Tony Cummings reports on CROSS RHYTHMS FESTIVAL - 8th-10th July - Risdon Farm, Okehampton, Devon
A charismatic festival? Oh, how we detest those glib pigeon holes. But with their spread and diversification, festivals urgently need to define their function and support base. So Cross Rhythms has to live, however uncomfortably, with the thumbnail description. After all, it is the charismatic element that registers most strongly with those who come to Cross Rhythms. The event actively pursues bands and soloists with a Holy Spirit anointing. (Not, of course, that the bill is open exclusively to charismatic musicians.) Plus there is a strong ministry element. Indeed, the manifestations emanating from the ministry tent caused one journalist to describe Cross Rhythms 94: Touching Glory as "a bit of Toronto there in sunny Devon". So Cross Rhythms must bare its charismatic tag while trying to demonstrate that charismatics aren't all happy clappy airheads or folk who think music is valid only if it's repetitive chorus singing. I may not be the most impartial of observers but this is what I saw and heard at Cross Rhythms '94: Touching Glory.
Approximate Attendance: 3,000 Weather: Rain (Friday)/Sun (Saturday, Sunday)
With the organisers of the Cross Rhythms and Crossfire festivals engaged in intense discussion and prayer to herald in 'twinned' festivals in '95; a consensus feeling that the British Christian music scene was the most vibrant it had ever been; and our newspapers full of confused reports of the Toronto Blessing; the stage was set for Cross Rhythms '94: Touching Glory. It lived up to all expectations. On Friday there were bouts of torrential rain. But from the moment Devon alternative rockers No Second Chance opened up the King's Reach - a multi-media extravaganza (well, a band, a giant screen video and a disco in a tent) - in a surge of give-it-everything energy, the fourth Cross Rhythms was away and firing on all cylinders. The festival organisers, pre-warned by words of knowledge or weather forecasts, had done away with the mainstage concept and instead constructed a huge, scaffolding rigged Mega Tent, with covering from the rain for all. Roots rockers Why? opened it up and soon there was steam rising from the frantic dancers. Throughout the day and into the night bands and soloists came, played and conquered before an ever growing crowd. There were no platinum CD big names, not a single American CCM star but Friday provided plenty of musical highlights with the bluesy-hook-laden rock of The Tinglies; the dance-cum-rock zaneyness of Azimuth; cathartic metal energy from Gethsemane Rose; the careering, and the joyful stadium rock of The Electric Revival - all bringing the Mega Tent crowd to heights of excitement. There were two highlights; Sony recording star Martyn Joseph made a last-minute-arranged and unadvertised appearance. The brilliance of his new songs, particularly "Jesus Didn't Say" and a song about a grandfather dying of Alzheimer's disease, showed that here was a songwriter whose craft had been sharpened to a new razor edge. Martyn left hundreds of festivalgoers screaming themselves hoarse for encore after encore. The other great standout of the Friday night was the Folk Roots Ceilidh - Scotland's Shelter, despite playing a truncated set, were magnificent while Mike Stanley And Shenanigans had the revellers jigging and reeling with their artful blend of traditional Irish and self-composed songs. It was 2:00am when it finished but many didn't want to go to their tents.
Saturday began and with the sun, the Son too seemed to shine. Reports of the power of God being experienced in Tony Fitzgerald's ministry tent were reaching everyone's ears. Throughout the day and into the night, all over Risdon Farm the sound of impromptu chorus singing and spontaneous prayer gatherings were evident. I passed Tony Fitzgerald's tent. Many people were stretched out laughing uncontrollably, a young lady was gently weeping, God was there and everyone knew it. Stewards grimey from exertion and long hours were grinning. The seminar tents were packed. During some of the drama performances the Ian Traynar-organised Theatre Cafe threatened to burst at the guy ropes. And all through the day and evening bands and musicians blessed and were blessed, muttered inadequate platitudes about the "great atmosphere" and played their hearts out. Curam, an unknown band from Scotland, played awesomely inspired guitar rock; A.N.D. offered a bold witness and showed in Paul May they have one of the most talented frontmen in Christian music today; After The Fall did a fine set and caught the heart and vision of the festival with the goose-pimple enducing rock anthem "Touching Glory"; and Nuffsed's artless fusion of roots and pop delighted a large and appreciative crowd. Then there were the Camelford Three - three ex-heroin addicts who from the Mega Tent stage gave testimony to their deliverance. It was indescribably moving. Following that, music and drama fused in an exquisite presentation of Adrian Snell's 'Beautiful...Or What'. An audience of 2,000 sat spellbound, hearts moved by the tale of the disabled girl who finds only pain until she discovers that in the eyes of a creator God she is indeed beautiful.
