When it came time for attending Uprise Festival 2013, I got a tiny taste of the mayhem that many travelling artists must experience on a regular basis. To make a long story short, we had made a last minute trip to San Diego to visit close family who had just welcomed a brand new baby into the world, and we didn't return home to PA until early morning on Friday, September 20th... the first day of Uprise Festival. After spending a few hours getting things together for another weekend away from home, I grabbed a few hours of sleep before having to head out to Shippensburg, PA for another exciting year at Uprise. The reason I'm telling you this? I didn't arrive at the festival until a few acts had already performed, and I literally got over to Main Stage just in time to share a word about JFH with the lovely people in the audience. Needless to say, city-hopping artists that do this regularly have my utmost respect.
And of course, this delayed arrival of mine affects my coverage for the festival, and for that I do apologize, however, I still was able to be present for the main events of Friday night - headliners Tenth Avenue North and Skillet. Before the two headliners, indie act We Are Leo and rising rock band We As Human preceded the evening's speaker, Mr. Reggie Dabbs. But Tenth Avenue North has been a band that has been gaining quite a bit of steam in recent years, thanks in part to a strong radio push from their label and the resultant radio success. When I first saw them perform while they opened for Sanctus Real several years ago, I found their set to be pretty bland. However, as they've grown in popularity, the energy of their show has blossomed. And front man Mike Donehey, a professed avid fan of singer/songwriter Jon Foreman, seems to be taking more and more cues from his musical hero as the band progresses (everything from performing in the bleachers at stadium shows to the bedhead hair and wardrobe choice). But fans love it and Mike has become more and more interactive with their audience through all of this. On this evening, Mike walked out on the catwalk to talk on forgiveness and our need to find validation in others' opinions. It worked as a nice lead-in to "Losing." "Grace" and band intros followed, and then Mike talked more on God's love through tragedy, like how he survived a brutal car accident when he was only 18, which left his face with some scars (which he said is why his hair is long). "Worn" was next, and then Mike ventured into the crowd for "You Are More." They also played part of their fan hit "By Your Side."
And now for something completely different. You probably couldn't get much more opposite in choice of headliners (at least in the mainstream CCM world) than going from Tenth Ave to a heavy, theatrical rock band like Skillet. But the pop rock sounds of the pre-headlining act indeed served as a precursor to the big, loud, and flame-filled Skillet performance. Skillet opened with their hit "Hero," complete with jets of propane launching balls of fire into the air. A large video screen displayed behind the band would show special show-exclusive videos as well as footage from their own music videos. "Whispers In The Dark" was next, and the fire was replaced by jets of smoke this time. A pair of dueling cellos led into "Comatose," with "Sick of It" and more flames close behind. For the poppy and delightfully sentimental "Those Nights," vocalist/bassist John Cooper appropriately kept up the tradition of filming the audience during the song to later post online. Dueling violins then served as the introduction to "Awake and Alive," with drummer Jen Ledger's drum riser rising into the air and sliding forward into the middle of the stage. "Rise" (complete with more flames) and a fist-pumping animated video, featuring the style of artwork from the album cover, preceded John sharing about "The Last Night" from Comatose. The song was given a rousing finish with sparklers, and then John introduced the band's latest single, "Not Gonna Die." A scripture video led into the lone selection from Collide, "Savior," and the song concluded with fireworks going off behind the stage. John then spoke on the story behind "American Noise" before playing the song and setting off sparks popping from the front of the stage and more fireworks backstage. At this point, guitarist Seth Morrison and drummer Jen Ledger offered solos before "Circus For a Psycho" played (complete with a silly clown, wrestling video) and Jen's riser lifted her set into the air again and spun around. "Monster," with flames and air jets, served as the closer for the evening. But, alas, an encore is rather inevitable, and the band returned for a final song with violin solos leading into what is a great closer, "Rebirthing."
With the end of Skillet's set came the end of the the first night of Uprise... but Saturday was shaping up to be a bit out of the ordinary.
