The Turnpike Cross, Woolacombe, Devon event review by Tony Cummings, photos by Ian Homer
Of all the numerous Christian festivals and Bible weeks, the Creation Fest in Woolacombe, North Devon is probably the most evangelistic - its main thrust is to communicate the Gospel to the numerous non-Christian surfers, skate boarders and young families who each year take off from the sun-kissed beaches to attend the event. It's also the cheapest, keeping to its ethos of "the Gospel is free" while giving a platform to an impressive list of Christian artists from the UK and the USA. Each year it improves its facilities - this year a bright orange roadshow bus and an additional café and music venue were visible - and each year its attendance seems to increase. My wife and I regularly make the trip from Staffordshire to Creation Fest. We love the vibe - which, I'm told by those who remember, resembles the Jesus music events of the early '70s; we love the organisers, the Calvary Chapel team who sacrificially serve at the event are a stirring demonstration of the Church In Action; and we love the music. This year I decided to flit from venue to venue watching and listening to as many of the music acts as I could cram into one and a half days (we didn't arrive until mid afternoon on the Friday - Creation Fest kicked off at 10.00am and went through to Sunday tea time). My music focus meant I missed some excellent seminars, my age meant I missed the reportedly creative children's ministry and my general physical condition meant I missed the extreme sports (there were pro skate demos by Jud Heald and Jared Lee). Here's what I DID see and hear.
In the Acoustic Café is a singer I've never heard of. I fully expected Erin Starnes to be a tanned Californian. I was right about the tan but wrong about the nationality. This North Devon-based singer/songwriter has a strong voice, some good songs and sings them accompanied by an excellent band who, she tells us, have only learnt her songs this afternoon. She sails through her set. The jazz-tinged "How Can It Be" catches the ear. The girl helping Erin with bvs helps give the singer a rich timbered sound which fills the tent and easily defeats the chatterers and the noise of the kick leaking in from Main Stage. A song she wrote for her friends' 25th wedding anniversary, "Two Miles Of Sand", is haunting and closes her set. I make a mental note to look out for Erin's soon-to-be-released CD debut 'Songs From The End Of My Bed'. It's going to be good.
Over at the Surf Café it's another table, another noisy tent, and another delayed start. But at 5.10pm Narrowpath kick off. They start with a slice of bluesy rock. The male lead singer sounds Scottish, but isn't - the group are from Newquay, Cornwall. He introduces the third song "The Way, The Truth & The Life". The voice of the girl in the group cracks a bit on her part and the band play rather lumpen blues rock rhythms. There are seven of them on stage but Narrowpath's sound is often shambolic and shapeless. A flyer on the table tells me they're planning an album this winter and, later, I'm told Narrowpath are very popular with the surfer crowd. Maybe I've just caught them on a bad day.
It's 5.55pm and it's my first Main Stage experience. Superhero have driven down from Scotland and this is the first time I've seen and heard the new lineup. They're great. Tim Cheshire writes compulsively catchy songs, is able to switch form gritty voice to wistful falsetto at the drop of a hat while the band are a big improvement on the original lineup. "Only Time Will Tell" ebbs and flows across the site, Tim's aching vocal soaring across the swirling rhythms with the synth player having a field day. Such tightly executed pop rock deserves a bigger audience than the 150 or so standing and sitting around Main Stage but most on site have gone in search of something to eat. Tim preaches. He talks about a new openness of the Gospel he's found these last six months. In confirmation of this Tim makes an appeal and someone puts their hand up to receive salvation. The next song, "Stand Up", fittingly explores the theme of the Gospel's life-changing power. The bass player breaks a string so the keys, guitar and drums improvise a bit of jazz. Then Tim leads us back into rock 'n' roll with a full tilt rocker. I'd never really grasped what a good singer Tim is. He wrings drama from every concise line. He tells the audience, "This next song is called 'Goodbye' and gets people jumping up in a unified motion." As I leave (yep, I go in search of a burger) Tim has the people close to the stage jumping as required.
I was looking forward to catching Brother John. The Somerset band had impressed me at the Nth Festival and though the crowd in the Surf Café for them wasn't big - with 20 minutes of sound checking not helping - the moment they launch into their first song it is clear here was a band with an original sound and an engaging set of songs. "This is a battle I can't win.without you," wheezes lead singer Tom Maynard. I could have sworn he introduces his next song as "Shirley Denim" but as the band roar through it - with drummer James Truett kicking up a thunderous rhythm - I finally grasp he's singing "Show Me Heaven". The songs continue, the rhythms remain impressively complex while the electric violin flourishes, though not given the full attention of the soundman, add to the wall of sound. Frontman Tom even manages to get a few brave souls to sing "glory in the highest" on one song. A song is introduced, "This is the first time we've ever played this song. well, apart from practise. It's not like we're making it up as we go along." The new number is in fact a haunting mid-tempo shuffle I later learn is called "Glockenspeil". It's followed by another newie, "Spotlight On Paris", inspired by the different cultures encountered in the French capital. Brother John close its swirling vortex of cross rhythms in an anthem of praise to a God who loved us before we loved him. Great set.
