Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who Needs Johnny Review

Who Needs Johnny

Who Needs Johnny
Direct Music Distribution
Release Date: June 1, 2010
Duration 10, Tracks, 31:33

With a target audience of teenage girls, Who Needs Johnny offers an album of related relationship songs amid hard driving thrash. These teen anthems are set to raw power punk with a fresh sound. Samantha Haedrich provides lead vocals, backing guitar, and bass with a youthful voice similar to Joan Jett and a style like Pat Benator without the full range of either at the young age of 17. Lead guitar and background vocals are supplied by Alyssa Clotfelter showing simple, yet sharp guitar play with occasional flash. Jeremy Colson is the band’s solid foundation on drums.

Amid the consistent theme of teenage relationship, a number of songs shine. “Poison”, the consensus highlight of the set, has a good overall beat with lyrics relating to ‘the pain inside’ of a relationship, ‘The pain inside is killing me, will someone please suck out the poison’. “Pray for Brian” is actually a plea for help with ‘if you want to leave then go, just don’t pray for me anymore’. A great song standing alone in its simplicity is the finale “Without You”. Solid with a single guitar as the only instrument for the entire ballad, the vocalist extends true remorse with ‘the world keeps spinning without you, if you are gone I might as well be too’. In its simplicity, this song has a strong message of loss and need.

As a freshman release, Who Needs Johnny is a solid effort with hard hitting percussion and clean, fast paced guitar all lead by a strong youthful voice. The lyrics of this set center on youthful relationships experienced by the band members which focuses on a concentrated segment of teenage listeners. With experience lending itself to extend the band’s lyrical storyline and musical experimentation we can look for Who Needs Johnny to offer greater substance by their junior release.

SS Mertens

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

December Radio in Concert

December Radio
Concert Review
Cup ‘O Joy Concert Venue
Saturday, July 25, 2010
Green Bay, WI

A long, meandering line of concert goers stretched across the Cup parking lot as DecembeRadio fans patiently waited on a hot and humid July night for the sound check to complete. The doors flew open at 6:30 pm to a capacity crowd revving up for an evening of high energy southern rock.

DecembeRadio is a Grammy and Dove award winning rocker from the deep the south. From their first LP, they hit the ground running and never locked back adding hit after hit. Surpassing their string of hits is their live performance - this band is pure energy. The minute they step on stage lead singer and bassist Josh Reedy taps the NOS and this band flies taking all in the audience with them. If you’re not pumped after a DecembeRadio concert you’re not among the living.

With few breaks between songs and most songs blending together the pace was fast and furious. The set list hit hard from the onset with “Believer” blending into the crowd favorite “Love Found Me”, which cut into a short cover of “Wayward Son” by Kansas.
The melodic “Find You Waiting” broke into the classic “Saving Grace’ with the audience providing vocals, then into an extended lead guitar jam reminiscent of the early '70s Allman Brothers’ Duane Allman and Dickey Betts. With lead guitarist Brian Bunn switching to banjo, “Drifter” provided a heart felt moment. “Give Me Wings” introduced a new tune in a country vain. Though out the set, band members were introduced, each performing unique solos adding to the night’s performance, including Hammond organ, awesome bass slapping, soaring guitar solos by both the lead and rhythm guitarists, and the popping fireworks of an awesome drum solo.

By the end of their set, the audience was too charged to let the band go for the evening. With the entire audience on its feet, collectively stomping amid high volume chants for more, DecembeRadio returned for “Mighty to Save”. Again the audience was not to be denied. With a few young members of the audience asked to join the band on cow bell and tambourine, the rocker “Satisfy Me” gave the audience something to recall long after the night’s excitement subsided.

This hard driving rock group is indeed a crowd favorite, leaving an audience reeling and rocking. DecembeRadio is the quintessential southern rock group with hot rocks, moving ballads, a little blues, a lot rock, and southern hospitality mixed in a molotov cocktail of a live performance. The audience was lucky to have an internationally acclaimed band provide an up close and personal performance the likes of which can only be had at Green Bay’s Cup ‘O Joy.

