As the God channel are broadcasting the event this weekend, it seems a fairly good time to finish off my two part Big Church Day Out Diary! The first part was on last night and the 2nd part is on tonight at 9pm. Sky+ it, record it, wheel out the old VHS if you have to – and if you don’t get the God channel quickly get to know someone who does and get them to record it for you – you will not regret it. Anyway, on with the blog…
Heavily laden with chairs, food, drink and more, we set out from our tent on each of the two days to go and pick a decent spot and enjoy what was on offer at the Big Church Day Out 2011. The walk from the campsite to the main stage was not particularly far, but it was across some pretty funky terrain (the campsite had 2″ wide troughs in parallel lines every 6 feet which someone always managed to trip in) and the hill was deceptively steep. The weather didn’t know what it wanted to do, and the winds were especially unkind – with many people ending up with damaged tents, and even one of the main stage banners having come down.
With our territory claimed and marked, we settled in – with each of us wandering off every now and then with the kids, or on our own, just to explore the marketplace and the other activities on offer. Whilst people were still turning up the organisers showcased some of the acts who would be on the UCB Stage or the Tea Tent, with each act getting to perform a song and introduce themselves a bit. This was a great way to drum up interest in the smaller venues and I’ve no doubt that it will have been an effective tool in introducing people to some of the less mainstream artists.
The main stage line up was the same over the two days, and some of the artists varied their sets to a degree over the days whilst others kept to the same format – understandable in both cases and enjoyable in every instance. The line-up this year included the David Crowder Band, the Newsboys, Chris Tomlin, TobyMac, Israel Houghton and Matt Redman. First up were the wonderfully different David Crowder Band. Performing for the last time ever in the UK (as they announced just before the BCDO that they were moving onto new things at the end of the year) for some it was their first taste of the band who have been around since 2000.
If you’re not familiar with the band then I guess I can only sum them up as a hairy bunch of God-loving, fun, wild, sensitive and spirit led musicians who love to try everything from bluegrass to gospel, rock-opera to electronic , raucous anthems to intimate worship – and everything in between. Their albums have always stood out as being totally different to the semi-formulaic, me-too, styles that have cropped up over the years. If you think their name rings a vague bell then you may have caught them on any of the Passion albums over the last decade as they are conference regulars along with Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, Kristan Stanfill and others.
As a live act they didn’t disappoint. With a mix of tunes from all their albums along with the odd hymn and even the classic Cutting Edge track, Obsession, they led us all in a time of worship that tore through any stresses of travel or setting up and paved the way for us to draw closer to our Father. It was also nice that they had two different sets for the two days and you could easily believe they threw some songs in just because that’s where The Spirit led (I may be wrong with that – but it certainly felt like that at points and it was great to see!) Their self-deprecating humour went down well with the crowd, and more than one person was heard to go “Wow” as they weaved a rich tapestry of styles and instruments. I’m going to be really sad when they do go onto other projects, as a band they are always a refreshing challenge to the musical norm and their lyrics are wonderfully descriptive and narrative.
After a short time of stage re-arranging and re-jigging, with a couple of videos thrown in and odd-bits on stage, it was time for one of the grandaddy bands of them all – The Newsboys. I saw them last when they performed in the Alliance Music Festival at the Sheffield Arena many years ago and since then there’s been a few changes of band members with the most recent being the departure of Peter Furler and the arrival of former-DCTalk man Michael Tait. Although the first album to feature the new line up, Born Again, was (and is) a brilliant album, there was some concern that some of the newsboys spirit of insanity might be lost. No fear folks – the Newsboys still are The Newsboys!
With that really distinctive voice, you can hear the difference between Michael and Peter, but the band sound is still the same. It’s grown up and matured a bit over the years – you don’t get any new songs in the same vein as Breakfast or Shine, but they haven’t forgotten who they are and the legacy is warmly embraced. With most of the tunes coming from the new album it was this mature sound that lifted the crowds and got us all buzzing. It would be wrong to give the impression that each successive band buzzed the crowds more than the previous acts but it’s fair to say that the atmosphere just kept building as each band built upon the levels from the previous one and completely took us on a real “festival-high”
The band looked sharp in matching outfits, along with the natty little strips on one sleeve, and Duncan on drums still managing to achieve that manic drummer look so loved by anybody who knows the band at all. Between Squizz (Duncan) and Michael there was a great amount of fun interaction with all of us watching – I still can’t tell you who had the greatest expressions as Michael just had a permanent beaming grin on his face, and Duncan just went wild!
