One of the best things about the summer has to be the festivals. But what could be the best thing about Fall? Surely not school resuming. But what festivals do you know of in the Fall? Sure there are usually some super cool Fall tours, but festivals are pretty much over and done with. Not anymore. In 2001, the Newsboys remedied this problem by inventing a touring festival known as Festival Con Dios. FCD is the first of its kind portable stadium featuring a large main stage with 100,000 watts of sound and allows space for 10,000 audience members, a "village" with merchandise tents and food vendors, as well as a variety of games including laser tag, jousting, Sumo wrestling and even bull riding. The tour packs 12 artists into a six and a half hour span rotating the lineup daily and ending with the same headliners every night. Stylistically, the audience is treated to a sampler of established and up and coming artists in the CCM scene. The brightly colorful festival layout attracts mostly a younger audience while still managing to appeal to older crowds through its laid back atmosphere and variety of artists. Last year, FCD escaped us and we couldn't share in its successful debut, but we made it a point to venture out this year when the tour came within three hours of us in the town of Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
On September 17th, Festival Con Dios 2002 could be found in the parking lot of the massive Lycoming Mall in Williamsport. Constructed just outside of J.C. Penny, the large portable stadium was an impressive site to behold. The stadium possessed a similar vibe to the Newsboys' "Air Dome" they toured with in 2000, yet appeared more festive and inviting. The doors opened around 2-ish, however, we didn't get there till around three, to which Kevin and I risked indigestion by scarfing down some sustenance (this time in the form in McD's) and headed to the stadium. The inside of the stadium walls were lined with tents sheltering artist merchandise tables for each featured artist. Near the entrance were the featured games with the inflatable laser tag dome located right in the middle. Behind it stood a concession stand with surprisingly outrageously priced food ($2 bucks for a can of soda? $3 dollars for a slice of pizza?). Past the food, the space opened for where the audience would gather before the stage. No chairs were provided, however, many people thought to bring folding chairs of different kinds to make seating feasible.
Shortly after 3:30 PM, new rock artist Jeremy Camp was introduced by the festivals emcee, comedian Bob Smiley. Jeremy brought with him a full band to complete his rock entourage. He opened his short set with "Take My Life," an example of his sound reminiscent of mainstream artists Nickelback. Despite the inevitable musical comparisons Camp has and will receive, Camp is more engaging with a life-altering story unlike most others. Following "All The Time," Camp shared the moving story of the loss of his wife to cancer just a year and a half earlier. He announced "I Still Believe" as the first song he wrote after her premature death before leading into the rock ballad. Jeremy finished his 20 minute set with the first track, "Understand," from his debut album Stay which was to release exactly a week from the festival's date. An interesting set up for Con Dios is the structure of how and when the bands share the stage. Most of the artists were limited to a short but surprisingly adequate 20 minute set, while the speaker was given 30 minutes and the headliners snagged a total of 40 minutes each. A mere 5 minutes or so were allotted between performances where oftentimes Smiley would emerge to share a few jokes via his hyperactive and nervous behavior to the crowd. Although frequently making his appearance on stage, not all of his jokes hit the audience. In fact, for the majority, it sadly seemed the opposite. On the other hand, his offerings were a touch of something different from the norm of a typical concert or festival.
Ohio-based rock band Everyday Sunday shook the crowd up a bit opening with their rock single, "Mess with Your Mind." Sadly enough for most of the opening artists, the crowd isn't familiar with their work and the bands had trouble getting them into the music. It was evident by the energy lead singer Trey Pearson was trying to share with the crowd that they just wanted to rock the fest out, but the audience just mostly sat and stared. Following "Lose It Again," the quartet tried again, to no avail, to get the crowd moving for their harder song "Wait." Pearson's voice seemed more and more relaxed as the band played each track, continuing with "Live For You Tonight," the title track from their pending debut record, "Stand Up," and closing with the worshipful "Hanging On." Even newer to the audiences, was the next act, also Ohio-based Sanctus Real. With a similar pop/rock flavor, Sanctus opened with "Won't Walk Away," a track from their indie album Nothing to Lose. While Sanctus isn't new to making music, their debut record on Sparrow Records isn't exactly around the corner as they gaze at a December 24th release date. The energetic quartet held the growing audience's attention with "Audience of One," "Captain's Chair," "Nothing to Lose" and closing with the title track from their national debut, "Say It Loud."
Fourth up was Sparrow Records solo artist Aaron Spiro accompanied by a backup band. One of the festival highlights, Spiro got the crowd moving in worship with his original songs, starting with "Thrill." Sporting his FCD All Access pass and signature sunglasses, Spiro seemed right at home in the festival's lineup and grabbed the attention of his audience. He kept his short set upbeat with "Begins and Ends With You," "We Will Be There," and ending with the title track from his debut record, "Sing." Contrasting his laid back set, South African natives The Benjamin Gate sought to do what they do best -- rock. They wasted no time getting the crowd on their feet with "This Is Not" from their new release Contact before leading into their single "The Calling." Lead singer Adrienne Leisching introduced their hit "All Over Me" encouraging the crowds to jump because she couldn't, due to a recent injury. Her right ankle was in a brace, as she had sprained it during the Atlanta Festival Con Dios days before the Williamsport date. By the end of the show, Adrienne clearly couldn't remain grounded as she resorted to hopping on one foot during "Lift Me Up" and the closing songs "Lay It Down" and "Do What You Say."
