Purple Door Festival 2011|
8/12 - 8/13/11, at Lebanon Fairgrounds in Lebanon, PA
When Purple Door Festival launched in 1995, it was held at Lancaster's popular Christian concert venue, LMHS Fine Arts Center. I hadn't attended the festival for its first five years there, so when it moved to the Lebanon Fairgrounds in 2000, my first experience with the festival wasn't at its venue of origin. After 2000, the festival then relocated to Ski Roundtop in Lewisberry, PA, where it would remain for ten years. For 2011, Purple Door Festival returns to Lebanon Fairgrounds, where it is likely to stay.
Some big changes were noticeable upon arrival. The HM Stage, formerly sponsored for years by HM Magazine, was now the LBC Stage, now sponsored by Lancaster Bible College. The Art Gallery stage, which was previously home to an intimate seated area in front of a stage that offered more indie/folk style acts, and was located near an indoor art gallery, was now the Relevant Stage. Surprisingly enough, any kind of art gallery was completely absent this time around. Also, both of these side stages are completely indoors, which is a first for the festival. This is great when it comes to the weather, because if it's too hot, there is air conditioning in these buildings. And, if it rains, like it did this year, then the festival can be saved by moving things inside. All of the merch booths were now inside two open, covered barns that run parallel to each other. The food stands were grouped together for easy access, and there were some great new inside hangout spots for anyone not in the mood to brave the elements.
The gates opened around 4:00pm, which gave people a good window of time for festival-goers to arrive, check out the area and get settled before the music started. At 5:15, Americana/folk rock band The Historic kicked off Purple Door 2011 over at the LBC Stage, while it wasn't until just before 6:00 when Main Stage launched with Reilly. The violin-accompanied pop rock band was a soft way to ease into a festival that specializes in rock and hardcore (and sort of minors in hip hop and indie rock). Folk duo SisterBrother followed The Historic at LBC, with Razor & Tie's indie rock band Ocean Is Theory close behind. At 6:30, Ohio rock band House Of Heroes took front and center at Main Stage for another solid performance. The foursome, who had original drummer Colin Rigsby behind the kit for this show, opened with "Elevator" from their most recent release, Suburba, and followed it with "God Save The Foolish Kings." Vocalist/guitarist Tim Skipper had shed his signature look of shoulder-length hair and a [mostly] clean shave for a cropped hair style and goatee, appearing nearly unrecognizable. Of course, however, this didn't hinder his performance. "If" and "So Far Away," from The End Is Not The End were next, with "Serial Sleepers" from their self-titled debut following. "Code Name: Raven" was a welcomed inclusion, with "In The Valley of the Dying Sun" closing out their set.
Local pop punk act Yesterday Is Waiting took over at LBC at 7:00pm, while speaker Jon Acuff shared an inspiring message with the Purple Door audience at 7:15. Metal/hardcore group Texas In July was the first hard music act to perform at LBC, and hip hoppers Lecrae and Tedashii performed a tag-team set over at Main Stage. With a DJ and some crew to support them, Lecrae and Tedashii performed several of their own hits (including "Fresh"), and shared from their hearts about their faith in Jesus boldly. At 8:35pm, metal band The Chariot closed out the LBC stage, while RED prepared for their 9:25 headlining set at Main Stage. When RED began, they stood behind a white curtain with their forms in silhouttes projected on it before dropping it to launch their show. The guys put on a ferocious rock show and played cuts from their three studio albums, including their latest, Until We Have Faces. RED is a band that I have seen many times over the years - usually at festivals or with other acts I was mainly there to see, and it really is impressive to see how they have grown and matured since their humble beginnings.
The first day of Purple Door 2011 was a hectic one. JFH had their own table in the merch area as well as a few sponsor spots on stage at both Relevant and LBC. Between the constant performances and additional festival duties, I didn't really get to see as many of the performances as I would have liked to, but it was something I hoped to remedy with the full day on Saturday.
