Retrospective: Alive Festival 2005, aka my first true concert experience

‘Twas sophomore year of high school, and one day in my legendary Enriched English 2 class my classmate and friend Becca showed up with a pile of pamphlets advertising this festival in NE Ohio.  She gave me a booklet and I was flipping through it. My eyes grew big when I saw the line-up. Blindside?! Pillar?!  TFK!? And more importantly, a pretty Christian girl was giving me the opportunity to see a whole bunch of bands that were quickly becoming new favorites in one setting! An opportunity my 16 year old self could hardly pass up. When I found out that a fellow classmate, Ross (who was a lab partner of sorts in my Bio class that year) was going that sealed the deal. My parents would understand, right?

Well they were understandably hesitant to send me to a Christianized Woodstock with an unfamiliar youth group they eventually caved (suckers!) and agreed to let me go for 2 1/2 days. One Thursday afternoon I piled in a car with a couple others that were en route for a late rendezvous with the Northwest Nazarene youth group and thus began my first concert experience.

After dropping my things off at the Northwest Nazarene Youth’s campsite the experience really began. I walked with a girl from my high school class, Jessica, to meet up with my friend Ross for my “big concert” ever – Kutless. They opened with “Not What You See” and ended with “Your Touch”, one of my favorite songs that summer and one that still gives me a nostalgic feeling when I listen to it. The evening continued with worship from Paul Baloche (“Open the Eyes of My Heart”, “Above All”, etc) and TobyMac and his Diverse City band kicked things up a notch. The evening concluded with Newsboys, and though they didn’t play “John Woo” like I hoped they would they delivered a powerful worshipful set that my friend Ross still asserts was one of the best he’s ever experienced. It wasn’t quite as powerful as at some Christ in Youth conferences I’d been to but still up there. We related this to each other at the campsite, along with some corporate worship.

The next morning began with some morning worship with Paul Baloche again, and the first band of the day was Falling Up at the Beach Stage, following Ross and I seeing the tail end of Everyday Sunday. They played a 40 minute set of cuts from “Crashings”, opening oddly with “Arafax Deep” and following it with “Broken Heart”. After that song, Ross looked at me and said “that’s all I wanted to hear, see ya later!” and I watched the rest of the set alone. Must have been a funny sight to my lanky self with my large head in a bucket hat awkwardly bobbing to the beat. They put on a good show, and it was the only time I saw Falling Up in that lineup. The day continued with TFK on the mainstage, playing only cuts from Phenomenon and Set it Off (their only 2 records at the time!). David Crowder was the evening worship that evening, and the true pandemonium set in around 8 PM that evening.

2005 was the beginning of the Christian crossover bands. 2 of these bands had enjoyed success at top 40 radio that year, and would be headlining that night. Yep…Relient K and Switchfoot. I would have enjoyed Relient K more if it had not been for the literally thousands of girls around me screaming the lyrics to every song. What I heard I liked though! They played such oldies as “Forward Motion”, “Be My Escape”, and of course “Sadie Hawkins Dance”, a song which has since been officially retired by the band. Following the ending notes of “I So Hate Consequences” the hype began building for the San Diego sensation of that day. Sometime after 10 PM Switchfoot took the stage with the rousing “Ammunition” and played a great set list that included the premiere of “Stars” live.

That night (or maybe it was the night before?) I found out that apparently talk in my sleep. You see, earlier in the day I had gotten wind of this “points system” that the Northwest Youth Group had going for the duration of the festival. Every good deed or helpful thing done earned a point, and at the end of each day the winners would get a small reward of sorts. At one point I glanced at the journal that was tracking points and saw that my name had nothing next to it. I must have been pretty self-conscious about that because that night apparently I was muttering in my sleep about the points system in my sleep that night. A bit unflattering for a first-time experience with an unfamilar youth group, but we all laughed about it the next day.

My final day at the festival, the day began with morning worship led by Vicky Beeching and then a seminar led by Michael Franzese, a former member of the Mafia who gave his powerful testimony. I had the opportunity to see MuteMath at the Beach Stage that morning but I didn’t go because it was hot and I didn’t feel like walking all that way. Looking back on that, I wish I could back in time and smack myself because my later experience with them was the best concert I’ve ever seen. Ever. After midday storm Ross and I headed to the soggy Mainstage area to catch Sanctus Real. It will be interesting to  see how their Ichthus appearance, 5 years later, will compare. This was a lost coat scare that had my pushing my back to the mainstage, through the crowd rocking to Building 429, and sheepishly shouting at security people asking them if they had seen a blue coat (ha!), but I luckily found it laying on a table in the merch tent.  After seeing a bit of David Crowder once again, I bid my farewells and met my mother at the festival gates for the ride back home.

Alive Festival 2005 was a big step for me, going beyond the whole “first concert” thing. I was a pretty introverted kid (and still am, a bit) and my parents couldn’t believe the guts I had to go to such a big event with people that, for the most part, I barely knew. And I got to experience 20,000 Christians from all different backgrounds together for the first time, which definitely expanded my views of what corporate worship can mean. I owe many thanks to this youth group that took me in for a couple of days, the experience was a blessing to me in many ways.  I think back to this experience as I prepare to drive to Wilmore, KY this Wednesday for the 41st annual Ichthus Festival. I’ll be traveling with the Ross I mentioned in this entry, and a day by day account of the festival will follow!


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