RAIN! And boy was there lots of it! After the sister act Campbell had cancelled and didn't appear for their 10:30AM performance, things at Main Stage were moved up slightly. Lybecker went on at 10:45 instead of 11:05, so those relying on a certain time to be able to see the morning acts were likely to end up missing them. The first act of the day I caught was some of Lybecker's pop rock set. It was decent, but nothing all that unique or memorable. The gloomy clouds loomed threateningly above the audience all day, and the shows carried on on all stages for as long as they could. Folk band The Vespers were a charming performance. They went on around 1l:35 instead of the scheduled 11:50 time and played some new and old material. At one point, they admitted that they don't consider themselves to be a "Christian band" but are definitely Christians, and then performed their song "Better Now." After their set, Gotee Records dance pop duo Capital Kings went on a little more than 15 minutes early and played selections from their self-titled debut. They opened with "The Paradigm" and Family Force 5's Soul Glow Activatur came out singing along and waving a pair of "Capital Kings" flags before tossing them into the audience. "Living for the Other Side," "Ready for Home," "Born To Love," and "Be There" all followed. The duo then held a dance party of sorts while waving large Capital Kings flags and dancing around. "Never Be Alone" was next and then Newsboys' Michael Tait joined the guys for the finale, "I Feel So Alive." It was a fun and energetic set to get the day going.
Another fun set followed from Shonlock and his band. Shonlock used to be part of TobyMac's live band, Diverse City, and left the entourage to pursue his own solo career a few years ago. As he prepared for a new album to release in 2014, he played cuts from his debut, Never Odd Or Even, including "Q2Go," the Diverse Citizens track "Party (Citizens Come Out)," "Hello," the dancey "Something In Your Eyes," and the closer "Monster."
Although not on the billing for the day, former Hawk Nelson vocalist Jason Dunn was wedged in for a 2:05 peformance after Shonlock, pushing Fireflight's 2:20 set to 2:40. I unfortunately had to miss most of Jason's set to do a Newsboys interview with Michael Tait, but I got back to the Main Stage just in time to hear Jason and his band performing two Hawk Nelson classics, "Let's Dance" and "Bring 'Em Out." (It's interesting that, although many longtime or original members remain in both, how it seems Jason Dunn and Peter Furler took their respective bands' sound with them when they left Hawk Nelson and Newsboys, respectively.)
And it was after Jason's set that the inevitable happened... Torrential downpour. The stage crew scrambled to cover up the gear as the skies opened up with a vengeance. But around 3:00PM, it was deemed safe enough for Fireflight to perform during the rain, and vocalist Dawn Michele bravely ventured out onto the stage catwalk to engage her audience who were braving the rain themselves. Dawn announced, "Rain or shine, we're Fireflight!" and performed their hit "Unbreakable" to kick off their set. "Desperate" and "Stay Close" were next, and then Dawn cited Psalm 27:1 before talking on the topic of fear, leading into "Escape." "For Those Who Wait" was next, and then drummer Adam McMillion offered a drum solo before "Stand Up," "Stronger," and the set closer, "Now."
Solo talent George Moss was also added to the lineup, and while a set change happened behind him, he darted out to the catwalk to perform a short set. George had recently toured with KJ-52 as his hype man, but George has been performing his own music for many years. Among the songs were "Hands Up," a cover of KJ's "Do The Cosby" and "Go Hard or Go Home." Family Force 5 drummer/vocalist Jacob "Crouton" Olds filled in on drums for the entirety of George's set as well.
