of games and vendors from the concert amphitheater in the inner court. Some of these dividing trailers are also multi-tasking as decor and bathrooms. There is a spacious walkway between that allows the festival patrons to pass from one court to the other. As one enters the inner court, the sidelines are lined with tent coverings that provide a shaded, dry area for families, or the handicapped to set up camp for the day in front of the music stage. The far end zone is completely taken up by the main stage that stretches from one side to the other. A miracle of modern mechanics and hydraulics, this huge stage rises up from the bed and walls of yet another trailer. The main stage has a festival backdrop, concert hall speakers, and tall lighting bridges. It's all here, and it's all nicely put together.
The gates opened a little
late to a long queue. Most of the crowd seemed to be young, simply dressed,
high school kids, but not all. A few forty to fifty year old fans were
seen seasoning the company of concert goers, as well as moms and dads,
and yuppies, plus the occasional spiked hair, black clad, punker. Entering
the gates and the outer area the next round of questions begins. Where
is the skateboard ramp and motorcycle jump that were advertised in the
flyer? Why isn't there a program/schedule of any kind? And, is this little
Pizza Hut concession really the only source of food and drink for the day?
I don't know why we don't get a program, but I know you can buy a festival
sticker, a festival CD, a "Festival Con Dios" tee shirt, or poster for
the event as soon as you walk in the door. If you miss that table there's
another festival merchandise table about 20 feet away. Pack your wallet.
The motorcycle ramp is set up stage right, outside the arena, behind a
security fence. It is positioned so that the assembly in front of
main stage can clearly see the stunts. A trick rider did two shows between
band sets. The skateboard ramp was not set up anywhere. The band merchandise
and sponsor tables circle the rest of the outer area. Inside the circle
is a rock climbing set up, a mechanical bull ride, and a popular trampoline/bungee
jumping attraction. Yes, that little Pizza Hut booth is the only food vendor
for the whole day for the thousands (2,800 this particular day) of people
that may show up. The web site boasts the venue can hold 6 to 8 thousand.
That meant constant lines for what food they had, which, by the way, was
rarely pizza. Cookies, chips, candy, soda, and water were in stock, but
they were waiting for pizza delivery much more than they were serving it.
If you plan to attend, and if you want anything besides a long wait for
The Main Stage area is wide open field, like every other festival you've been to, so bring a blanket and chairs if you're planning to be comfortable. The music started at 3:30 with an enthusiastic set by Superchic[k]. An energetic band led by a pair of chicks, super. Pillar was the closest thing to "hardcore rock" of the day, followed by the new young Tooth and Nail punk band: Cadet. The Elms were a definite highpoint in the day's music, including a Tom Petty song in their own set of well-written tunes. Then the energy level pegged as did the decibel meter, as South Africa's The Benjamin Gate took the stage.
By the way, I'm not kidding about the decibel meter. The concert got noticeably louder at this point and never looked back. I saw a tee shirt the other day that said, "if it's too loud, you're too old." If that's true, I can pinpoint the moment I turned too old: 5:10pm Saturday June 2nd, 2001! I will here admit to almost three decades of great live rock music, pre- and post-conversion, which entitle me to judge such things, and louder is not automatically better. (Remember Spinal Tap? 'nuff said.) While I'm making suggestions for your back pack, I strongly urge ear plugs!
Each band is getting 20-minute sets throughout the day, and in between band sets, Christian comedian Bob Smiley hosts. He is there to introduce every band and to shoo them off the stage, and within those duties he is funny, but relentless. In fact there is never a moment of quiet the entire day. It's nearly impossible to talk to anyone from the time main stage begins until the day is over. The noise is loud and constant. Earthsuit is a real up and coming band with a jazz-trip-hop style that is dancing and cool. Their 20 minutes was another highlight of the day. T-Bone was there too attempting to get everyone's hands up to the hip hop beats: "Wave your hands in the air, wave 'em like you got no hair." Then Skillet came on with the coolest guitars of the day. Metallic, sparkly, colorful guitars to match the shinny suits and sparkling talents of these praise rockers. The very popular O.C. Supertones were up next and began the featured sets with 45 minutes of verve, power, dancing and impishness. About this time, some dark clouds rolled in and dumped about ten minutes of hard downpour on an obdurately buoyant audience. The Supertones had the young mob up and dancing in the rain. The ground was now muddy, clothes were wet and dirty, but the mood was not dampened.
Anthony Walton, a preacher from Newboys' country, down under, took fifteen minutes to give a short gospel message with an Australian accent before Audio Adrenaline excited the throng with their brand of pop rock. Audio Adrenaline turned in a fine fifty minute set beginning with a cover of "Let My Love Open the Door," a Pete Townshend song. The center piece of their show was a big sing along of "Big House." Audio Adrenaline also got the advantage of the first real bit of stage action, with more lights and some smoke machines. But all the stops were pulled out for the headliners: the Newsboys. The Newsboys had their own special backdrop raised, a full light show cranked up, and more stage time than any other band. Their hour-plus set was well paced, booming and appreciated. Vocalist Peter Furler is a compelling figure; tall, imposing, hairless, and dressed in black and red. Furler shared the frontman and mic duties with longtime Newsboy, "he of much hair," Phil Joel, who seems to have moved over to bass guitar. The Newsboys filled the last hour of the festival with their alternative pop hits, and once again proved to be deserving youth group faves. The Festival day ends a little past ten o'clock p.m. and it is time to go home and rest my feet (and my ears).
Smooth transitions on stage and a reserved, calm sea of Christian music fans made a one day portable festival look easy, but this was fest-lite. 20 minutes sets did not give us much to chew on from all the hard working lesser-known bands. Speaking of not much to chew on; having only one food outlet and a no reentry policy did reportedly (and predictably!) create some confrontations. I know of at least one youth group that took their kids and went home. Corporate sponsorship is one thing, but this level of food conformity is unnecessary and inconsiderate.
From my little corner of the grounds, it was a relatively enjoyable day of loud music and festival fun. There is one final question. As ambitious and as finely fitted as Festival Con Dios is, will this traveling festival be serious competition for the longer and well established events like Creation, or Cornerstone, or TomFest as the Christian summer live music event to attend? Doubtful.
[The festival travels
until the end of June, and then picks up again and goes through September.