Unlike the past two years at Purple Door, I managed to have a much needed rendezvous with sleep after Friday night. So, after grabbing some quick (and unhealthy) breakfast, we arrived in the morning at the Lebanon Fairgrounds early enough to reassemble the Jesusfreakhideout.com merch and information table before the first bands were to start performing at 10:00am. This day also happened to be the very day that I started Jesus Freak Hideout fifteen years ago, so I was pretty excited to be at Purple Door with friends and able to share the site with potential new readers. As we settled into the morning, local funk / pop rock band Breezewood, who won a battle of the bands contest at Warehouse 54 (in Manheim, PA) that I was able to be one of the judges for, kicked off the weekend morning. As others around me pointed out, the band sounded pretty good among their not-so-stiff competition at the battle of the bands contest, but at Purple Door, hearing their sound drift through the fairgrounds sounded less fitting. However, they were still a decent way to ease into a full day of music, and they set the stage for solo artist Talain Rayne to follow. Talain had assembled a pretty impressive group of musicians to support him, with a strong female vocal accompaniment (who I had assumed was "Talain Rayne" after hearing her soundcheck so nicely while I waited for our sponsor spot there), who in ways, outshined Rayne. I watched a bit of his set before heading over to Relevant to catch some of Joy Ike's 10:30am performance. Unfortunately, I arrived just after she had finished, so I decided to stick around to watch Windsor Drive. The Wausau, WI piano rock band put on a nice, chill set, reminding me fondly of Seabird (and made me wish they were at Purple Door again). It was my first time hearing them and it was enough to pique my interest. I didn't catch all of the song titles, but "Fall," "Under The Weather," "Going Under," and a new song titled "Overcome," were among the tracks they played. They're definitely a band to look into if you enjoy some solid piano-based indie rock.
At 11:25, Hanover, PA indie worship band Oceans In Love performed over at Main Stage. We had a sponsor spot on stage after Windsor Drive over at Relevant, so we did that and then stuck around to experience Mike Mains & The Branches. To say it's an experience is to put it rather lightly. I haven't seen a show quite as quirky as Mike Mains since mewithoutYou; they opened with a frenetic stage presence set to an almost dissonant track which was a bit of a shock to the unexpecting senses. However, sustained exposure to their stage show and unique tunes slowly began to win me over. Meanwhile, the LBC Stage had been underway since the morning. However, the scheduling had been a bit out of whack. Sleeping Giant had cancelled the day before, so the schedule had shifted from what was in the official festival program. The Road To Milestone still opened at 10:15, with Ace Augustine performing at 11:00am. Local band My Heart To Fear jumped into the lineup at 11:45am, pushing the rest of the acts forward a bit. As Hell Retreats was next at 1:15, with JFH doing a guest sponsor spot beforehand, giving me a few minutes to catch the ferocity of As Hell Retreats for a few moments before having to exit LBC. I, The Breather followed at 2:10pm, with Showbread at 3:15 and For Today at 4:30pm. I had hoped to catch Showbread at the very least, but conflicting schedules also made that impossible.
In addition to their performance, Josh Dies of Showbread was among a select few of artist/speakers who were given some time to share with anyone interested in listening at the Come&Live Lounge throughout the day. It started at 2:00pm with Bryan Kemper of the ministry Stand True, then at 3:00, Aaron Gillespie spoke, Abel was scheduled for 4:00 (which I'm not sure if it was a performance or speaking?), Andrew Schwab was at 5:00 and Showbread was afterwards. This was also indoors, and located really close to the LBC Stage, so it was even more accessible this year than prior ones.
I woke up Saturday morning and looked at my Twitter feed to find a message Kevin Young of Disciple had shared with cyberspace that the band's morning flight was delayed and that they would not make it to Purple Door. They later tweeted that everything was worked out and that they still would be performing, but after the evening's headliner, which was Underoath, at the LBC Stage. The time changes at LBC, coupled with the ambiguity of exactly what was going to happen with Disciple, made for some confusion, which I found would only worsen once the rain began.
