Friday, March 04, 2011

4 MAR 11: Jam-Full

This is going to make me look incredibly old-fashioned - but until Thursday night, I had never attended a rock concert. I even avoided the bands which came to my high school gym, to play at special assemblies during the school day. Why pull me out of a Sociology class to hear anti-social music?

The long run ended Thursday night when I went to the Columbus Civic Center for "Winter Jam." Of course, some people might contend I really didn't go to a rock concert -- since all the bands and artists were "contemporary Christian." And if you can't smell an aroma in the hall, it doesn't count in their eyes.

Winter Jam came to Columbus for the first time -- a tour offering ten musical acts for only ten dollars. For a cheapskate frugal-minded man like me, this was a no-brainer. Columbus would have more "ten for ten" specials - if only Kroger would put a store southeast of Opelika.

So I went to a concert of popular music Thursday night for the first time in 20 years. My last one was a performance by The Manhattan Transfer, while I was in Pensacola, Florida for a church convention. I went to Winter Jam on the theory I could understand the words to these songs as well.

I expected a big crowd at the Civic Center Thursday night, and I was right - with fans packing the main floor and filling at least three-fourths of the seats. I even spotted a couple of Baptist church buses in the parking lot. If those churches approve of young people listening to loud Christian bands, they might not be as conservative as you think.

But there were surprises at Winter Jam. The first came when I walked into the Civic Center lobby -- as the ten-dollar entry fee had to be in cash or check. I wanted to use a credit card, but the box office for those transactions was closed. This Christian music tour must take that Bible verse about "the borrower being a slave to the lender" seriously.

Surprise #2: I arrived at the listed starting time of 7:00 p.m., but the concert already was well underway. Winter Jam promoted a "pre-jam party," which I knew I would miss due to other commitments. But starting the official concert early?! Not even well-run Christian church services do that.

I found a seat inside the Columbus Civic Center as the band Red performed. The group has appeared on late-night TV talk shows in recent weeks, and plays with a driving rock sound accompanied at times by bursts of fire on the stage. Clearly the children of the group Simply Red are in a rebellious streak....

Red only put super-captions on video screens for one of the two songs I heard. And when the phrase "you're not alone" is misspelled over and over as "your not alone," it shows the band members majored in music or religion instead of English.

Several artists at Winter Jam talked about playing their music loud - and some of it was turned up so loud, the words were undistinguishable. I thought Christian performers wanted to put their message first. Instead, there were times when my attention was focused on whether the loud beats would give me a heart attack.

The veteran Valdosta-based band NewSong was one example of this. The group which created Winter Jam didn't caption any songs, and an "old school" tune introduced by lead singer Russ Lee was one I didn't recognize. Does that oldness explain why silver confetti was fired to the ceiling at the end of one song?

But Russ Lee gave the strongest affirmation of faith of the evening, saying: "Our world is confused.... My God is neither Democrat nor Republican." A large number of Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly might respond by calling Lee the confused one.

The noise level calmed down a bit when Francesca Battistelli came on stage. Her music is catchy "Christian pop" - and by wearing a dress with a wide green belt, she looked like she was auditioning for a Target commercial.

Francesca Battistelli's latest CD came out this week. She performed the first single from it, "This Is the Stuff" - playing the first verse on a ukulele. Young fans in the audience probably thought she borrowed a toy guitar from a Barbie doll.

The five-song set by Francesca Battistelli ended with her big Grammy-nominated hit, "Free to Be Me." I admittedly have theological problems with that song - because if a Christian really is "free to be me," what if they're prone to be liars?

Then it was time for a "ministry period" with a testimony by Tony Nolan. That was Surprise #3, as a 15-minute clock counted down on stage while he spoke. If your church has a long-winded preacher, this could be the answer you've waited to find.

As the sermonette ended, the David Crowder Band began - and won my vote for the best performance of the evening. The band performed five hand-clapping, easy-to-understand songs of praise and worship. But I couldn't help wondering if the musicians are growing beards until the Winter Jam tour ends in April.

The David Crowder Band had its start at Baylor University in Texas. That explains why it includes a violin player - because in the classic words of Alabama, "If you're gonna play in Texas, you've gotta have a fiddle in the band."

The fast-paced two-hour session ended with a presentation promoting orphan adoption. Then came intermission and the biggest surprise of all - as a man with pails came to me and asked for help collecting an offering later in the evening. Huh?! You charge ten dollars to get inside, then take an offering on top of it? Not in a city with a free Columbus Museum, you don't....

Besides, merchandise tables for the performers were set up in the Civic Center concourse. Not to mention official Winter Jam merchandise - including a "commemorative ticket" for five dollars. Since no tickets were handed out at the door, paying for one cost extra. It's a bit like daring Columbus Police to arrest you for speeding.

I left Winter Jam at the end of intermission before Kutless performed, because I faced a deadline for posting this entry. I concluded the tour means well, and several musicians perform very well. But Winter Jam clearly is aimed at a younger audience than I. The Civic Center was so filled with teens and young adults that Justin Bieber easily would have been lost in the crowd.

SCHEDULED THIS WEEKEND: Only 78 days until.... well, what exactly?....

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