Concert promoters know quite well that weather can make or break the attendance for a live show. The deeper you get into Fall - in this case mid-November - on the east coast, you run the risk of weather turning dangerous. For us, on November 18th, being located over an hour and a half from Manheim, we were receiving mixed snow and rain where we lived, which almost kept us from making the drive to Warehouse 54 for The Southern Hospitality Tour. Oddly enough, the Manheim/Lancaster area was merely receiving rain, and the trip would then reveal that in between both locations was a daunting snow blizzard - something that would peak on our drive home. See, several deciding factors came into play when trying to weigh the pluses and minuses of braving the potentially treacherous weather. For one, newcomers Wavorly were opening the tour. We'd talked to them at GMA, had been stoked about their debut Conquering The Fear Of Flight, and had missed their showcase in Nashville. Next, Disciple was headlining, and they're a band you just can't help but appreciate with each succeeding live show experience. Finally, this was the last date on The Southern Hospitality Tour, and, if you've ever seen the final date of a tour, you know it can be a crazy and fun night of silliness and pranks.
It was difficult not to assume that if there was snow in Bethlehem, PA, that there'd be just as bad or worse weather in Manheim. When we arrived, it was great to see such a packed lot at Warehouse 54, and to see that it had only been raining there. As we walked up to the venue, our hearts sank as we realized we heard live music winding down and then someone announce the conclusion of Wavorly's set - which meant we'd missed them yet again. As we entered the gymnasium of the Warehouse, High Flight Society was preparing for their set. The young rock band played cuts from their self-titled debut, but the audience seemed rather tame throughout much of their set, despite the band's encouragement for more participation. As HFS performed "Raise Me," which vocalist Jason Wilkes jokingly dedicated to Spoken's Matt Baird, members of Wavorly and Disciple brought out on stage potted plants from the church next door and covered the stage with the plants while HFS continued to play. In a last stitch effort to get the audience moving, the band encouraged a small sort of mosh pit circling in the heart of the crowd during "Sweet Redeemer," and closed with "Get By."
The Wedding followed, in what would be the second time for me that I had seen the final date for a tour these guys performed on. Two years have passed since they duct-taped their original vocalist Kevin Kiehn to John Reuben as he performed, and the band has since gone through a few member changes, including recently acquiring new vocalist Landon Ginnings. Mayhem was to be expected from The Wedding boys, and they came out on stage in ridiculous attired, including tight shirts, only a vest and short torn denim shorts, and even American flag pants. During "Say Your Prayers," Disciple and Wavorly ran on stage to sing along. After "Staring At The Light," the Wedding performed "Move This City" where several members from the other bands, including Kevin Young of Disciple, came staggering out stacked on each other's shoulders. But the highlight came as the band's set began to wind down. During "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," the guys encouraged the circle pit in the audience as the other band's members continued to torment The Wedding. The stage was set up with the opening act's gear set in front of the stage, while some of Disciple's and Spoken's gear was behind them hidden under a black sheet. Unbeknownst to the band, someone climbed into the second drum set and played simultaneously while The Wedding's drummer pounded away. But things only climaxed during The Wedding's finale, "Wake The Regiment," as people ran on stage, taking pieces of The Wedding's drum set away as he played until almost nothing was left to use. As the song drew to a close, Disciple's Young, among others, began pulling audience members onto the stage to rock out with The Wedding as the band's own merch guy even came up and screamed into the mic.
It may have been safe to think that it couldn't possibly get much zanier, but this would prove to be an unsafe assumption for Spoken's incredible set. A clip of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" served as their opening, before the band came up and began "Not Soon Forgotten." After the song, guitarist Jef Cunningham auctioned off the Spoken t-shirt he was wearing to any fan willing to purchase it. Because of this, during the band's second song, Kevin Young and an accomplice carried the entire backdrop for Spoken's merch stand onto the stage. Of course, the table soon followed and the band's entire merch setup was on stage - and the guys began auctioning off their own merch right there. The song "Everything Is Burning" followed, and during "September," Spoken invited their merch guy on stage to help sell merchandise as they performed. Young joined them and began singing along with Spoken's Baird as they stood on the merch table, and a slew of toilet paper began to rain down over the band and their backdrop. For the next song, Cunningham literally auctioned off one of his shoes for fifteen dollars before later offering his shirt and the other shoe in a package together. By request, the band dug out an older song, "Forevermore," and followed that song by asking the audience not to turn around for the entirety of the next song they played. The audience obliged, much to the band's excitement, and before their set closed, they asked the audience members to pass a dollar up to the front of the stage to help tour openers Wavorly and High Flight Society in purchasing new vans for traveling. It was one of the craziest, most spontaneously random live sets we'd ever seen and it made for some of the best moments in the evening.
As Spoken exited, Disciple's Kevin Young hopped down from the monitor he'd been sitting on towards the end of Spoken's set and shared from his heart about World Vision and the impact the organization has on poverty-stricken lives. Before ending his message, he read through 10 children packets he had been holding and asked if anyone in the audience would like to sponsor one. It was a wonderful sight to watch a hand go up to receive a child packet for each one Young read about. His passion for the ministry and for the children in need was infectious, and many attendees would visit the World Vision table for more info or to sign up before the night was over.
After a short break, hard rock band Disciple opened with the heart-pounding anthem, "Game On." For those curious about seeing three members of Wavorly on stage with playing in the band with one of Disciple's members missing, we later discovered that Disciple guitarist Brad Noah had left the band early on in the tour, and Wavorly's vocalist/guitarist Dave Stovall and other guitarist, Seth Farmer, had stepped up to fill in. In addition to them, clearly as a gag, Wavorly's bassist Matt Lott also joined them for Disciple's set this particular night, randomly (and wildly) beating on a pair of bongos for the duration of their set. Disciple drummer Tim Barret donned a creepy feline Halloween mask for the beginning of their show, before giving up on trying to keep it on and yanking it off. Surprisingly, though, Lott's percussion was really the only prank the guys recieved as their set rolled on with "Someone," "Scars Remain," and "Back Again." However, during "Love Hate (On and On)," several members from the other bands carried a foosball table onto the stage and began playing behind Young. It wasn't long before they carried it off again, and Disciple pressed on with "Into Black," "My Hell," and paused to talk about the love of God as an introduction to the rock ballad, "After The World." "Shine Down" followed, and then the brutal "Regime Change," which saw a surprise visit from Spoken's Jef Cunningham who came walking out on stage in aviator sunglasses and a ridiculous winter hat and vest. "Fight For Love," from their album Scars Remain was next, and the band closed with probably their most recognizable hit, "The Wait Is Over." The audience screamed for more, and the band came back out for a two-song encore, beginning with the emotional "Things Left Unsaid." As could be expected, however, things turned crazy one last time when they closed with "Rise Up," and members from the opening acts flooded the stage. Spoken's vocalist Matt Baird seized the bass from Disciple's Joey Fife, who then grabbed a mic and aided with the vocals. The set ended in a frenzy and the night of music was over. Before dismissing the audience, Kevin Young returned the mood to a more serious tone and offered a message on faith and accepting Christ and living for Him. It was also a highlight to see so many willing to dedicate their lives to Jesus upon Young's invitation. It was the perfect ending to a truly memorable evening.
The events of the night had proven to be well worth our efforts. Sadly, The Southern Hospitality Tour has concluded, but you can catch each band live on other tours in the coming months. And if you get the opportunity to catch the final date on a tour like this one - expect the unexpected!-- John DiBiase, 11/22/07
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