Rock 'n' roll has been dubbed the music of the devil by more than a few generations of parents and conservative religionists. But a new crop of Christian rockers, powering the fastest-growing segment of the popular music market, is out to prove them wrong.
This summer, they're taking their act on the road by launching the touring Festival Con Dios, or as it has been dubbed, the first-ever "Christian Lollapalooza," after the popular alternative rock festival.
"It's not as big a contradiction as people think," says says Jeff Frankenstein, drummer of the tour's tentpole act, Newsboys.
"The whole traditional image of rock as being the music of the bad boy is one thing, but after all, what could be more rebellious than being a Christian and looking at life the way Jesus did?" he says.
"It's a bit daring, it's bold," says Mark Stuart, lead singer-songwriter for Audio Adrenaline, one of the tour's three headliners.
"But I think all those things fit in with Christianity," adds the Kentucky native. "One of the main goals is to get people to come not to a church but to the parking lot or wherever we set up and experience life and music with God."
Kicking off in Ft. Myers, Fla., next Thursday and running throughout the summer, Festival Con Dios will be the largest touring Christian rock music festival in history. Although the show is geared toward teens, with 10 bands and a midway full of extreme sports and interactive games, the organizers hope that the wholesome message will attract families.
"Rock used to be something that divided families," says Frankenstein. "Now, it's bringing families together."
Frankenstein, the only American member of the Australian band, says now that Newsboys has a track record over a decade, early fans have become parents and are bringing their children to performances. Because the underlying Christian message is positive, he says, "we have the widest audience I can imagine."
Christian speakers will accompany the musical acts, and the performers say they will pepper their performances with discussions of how God has worked in their lives. Nonetheless, they expect up to a half of their audience to be non-Christians. Many of their teen fans view music as an opportunity to create a bridge for their non-Christian fans, because, say the performers, music doesn't have a denomination.
"There's no such thing as an evil note or chord," says Darren Mettler, trumpeter for O.C. Supertones, the third of the tour's headline acts. "God is the one who invented music for all of us to glorify him in any way we can."
The festival brings with it a completely self-contained amphitheater that holds up to 8,000 people. It contains a stadium-style stage, powered by 100,000 watts of sound and lights - certainly enough to mount the decibel requirements for a respectable rock concert.
While the tour members say they aren't consciously targeting any other audience than their own fans, they acknowledge that even some Christians who ought to be a natural constituency have given them grief over their choice of musical styles.
"To be honest," says Stuart, the Audio Adrenaline frontman, "it's harder to deal with the fundamental Christians' criticism, because they're more vocal, and it hurts more because they should be backing us up, and they're not.
"But," he adds, "a lot of people across the board are being educated and learning about the fact that music is a powerful way to communicate about Christ. It's the art form this generation relates to.
"Music is all about what they hope to be someday, so it's important that there's a glimmer of hope that points people to God," he says.
Festival Con Dios tour dates are available online at www.festivalcon dios.com.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor