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JFH Concert Review

Photos by John


Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, Third Day, Relient K, Skillet, & more
9/8 - 9/9/06, at Universal Studios in Orlando, FL

In 2003, we made a special trip back to Orlando just a few months after being there for our honeymoon to attend the Rock The Universe festival at Universal Studios. It was a busy weekend and a festival unlike any other I'd been to before. I remember having mixed feelings about it, but ultimately it was a good time at the larger-than-life movie theme park.

The 2006 lineup for Rock The Universe included a very special guest near to our hearts whose presence at the fest became a deciding factor for our return. Audio Adrenaline was to play the festival for their very last time and we knew this was a prime opportunity to catch them in one of our last chances to see them live. So with the mindset of turning the trip into a mini-getaway (very, very mini), it was off to Orlando for us! The following is an account of our weekend experience including RTU, so you can get an idea of what a weekend trip to the parks for RTU could be like.

As we approached the gates of Universal Studios Orlando on Friday afternoon after flying in just a couple hours earlier, this exciting feeling of being a kid again (or perhaps at least 23-and-just-married again) rushed over me. We had no set plan when we arrived, but one thing did hang in my mind... Universal has a new ride. When we were there three years ago, there was nothing but a big sign saying "Coming In 2004" for "Revenge Of The Mummy" theme park ride. And being that I was a sucker for the first film, I have been looking forward to it since. So basically, I headed straight for it, making that our first experience of Rock The Universe (and while the ride didn't live up to my high expectations, it was still a blast!). On our way out we ran into a delightful JFH reader named Lindsay who just happened to recognize us together. We enjoyed talking to her for a little bit before we split and hit the Twister attraction next.

Some time before 6pm, we walked over to The Yard Stage where Skillet was set to perform. The stage's emcee spent quite a bit of time stalling the audience by throwing out Chick-fil-A plush cows, which would, for some odd reason, become a prelude to pretty much every set during the festival (and it got very, very old very, very fast). But before too long, the hard rock quartet was on stage and kicking off Rock The Universe 2006. Like many festivals of its kind, there were two other stages across the theme park offering music at the same time. The Hollywood Stage showcased Monday Morning while the Praise & Worship Stage offered Andrea Webber (at 5pm and 7:30) and Pocket Full Of Rocks at 6:15 and 8:45). But of the choices, veterans Skillet were a no-brainer and the opening ferocity of "Forsaken" is always a confirmation of such. Sporting a mini mohawk that would be defeated by an increasing amount of sweat from the 80+ degree heat and humidity over the course of the show, John Cooper was visibly fired up. And with a set list that was seemingly relentless rock that progressed to "You're Powerful" and on down from "Collide" to "Energy" and even "Alien Youth," the band was armed with a full time slot. "Alien Youth" brought along with it an impressive guitar solo from Ben Kasaica along with band intros, and was nicely followed by the worshipful "You Are My Hope."

The extensive set continued strongly, as Cooper introduced their runaway hit new single "Rebirthing" from their upcoming release Comatose. The vicious "Obsession" preceded another new cut, the hopeful hard rock duet "The Last Night," which John introduced as an answer to a lot of the desperation in youth's lives today. An old favorite followed, "Best Kept Secret," before John launched into a bold explanation of the meaning of the album title Comatose, calling the church body to wake up and take a stand for Christ. His talk was passionate and empowering, more sincere than a lot of speakers who tend to shout and chastise their audience. His talk prepared the hearts of the crowd properly for the worship ballad "Angels Fall Down," and closed their set with their hit single from their previous album Collide, "Savior."

As the crowd dispersed from The Yard Stage area at about 7:15, we began our search for something edible. Sadly, with most theme parks, the restaurants are merely masked cafeterias with small, specialized menus, so finding something decent to eat can be about as fruitful as finding a place to sit. As we walked past the Hollywood Stage, rap group Grits was engaging their audience in a message about change before returning to more music to finish their time slot. And somewhere in the vicinity of the Hollywood Stage, we stumbled upon "Universal Studio's Kidzone Pizza Company," a Woody Woodpecker themed cafeteria-style eatery. Feeling rather famished and as though this is as good as it's going to get, we surrendered to the fast food of the theme park (which surprisingly exceeded our low expectations considerably). Once refueled, we returned to the Yard Stage...

