Tony Cummings reports on the phenomenon of America's The Dream Center and their worship musicianaries PRESS PLAY
One of the surprise US hits of last year was the debut album by Los Angeles-based Press Play. The pop rock team's 'Life Is Beautiful' soared high into the US Christian Charts (though, peculiarly, never received distribution in the UK).
Brought together by a common passion for music and for seeing lives transformed, Press Play have exploded into a multimedia experience onstage. Both on and off-stage, the members of Press Play give their time to the vision of the Los Angeles Dream Center. The Dream Center, founded by visionary minister Matthew Barnett, is a non-profit outreach dedicated to helping inner cities across the US providing food, clothing, shelter and daily needs to over 40,000 people every week, just in the Los Angeles market along. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, The Dream Center provides solutions to such blights as human trafficking, abandoned teens, gangs, homeless families, drugs and violence.
Press Play make the LA Dream Center their home base. Made up of Dave Hanley, Tyler Ray Logan, Anthony Rick, Paige Adkins, Tate Huff and Brian, they are an extremely hard working unit. The band's Dave Hanley told Mike Rimmer, "Press Play is actually a worship team for the Dream Centre/Angels' Temple every single week, three to four times a week, plus not only in Los Angeles, but now also in New York City every week. So we're there every week, both sides, and it reflects the Dream Centre through giving hope, giving everyone a positive chance that no matter what they're going through, or what they have been through, life can be beautiful, as the title cut says, shameless plug, that life can be beautiful through God."
David spoke about the band's full on commitment to the work of the Dream Center. "We're not doing the church thing to get to a gig. Our main focus is the lives that are there. So no matter how busy the Press Play tour gets, and we're busy, we tour coast to coast, we're still letting the people know that we're there [for them], no matter what. That's what God's called us to first."
This concern for meeting people where they're at has a radical expression, one aspect being an Adopt A Block programme. Singer Paige Adkins explained to Christianity Today what the programme entails. "Every Saturday we go out and adopt different communities within the LA area that are usually impoverished, infested by gangs, or whatever the case may be. We just go and we serve and we love on 'em. I go to the second largest project in LA, which has 750 units and each unit probably has at least six people living in it. We pass out food and have a needs line that can provide anything from diapers to cribs to microwaves. We try our hardest to fulfil them as quickly as possible. My site has a lot of kids and we just love on them, which is often the most attention and interaction they get all week."
So how fast are these kids able to connect with the message that is being brought to them? Admitted Paige, with refreshing candour, "When I first started, I wanted this miraculous change the first day and hoped to meet a kid and change their life right away! But I soon learned that consistency is the key. These kids are used to people coming and disappearing or looking at them like a good deed that can make the giver feel better. These kids barely have parents that take care of them, so why should they trust you? You have to be consistent and give time and let God's love come through. I had been there over six months, almost a year, and I didn't feel [effective] because nobody was opening up to me. But one day, I said [to one child], 'How are you?' and they said, 'My dad's an alcoholic and my mom doesn't pay attention to me.' Out of nowhere, they'll open up and trust you because you are there.
There are high profile guests on 'Life Is Beautiful' including Australian worship leader Darlene Zschech, rapper iROCC and Tyler Williams of the hit TV series Everybody Hates Chris. But it's group member Paige Adkins, daughter of popular comedian Sinbad, who brings a dash of soul power to the album's title track. Said David, "'Life Is Beautiful' was the album's first single and its title spells it out, that no matter what you've gone through, life can be beautiful through Jesus Christ. So if you've come out of gangs or you've just lost your job on Wall Street, life can be beautiful through God."
Intriguingly, Press Play have set out to write songs that work both as congregational worship songs yet speak to the unsaved. Commented David, "Everything we do is going to be targeted first for the unsaved, and our congregation knows that. So that the people they bring in, whether they're bringing their friends from work, whether they're bringing busloads from skid row, no matter what walk of life, when they walk in there, there won't be anything, we pray, that would turn them off from hearing the Gospel of Christ, to where it would be so super spiritual maybe, over their heads, to where they wouldn't be able to connect. So, with the lyrics we make sure that they're mainstream enough. Because the fact is the method is not sacred, the message is. And so the method in which you get it into the heart of the people has to be something, because we believe if you've turned them off, then what chance do you have? By the time the worship is done, they may be so tuned out by the time the pastor brings the word, so we've got to make sure that we hook them. We get them, we let them know that there's hope no matter what they've been through, we've opened their hearts and their minds to receive the word. So that's our approach to it."
But wasn't there a danger that making songs so acceptable to a non-Christian audience you water down the lyrical message? Responded David, "If you look at the way Jesus spoke, and you translate it, he didn't speak in King James. A lot of churches become that. I was raised a preacher's kid and I was raised in the way where you had to pretty much be the Pope or Mother Theresa to be allowed within five feet of the platform, and go through all types of programmes to be on the platform. That isn't the way we read in the Word of how Christ was. He was very accepting and loved 'the least of these'. So it's actually the opposite of being watered down, it's actually their language, straight to their heart, if I'm trying to reach them. And there are other chances where you're going to have a worship service. We do that in Los Angeles where we have a prayer service. It is for the Christians, it is to get in there, get the Word, and so we change songs for that. This project though is used for 'souling'. What's great about it is the profits of this CD are going for the latest Dream Center project. We have over 200 outreach programmes, like gang recovery kids, etc. The latest concerns human trafficking. In all of America there are only 39 places available to help rescue and restore girls who have been trapped in human trafficking. So we're making available 100 beds by June. They're in Los Angeles, on one of the floors of the Dream Centre.
"When you talk with people face to face, when Paige, one of our lead singers, goes into those [needy] districts, and you see the hearts, and you bring those kids out of the projects, and you bring them to church, those kids are thumping and everything, words that we can't use. But you know that that style of music is the only thing that's going to relate to them. As I said, the method's not sacred, the message is. We will do whatever it takes, if we have to hang from a chandelier, or we have to stand on our head to get the Word into their hearts, and music is the biggest form of language to a teenage kid. So we've first got to do that. If we use words that that kid can still go back to the 'hood and sing, without the King James, and the kids are like 'I like that song, where's that from?', they can say, 'This is Press Play, that's Paige, that's Dave. Paige comes down here every week and brings food to me. My mum's on crack, my dad's in jail.' So then they start finding more out about who God is through the song."
Not many artists making their debut can call on such luminaries as TV star Tyler Williams of the internationally acclaimed worship leader from Hillsong. David spoke about how the Press Play/Darlene Zschech connection was made. "The connection began through Pastor Matthew and his dad, Tommy Barnett, who has spoken over there in Australia at their events several times a year, and vice-versa. So I got to know Darlene. She's wonderful. I sent her a great power text and wrote, 'Darlene, something's missing, you've got to do this.' And she wrote back, 'I thought you'd never ask.' So that was it. You know what we did, we sent the files, the track over to them, and they worked on it and she sent it back and it blew our minds."The 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.