Then in this Diamond Day of art, ministry and intoxicating vision of the Kingdom, Dr Tony Campolo threw down the gauntlet challenging the throng to love the poor and pursue justice with the same passion that exudes from this man. DKF took us to 10:30, leading worship with a rock, pop and funk beat and then a new dimension in worship - sanctified dance - began with Karl Allison's multi-media Last Daze. The beat got harder, and when London's hip hop house N-Daze bounded on stage the crowd were up and ready, baying their appreciation to the band and their praise to God. It was then left for the Father Of Sanctified Dance, America's producer and deejay extraordinaire Scott Blackwell to take the body of Christ into uncharted territory, a rave where Christ, not an ecstasy induced phantom, is experienced and where bodies could be released to dance, and dance, and dance, before God. Like modern day Davids, the hoard danced in utter abandon as the relentless, throbbing rhythm cascaded in turbulent waves. The sublime Sandra Stephens came on stage to sing some of Scott Blackwell's songs with spine tingling sassiness. Then back to the rhythm doctor and Scott's CD and DAT marvels. At the back of the rave, parents and youth workers stood peering through the strobes and lighting pyrotechnics as the throng danced in delirious joy. Nearly all the non-dancers were smiling. One couple, 50 if they were a day, had their arms raised in praise of God.
The next morning the blessings continued. A Sunday morning service managed to pull together so many of the diverse elements of the weekend, Tony Fitzgerald preached with passion; Pete Caulfield showed himself to be an eminently gifted worship leader; After The Fall overcame technical glitches to sing their spine tingling anthem and DKF took us dancing and jumping as we praised God. For those with the stamina and no long journey to make there was a final farewell party. Last Daze kept us grooving, Scott Blackwell and Sandra Stephens showed they still had some serious rhythm and soulful pyrotechnics to impart and to bring the whole breathtaking, beautiful, life changing, challenging thought provoking, stimulating, Son-filled weekend to a close London's finest, the Wades, came and showed all the soulful passion and intuitive funkiness normally associated with Detroit or LA.
I closed with Scott, Last Daze and tireless behind-the-scenes worker Steve Cox on stage thanking the Lord for such an incredible weekend. During the prayer I recounted a true tale. A witch had telephoned Chris Cole before the festival's commencement to abuse and threaten him. Chris had light heartedly shrugged off the threats. On the Saturday a witch (the same one?) was spotted during the sanctified dance worship intermingling with the crowd. Another Christian and I went to confront this poor, tortured wretch. He took one sight of our approach and took off running, as fast as he could, away from the Christians, away from the light. The spiritual climate of the Dartmoor area of Devon, for so long a bleak stronghold of occult power, is beginning to change.
Flevo Totaal 1994: An evangelical festival
Tony Cummings reports on FLEVO TOTAAL FESTIVAL - 18th-21 August - Flevo, Holland
One look at its bill of creme de la creme American CCM stars showed that Flevo could deliver a programme beyond the wildest budgeting dreams of Cross Rhythms and beyond the bias-to-the-mainstream policies of Greenbelt. We arrived on site on the Thursday. It was raining. We felt immediately at home. The palatial quality of the Flevo grounds and the extraordinary number of tents outdid anything Chris and I had ever seen, even at Greenbelt during it's 30,000 crowds era. The sound, lights and front stage giant screen videos were also of the highest quality. But from a participant's perspective possibly the most impressive aspect of the whole weekend were the massive team of helpers, this year nearly 900, recruited by organisers Youth For Christ. These young people smilingly, politely and with eminent efficiency stewarded and organised in a heartening display of real servanthood. Flevo is a staunchly evangelical festival. Evangelicalism has an interesting cultural expression in Holland, everywhere youths with cigarettes and pipes were demonstrating that the Thou shalt not smoke commandment has not been added to the Dutch Bible. But there was little litter, touchy-touchy teenage couples or over rowdy horseplay from young dudes away from home. Flevo was a Christian festival and everyone knew it.