The younger, teen portion of the audience began congregating near the front of the stage in anticipation for hardcore act Pillar. Before their performance, an announcement was made for a special autograph session for Audio Adrenaline and TobyMac to take place back at their merch tables by the entrance. Later, extensive lines could be found outside the tables. Meanwhile, Pillar made an explosive entry on stage, following the THX theater sound theme, with "Open Your Eyes" from their debut, Above. By the time they were on their second song, "Behind Closed Doors," the crowd was packed with jumping and head banging (and increasingly stinky) fans. The crowd surprisingly started to settle by the ironically rousing "Stay Up" and "Echelon." Not even their hit "Fireproof" seemed to get the crowd going (c'mon Pennsylvania! What's the matter?!). Kevin I walked around the festival tables and enjoyed a conversation with Trey of Everyday Sunday while Pillar closed with "Indivisible."
Following Pillar's performance around 6pm, Kevin and I took a break to take a walk through the large Lycoming Mall, thus missing Tree63's performance (sorry!). It has been reported, however, that they played new songs from their pending sophomore release, The Life and Times of Absolute Truth, including "The Glorious Ones" and "No Words." My only main complaint about Festival Con Dios is the lack of downtime. Once it begins at 3:30 PM, it pretty much doesn't stop till the last band leaves the stage at roughly 10 PM. If you don't want to miss a moment of a show or lose your place in the crowd, you're pretty much stuck. So, as a result, Kevin and I also missed a portion of the following act, Out of Eden, but caught the tail end of their performance as they played some new material. The Kimmey sisters seemed to fit right in despite being the only Gospel act (besides Toby's rock-flavored hip hop). We came back in time for hear them performing a new song called "Alright" and their popular song, "River." The trio then paused to creatively introduce themselves, sharing about themselves via song. The girls closed their set out with the infectious "Different Now." The group that seemed to fit in the least to the festival lineup was pop artists MercyMe, who's music mostly consists of pop ballad numbers. They opened with "I Worship You" from their gold-certified debut Almost There and was well-received by the crowd despite the musical differences. Worship was their focus as they lead the crowd in classics like "Open the Eyes of My Heart" and we "Exalt Thee" before closing with their unstoppable hit "I Can Only Imagine."
As the fest crew frantically worked to change sets, speaker Jose Zayas came on stage to encourage the crowd to stand up for Christ and shared a personal experience of fatherhood to drive home the message of Christ's love and mercy. Following the message, Zayas lead the crowd in a brief altar call where some gave their lives to Christ for the first time while others rededicated theirs. After 8 PM, the most popular 1/3 of dc Talk, tobyMac, rocked the stage with an entourage of artists accompanying him for his hit "Let's Get This Party Started." Toby had no trouble livening up the now-large audience as members attempted to crowd surf (some were painfully unsuccessful) and others had hands raised to the music. Toby had on-stage support from two dancers/backup vocalists, one female backup vocalist, DJMaj on the turntables as well as a complete backup band. Toby kept the hits rolling with "Momentum," "Somebody's Watching Me," "Yours," "J Train," and the encouraging "Irene." Toby didn't let the momentum fade as he offered a medley of old school hits from yesteryear including "Rollercoaster," "Freak Out," and "We Are Family." Toby ended his energetic performance with the runaway hit "Extreme Days" and the classic "Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye."
The final set change readied my favorite pop/rock quartet Audio Adrenaline for the last performance of the night. Opening with "You Still Amaze Me" from their latest worship-centered album, Lift, Audio A kept the crowd on its feet with their unstoppable energy and stage presence. Fans were introduced to bassist Will McGinniss' latest hair do -- a large mohawk! Air jets burst from the stage as the group began their hit "Mighty Good Leader." AA barely took a breath before continuing with "Underdog" and the forever hit "Big House" before leading the crowd in their amazing worship song "Glory." Lead vocalist Mark Stuart paused to introduce "Hands and Feet" and encouraged the crowd to live as missionaries for Christ wherever they are or wherever God can use them. Audio followed it up with another revised version of the classic "We're A Band" before inviting fans on stage for their hit single "Beautiful." Audio continued on with the crowd-pleasing "Get Down," and closed with the encouraging hit "Ocean Floor" that reminds us that Jesus forgives all of our sins and removes them far from us. Mark Stuart lead the audience in prayer before the evening speaker said goodnight to the crowd.
I was completely impressed with Festival Con Dios 2002. It was probably one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had at a festival and the day wasn't too long or too short. The artist lineup was a good mix of new artists to be introduced to and old favorites to enjoy and sing along with. If you're looking for a day of music and fun as well as a sample of what's going on in Christian music today, Festival Con Dios is the festival to check out!-- John
Random Festival Shots
Jeremy Camp -- 3:35pm
Everyday Sunday -- 4:00pm
Sanctus Real -- 4:25pm
Aaron Spiro -- 4:50pm
The Benjamin Gate -- 5:15pm
Pillar -- 5:40pm
Out of Eden -- 6:30pm
MercyMe -- 6:55pm
Jose Zayas -- 7:25pm
tobyMac -- 8:00pm
Audio Adrenaline -- 9:00pm
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