Moriah Peters wasn't able to perform today either, and Moriah is actually the husband of for King & Country vocalist, Joel Smallbone. Moriah had fallen ill with a bizarre virus, so the Smallbones were experiencing quite the emotional day as it was also Luke Smallbone's second show being back with the band after almost dying from a medical condition. Their original 3:50 set was now happening at 4:40, but the band performed passionately despite rain or personal drama. Their set included anthemic songs like "Light It Up," "Hold On To Me" and "Proof of Your Love." Before the ballad "Crave," Luke stepped out on the catwalk to share about his health issues and what he learned from it. With it still raining after their set, I decided to head to the merch pavilion to walk around and get some food at a nearby vendor and then hide in there until the rain slowed again. More intense rain slammed the festival and after the band Next2Nothing performed, Duck Dynasty's Jep and Jessica Robertson took center stage to talk about their marriage, their family and what it's like to be on the show.
For those of you wondering about the RockStar Stage, the rain pinned me down at Main for the majority of the day. The grass had turned to a literal pit of mud in the middle of the festival between the Main Stage and the RockStar stage across the Shippensburg Fairgrounds, so it was almost impossible to make that trek without your shoes turning into blocks of mud. Furthermore, the Main Stage had more cover than the RockStar Stage, so it made more sense to stay put. Eventually, the RockStar Stage was moved inside of a barn, however, and it became the only stage that was sheltered in doors. It wasn't a very big setup, but it was adequate for a side stage. As far as I know, acts like The Letter Black, War of Ages, Nine Lashes and Oh Sleeper still showed up and performed, but I'm not totally certain of that.
But at Main Stage, Jamie Grace's 6:00PM set was now a 6:50 performance, and after she soundchecked dc Talk's "Jesus Freak," she stood alone in the rain on the Main Stage, without even the aid of a good spotlight, for her short set. She opened with "You Lead" from her debut, One Song At A Time, and then performed "Beautiful Day," the single from her new 2014 sophomore album, Ready To Fly. "God Girl" was next, followed by her talking a bit about writing love songs to Jesus and being single, and then played "I'm With You." A cover of a Rascal Flatts song went into "How Great Thou Art" and then she closed with "Show Jesus" and her most popular song, "Hold Me."
When Jamie left the stage, speaker Reggie Dabbs offered his message at 7:30. He talked on "Silent Saturday" -- the day between Jesus' death and Resurrection Sunday -- and gave a wonderful message centered around Romans 10:9-10. I'm not a huge fan of loud conference speakers who tend to yell a lot and almost sound like they're scolding you, but Reggie's message was solid and inspirational. He even decided to walk out onto the catwalk in the midst of the relentless rain (Yup, it was still raining. It only stopped or slowed briefly during Jamie's set) to be "with" the audience.
At 8:30PM, 45 minutes after their scheduled time, Family Force 5 began their Main Stage set. On paper, I had enough time between the 6:00pm Project 86 set at the RockStar Stage and the 7:45pm FF5 set at Main Stage to see both. But now, with the times being pushed back, they were set to overlap. So I made the hard decision to stay put at Main Stage and, while I didn't know it at the time, it would prove to be a very wise decision on my part (as a Family Force 5 fan). They opened, surprisingly, with their urban, tongue-in-cheek rap anthem, "Ghostride The Whip" before unearthing a more classic fan favorite in "Supersonic." Despite the rain, the band performed energetically on stage, with Solomon "Soul Glow Activatur" Olds often traveling down the catwalk to sing closer to the fans. "Put UR Hands Up" was next, and then Soli mentioned their purpose in partying for Jesus before performing an oldie, "Kountry Gentleman." After a round of band introductions, the remix of "Fever" served as a lead into the actual live performance of the song, and then one of their biggest songs, "Love Addict," followed. The dancey, fun "Wobble" was next and then Soli donned his patriotic Hulk gloves for "Cray Button." Oddly enough, at the end of the song, Soli tossed the gloves into the crowd rather nonchalantly and walked off stage. From back stage, as the audience cheered them on, Solomon's voice boomed into the microphone asking if they wanted more songs. The crowd cheered and the band emerged... in part. Drummer/vocalist Jacob "Crouton" Olds ran down on the catwalk with his mike and began singing and dancing wildly to "Dance Like Nobody's Watching," a brand new song from their forthcoming album (Time Stands Still). To fill in on drums while Jacob danced and sang, Teddy "Hollywood" Boldt stepped in, who previously played with the band Wavorly. Crouton kept on singing lead on the drenched catwalk for "Zombie" and then Solomon returned to sing with his brother for the finale, "Chainsaw." Later in the night, Solomon would tell me that this was his last live performance with Family Force 5 and it was a passing of the torch, of sorts, to his brother Jacob. They didn't want to make a big deal about him leaving, so they decided to make the switch quietly. It made me quite thankful that I'd stayed for their whole set. In retrospect, it made the flurry of energy on stage (and backstage) make much more sense. Those in attendance got to witness something truly historic for Family Force 5... and they didn't even know it!
