During Labor Day weekend from 2001-2007, you could find me in one place and one place only – The Life Light Christian Music festival in Sioux Falls, SD. I began attending the festival when it was just a one day event on a church lawn near my house, and kept going until I moved out of state in 2008. The free festival grew from a one afternoon event with maybe 500 people attending to a four day massive event with camping, vendors, and hundreds of thousands of people in attendance. It was, at one point, the largest Christian music festival in the United States.
Going to this festival made me feel special. By the time I hit college, my youth pastor was in charge of one of the stages and I got used to hopping the security fence to hang out with him and artists I was a fan of. By 2005, I’d managed to connect with the photographer for the festival, and volunteered as one of his assistants. Effectively, this meant I got my hands on a backstage pass and spent the entire festival getting up front and personal with bands while they were performing on stage.
It is a rush to be on stage – albeit off to the side – when one of you favorite bands is performing. You just know that people in the audience are looking at you, wishing they could be you. I remember one year, as I stood backstage to photograph a band, looking out in the audience and seeing one of my classmates from college. I knew for a fact that this person did not like me – he refused to speak to me even if I addressed him directly and he later told me he’d deliberately done that because he wanted to see how long he could go without ever speaking to a person chosen at random. But at Life Light, I looked out on the crowd, saw him, and saw the smile drop off his face as he spotted me. I was somewhere he couldn’t go and I reveled in that knowledge.
Having a backstage pass gave me an interesting perspective on the Christian music industry – I got to see how bands prepared to go on stage and hear all the things you wouldn’t hear as a fan in the crowd. I got to see all the preparation that went into pulling off a big concert festival. I was also really damn good at my job.
I convinced myself that I was “serving” by participating in this giant money-making machine that was this festival. Christian music was, for me, a substitute for a real culture and my connections and photography skills made me a queen in that world.
When I finally discovered other music and realized that so much of what I’d listened to before were mere copies of stuff in the secular world, I felt robbed. Radiohead was more intricate and beautiful than almost anything I’d discovered in the Christian world. These new bands, too, helped me realize that while I may have been queen of CCM, I was a big fish in a damn small pond.
So I’m interested to know: what misconceptions did you have about yourself or culture when you lived in the Christian bubble? What things were you disappointed to learn? What things caused you to recalibrate how you saw the world?