At 1:15pm, on Main Stage, Come&Live! Records had a special block of time that gave The Ember Days and Ascend The Hill a worship slot to share. What ensued was quite simply "the neverending set" as, from a distance, both bands sounded remarkably similar with songs that bore a similar feel from song to song. When I got close enough to grab some shots during The Ember Days' set, it was a different story. The pair of bands had about two hours to work with and they used this time well to lead the Main Stage audience in intimate worship. The time slot may have allowed the sets to drag on a bit too long, but it was nice to hear more indie based worship at a festival as opposed to the usual corporate worship you might hear from the more mainstream worship leaders. After seeing some of Ember Days, I headed over to Relevant Stage to catch some of Deas Vail's set (which followed River James, who I unfortunately missed). These guys are a solid piano-rock indie band and a joy to catch live. They played their new single "Sixteen," as well as "Birds" from Birds & Cages, among other favorites. I then grabbed lunch, returned for a sponsor spot just before All Sons & Daughters began, then ran over to Main Stage for another sponsor spot before Sent By Ravens (who impressively used the music of the track "Arena" by Daft Punk from the Tron: Legacy soundtrack as their set intro), caught a few minutes of their set, and then went back to watch All Sons & Daughters. I enjoyed David Leonard's music when he fronted Jackson Waters, so I was eager to catch his new worship project alongside Leslie Jordan. The duo just recently released their first EP, Brokenness Aside, and performed cuts from that release. When I arrived to watch them, they were well into their set, lost in a worshipful moment. Jordan stood at her mic with guitar in hand, while Leonard remained seated behind the keys and a mic for the duration of the set. A live cellist and percussionist also accompanied them on stage. The duo actually finished with time to spare, so they performed "Let It Shine" from the EP to close.
Sometime that afternoon, the skies opened up and unleashed its rage upon Pennsylvania. I believe it began after Sent By Ravens had finished at Main Stage, but it drenched Purple Door pretty relentlessly. We took shelter at the JFH table and waited for it to blow over. Due to the weather, most people too shelter inside one of the indoor stage buildings, and it probably helped pad the audiences for Denison Witmer's 4:30 set and Aaron Gillespie's 5:30 set, both at Relevant. The roof of Main Stage was lowered to protect the equipment and, surprisingly, remained lowered after the rain had stopped and Kansas natives Abandon Kansas took the stage closer to 6:00pm. An announcement had been made prior to their performance informing us all that the remaining Main Stage acts - Project 86 and Underoath - were being moved to the LBC Stage, while Disciple would now perform at Relevant. It was a grand plan - one that sounded fantastic to my ears - and allowed the show to go on rain or shine and not have everything end in a sopping wet mess (or allow for a repeat mudfest like the infamous Project 86 incident of several Purple Doors ago). Abandon Kansas's frontman and guitarist Jeremy Spring joked about being the evening's headliner as they closed out Main Stage for Purple Door 2011. The guys opened with "Heaven Come My Way" from their latest release, Ad Astra per Aspera, and continued with "A Conversation With The Sky" and "Like It Or Not." They then broke into a cover of Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" and then an older song from their EP before performing "The Golden State" (a personal favorite). It was a solid set and I hated leaving, but I have to admit that I was glad I did. Once I returned to our table, the skies opened up again and continued to pound the festival. It only further made me feel thankful that the fest's remaining shows would be indoors.