Not sure if Project 86 would be done playing or not, I took a roll of the dice, so to speak, and ventured through the mud and light rain (it was beginning to slow to a stop at this point, if my memory serves me well) across the fairgrounds to the barn where the RockStar stage was. Project 86 was still performing when I walked in around 9:30 and I was positively thrilled to get to at least hear the latter half of their set, which included "Stein's Theme," "Destroyer," "The Butcher," and "Spy Hunter." But however many songs they played, it still wasn't quite enough for the Pennsylvania crowd, and the band answered the screams for "One more song!" and performed "Fall Goliath Fall." It was a fantastic set--what I saw of it, at least--and the energy was palpable. According to the schedule, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus was supposed to perform next, but there were no signs that anyone else was going to play, so I left just as Newsboys' set was beginning over at Main Stage. As I walked over, I could hear them opening with "Born Again" and continuing with "Restart," the title track from their album that had just released a few days before. Former dc Talk member, and current Newsboys vocalist, Michael Tait talked in between songs about conquering the weather and then performed "Love Like I Mean It." "Your Love Never Fails" was next, and then Tait talked about living completely for Him before launching into the Restart single, "Live With Abandon." Newsboys Thrive classic "He Reigns" then preceded more talk about songs, dc Talk, and a brief mention about how tough it's been with the recent loss of his mom, and then Newsboys performed the worship anthem "We Believe." "Something Beautiful" from GO followed, and then the Restart album opener "That's How You Change The World." To end their set, they performed the dc Talk cover, "Jesus Freak," complete with drummer Duncan Phillips' spinning drum riser. But no good Newsboys show is without an encore, and the band returned for the finale, "God's Not Dead."
As the audience disbanded, a huge, brilliant fireworks show illuminated the Pennsylvania sky, celebrating 10 years of Uprise Festival. I made my way over to the barn where the RockStar stage had moved to to experience the Family Force 5 Dance Party. Inside, on the stage, Solomon Olds had a laptop set up and some other gear to help lead the audience in an energetic dance-a-thon. A special mix opened the night with remixes of "Chainsaw," "Cray Button," and "Phenomenon" all following. It was a fun way to end the night, even if my experience was overshadowed with the unexpected news of this being Soli's final night with the band.
Rain or shine, Uprise Festival is still my favorite festival I've been to. It's two days of diverse music selections and a great venue in the Shippensburg fairgrounds. It's still worth attending despite potential inclimate weather, but be sure to pack a poncho and alternate footwear options just in case. It's worth it. You won't want to miss Uprise 2014! Visit www.uprisefest.com for the latest details!-- John DiBiase, 1/28/14
Tenth Avenue North: Main Stage
Skillet: Main Stage
Lybecker: Main Stage
The Vespers: Main Stage
Capital Kings: Main Stage
Grilling with Family Force 5: Hospitality
Shonlock: Main Stage
Jason Dunn: Main Stage
Fireflight: Main Stage
George Moss: Main Stage
for KING & COUNTRY: Main Stage
Jep and Jessica Robertson: Main Stage
Jamie Grace: Main Stage
Reggie Dabbs: Main Stage
Family Force 5: Main Stage
Project 86: Rockstar Stage
Newsboys: Main Stage
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