Outside at Main Stage The Kry are ministering. For me the band's French Canadian lead singer Jean-Luc Lajoi is one of the most passionate and powerfully anointed artists in the whole field of Christian music. His songs are bold and direct, yet never resort to empty slogans while The Kry's new lineup bring edgy rhythms to Jean-Luc's bluesy tones. A new song, "Reign On", is particularly memorable, the singer promising it will be on the next album. But it's The Kry's classic worship song "Faithful" which is the diamond of the set. This haunting contemplation of God's awesome faithfulness to us broken human beings is rock-worship at its finest. Jean-Luc explains how they'd hoped to show the video of "Faithful" on the giant screen left of Main Stage but had reckoned without the UK's different video format from that of the USA and Canada. "Maybe we'll have it on Sunday," Jean Luc says. The video's non-show today is a disappointment for me as the vid - depicting a courageous lighthouse keeper - is one of the most powerful concept videos I've ever seen. But even without the visual dynamic, "Faithful" connects with many hearts, including mine.
Bristol's Transition, minus their bass player, begin Saturday's proceedings in the Surf Café with a low key piece of worship. Our perception is obscured by clouds is the powerful insight of the second song "Blinded By Clouds". The two lead singers make an excellent blend though they're clearly missing their bass player and things begin to ramble a bit. Then through their fourth or fifth song the sound cuts out completely. An impromptu drum solo fills the embarrassed scramble by the techies and by the time the sound is restored there's a bonhomie with the audience there wasn't before. The bass player finally turns up and immediately the band's sound is fuller as they go into a haunting mid-tempo number. Some very tasty, almost Knoepler-like guitar licks follow. The bass player announces, "This is the first time we've ever played this song live." I think it's called "Time" and is a jaunty piece of jangly pop rock. Now with two electric guitars and a bass player the band have effectively transformed their sound. Shame they couldn't have started their set the way they ended it.
12ish in the Surf Café. Scott Cunningham - a muscular young man in a black T-shirt - is a singer and acoustic guitar player ably accompanied by electric guitar, bass, drums and a female backing singer. He launches in a meaty mid-tempo song of praise. Scott's voice is rich and expressive. There's something slightly odd though about a setting where on stage a band play songs written for congregational worship ("we lift our holy hands.we're thirsting for more of you") while the crowd sit around tables, chattering or eating. American Scott presses on regardless. A song called "Pressing On" - not the Dylan number - is followed by a beautiful ballad contemplating the forgiveness of our sins while "Evidence Of This" has an undulating bass line as the catchy chorus reminds us that it is changed lives that are the evidence of God's presence here on earth. The band gets even funkier with the next song, "Heaven Sings It". It's a gem of a song and by the time it reaches its "Hallelujah" climax I'm longing to hear it on a CD. Let's hope there's one coming.
My programme tells me the bloke on stage is Lyndsey Skaar. In fact the muso hunched over his acoustic, which he picks with exemplary skill, turns out to be called Dave Silvester - an American-born pastor of Calvary Chapel, York. A delicate and intricate instrumental on the mandolin is apparently based on the life of the Christian solder. Dave, I'm told, used to play with bluegrass legend Doc Watson. He's clearly a top rate picker. Dave sings the well known chorus "How Great Is Our God" and then, with one of those gizmos that plays one of the guitar parts, Dave launches into a delightful flat picking tune. As we leave an unannounced electric guitarist has joined Dave and is contributing a scorching solo to Crouch's "Soon And Very Soon".
Over in the Surf Café, Cathy Burton has already begun the first of her two sets there. She introduces "a song of frustration" followed by the blunt explanation, "This is a song I wrote about God." "I can't see you there, but I know you're here," she sings in that spine-tingling voice of crystal purity. A love song inspired by her train trips to see her future husband, "Speed Your Love", follows. The song sounds great on CR radio and even better here as her other-worldly voice soars over the chatterers. There's a song from her new album about feeling completely helpless. Then another song about her faith, "Jesus, All I Am (Belongs To You)". Introducing "Silvertown" Cathy admits, "I'm not really sure what it's about." She thanks Matt Weekes and Tim Reeves who've given her deft accompaniment in the claustrophobic heat and finishes her fine set with a solo, the haunting "Wintertime Love".
It's as hot as a greenhouse and many leave the Surf Café in search of ice creams or a cooler spot. But I stay on as Glo are scheduled to play here at 4.00pm. They launch into their opening song "I Can Fly" and half way through the soundman gets the biting guitar balanced against the vocals. A Dave Gilmore-style solo follows, then a funky song "Forgiveness". Ricky Selby offers some tasty guitar licks then the behatted lead singer Steev Jordan raps. But it's the memorable lines "Darwin what you done, you've made a fool of everyone" which best express the lyrical and spiritual thrust of Glo. Overall, a good set in decidedly trying conditions.
