Monday, January 11, 2010

In The Queen City

Even though it had only been planned for the past couple of weeks and by the help of a few late strokes of luck(or otherwise), myself, Sam, and one or two other friends we knew had managed to swing a chance to attend Winterjam in Charlotte, an all day trip after church to see one of the largest band concerts in the United States, all Christian rock and contemporary music. I had attended a few other smaller concerts, but THE Winterjam was definitely new to me, the massive fifteen thousand arena filled with the music of Newsong, Newsboys, Tenth Avenue North, Fireflight, and a few others. Now there was a way to spend a Sunday afternoon! It was Sam, actually, who had managed to swing the entire business. One of the students at Greek Translation class would be going with half a dozen kids from a different church, and if we could get to that church on Sunday afternoon, we could ride down and back with them. Though at first, since I had had past dealings with so-called 'Christian youth groups,' I was a little skeptic...Winterjam 2010 was too much to pass up. Bother the details, I didn't even have to deal with them if I chose.

I shivered and watched my breath turn to silver mist in the air as we stood with nearly seven thousand other people from across the United States in downtown Charlotte. The high, silver towers of the city loomed over us proudly, glinting in the dying sunlight as though they too were made of ice and glittering stone. It was funny, I noted, as I looked up as the city towering over us. When I had been maybe six or seven, I remember being awed by the skyline of Charlotte from a distance. Now, it was doubled in size even my my small lifetime, and I had more distaste then interest for it now. I am a writer. Not only that, but I have a writer's eye, too much of one...everything I can see around me as a place as beautiful as any Tolkien world in its own place. I've taught myself to see the world as a world as beautiful, terrible, vast, adventurous, dangerous, and fascinating place as any five Middle-Earths. Not fantasy, I wouldn't say I see that...but the beautiful worlds and places writers dream of aren't entirely non-existent...if you know how to look at things.
But even then, it was a human city. That alone bore some cold facts about it.
"Good grief, it is COLD." Sam informed me for the fiftieth time, chugging his Dr. Pepper as though it was warmth itself and shivering visibly in his light coat.
The kids around me, mostly young people like us who had come to see the concert, shivered and grumbled about the cold, and I grit my teeth against it, as if willing myself NOT to feel it. The line was insane, it would take us the better part of two hours to get near the gates and get into the building, and then there were seats...but that was how concerts are, I suppose. I was going to have to pay more than just a few bucks to see the a little time and comfort.
I glanced over my shoulder at the group we had come with. Naturally we were required to stay with the youth group and their adult leaders for chaperoning, so we stuck close to listen even if we didn't talk much. And I was fast losing patience with them.
The line of cold, waiting people was trying to keep itself occupied while we waited for 4:30 for the gates to open. As we had walked up from the parking lot I had noted idly that half of those here were church vans, groups from Christian organizations and church from across America. I found that slightly interesting when I watched the conduct of some of them there...
A few of the young women were poorly dressed, strolling about in twenty degree weather trying to get attention and probably killing themselves as cold as it was. They were succeeding, young guys from one place or another in the line would whistle or call out an invitation, sometimes even going after them down the line. I raised an eyebrow when a few of the young men from our own group started airing out their egos for the ladies to see, challenging each other to pointless street fights and show off their muscles. This I found more humorous than anything can imagine how well it worked in crowds of thousands.
That in itself didn't really anger me or get me to grumble...what was, was that over half of these people claimed to be involved in a church and serve God. I wonder if a quarter of those people were saved, now that I think back on it.

Eventually we managed to get into the building, myself, Sam, and our other fellow Greek student managing to fight our way through the crowds. I took more interest in watching the faces of the people passing...all kinds of people, some I knew, most I didn't. Somewhere in front of us one of the louder-mouthed 'youth group' guys was openly flirting with a young woman that had come with him, informing her of his past dates, how some of them hadn't measured up, how he enjoyed the company of 'pretty girls' better than 'others,' etc. I growled inwardly. Sad, sorry, stupid fool.
Somehow we made it to the top of the massive Time Warner Arena, one of the greatest structures in the massive web of Charlotte and already I could hear what sounded like Newsboys warming up.
"I just hope Fireflight plays a few good ones...'Unbreakable.'" Same commented idly, and I nodded. I didn't know the song well myself (which I've hugely corrected since then, all this morning actually), but it had sounded pretty good. He laughed.
"Yeah, Third Day and Tenth Avenue I can pass up." I chuckled with him. Sam was a rocker, no doubt about that. He wasn't much for softer contemporary music.
I laughed. "I'm up for seeing them all, I've never been to Winterjam before..."
"Here, they're starting!" Our other friend called out, his blonde head seen from across any crowd. A massive guy, his name was Randy, another student I studied with and whom I knew honestly and seriously sought after God, a good guy...despite his poor choice of a 'youth group.'
Its not rare knowledge that I have no taste for heights. I can take them, sure, and I've no objection to sitting at the top of the just may take me a little longer to get UP there than most. The stage was far below us as we emerged out into the massive dome, the people appearing like classic Lego figures in the crowds below. I gripped the railing tightly on the way up, my face still grim looking despite my excitement.
Just make it to the blasted seat...
Naturally we're at the very, absolute top.
I have to admit I was disappointed in Fireflight. Sam and myself had gone to get him a drink, his usual constantly bubbling energy apparently finally running out...time for a soda and sugar boost. We were halfway through the line before the lights flashed, "Next:Fireflight." We made a sprint around the outside halls of the dome and back to our seats, just as the classic song started up and the singer(forget her name) lit up the night...Unbreakable.
They were on the stage less than ten minutes, three songs total. All three of us, our own little unofficial 'youth group' in ourselves, grumbled and sighed. Three? Was that all?
I believe it was Newsong that went up next, all four of their singers bringing down the house with their contemporary worship songs. We all sang with them, the familiar, old school music praises to the Lord filling the dark arena.
A brief speaker came up after them, and presented a fairly decent Gospel presentation then, hoping to reach a few souls that night...I hope he did. Some of them seemed to need it. At the end of his half hour speech, he ended in a classic 'pray after me to get saved' moment, and when perhaps a couple hundred people stood up, claiming to have prayed his prayer of salvation, a cheer went up. We clapped half-heartedly...I hope he did save a few that night, even if just a few...
Next up as the all-time Christian Rock/Contemp masters and giants, the one and only Newsboys. They, as usual, absolutely brought down the house! I think I sat there in shock for a moment when Tate from DC Talk, the new singer, burst out in a new remix of their old favorite of mine, "He Reigns." I don't believe any of us three saw THAT coming! Incredible.
Tenth Avenue came up and played five or six great praise songs, their softer, more worshipful music more heartfelt. They even played one brand-new, just finished song that they claimed wasn't even going to be released on the public albums until later this year...a debut of a new Tenth Avenue song! It also was'll find out later, when you get to hear it. I won't spoil it for you.
And finally, naturally, the one and only Third Day came up, and I have to say, I liked them the most. For almost a full hour they played everything from heavy rock songs to their old school worship pieces, and took the time more than any other band to explain the godly meanings of each song, what each meant, even a small speech by the singer(again I don't know the actual name of the man) about reaching the lost.
By the time they, the last band, finished, the stadium was half empty. Thankfully one more stroke of blessing turned up, the three of us wouldn't have to ride back home with a van full of idiots, guy and girl, who had nothing better talk about but themselves. Another friend we had run into there offered to take us three home, which we gladly took him up on.
It was a great evening, and I don't regret it, but it did show me a few things...things I needed to see. And naturally, was some absolutely killing good music for the night!

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