SS Mertens

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lifest 2010

Lifest 2010

A Christian Festival
July 7 – 11, 2010
Oshkosh, WI
Production: Life Promotions, Inc.

Excitement builds as the opening date for Lifest, a five day, six stage Christian festival looms on the horizon. News of bands and speakers signed for the event trickles in over the months leading up to the festival. Suddenly, the date is near, gear is packed, plans are hurriedly put into action. YES, we’re riding down the well worn path to Lifest. We enter the gates, wait amid long lines of cars, then picking our way to our campsites we set up camp. Friends, smiling faces old and new, and wonderful experiences are about to take off. With over 150 bands, comedians, and speakers we plan our week of festival activities.

The Lifest festival held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin is produced by Life Promotions, a faith-base, youth centered ministry. In its twelfth consecutive year, the festival has a daily attendance of nearly 15,000 and a total attendance of roughly 70,000 over its five day duration. Lifest is family oriented with camping, activities for youth of all ages, daily seminars, keynote speakers, market place, food court resembling a miniature Las Vegas with its night lights, and Christian entertainment – lots of it, held on 6 stages. The festival is held from the second Wednesday of July through that week’s Sunday.

Wednesday, July 7

The temp’s are in the mid-80s with high humidity as small cities of tents begin to emerge over the course of a few hours. Anxious youth are walking through exhibits and finding adventure for the week. With rain in the forecast, fewer people than usual are at the gates for the noon opening making for a more organized entry. Suddenly, it is nearly the time for the first act to appear and like ants to honey, hoards of humanity move toward the Grandstand stage with chairs in hand and children in arm.

Sara Groves opens the festival with her angelic smile, friendly voice and stories of family and friends. ‘Setting up the Pins’ telling the story of our everyday lives gives way to ‘Love Wash Over all Things’ and ‘Different Kinds of Happy’. As Tenth Avenue North is in mid-set the clouds break giving a timely entry for their song ‘My Hands are Holding You’.

The first keynote speaker of the festival, Shane Claiborne takes the mic speaking to love and Christ’s teaching. Claiborne, author and advocate to the homeless, speaks of our common need to serve while conveying his related background of working with Mother Theresa and the homeless in Philadelphia.

Family Force Five takes the Grandstand stage with their unique blend of southern rock mixed with a good measure of rap, heavily laden with synth. The crowd is into it and the first night has kicked off. With a hard rain after midnight, I stumble into my tent, falling asleep knowing the Lord is watching over us tonight.

Thursday, July 8

Day breaks hot but less humid. Nothing but sunshine and friends in sight all day!
33 Miles lit up the day’s activity with great lead guitar, including dynamic solos and a soaring instrumental. Their sound is classic rock with faith-based lyrics. Presented on the small Café stage, this performance was close to the audience who responded with great participation. “One Life to Live (One Time Around)” provides an example of their hopeful message.

Andrew Marin, founder of the Marin Foundation whose ministry is to bridge the gap between Christianity, and Gays and Lesbians, talked of building a bridge between God and self then building a second bridge between self and those in need. This model is intended to support both the person in need, as well as, the person serving. This message again highlighted the call to all Christians to reach out and serve.

FM Static provided a rare appearance on the Edge stage to a capacity crowd. TFK (Thousand Foot Krutch) lead singer Trevor McNeven and drummer Steve Augustine founded this band with a southern Californian pop punk sound. The set list included songs from three current albums and ‘Cinnamon and Lipstick’ from their upcoming CD. Opening with ‘One Thing We Know’ and closing with ‘Crazy Mary’ and ‘Take Me as I Am’. Sanctus Real gathered a huge crowd on the Grandstand grounds. After 14 years together, the band remains true to its name, ‘Sanctus’ meaning sanctuary, ‘Real’ meaning authentic. With great narration and crowd interaction, lead singer Matt Hammitt worked effortlessly through a heart moving set including “The Face of Love”, “We Need Each Other”, and the heart rendering “Lead Me”.