Pop punk legends MxPx were already well into their set by the time we made it to the Yard. While Skillet's entire set lasted through the twilight, MxPx was the first show of the night after the sun went down. The stage was now brightly illuminated, bearing a glowing Rock The Universe and Universal Studios logos atop the towering stage. As we walked through the park to the stage, the familiar sounds of the band's classic "Responsibility" drifted through the Studio streets. After we got there, the energetic threesome launched into party songs like "Play It Loud," "Party, My House, Be There," "Young and Depressed," and the classic cover, "Summer Of 69." I'd just seen the guys for the first time in concert less than two months prior and the guys were more enthusiastic this time around. They had seemed weary and almost bored at times at their last show, but on the Rock The Universe stage, MxPx seemed thrilled to be there, and this excitement merely spread to the audience. A request session brought out old band favorites like "Do Your Feet Hurt?," "Wrecking Hotel Rooms," "Under Lock & Key," a cover of the Ramones' "KKK Took My Baby Away," "I'm OK, You're OK," and "Doin' Time." And after a rousing performance of "Next Big Thing," the guys performed one of their most popular songs to date, "Chick Magnet." Vocalist Mike Herrera called out an Orlando-based friend on stage to play the song with them, but when he didn't show, Herrera decided to invite any fan who could play the song's baseline on stage. After selecting one, the fan joined the guys, playing the song almost flawlessly on the bass as they jumped right back into the song (their friend eventually showed up and just helped Mike sing the vocals). After "Chick Magnet," guitarist Tom Wisniewski sung his own version of The Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" before MxPx closed with the classic "Punk Rawk Show."

At this point, it was time to head over to the Hollywood Stage if we'd wanted to get a decent spot in the crowd for Newsboys, but Kutless was still wrapping up their set by the time we got there. This seemed like a prime time to seek out a refreshment from the hot and humid Orlando weather in the meantime, and we returned to the stage with time to spare. Around 10PM, Newsboys assumed center stage, launching into their radio hit "I Am Free." Now, I've been a follower of the band since I first heard them during their Going Public years quite some time ago, so I've witnessed many changes in the band over the past decade and then some. This was my first time seeing the guys since trio-leader-turned-solo-artist Paul Colman had joined the band on guitar earlier this year. Last Fall, we caught their show at a Philadelphia club which proved to be one of their tightest sets I'd seen since they switched over almost exclusively to worship, but something seemed off about their Rock The Universe performance. Midway through their opening song, frontman Peter Furler began speaking a message to the crowd regarding the theme of "I Am Free" which seemed to go on too long, disrupting the momentum of their opening song. What followed, however, was one of the most pleasant surprises to come from the band in awhile as they shifted gears completely to play the title track from their 1996 gem, Take Me To Your Leader. But as if the show was merely somewhat schizophrenic, the band returned to their more recent dabblings in the worship genre with their rendition of Matt Redman's "Blessed Be Your Name," followed by a few choruses of "Beautiful Sound" by Phil Joel. The band then shifted gears to "Entertaining Angels," and back to their own worship original "He Reigns" before the band took a seat while Furler gave his signature inspirational talk from the heart. While Furler's messages are often highlights of the Newsboys performance, they also often mean that the set is shorter, and when a band like Newsboys have such an extensive catalog of music, it can leave their setlist feeling a little thin. The band's wonderful worship original "It Is You" followed, along with the introduction of a brand new pop/rock anthem from their upcoming new record Go, entitled "Wherever We Go." The new single was then appropriately followed by their classic hit "Shine," which featured a resurrection of Duncan Phillips' signature rotating drum set (which raised off the stage and spun him upside down and in different directions while he played). Furler also paused to have Colman briefly sing "Shine" as Bob Dylan might, which added a little extra humor to the set. As we walked away from the stage, we heard the band leave after "Shine" and return for "Breakfast," a treat seldom heard at their shows anymore.