For long-term fans there was a great mashup-up of Breakfast and Shine, newer fans looking completely bemused as older fans went mental and yelled out the somewhat insane lyrics 🙂 Michael threw in a sweet little nod to British breakfasts at this point, allowing us all to feel a part of the true spirit of Breakfast!
There was a palpable air of expectation over the event – 2 of the members of DCTalk were performing at the same event… SURELY we’d have a mini-reunion at some point. They just *had* to for all of us Jesus Freaks.
We weren’t disappointed.
It was inevitable that “Jesus Freak” would be performed at some point – both TobyMac and now the Newsboys perform the track – and when the Newsboys kicked of with the classic guitar riff, the anthem for a generation started to ring out across the ground and, with an electricity in the air, we all waited… BAM there it was. Michael sang the first part then, from the right of stage, on came TobyMac delivering the immortal “I saw a many with a tattoo” lines. The two band-mates bouncing around with childlike abandonment and the crowds all going wild, screaming and singing simultaneously. It would have been understandable if the rest of the Newsboys took a “backing” musicians view on the proceedings, but they all looked totally chuffed at being able to play their part – joining in with the singing and providing the music just as we all know and love it. It may not have been a full reunion, and we may never get one, but for that 3 minutes a generation of Christians – many of us with our own next-generations – were back in the day and reminded that “I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak, there aint no denying the truth”
To the cries of encore, they all headed off stage, leaving behind an ecstatic crowd. Exhausted from pogoing like it was 1995, and with hoarse throats, we sank down to recharge and refuel – wondering just how this runway train momentum could be maintained to the end of the day, but looking forward to what was still to come.
The one slight surprise for some folks was the early slot for Chris Tomlin, who was next up. The programme was cleverly designed in such a way that “Worship artists” and “Bands” (it’s about the only way I can describe it – I hope you get what I mean?!?) were alternated on the stage with the only exception being that we had Israel Houghton followed by Matt Redman. To many nowadays Chris is probably a “bigger name” than Matt but it was definitely right to put the English returnee (just back in the UK after having lived in Atlanta for a few years) as the final act and the similar styles of Chris and Matt wouldn’t have worked as well one after the other, whilst Israel embraces so many musical styles the variety mix in the line-up was maintained.
With everyone rocked up and on a huge buzz from the great set by the Newsboys it would be easy to have felt the sudden shift to Chris Tomlin as being quite a shock to the system but, with the help of the stage-change breaks being a nice long-but-not-too-long duration, it was something that people were excited about and really eager to engage with.
I doubt that there’s many churches out there today, barring the ultra-traditionals, that don’t sing at least one of Chris’s songs and the crowds at the BCDO were all ready to give their all to God in praise and worship – whilst also, if we’re being honest here, being excited about seeing Chris Tomlin “perform”
The opening strings of “Our God” rang out, and Chris walked onto the stage to a wave of applause – then it was all focussed on God. I love the song “Our God” and feel it is a personal anthem for the current season in my life, and singing it in the context of 1000’s of other worshippers was wonderful. The declaration of “If our God is for us….” washed over me and really impacted me in a way it hadn’t before – and I’ve sung/listed/played it a LOT!
With a good mix of songs new and “old” we were led to seek God, to praise Him, to bow before Him, to stand in awe, to shout aloud and to whisper from the depths of our souls. I want to write so much more about it but I can’t remember all the songs we sang, just the real sense of being in Gods presence and singing with the heavenly hosts. And I guess that’s not a bad thing to say – if a worship leader can leave you feeling closer to God and with memories of encountering God, above their performance, then surely that’s a success.
Phew…. you still with me? We’re half way there folks – unbelievable I know but if you weren’t there hopefully I’m giving you a sense of the feast that was laid before us! Grab a quick cuppa, and a biscuit then put your feet up for the second half 🙂
With there being 3 adults, 2 teenagers and 2 kids there was plenty of scope for sharing out responsibilities and also for having time out to wander around to take in all the other things on offer. I must confess, my wanderings didn’t take me much further than the toilets, the food stands, the Costa coffee outlet (!) and the marketplace. The latter of which had some really great stalls and some brilliant merchandise available – if there was one comment to be made it’s that the book/music stalls really need to wake up to the prices on offer at iTunes, PuraShop etc. I’m not expecting them to be able to match prices, but when some CDs were £15 at the event and £7.99 elsewhere – well, the savvy buyer (me in this case) didn’t fall prey to the materialistic fast-food instinct but instead went on an iTunes bender once I got home. I reckon I spent over 60% less that way, yet still got all I wanted, and more besides!
