Edan Concerts' Ignite Fest 2011 as reviewed in The Phantom TollboothEdan Concerts' summer festival brings Chicagoland and Milwaukee three packed days of promise, intrigue and greatness. Like any epic rock fest should.

In the friendly, sunny confines of minor league team The Fielders, thirty Christian acts performed before thousands of appreciative fans over a three day weekend at the end of July. Music lovers and Christian scenesters braved sun, high humidity and mud for a semi-convenient opportunity to enjoy promising up-and-comers and this year's top touring acts all within a ninety minute drive of two major metropolitan areas—Chicago and Milwaukee.

The promoter is a scrappy one that's weathered many a storm—financial, artistic and meteorological—since its inception in 1996. The principals, Ed and Mari Lomnicki, are unstoppable entrepreneurs who marshal an army of volunteers, fellow entrepreneurial vendors, ministries, colleges, radio stations and churches to pull off the impossible year after year. In the fall and spring, they run two to five-band tour-stops and concerts throughout greater Chicagoland and nearby cities. Their summer blowouts give their fans an opportunity to see many of the same bands in a single sitting. If they can stand it. This is glorious rock 'n' roll in all its loud, hot, dusty, muddy, sunny, annoying, fun splendor.

And who are the top touring artists this summer? Skillet, Switchfoot and newsboys each closed out one night, each with their own high-end twist: newsboys' wall of lights and moving stage parts were jaw-dropping; Switchfoot's intimate mini-satellite stage far back in the crowd shrunk the experience down to one-on-one; Skillet's pyrotechnics, spinning drums and sky-high strings drew fans from six states.

There were plenty of gems in the lead-up to these spectacular finishes. Local urban legend Shonlock brought his hometown (Chicago) crowd. Royal Tailor introduced their boy-band brand of racial reconciliation to recceptive ears. Sanctus Real, Josh Wilson, Building 429 and many others included well-loved radio singles in their sets of edgier material. Soft-rock/ministry by Rebecca St James, Matthew West, and Tenth Avenue North brought sweet sounds and uplifting, encouraging words to their sets.

For esoteric Christian music-lover, i.e., readers of The Phantom Tollbooth, there were some special gems in the 30-band event. Jars of Clay's inventive set was a treat, especially their rendition of "All my Tears" by Buddy and Julie Miller in honor of the passing of Mark Heard. Such references really make a weekend for CMH (Christian music hipsters). Being introduced to the artistry of Shonlock, The City Harmonic and Royal Tailor keeps one informed of promising new talent while the opportunity to sit on set by developing artists Francesca Battistelli, Josh Wilson, Sidewalk Prophets and Ivoryline is nice. Local unsigned openers The Least of These and Finding Favour had the opportunity to open for the national acts and watching John Reuben hold a crowd with all the enthusiasm he's ever had (plenty!) was lots of fun, and a true inspiration.

Edan has always loved and supported hard music, and the 2011's Sunday lineup in many ways was one of the hardest the Christian circuit has seen all summer. Appearances by Superchick and Kutless on Friday, then Stellar Kart and Disciple on Saturday only hinted at what was in store for hard rockers Sunday afternoon. First to shake up a quite afternoon at the rock fest were the 3rd band up, Flatfoot 56, who gave moshing lessons—and insisted that they be followed to the letter—then Project 86 shook the earth all the way across the highway softening up the way for The Almost, Thousand Foot Krutch, Stryper(!) Red, A the aforementioned Skillet. Fans poured in all afternoon for the much-anticipated Stryper, but while every other band owed a lot to the black-and-yellow attack, all were equal in chops, passion, message, moves and volume.

The scripture theme for Ignite Fest 2011 was Zephaniah 3:17 and through the many ministries on hand, the preaching from the stage, the caring attitude the volunteers toward audience members and artists alike, those words of the prophet Zephaniah came to life for three days half way between Chicago and Milwaukee:

"For the Lord your God is living among you.

He is a mighty savior.

He will take delight in you with gladness.

With his love, he will calm all your fears.

He will rejoice over you with joyful songs."