I want to go to the car to search out the football results but Universal Royalty are doing their thing from the Main Stage. The programme describes them as having "raw energy and emotion" and that's exactly what they convey. The band, brought up in New York, are a family group and play an interesting amalgamation of hip-hop and rock. Apparently, they've made quite an impression on the Calvary Chapel guys for their tireless work at the Exeter and Torquay roadshows held prior to Creation Fest and certainly Universal Royalty are bold evangelists with a clear, uncompromising appeal to come to Jesus. I like their song "Hearts And Minds" with a nice blend of scratching and rock guitar while a rapping drummer and red shirted singer/rapper Dave make for an exciting live set even if some of the sung vocals sound a bit ropey. Judging from the number of Universal Royalty T-shirts I see on site the band are already building a UK fanbase.
"I Believe In Love" and "Light It Up" roar from Main Stage. Tre Sheppard and Onehundredhours are on fine form and in the crowd arms begin to punch the air. In his usual laconic manner Tre introduces a brand new song "which could be quite magic or quite disastrous." It's a raucous rocker called "I Can't Sleep" - a telling piece about not sleeping while our world goes to rack and ruin. Tre's wife Tori is missing from the band. We're told she's in the Sheppard's new house in Portstewart, Northern Ireland. The set continues. Says Tre, "We can write about loads of worship songs saying 'Lord I'm so happy.' Well, I'm not happy, but the Lord is still my king." A haunting mid-tempo full-on rocker follows with images of brokenness and blindness but with a telling climax of "I see the light on the hillside." "King Of Every Heart" has all its usual anthemic power and Onehundredhours close with "Love Come Take Me Home". Good, passionate stuff and after the set many in the crowd make their way to the tent to find out more about the band's work with HIV/AIDS sufferers in Africa.
The unmistakeable "sahf London" tones of MOD ring from Main Stage. The MCs of this, as in all the Creation Fests I've been to, are these rappers-cum-pastors and though Cross Movement Records have inexplicably delayed MOD's album the band still deliver plenty of street level rhythm and rhyme. "Make a decision and pray today.don't throw your life away," they rap. That's followed by a tale of "Chantelle", a good girl until a wolf comes along. "She was only lookin' for some good lovin', now she's alone with a bun in the oven," goes MOD's memorable ode, quickly followed by verses about Winston and how he gets into crack, and Mary, "quite contrary," who after a sex change operation ends up with HIV. Then these masters of sanctified time filling introduce what is probably the most eagerly anticipated act of the weekend given the disappointment of Raymond & Co pulling out of the fest. LZ7 don't disappoint.
Making the long, hot journey down from Manchester with most of the LZ7 crew in tow, Lindz West demonstrates how his stage act is currently the most exciting live set on the UK Christian scene. From the moment free runner JP catapults across the stage this is an exercise in controlled mayhem. "Start Something" slams from the speakers while the rapping, roaring grime maestro whips up the excitement encouraging us in timeless club culture tradition to "put your hands in the air" and "make some noise!" before moving into the surreal by getting a good portion of the Main Stage throng to remove a shoe or trainer and wave them too in the air. Lindz tells the crowd an LZ7 set is like "one big aerobic session" and the crowd, caught in the madcap excitement of it all, continue to go for the burn. Taking pity on the dancing, jumping mass Lindz slows it down for a minute telling the crowd about The Message training school and follows up with a mellow track about racism. Even the ritual dispensing of free CDs is rapped and by the time the grime anthem "Break The Beat" crunches form the stacks the audience is well and truly ecstatic. Lindz name checks his travelling aggregation - Briony, a funky dancer who's worked with Madonna and Snoop Dogg; DJ Face, who keeps the rhythms coming hard and strong; and Lucy Britten, taking time off from BlushUK to come to this fest with husband Lindz. "Worldwide" follow and by the time Lindz preaches, using the metaphor of someone smashing up a brand new Golf to convey the devastation of sin there are people, hands in the air, ready to give their lives to Christ.
In one of the tents and the car park I walk with some friends praying and seeing something of the amazing love, power and mercy of God. I walk across to Main Stage and Phil Wickham is ministering. He sings of the amazing love of God. Californian worship leader Phil has become a regular at the Creation Fest - this is his third. Now the singer/songwriter is beginning to get national recognition in the US. He's got a big budget, high profile album out through Integrity-Provident but here he is ministering to three or four hundred at a free festival in Devon. And from Phil flow songs of love and empowering. "Messiah" is superb and rings out across the site, Phil's rich voice calling on the Anointed One. Suddenly, Phil and his excellent band switch to the old worship warhorse "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus". It touches the hearts of many gathered around Main Stage. Phil sings "And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace." And indeed everything does grow dim. I'm no longer conscious of the horseplaying teenagers to my left, the chilly breeze beginning to blow across the site, the coke can I need to drop in the rubbish bin, the hustle and bustle of another festival in another year and the need to get another report on the website. I'm communing with the Lord and my heart is warmed. Long may Creation Fest prosper.