Anyway, onto the next act. TobyMac. Out of the three members of DCTalk, Toby is really the one who has continued in the same musical stylings and traditions – whilst also keeping the music fresh and exploring other styles at the same time. Returning to the event after a successful appearance last year, the only question was wether he could deliver something that wasn’t just a repeat performance – especially as there’s not been any new music from him inbetween.
Yes, he did do a lot of the tunes that he did last year – but he put a fresh twist on quite a few of them, even dropping down to an acoustic set with some awesome beatboxing from Gabe Real (yes, that’s his name) for a couple of tunes. There were also a couple of different tunes thrown in and the Diverse City Bands sheer joy and enthusiasm had us all bouncing along and singing loudly.
Having already enjoyed one mini-reunion, we were blessed with another as Michael Tait came on to perform the classic DCTalk track “In The Light” – once again, we saw a band that could have slunk into the backround and just played a bit role but the Diverse City crew were up for it and the performance was a true highlight for me. Toby and Michael have an obvious and genuine friendship and affection for each other, and this came across as they performed together with great big grins and even a few DCTalk-esque dance moves.
I hope that there is some new material coming from TobyMac. The “Tonight” album is a classic in my opinion and really challenging in so many ways, but the amount of touring and the solo launches by some of the band does leave me to wonder if there will be time for a new album this year or even early on in 2012.
Israel Houghton was up next and I must confess, I find Israel an unusual artist. I’ve listened to a few of his albums courtesy of Spotify, and they don’t grab me. I just don’t enjoy listening to him on my phone or pooter or in the car. Get him on a live stage though and boy is he a force to be reckoned with.
He’s got a magnetic joy and enthusiasm that picks you up and wraps you in a great big bear hug – and a smile that completes that image. His music is a fusion of so many different styles and there’s an energy that is best compared to power going through a light bulb! You can’t help but move, you aren’t British about dancing and you certainly aren’t embarrassed by letting yourself go. There’s a unity that comes through Israels music, and in the way that it affects the audience – nationalities, race, personalities, hang-ups are all wiped out and we really became 1 unified body of Christ.
His music works so well in a large setting and lifted the spirits of all who were beginning to feel the tiredness that comes from such an onslaught of great music, a long day and the emotional exhaustion that can often accompany a close encounter of the God kind 😉
With one final set change, and kids starting to feel exhausted, it was time to round things off with Matt Redman. One of the pioneers of the worship scene as we see it today, his music still powers it’s way through all types of churches although in recent years I personally felt he focused more on the larger corporate worship gatherings than the intimacy and all-church style of songs we’d come to know him for. Not fully surprising as God had called him to be involved with the Passion movement in quite a big way. But as we were in that large gathering environment there was no doubt that this was going to be a great time of worship and praise.
The set began with a belting version of “Blessed Be Your Name”, which had a semi rock/dance feel to it but worked so well and the crowds were all connected immediately and all going for it.
Matt is a very humble worship leader, he’s always come across as being uncomfortable with being the focal point (yes, I know God is the focal point in worship but it’s the best phrase I can think of at the moment sadly) – but out of that humility comes a heart to go where The Spirit leads and and real sensitivity to the people around him. This was so evident over the two nights (although the first night we enjoyed listening to him from the comfort of our tent as we had decided to crash our and try to get a reasonable nights sleep) with the songlists incorporating some commonalities but also moving into different places as the Spirit dictated.
There was a great mix of the anthemic worship, intimate praise and soul-searching tunes covering several of Matts songs and including the odd song or two from other writers.
It was a great way to finish the event, leaving us with our eyes on the One we had come to worship, hearts full of praise
and a hunger for more. We also found ourselves closer to our Father, we’d entered into the throne room and our souls were singing.
There were some negatives to the weekend, and I’d be lying if I painted a perfect picture. We were ill-prepared in some areas, having never camped as a family before, and the organisers also showed some poor preparation – especially with the camping and lot’s of issues around the lack of facilities, or unfulfilled promised facilities. However, they have responded to our comments and promised they will be resolved by next year – and they really are, looking back, a minor part of the weekend.
The event was a resounding success, we all got touched by God and we all enjoyed different aspects of the weekend. It sums it all up when we are already talking of plans for NEXT years event, and everyone is still buzzing over the memories and the fun that was had.
If you’ve not been before, get yourself down there next year – you won’t regret it, honestly. If you have been there before well, we’ll see you there no doubt!
In the meantime – enjoy the photo gallery by clicking here 😀