I admit I was rather disappointed with the band's show this time. While I'm often left satisfied with their shows, this particular set felt disjointed and abbreviated. Including the encore song that we heard as we left the Hollywood Stage area, merely nine songs were played (there may have been more after "Breakfast," but I doubt too many if any), and it just really felt too short. Also, while it was exciting to hear songs like "Take Me To Your Leader" brought back from the past and the introduction of the hit-to-be "Wherever We Go," the worship and the pop/rock songs didn't seem to mesh too well. While they're very good at both and have definitely put together setlists that work perfectly in recent tours, their Rock The Universe song roster just felt a little haphazard. Perhaps a tighter list of songs will be offered when the band begins touring for Go...

We left the show when we did to try to catch the tail end of Relient K's performance that was happening simultaneously back at The Yard Stage, but not only was there not much time to get there... but we were enticed by the Men In Black Alien Attack ride in passing. And upon leaving that ride, our first night at Rock The Universe 2006 was completed...

Day TWO, Saturday... When you're making a special trip to Orlando just for Rock The Universe -- which tickets don't let you in til 4pm at Universal Studios and they only cover one of the two theme parks -- you kind of have to shell out the extra bucks to experience Islands Of Adventure. Given that was the case, we got up early on Saturday and hit up Islands for breakfast at the Crouissant Moon (haha) and then had fun just taking it easy and hitting up rides and attractions like the Incredible Hulk Coaster, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, the Jurassic Park River Adventure, Poseidon's Fury, The Dueling Dragons coaster, the nifty Jurassic Park Discovery Center, and even the new Dr. Seuss Trolley Train Ride. All amounted to a nice morning and afternoon that served as a much more enjoyable experience than three years ago.

After some dinner at the Confisco Grille, we rushed back over to Universal Studios after 4pm to meet up with a friend at the Starbucks inside the park. Our chit-chat was fun and nice continued downtime, but when we split afterwards, Day Of Fire was already well into their set over at the Hollywood Stage. As we walked over, the guys were wrapping up their hit "Cornerstone" as the ominous skies above began to lightly sprinkle onto the audience. Following the title track from their newest record, Cut and Move, the band left the stage just before the skies opened up and unleashed a heavy downpour on Universal Studios. We took cover in the small merchandise pavilion until the rains subsided. However, this caused Essential Records' new rock act Red to be postponed, pushing the evening's final acts back a bit as well. This also meant that instead of the Hollywood headliners Audio Adrenaline going on at 8:30, they were to go on at 9, much closer to the original 9:30 showtime of Third Day back over at The Yard. But after the rain had subsided, we joined the growing crowd in front of the Hollywood Stage. As we waited for Red to come on, having to endure the antics of another time-stalling emcee tossing out Chick-fil-A cows, the rain began to pick up again. And to make sure I'd be able to bring you a few photos despite the rain, I wrapped my camera in a t-shirt to brave the elements. After 8pm, and quite a bit of time spent attempting to dry off the stage, Red hit the stage in full force to an enthusiastic and eager crowd. I was genuinely surprised how fired up the crowd was for this new band, but they put on a strong set, one that closed memorably with their hit single "Breathe Into Me."