Approximate Attendance: 10,000 Weather: Rain (Thursday) Sun and rain (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
The 10,000 crowd were subdued, not particularly demonstrative, but engagingly good humoured and genuinely interested in the artists they crowded to see. And what artists! Take for instance the Thursday night mainstage programme - Sixpence None The Richer performed a riveting set - Leigh Bingham's achingly haunting voice set against those eerily turbulent guitar patterns of Matt Slocum and a thudding rhythm section; Rebecca Sparks aided by husband Greg, sounding blacker and more joyfully unfettered than any white gal has a right to; Ashley Cleveland, another seriously soulful sister sang her abrasive, compelling acoustic songs with Kenny Greenberg on guitar pummelling the crowd with her passionate intensity; and Whitecross showed they still have a wicked way with thunderous metal riffs. The mainstage evening was capped off by a riveting blues jam with Darrell Mansfield blowing the back off his harp, Trace Balin showing she's a far better blues vocalist than the rather dull singer the American CCM mould once tried to shape her into; and Buddy and Julie Miller who eased effortlessly into the down home and dirty blues riffs and had the throng swaying and shouting in the cold night air. A brilliant evening's music and there was more, much more to come.
It wasn't just the American musicians offering a rich diet of musical styles. The Movements from Holland played some delightful pop reggae; Tarsh was a seriously soulful Aretha Franklin-style singer with a two and a half octave range; and an unplugged Ralph van Mannen demonstrated that he was a compelling singer/songwriter. In different ways all showed themselves to be names crying out for some UK exposure. The mainstage bill was again excellent. Although Pam Thum, despite all her singing class, struck me as a tad mannered and theatric (though "Love Conquers AH" is a tremendous hook), Sweden's Jerusalem were powerfully anointed, their surging guitar rock a magnificent framework in which to practise go-for-the-jugular evangelism. With interview commitments of my own I caught only a couple of seminars, but what seminars! Steve Miller, an American now living in Czechoslovakia, has brought out in the States and Holland the definitive apologetic for Christian involvement in pop and rock culture, the book 'The Contemporary Christian Music Debate'. Going way, way beyond simple exhortations to the converted, and using a wealth of his own research material both on church history and current scientific findings, this extraordinary man, speaking in a deep-South drawl, sliced through the prejudice and misinformation that has clogged the debate for so long.
The music on Friday and Saturday's mainstage was of the same high standard:- the Electrics were their boisterous rootsy selves; the Newsboys showed that their reputation as THE hottest new AOR team is richly deserved; Nina Astrom whose tremulous poignancy was possibly misplaced on the vast mainstage but who still sang beautifully; and White Heart, who are filming a video for commercial release later this year, produced a magnificent set of high octane rock. But for me the standout of the whole weekend was the World Wide Message Tribe. Called in to fill a last minute mainstage gap created when Phil Keaggy had to pull, and with no billing in the printed programme there was still an excited air of expectancy and a huge crowd as they prepared to take the stage. The expectancy was almost akin to amazed disbelief that Christians would have the affrontory to attack house and rave culture. In Dutch church circles 'house' and 'rave' are words almost akin to satanist. As I pushed through the crowds on my way to a good mainstage view I could hear a babble of Dutch language interspersed with the word "house" popping up, seemingly in every third sentence. The Tribe didn't disappoint. From the moment Mark Pennels, Heavyfoot and co danced onto stage and Mark sucked everyone into instant reaction with "Queen Of Sheba", the crowd was won over. Half way through the set the unimaginable had happened - thousands of reserved Dutch evangelical youths were dancing excitedly to the thunderous house beat. The Tribe had triumphed. And so too had Flevo.
Brilliant organisation, a budget big enough to pull in the biggest CCM names, and the servanthood of all those fresh-faced volunteer helpers made Flevo Totaal '94 a big success. Next year they are having to find a new site. But surely this success story is going to run and run.
Showing page 1 of 2