Growing up in catholic Austria, religion was a rather rigid matter. It is taught in public schools, there is a “church tax” withheld from one’s paycheck, and churches (and sometimes the priests) are hundreds of years old. I did my bit as an altar boy, sang in the church choir, but rebellious little me moved away from organized religion in my teenage years, and settled into a comfortable, casual arrangement with the man upstairs. Experiencing the open, joyful way in which many in the US celebrate their Christianity in the US was quite different from what I was used to. So, when I saw Casting Crowns on the Target Center’s schedule I decided to experience Christian Rock for myself.
I knew I was in for a different experience as soon as I arrived downtown (parking next to an actual Mary Kay pink Cadillac SUV). The crowd moving towards the venue seemed exited but civilized. I observed one lady heading a restaurant takeout bag to one of the panhandlers – he did seem a bit confused by the gesture but it made a lot of sense to me. Once inside a good crowd had already gathered for the first band. The video screen played stories of people overcoming personal struggles and some inspirational quotes.
Unspoken started the evening and the 5-piece band released their second album “Follow Through” last August. Their sound would be familiar to any top 40 radio station listeners. There was some good-natured banter between the band members and then there was a medley of 80s and 90s hits with updated lyrics including “Ice, Ice, Baby” and “Macarena”. Singer Chad Mattson mentioned his 14 years of sobriety and finding Jesus. The band closed with all members on the stage run for their final song.
Casting Crowns came on stage shortly after 8 PM starting with singer Mark Hall alone in a spotlight and gradually joined by the rest of the band. Musically, they would fit into the “adult contemporary” category with a nice modern touch. The songs as befits the genre are uplifting with positive lyrics. But to me, that’s not where the power of Casting Crowns is. All of the band members are active youth pastors and many of their songs are inspired by youth bible studies. The band tours Thursday – Saturday and members return to their churches for Sunday services. Hall himself commands attention in a casual, friendly way. After the first 3 songs, he shared the inspiration that drives the band with the audience and took the inspiration from a single picture that someone sent him (of a girl at the concert about to be hit by a flying water bottle) and built it into a lesson that lasted over 10 minutes and kept the audience engaged. I guess you can take the Youth Pastor out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the Youth Pastor. That set the tone for the rest of Casting Crowns’ evening. 3 songs followed by a well delivered story. The highlight for me was all band members performing on the extended platform surrounded by their audience.
What stood out to me was the consistent positive message that was part of every artist’s set. And those were not hypothetical made up stories but based on personal actions and experiences. And while we differ in the way we express our views; those actions are something I respect and support. After all, our goal is to make this world a better place for our children. And we all share that.