Being the crazed fans that we are, with their presence being one of the deciding factors to attend this year's Rock The Universe (as mentioned at the start of this drawn out account), despite being soaked and disheveled, we were still quite jazzed to see the Hollywood Stage's main act. Not only was this Audio Adrenaline's final stop in Orlando, FL and Rock The Universe, but this was the band's final stop in the state entirely. Once the lights dimmed again and the band emerged for "Clap Your Hands" amidst a light drizzle, I was reminded it was all completely worth it. There are few bands that are worth the trouble a fan goes through, but Audio Adrenaline has consistently been one to not disappoint, and I can honestly say that having seen them live nearly thirty times over a span of twelve years. But as the band's younger fans around me blew caution to the wind and let out the last of the energy they'd stored up during the rain storm, the band pulled out recent hits "Worldwide One" and "Mighty Good Leader." At this point, the band shifted to the classics in a short medley of "Never Gonna Be As Big As Jesus" and "Big House," which included frontman Mark Stuart tossing a shocked look our way before pointing and blowing these two drenched diehards an appreciative kiss. For the band's career hit "Big House," Stuart continued the more recent tradition of picking an audience member to "finish" the song by yelling the word "house." This time around, Stuart's pick ended up being a delightful, albeit bashful, man whose reluctance to the spotlight at first was cured by the audience's encouraging cheers. The title track from the band's final studio album, Until My Heart Caves In was a rousing successor, before Stuart paused between songs to share his heart about missions, calling the audience to action with "Hands and Feet." The emotional anthem for God's Grace, "Ocean Floor" followed, along with a brief message from the tenderhearted Will McGinniss who introduced guitarist Tyler Burkum's pop vehicle, "Starting Over," an added gem to the AudioA setlist. At the song's conclusion, the lights stayed dark as Burkum drifted into an atmospheric guitar solo that would alert seasoned fans to the coming of the set staple "We're A Band." I never get tired of hearing this song live, and watching Ben Cissell pound an aggressive rhythm out on the drums as if it were the last time he would ever play them makes the song all the more enjoyable live. The AA guys shifted gears once more for the incredibly catchy pop worship track "Beautiful," in which they pulled fans and friends on stage to sing and dance with them. When the song finished and the guests returned to their respective seats, the band closed their set with the always fun "Get Down" from their 1999 record, Underdog.

At this point, even though the audience was wet and tired (although the rain had stopped early on in their show), an encore was inevitable. And the cheering crowd was met with Ben Cissell and a brief message from him about the band's pending doom within the next three months, their involvement in the Hands & Feet Project, and a dedication of the following song to the Orlando audience. With that, Burkum began singing the band's current radio single "Goodbye," a personal farewell from the band to their fans. It was one of the most emotional non-spiritual moments I've ever encountered at a live show. The song bears that bittersweet mixture of sadness and joy (as even the song speaks of crying with joy, not sorrow), and heard live is given a lot more weight and meaning seeing the guys perform it and watching Stuart wave to us as Burkum sang. To be honest, I had to fight back the tears a few times, which is unusual for me. But watching a band that's made music that has touched your life for over a decade say goodbye is never easy. With the audience now mostly quieted and somber, Mark asked what the audience wanted to hear next, and a large number of the audience screamed for "DC-10." Stuart turned, talked to his bandmates, and asked the crowd, "Which would you rather hear... 'DC-10'? Or 'Underdog?'" Needless to say, the latter won. "Underdog" has always been a fantastic live song, and when those around you are shouting the anthemic chorus aloud back at the band, it's a beautiful thing. Finally, the band ended the evening on a worshipful note with "King," before bowing to the audience and leaving the stage.

After the audience dissipated and the Universal crew began cleaning up the streets around the Hollywood Stage, faint sounds of Third Day's "Cry Out To Jesus" could be heard across the park. Before we could make it over there, their set was wrapping up, so we made one final stop at a Universal ride and took an evening trip through the Jaws attraction. With that, we called it a night (and a festival), and returned to our hotel.

Since we missed the other headlining act's show, I have the pleasure of featuring the chief of Third Day fans, Mama Gomer's own take on the band's performance...

I had flown to Florida to attend RtU with my best friend, Debbie who lives near Tampa. We went to Islands of Adventure on Friday where we had our Gomer names henna-tattooed on our arms. Between that and our orange Gomer shirts, we were ready to represent our Gomer family and show Third Day our support! On Saturday, we met up with a bunch of other Gomers for dinner at the NASCAR Café in City Walk. It's always fun to meet up with people you only talk to online. Some we had met before, some we hadn't. But concerts are always more fun when you share them with a group of friends.