TFK put a cap on this awesome day at the Edge stage. Trevor was in high spirits stoking the crowd to new levels kinetic energy between each song. In a standing room only crowd they opened with “Welcome to the Masquerade”, and plowed the road with “Move”, “Absolute”, and “Scream”. A new offering “I’m Already Gone” had the audience moving steady and lead to “Falls Apart”, and the seminal “Rawk Fist”. Another new tune “Fire It Up” fired up the audience for the encore “Puppet”. This was big time, every time - TFK!

Friday, July 9

A quieter Friday led to great times around the camp and market areas meeting old and new friends alike. The venue was mellower than the previous lay with highlights by a young female soloist in Holly Starr who will make a mark in the CCM industry with her upcoming release ‘Threads of Tapestry’.

A sparkling jewel was found when Ilia returned to Lifest at the Pit stage. I was stoked to attend, front and center of stage. This all female fronted band has recently returned after a year plus hiatus with a new lead singer / rhythm guitarist. Their five song set, four from first EP, and encore ‘The Rescue’ from the upcoming LP coming out as indie late in the year had the crowd reeling and pleading more. This was heart felt smash with a message. It had been a long, long wait for Ilia fans but worth every lost moment to witness the energy of their songs and stage performance with new tune with a sharper technical edge. Bring it back, bring it on!

As evening rolled in the key note speaker of the day, Jim Wallis, took the stage amid a few fundamentalist boos. For weeks prior to the festival, a few local Christian organizations created a stir by taking a stance against Wallis’ liberal views fearing his effect on youth. The founder of Sojourners, Wallis was not nearly as political as these organizations made him out to be. He spoke of his past service to the poor and needy, challenging all, especially youth, to serve the poor. Wallis spoke engagingly of restoring the Bible to modern society and provided the best quote of the festival in ‘Don’t go to the left, don’t go to the right, GO DEEPER (in your faith).’

The Newsboys capped the night in their new form with only the drummer from the original band and Michael Tate at the helm. I was curious and hesitant at the same time, after all, The Newsboys without Peter Furler – hmmmmm. The band was tight, Tate added a little reggae to the sound, and the visual experience was outstanding! New songs and old songs presented in medleys were excitedly received by a capacity crowd at the Grandstand stage. The set list included a few DC Talk favorites (“Be in the Light” ) and covers (“Mighty to Save”) capped by two encores, “One Shot” and “Jesus Freak”. The annual Friday night fireworks were well placed after this extravaganza. I made my way to a late night show seeing Laura Story at the Café stage. On acoustic guitar with accompaniment the song list included sincere songs of praise segmented by Laura’s very funny stories and audience connections. What a great way to end the evening.

Saturday, July 10

Stormy Saturday! Every festival has some ‘gift of weather’ and this one had a day with two huge rain falls. Not to worry, youth found a way this day with Woodstock-like glee making a 100 foot-long mudslide on a campground road. Through delays and rescheduling of bands the crowd remained unscathed as each storm’s low rolling, dark lined cloud formations came ever closer with strong winds and steady rains.

At last, Need to Breathe took the Grandstand stage to a rain soaked crowd. Despite a few sound issues the set went off without a hitch. The band is a tight southern classic rocker with the lead vocalist / guitarist also chiming in with occasional harmonica. Most of the set include songs from their latest LP including “Outsiders”, “Prisoner”, and “Something Beautiful”. The band had some fun with the weather by dragging up many rain-related songs as introductions to some of their own, “Have you Ever Seen The Rain” gave way to “Washed by the Water” and the band gave an unbelievable cover of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” in its entirety. “Let Us Love” closed their set with a message for the entire festival.

