Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent event review by Tony Cummings, pics by Andy Espin
The overall attendance (around 2,000) was a tad disappointing but everything else in this exciting new addition to the Christian music calendar was a roaring success. The quality of the acts playing, the idyllic summer sunshine, the fine sound quality and the powerful sense of God's presence all merged to make Passion a memorable experience for everyone present. Already plans are afoot for a Passion '08. As the crowd took their places Kev Whitmore, worship leader at The Galley church, gave the crowd something to focus on as they took their places on the already baking-hot concrete.
The programme "proper" commenced at 1.30pm and Replenish showed themselves to be one of the most improved rock bands in Christendom. The trio from Britain's south coast were drum tight and their powerful anthemic songs got a sizeable crowd at front stage punching arms in the air. Dressed, rather inappropriately considering the heat, in collars and ties Replenish rocked hard and concluded their set with a favourite, "Everything", they introduced as "a slamming worship song." Indeed it was.
Next up was one for the young ladies. The new line up tbc, if possible, work even harder on stage than the previous line up. Their perpetual-motion choreography had every teenage girl and child either happily clapping along or endeavouring to do some of the simpler dance moves. The girl pop evangelists' new album is eagerly awaited.
At 2.45pm came one of the unexpected highlights of the whole day. The Burn Band have to be the punchiest, tightest bunch of church musicians in Britain and I wouldn't be surprised if rock devotees begin making regular visits to St Albans Vineyard to catch these worshipping rockers. But what gives TBB focus and direction is Sam Lane. With his long hair and all out passion he looks and sounds like a throwback from '60s California's Jesus Revolution while his amazing worship version of the pop standard "You Are So Beautiful To Me" was riveting and genuinely anointed.
Onehundredhours have sometimes seemed a bit static and uninvolved in some of their past live performances but clearly Tre Sheppard and co's lengthy sabbatical and the recording of the soon-to-be-released 'As Sure As The Stars' album has given the band a new lease of life. They were power personified and I for one was left baying for more.
LZ7 were on stage next and with their usual mix of powerfully funky tracks and on-stage dynamics had the most visible effect on the crowd so far. With Lins West every inch the on-stage funk master their hip-hop and funk fusion, coupled with some artfully selected samples ("Smooth Criminal" from Michael Jackson worked particularly well) that had just about the whole crowd (save for the oldies sat on chairs in a side section) up and boogying. The poetic Jonathan Bellamy had described LZ7 having "more street beats than a copper on foot." That nails it.
By the time Cathy Burton, with trusty guitar ace Dan Wheeler, strolled on stage the hot and excited crowd were ready for a rest. That's what they got with Cathy's usual ethereal, haunting songs the perfect accompaniment to a lazy sunny day. Her set was low on on-stage dynamism but high on mesmerising musical intelligence and everyone seemed to appreciate that.
Andy Hawthorne came on to the platform to tell everyone about Hope '08. Clearly this is the biggest evangelistic initiative ever to be undertaken in Britain and Andy's palpable enthusiasm was infectious.
Infectious too were Yfriday who, defying all the odds, got most of the crowd worshipping with their punchy, pop rock anthems. By the time Ken Riley and his cohorts reached their towering climax with "Revolution" it was obvious why Yfriday are at last set to record/film a live CD/DVD. It can't fail.
Andy Hawthorne came back on stage and though some of the crowd began to make long queues at the baggette and burger vans, hundreds stayed to hear a full-on evangelistic preach. Despite running wildly over time such was Andy's passionate presentation of The Cross that few could complain, even Salvador waiting in the wings to make their UK debut. And what a debut! Using a soundcheck as an opportunity for an extended funk groove their sound was gloriously tight and by the time Nic Gonzales launched into the first "proper" song of the set the crowd were already up and dancing. Salvador's sound, powered by an exceptional PA, was all but perfect. Anyone who had any doubts how a Latin pop band would fare in their UK debut need not have feared. Here was a glorious musical fusion where riffing brass, Santana-esque guitar and snappy vocals brought fresh life to the Old Old Story. They galloped through a delicious set of songs with fiery salsa, powerful Latin rock and stone-to-the-bone funk locked in a set so infectious that even most of the chair-bound oldsters were on their feet.
Then, to cap it off, on came Jaci Velasquez. The fact that this delightful lady, clearly with child, possesses the voice of an angel was a key factor in instantly winning over the crowd. But equally powerful was the vulnerability revealed in the dear sister's set, Jaci transparently determined to go beyond shallow CCM star posturing and minister with an openness about past mistakes in her life. And minister Jaci did with the songs "Lay It Down", "On My Knees" and "God So Loved" each carrying what, to me, was a powerful sense of God's presence while having Salvador accompanying her was a delight to the ears.
There was still time for Tre Sheppard to return to the stage and share about the origins of Passion '07 and how in 1807 thousands met God in an open air revival at a place, a short distance from where today's Britannia Stadium is situated. This, we learnt, was the birth of Primitive Methodism. It was hoped Passion could rekindle some of that Holy spirit-engendered enthusiasm.
At a little after 9.00pm Delirious? took the stage and we were lifted into a passionate, cathartic time of worship. The d:boys were in magnificent form. Martyn Smith roared his praised to God with all the power of an Old Testament prophet, Stu's guitar ripped out into the darkening skies with ferocious bite while those classic songs, old and new, had in one swoop transformed tired-but-happy crowd into an arm lifting, jumping, laughing, praising congregation. The on screen backdrop to "History Maker" with its clever spoof newspaper front page, reminding us that we ALL have a call to make history, was particularly effective. As I hitched a lift with Chris Mountford who, after a day interviewing Passion participants, was driving back to the Cross Rhythms studios to help in a special "after the gig" radio programme phone in, I pondered just how appropriate that "History Maker" song was for Passion '07. We'd seen a bit of music biz history - the first time Nic Gonzales and Jaci Velasquez had shared a stage together as husband and wife. We'd been part of a bit of local history - the biggest Christian music event ever to get going in Cross Rhythms' hometown of Stoke-on-Trent. But that classic song was a reminder too that just as the Spirit of God brought revival 200 years ago to those early Methodists, today, I believe, Stoke-on-Trent is edging ever closer to a time when the spiritual exhilaration felt by many at Passion '07 won't be able to be contained in a football stadium and will spread much, much further.
Photos by www.andyespin.comThe opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.