After a few rides, we started our evening jumping with Day of Fire, which turned into day of rain! We took shelter with a lot of other disappointed music fans, and waited for it to quit. It wasn't so bad, because we got to meet more Gomers while we waited. In the meantime, I text messaged friends and asked them to post a prayer request on the Third Day message boards for it to stop raining. It did stop, for a little while. But by the time DecembeRadio hit the big stage, it was pouring again. We didn't want to miss their show, so we braved the rain, and it was well worth it! The rain did not hinder their show one bit. They rocked that place out!

In answer to our prayers, it did stop raining completely just before Third Day took the stage. Their intro music was the theme from the 80's TV show Knight Rider. Third Day had come with the mini version of their Wherever You Are tour stage set up, and the light towers flashed red, mimicking the display on KITT's console. Once the audience was revved up, Third Day hit the stage with the rocker "I've Got a Feelin'." That got the place jumping! It was followed by Rich Mullins' "Creed" and two songs from Third Day's latest CD Wherever You Are, "Keep On Shinin'," to which Mac did a little disco dancing, and "I Can Feel It," which was one of the rockier worship songs of the night ("Consuming Fire," their signature song, being the other). Mac stopped the show to have drummer David Carr step to the front of the stage to sing Happy Birthday to his two year old son, Wyatt. Wyatt wasn't actually there to hear it, but it was the thought that counted, and the audience enjoyed taking part in celebrating his birthday, and hearing David sing to his son.

Mac told the audience that Third Day has been together for "10 to 13 years, depending on who you ask" and that people always ask them if they get tired of touring. He said that it is audiences like the one at Rock the Universe that make it all worthwhile, and that they will still be together and touring for another 10 to 13 years. The fans were extremely glad to hear that! Our eyes and hands turned upward as Third Day played "Show Me Your Glory," and their most requested song, "Thief," followed by the old time gospel song, "Blessed Assurance," done at first acoustically, with a powerful rock ending. To keep the rock going, they played old school favorite "Took My Place," followed by the popular "Come Together." For their last song, they played "I Believe" from Wire.

As soon as Third Day left the stage, the audience began chanting, "One more song! One more song!" The band came back onto the stage rather quickly. Mac took the mic and chastised the audience, "One more song? What do you mean, 'One more song?' You should be saying, 'Four more songs!'" And that is just what they delivered. They started with "Tunnel," then turned back to worship with the passion of "Consuming Fire." The heart-stirring "Cry Out to Jesus" was next. That song always touches me as I think of hardships those around me have gone through, and how they've leaned on Christ to get them through. You could hear weeping in the crowd as the reality of Jesus' care for them hit each person there. Third Day finished the night with "God of Wonders," and then handed the stage over to Dr. Jay Strack for the candle lighting ceremony. It was beautiful. The whole night was amazing, the fun, the fellowship, and the show, even with the rain. -- Corrine aka Mama Gomer

Thanks Corrine! I have to say I had a much better experience at Rock The Universe this year. Whether the lineup just wasn't as strong or the festival was timed out better, it just seemed to be a slightly more relaxed festival this time. I enjoyed mixing up park rides and festival shows and spending downtime at the theme parks. Going with a laid back plan is ideal for maximizing your enjoyment at Rock The Universe. Cramming your schedule will only make it more hectic than it should be in the end. My largest complaint, however, applies to very few RTU attendees, in that the accommodations for press -- particularly when it comes to photography -- is nonexistent. Regardless, fun was had -- enough that I hope it won't take another one of my favorite bands breaking up to justify a plane trip and weekender at Rock The Universe in Orlando. Check it out sometime if you can. Consider this my official recommendation.

-- John DiBiase


Rock The Universe 2006 Photo Gallery
click on an image for a bigger size

Skillet -- Friday, 6:00pm, The Yard Stage

MxPx -- Friday, 7:45pm, The Yard

Newsboys -- Friday, 8:00pm, Hollywood

Day Of Fire -- Saturday, 6:00pm, Hollywood Stage

Red -- Saturday, 8:00pm, Hollywood Stage

Audio Adrenaline -- Saturday, 9:00pm, Hollywood Stage
*all photos by John DiBiase or Amy DiBiase, and are the property of


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