Due to rain provoked rescheduling a number of headliners were playing simultaneously at the 6 stages but not one in attendance missed the evening’s finale of Skillet on the Grandstand stage. Skillet has played at each of Lifest’s twelve festivals. They began their set with the deep voiced countdown to “Hero” and continued through “Comatose”, “Awake”, “The Last Night”, “Savior”, and “Monster”. Theatrics, colored flames, and fantastic lighting abound as bassist and lead singer John Cooper provided comedic moments and crowd surging banter between songs, at one point doing an acoustic cover of ‘Jesus Freak’ before playing ‘Live Without You’. The addition of a cellist and violinist brings class to this rocker and crowd favorite. The set ended with ‘Rebirthing’ as the crowd went wild.

As the night wore on many headed for camp and an early night’s sleep after a day of heavy rain and three days of fun in the sun. I slowly packed a few items intending to get an early start home on Sunday morning but could not resist spending time in solitude at the campsite pondering the many wonderful moments of Lifest – a refreshing break in a hectic life. One of so few moments we can come closer to the Lord while taking in the quiet of the moment.

Only a few people milled about. at 1:30 AM Sunday morning. Far in the distance I heard bits and pieces of a song giving way to a jam the likes of early ‘70s Santa / Buddy Miles. As if lifted and floating to the sound, I made my way to various stages – all shutting down for the night. At the Grandstand stage under a few working lights was a band playing away at the jam with a half dozen onlookers taking in this rare site. I arrived to watch Kutless jamming at 2:00 AM in a sound check for the next day’s finale. This was truly a gift as each band member took up their solo while other filled in the rhythm making for a unique moment. The sound check wound down, the lights faded out, and I crawled into my sleeping bag with a smile on my face enjoying the quiet of the last night.

Sunday, July 11

As Sunday’s sun entered my tent I felt the sadness of another festival ending. While many stayed and new faces arrived for the Sunday services and closing by Luis Palau and Kutless, I packed up to hit the highway early. I said my goodbyes with one last peek at our campsite and the stages as I hit the road full of memories and refreshed for another year.

Despite the rain, this was again a moment captured and to be enjoyed for time to come. Warm thoughts and excitement, like a warm coal, will be fanned by the winds of memory and hints of what is to come for Lifest 2011. Refreshed by the grace of the week, I have gained traction to keep growing.

SS Mertens

Monday, August 9, 2010

Author Biography: Scott Mertens

Writing & Me

My initiation to writing is as clear today as when it occurred. At the inquisitive age of 10, riding our stingrays home from McKinley Grade School in our hometown of Manitowoc, Wisconsin a close friend explained the virtues of reading and writing. At that magical moment, riding low on our banana seats with arms outstretched to our elevated handle bars, I had a desire to write.

As years passed, providing exposure to both personal experiences and various styles of written format, I became interested in the written word as a form of self expression. So I would try to express myself, and try, and try… Although for years I have faithfully retained notes, outlines, and memorized story lines, a single written work of mine was never completed. I needed a push!

While recently visiting area churches, we attended Spring Lake Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin at the suggestion of friends. During one of our initial visits, my wife Kathi pointed out a church bulletin describing ‘Write Path’, a group of church members interested in Christianity and writing. Just the jumpstart a wanna-be writer like me might need. Early in 2008 I joined the Write Path group searching for like-minded individuals with the drive and a desire to write. I found what I had been searching for! Or quite possibly the Lord lead me to this encounter. Finally I might find the drive and desire to express myself in a written work.

We all strive to express ourselves. The root of ones expression defines their individualism, which also defines an artist and their art. Using our experiences, imagination, dreams and wishes we express ourselves. No matter the reason or format, whether in words, visuals, speech, dance, or the plethora of other devices, we desire to express ourselves.

Some of us, however, have a difficult time ‘expressing’. This haunting desire
to express has led me to write. As I look back, I was published in a January, 1976 publication of Milwaukee’s ‘Bugle American’ underground newspaper, in an editorial railing against those tabloid columnists who focused on the personal life of musicians of the era rather than their art. Well, with that minor start in mind and with a little help from my Write Path friends, I will continue. As I’ve stated in my blog, I hope to provide in writing my observances based on experiences and interests. Since they represent the fabric of my life, I share my lessons learned, my views on our world, my spiritual growth, and the interests I hold dear.

Please enjoy and never hold back.