Thousands will make pilgrimage to Christian music festival in Chico
Holy revival, Batman! Make way for Festival Con Dios.
Come Sept. 21, the Neighborhood Church grounds in Chico will host as many as 4,000 young Christians, who will pile into youth group vans from as far away as San Francisco and Los Angeles to see five and one-half hours’ worth of bands, motorcycle jump shows, a bungee trampoline—even a mechanical bull.
It’s the biggest traveling Christian music festival in the United States—a big-tent revival for kids who like a little Jesus in their funk.
For Phil Morgan of Celebration Concerts, the festival’s production manager, the pressure is on.
Since May, he’s seen Festival Con Dios though cities from Ft. Myers, Fla., to Tulsa, Okla., but Chico is his home, Neighborhood is his church, and he wants everything to go smoothly.
From his duplex-turned-office decorated with angel figurines and cozy couches, Morgan fields calls from performers worried they’ll stir up dust if they’re not on grass or concrete and queries about parking and the city-allowed decibel levels. The day after we talked, Morgan was to fly out to Phoenix, Ariz., to scope out the site there.
The festival will be part entertainment, part evangelism. “It predominantly will be Christians, but they will be inviting their non-believer friends,” he said. “[The festival] can be a tool to help these kids see how [Christianity] doesn’t have to be a suit and tie.
“The youth want to listen to this kind of music,” he said.
Think OzzFest, but with fans swaying with their hands lifted in praise, not making that “throwing horns” devil sign.
The motocross and fake pyrotechnics (actually fire retardant shooting into the air) are “attention-getters,” Morgan acknowledges, but young people today are more likely to relate to a God who’ll take them as they are in blue hair, skaters’ chains and baggy pants. It’s flash, sure, but that’s what can reach Festival Con Dios’ target audience of 10- to 25-year-olds.
Christian Contemporary Music, or CCM, has come a long way since the 1980s, when a few tiny labels sold albums in Christian bookstores (you could buy four tapes—at high prices—and get one free). In recent years, big labels like Sony and EMI saw dollar signs: The Christian market made up for 7 percent of music sales last year, $747 million. The big labels bought up the little ones, who went along with it for the increased distribution. Now, bands like Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer and Creed are mainstream—"crossover,” it’s called.
Take, for example, a song that’s receiving airplay on rock stations of late, the catchy “Barlow Girls” by Superchic[k]. “All the boys in the band want a Valentine/ from a Barlow Girl./ The boys think she’s the bomb/ ‘Cause she reminds them of their mom.” Behind the hip tune lies the Christian translation: Don’t dress like a tramp; guys ultimately choose girls who will raise their children well.
But for Festival Con Dios, the eyes are less on the monetary prize and more on spreading the Word in a fun way. “It is not going to be a big a big money-maker,” Morgan shrugs. It’s hard to keep seven tour buses and 114 staff members on the road with tickets selling for only $25 a pop.
That money buys a wide range of singers and styles.
Superchic[k] will be at Festival Con Dios, as will more than a dozen other Christian chart-toppers like the Newsboys (headlining), The O.C. Supertones, Switchfoot, Audio Adrenaline, Skillet, Earthsuit, PAX217, Tree63, Phat Chance, The Benjamin Gate, Cadet, The Elms, Pillar, Luna Halo, Melissa Tawlks and T-Bone.
While alt-rock is the theme of the festival, the rap contingent is represented, as are the more mellow sounds of the Newsboys. A popular Christian comedian, Bob Smiley, will be the master of ceremonies.
Morgan predicts the Chico contingent will go wild for PAX 217, a band that youth pastors tell him is hot around here.
In a promo video about Festival Con Dios, Audio Adrenaline drummer Ben Cissell promises, “the more you rock the more we rock.”
Festival-goers will have fun, he says, and "be blessed by one of the funnest days you’ll have in your whole life."