Word as to what time which bands would go on when and where was a bit fuzzy, but the time that would have been devoted to Disciple's set was spent setting up the stages indoors. By 8:10pm, the LBC Stage had been set up in a similar fashion to the Main Stage and allowed those who had purchased VIP tickets (which had given those ticket holders special access to a new roped off spot in front of the stage, closer to the action) to have their own designated area in front of the LBC Stage. Project 86 opened their set rather unconventionally by starting out in the crowd for their set. Only the drummer remained on stage as vocalist Andrew Schwab and his current live guitar and bass support stood in the audience for the entire set opener, "Spy Hunter." It was an impressive opening and just what the evening needed to get fired up for the rest of the night. "The Butcher" followed, another fan and personal favorite. "Me Against Me," a classic from their Drawing Black Lines release, was next, with "SMC" close behind. While a decent song, it's certainly not among their best to include in a shorter, eight-song set. Afterwards, Schwab announced the next song as his favorite to perform live and busted into the Picket Fence Cartel album opener, "Destroyer." Their radio hit "Evil (A Chorus Of Resistance)" followed, along with "Safe Haven" from their fourth album, Songs To Burn Your Bridges By. Schwab then paused again, this time to share from his heart about Mocha Club and encouraged the audience to check them out and support clean water in Africa. With that, they gave a rousing finish to their set with another favorite, "Sincerely, Ichabod" to close, leaving the audience chanting for "One more song!"
But "One more song!" soon became "Un-der-oath! Un-der-oath!" as the stage was changed for the main event of Purple Door 2011. By 9:25pm, the stage was set, the band was announced, and Underoath tore up the stage. The lights had remained on throughout Project 86's set, but for Underoath, the lights went out and blues and reds soaked the Underoath members as Spencer Chamberlain ran around the stage, spitting vocals into the mic. Their set had the audience by the throat, and it was interesting to see various artists who had played the festival gathering around the stage to watch them. I watched a little bit of their set and left to check on the status of Disciple's appearance at Purple Door. When I got to Relevant, with Underoath's set in full swing, Disciple's bus was just pulling up. I watched in amazement as they shimmied their trailer down an alley to the back of the building, opened it up, and saw a group of Purple Door workers overtake it and begin speedily emptying it. It was an impressive sight and within minutes the band's gear was on stage and they were soundchecking. It was sometime after 10 when the doors to the Relevant Stage opened and Disciple finally got to playing. As they opened the building's doors to the eager fans waiting patiently outside, there was a mad dash for the stage as they came rushing in. And after a few minutes of waiting, Disciple emerged after a long, long day for them (and their fans) and opened with the vicious "Watch It Burn" from their 2010 release, Horseshoes & Handgrenades. The energy from the audience, despite the tiring day that preceded this late night set, was incredible. This energy spread to the band themselves and back again as Disciple easily unleashed one of their most brutal performances I've seen to date. Kevin Young (whose t-shirt I very much loved seeing and appreciated him donning just before going on stage) looked as pumped as ever. He remarked during the set that he had been awake since 3:00am that morning and it was amazing that he was not only still on his feet, but radiating passion and energy. "Game On" kept the rock coming at full intensity with "Southern Hospitality" not slowing things up at all. They did take it down a notch a bit for "Invisible," and then Kevin shared a truly inspiring message from the heart on God's love, reflecting on how Jesus told his followers that God loved them as much as He loves His own son, Jesus. Young always gives inspiring messages and this one was just as powerful as ever. They followed it appropriately with the radio hit rock ballad, "After The World," before bringing back the intensity with "The Ballad of St. Augustine." The anthemic "3-2-1" followed, and then they slowed it down a bit again for the more emotional "Things Left Unsaid." Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to stay for their entire set (and I really did), I had my friends and immediate family there as well, waiting to go home, so I had to make my exit here. I was a little bit surprised to make it back to the merch area (where our table had been) to see that everything was all packed up and all the other vendors were gone except for Project 86's booth, which was almost done packing up as well.
Purple Door 2011 was a big change for the festival, but it had quite a bit to offer fans of indie rock and harder music. It's been going strong for 16 years and I do hope it continues to truck on for many more. Every festival has growing pains and if this festival returns to Lebanon next August, I can bet that it'll run even smoother than this year. My favorite aspect of the new location is that the shows can be saved by moving them inside if the elements aren't playing fair. It worked great this year and I was thankful for the setup. So if you're a fan of any of the acts mentioned here or the genres in general, this is a festival to check out. For more info, visit www.purpledoor.com. Hopefully we'll see you there!
-- John DiBiase, 8/25/11