The MercyMe-founded Rock & Worship Roadshow is celebrating its seventh year, sponsored by the fine folks at Compassion International. The diverse cast of performers braved the prior day's blizzard-like conditions to bring what I believe is Pittsburgh's very first Roadshow. The snow would end up being a big concern heading in, with the Columbus, OH show unfortunately having to be canceled with the Roadshow stuck in Kentucky. But alas, everyone was able to make it into the University of Pittsburgh's Peterson Events Center for a night of worship and fun.
Much like that other massive $10 Christian music tour taking place, The Rock & Worship Roadshow features a stellar, diverse lineup with something for everyone in the family. In the opening spot was the newcomers I Am They, who played their brand of folk/Americana inspired worship while the stragglers continued to file into the arena. Going in, I was really looking forward to see I Am They perform live, having been enthralled with their successful single, "From The Day." This is the band's debut tour, and it is a neat little feather in my cap to have seen them this early. I believe they will be a huge force in the CCM scene in the very near future. "We Are Yours" and "Your Love Is Mine" were performed with all of the clap-along, foot-stomping bliss that comes with this type of earthy music. After those two songs, lead vocalist Stephanie Kulla announced the second opener, Jon Guerra.
Accompanied by his wife Valerie (on the violin), Jon Guerra engaged the crowd in a quieter, more introspective form of worship. The Roadshow was Guerra's debut tour as well, and he is well suited alongside I Am They. More acoustically driven, Jon Guerra's songs reflect a more folk driven ambiance -- think Bob Dylan meets Sufjan Stevens. Guerra performed "I Will Follow" and "Every Little Song" before being joined by I Am They for a group performance of "Nothing Better," all from his upcoming album, Little Songs. The openers meshed well and were a great choice to kick off the night.
In stark contrast to the previous performers, hip hop duo Group 1 Crew took the stage with flashing lights and bass that you can feel throughout your body. Manwell Reyes and newest member Sarah Sandoz exploded on stage with the amount of ridiculous energy one would expect from their brand of music. Sandoz is a nice addition after the departure of Blanca, with her powerful vocals balancing out Reyes' rhymes nicely.
Songbird Jamie Grace was up next, with a unique pre-recorded introduction from TobyMac. Grace opened up with her smash "Beautiful Day." Grace took a moment to speak to the captive audience and admitted that her music was mostly pointed to the young ladies in the crowd, but that still did not keep me from observing many men (of all ages) dancing and belting out the bubbly lyrics at the top of their lungs. Grace went through her usual suspects of popular hits, with the standout being the closer, "Fighter," in which the singer got visibly emotional singing about a little girl with cancer.
When the familiar chords of "All The People Said Amen" began to ring out, everyone knew it was time for a Matt Maher sing-a-long. The one-two punch of the opener and "Hold Us Together" following gave the audience plenty to belt out as if surrounding a campfire before Maher and company slowed things down into intimate worship for the remainder of the set. Maher would handle duties sans band for most of the rest of the set, donning a single piano inscribed with the word "amen" in the middle of the arena. This was a beautiful contrast to everything prior, giving the audience some real worshipful moments amidst the high energy acts. A solo performer, piano, and spotlight would carry us to a brief intermission.
Crowder took the stage after a brief testimony from host Shaun Groves on behalf of Compassion International, and a fifteen-minute intermission. I won't try to hide my bias at this point in the review. I came to see Crowder. I was happy to get to photograph and worship with the other artists, but being my all-time favorite act (whether band or solo), Crowder was the act I was dying to see. This was a first for me, and it certainly didn't disappoint! The stage now displayed an actual front porch, adorned with all manner of country artifacts, like a bug zapper and steer horns. The lights went down, and the country sounds of crickets and the bug zapper took over the arena. For those few seconds, Pittsburgh wasn't drowning in feet of snow, but rather spending a muggy July night on the front porch with a few talented musicians. The "folktronica" started right off the bat with "My Beloved." The audience was buzzing all night, but they seemed even more alive for Crowder. Jumping, dancing, singing, and knee slapping ensued. The band followed up with the ever-popular John Mark McMillian cover, "How He Loves." After working through a few more standout tracks from Neon Steeple, Crowder asked the audience if it would be alright to "break out into what we commonly refer to as a 'hoe down'." That signature line was the cue for the Hank Williams Sr. cover of "I Saw The Light," with a nice segue into "I'll Fly Away" to close out the set.
Crowder immediately introduced Tedashii, who was set and ready to go out in the middle of the arena. Tedashii passionately opened up with "Fire Away" before being joined on stage by Jamie Grace to fill in for Britt Nicole on "Dark Days, Darker Nights." Tedashii's set seemed a tad short, but he definitely got the crowd moving, even those who you would suspect wouldn't be as into hip hop. People of all ages were dancing and enjoying the rap portion of the evening.
Finally, tour founders MercyMe took the stage to close out the night. Dressed to the nines in suits with a horns section backing frontman Bart Mallard, the band launched into "Shake" and then "Move." The band put on a more traditional show than some of the prior acts, but it was a fitting way to end the night. MercyMe has an extensive catalogue of hits, and the set featured a nice mix of upbeat rejoicing and quiet worship. Their set summed up the entire night, and sent the audience home happy.
If The Rock & Worship Roadshow is coming near you, it is a no-brainer to check it out. This tour is a nice companion to Winter Jam, and even featured much fewer advertisements. The price of admission ($10) alone is worth it to see any one of these acts, let alone all of them together under one roof.-- BJ Smith, 3/11/15
I Am They
We Are Yours
Your Life Is Mine
From The Day
I Will Follow
Every Little Song
Nothing Better (with I Am They)
Group 1 Crew
Keys To The Kingdom
A Little Closer
Night Of My Life
Every Little Bit Of Lovely
All The People Said Amen
Hold Us Together
Your Grace Is Enough
Lord I Need You
Because He Lives (Amen)
How He Loves
Life Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains)
Hands Of Love
Come As You Are
I Saw The Light / I'll Fly Away
Dark Days, Darker Nights
Nothing I Can't Do
Welcome To The New
All Of Creation
I Can Only Imagine
I Am They
Group 1 Crew
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