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Festival of Faith & Music, Part II: The Deets

Posted by Maureen Monday, April 02, 2007

*Sigh*...here we go. What a weekend! It is certainly impossible for me to summarize all the good thoughts and depths of insight I gleaned from the music and the teachings at the Calvin College Festival of Faith & Music. Nonetheless, I'll show you a few pictures from the concerts and describe some exceptional moments.

Friday: Anathallo & Sufjan Stevens
If you haven't listened to Anathallo, take a moment to look up their latest album, "Floating World." They are an 8-piece band who were accompanied by a brass section from Central Michigan University. They are great story-tellers and create a remarkable musical depth in their melodies and potpourri of instruments and voices. Not to mention, they are kinetic and captivating performers.Superman flying over head during "Dear Mr. Supercomputer." About 50 inflatable supermen were thrown from the stage or dropped from the rafters, before which Sufjan "strongly encouraged" us to "keep him afloat." Later, a similar feat occured with Santa Claus, while they played "That was the worst Christmas ever."

I have seen Sufjan Stevens once before, and the two times I've now seen him are both in my list of finest concerts I've ever experienced. At Calvin, we had some serious advantages in that we were in Michigan (Say Yes! to Michigan!), the show was being filmed for a potential live DVD, and was attended by many of the band's friends and family. So the energy was at an all-time high, the set list worth weeping over, and the inflatable supermen and santa claus' falling from the ceiling in abundance. Additionally, Sufjan's usually succinct explanations of song meanings were given much more detail and liberty which made laughter abound. The experience musically and visually was inspiring and blissful.

Saturday: Neko Case & Emmylou Harris
About two months ago, Neko Case hooked me with her powerful vocals, epic lyrics and indescribable sound (I sound like a reviewer), so I was really anticipating the live show. Her album makes it sound as if she would be totally high energy, going crazy in order to sing like that. Instead, she mostly just stood there and sang some songs, switched guitars a lot, and let her backup vocalist do most of the talking. Anticlimactic, but still good music. More importantly, Emmylou Harris was breathtaking in every way. Not only because her voice sounds like heaven, (Ted Danson..anyone?) but also because she is such a legend. Even if her voice had deteriorated (like Dylan's), it would still prevail just because she's Emmylou. But her voice was young and crystal clear. While I didn't know most of the songs, I sat in awe and soaked up every note. Likewise, her band was wonderful with a cowboy of a bass player, guitarist/vocalist, and percussionist/mandolinist/harmonicaist/vocalist (who bounced and wore a bright purple business suit). What an experience.Whether or not you can see it in this photo, you better believe that she was wearing silver metallic cowboy boots.

Regarding those events that were not concerts, my highlights include a lecture by Sufjan Stevens and a workshop by Steve Stockman, both noted in my previous post. Much of the speakers focused on the dichotomy of sacred and secular that needs to be diffused in our culture and especially in our faith. Sufjan noted that he doesn't deem himself a "musician" or a "Christian," but rather hopes that based on what he does in vocation and life, others would refer to him in that way. He spoke about how he knows that the inspiration or movement people receive from his music is not out of his own doing, considering he is a self-proclaimed awkward individual. Had I read this statement in a magazine, I probably would have scoffed and thought, "Oh, he's just being humble." However, watching him speak as he read from a manuscript, looking up only once every 2 or 3 minutes and fairly inept to be giving a lecture, I knew that his statement was true. Any inspiration or beauty that I have seen from his music (which is a lot) has surely not come from the man Sufjan Stevens. That is a beautiful thing to understand.

Steve Stockman, who wrote "Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2" among other books, gave a workshop focused on the subjectivity of grace and its relation to artistry in our lives. Afterwards, I took some time off from workshops to process, and had some realizations about the role of art and grace in my life, and how art has moved me to things that I never gave it credit for. I won't go into this here, as I could write another blog post twice this long, and this one is already long enough. Nonetheless, it was highly revelatory for me and instilled in me a fresh gratitude and indebtedness to art in some specific areas of my journey.

Finally, we participated in live interviews with Neko Case and Emmylou Harris, watched a mediocre yet interesting film about Danielson, and had a lot of fun with my traveling companions from Kansas City. The weekend was more than worth it. By the end of the week, CC is meant to publish mp3s of the weekend's speakers, so I'll post a few of them here as well. Thanks for sticking it out to the end of this one. Have a great week!More pictures from the weekend here.

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