lifest_2011 as reviewed in Phantom TollboothLifest continues to provide a consistent level of family-based entertainment and education, something that is lacking in our ever changing world.

Lifest 2011

July 6 – 10, 2011

Oshkosh, Wisconsin

One year following a hail storm of criticism over progressive speakers from local uber-conservative Christian organizations, calm settled over Lifest 2011. In the heart of the conservative Christian Midwest, this festival bore no scars from the criticism of last year’s festival hosting progressive speakers. Actually, attendance has high, reaching record levels on Saturday due in large part to reduced ticket prices and a poor economy resulting in "staycations."

Lifest, a family oriented, Christian 5 day festival held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin is in its 13th year. Not unlike many Christian festivals, Lifest provides multiple stages showcasing various musical styles, speakers covering varying topics, merch, food and fun for all attendees. Under the heat of a big July sky, friends and family trickled in amid an epic traffic jam on day one. As the dust settled, tents were drawn up, and communities of campers once again assembled as the event began to hit its stride.

While entertainment takes a back seat to spiritual engagement at Christian festivals, it certainly enhances the event! Generally, the selection of musicians was good, not great, with returning acts and old favorites of the more popular variety. Comedians including Daren Streblow and Joby Saad drew large crowds. Art forms, including movies, were not worth serious consideration. As previously mentioned, following last year’s criticism non-progressive speakers were given the stage including Justin Lookadoo, Reggie Dabbs, Greg Laurie, and Lifest founder Bob Lenz. While heart felt with a sound message there was nothing new here and Lookadoo’s attempt at injecting humor into his presentation was a crowd turnoff.

As in all festivals, there were jewels to be found, including:

  • Rachael Lampa showing a minimized early evening set on the Edge stage. Surprised by not only having Lampa on the schedule (it’s been a while since she’s been on a semi-sabbatical of late) but on a rock stage, I couldn’t resist. Lampa’s vocals shined brightly while accompanied by minimalistic acoustic guitar, electric base and percussion in the form of only a beat box. Old favorites and new tunes shone brightly in a light jazz-like format. This is a memory not likely to erode over time.
  • For the second year running, Laura Story packed the Café stage for a late night offering. Again, she captured the audience with familiar story telling and heart-warming songs.
  • Something old and something new was offered in the performance of Men As Trees Walking. The Texas based 8 piece band showcased an eclectic mix of the ancient with   a reggae sound to their ever-growing audience. Their sound brings the listener back to the now defunct Madison Greene but with a much more polished edge. With lyrics strongly entrenched in Old Testament stories and New Testament meaning, and a sound heavily founded on solid percussion, they both surprise and satisfy.
  • A youthful, southern Wisconsin band left tongues busily singing their praises in their wake. Loftland, a five piece band with a sound at times similar to Stellar Kart, packed the Pit Stage despite intense mid-afternoon heat with great stage presence and strong musical backing. It is no surprise this band is on its way.
  • Others of note included Red, Skillet, Toby Mac, Mercy Me, Newsboys, JJ Heller, Kutless, The Afters, Ginny Owens, Jason Gray, and the list goes on.

As a sign of the times, event cuts were evident in the loss of annual Saturday fireworks. In this case not required since Saturday’s main stage closing act, Skillet, again enhanced their pyrotechnics and stage theatrics. Other cuts included Lifest’s fixture horseback security patrols, misting tents to cool attendees, and not one concession stand selling cinnamon mini-donuts!

As the saying goes, “change is good.” Lifest continues to provide a consistent level of family-based entertainment and education, something that is lacking in our ever changing world. This fixture in the American upper Midwest is a proven winner. While lacking a progressive edge, the Lifest experience remains a constant for a growing family of followers. But, please bring back the cinnamon mini-donuts!



SS Mertens


2.5 tocks