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Recap: Good Friday at Verizon April 12, 2009

Posted by markgeil in Music.
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It was a night to celebrate the most cataclysmic day in the Christian faith, and it almost did not happen. It was somehow fitting that Good Friday at Verizon, an event planned by Passion City Church to commemorate the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified, when the noonday sky grew dark and the earth shook, was thrown into turmoil by thunder, lightning, hail, and the threat of tornadoes. Ultimately, despite the weather, or perhaps alongside the weather, the event went on and was in many ways a triumph.

I’ve always wondered why Easter does not receive more notice in the Christian music world. There are Christmas albums and Christmas tours aplenty, every year, but one is hard pressed to find a single thematic CD celebrating the resurrection, the very reason for our faith. Perhaps the sentiments of the Holy Week are just too difficult to do justice. Indeed, this Good Friday event was not entirely focused on the crucifixion, and few songs spoke specifically of the events of Easter, but the themes were strong and the message was clear, and long overdue.  

Whether the draw was the Good Friday theme or the lineup, the concert sold out completely in advance, and I met several folks who drove all night – ten hour drives for some – just to see this show. That lineup included Chris Tomlin, Louie Giglio, Israel and New Breed, Matt Redman, and Christy Nockels in a free-flowing and sometimes improvised set that was both contemplative and celebratory.

I attended as a plain old regular concert-goer for the first time in a while. No backstage pass, no early entry, no other duties apart from enjoying the show. The event at Verizon Amphitheater in Alpharetta, Georgia was general admission, with about 7,000 covered seats and 4,000 on a lawn beyond the seats.  I knew rain was a possibility, so I really wanted one of those covered seats! Consequently, we planned our arrival just in time for the parking lots to open so we could line up an hour before the gates opened. Once we arrived, though, we learned amid unsettled skies that the show was delayed by two hours. Our hour in line became three hours, but the payoff was rich. A mad dash to the covered seats resulted in fantastic third row center seats. Then the storm finally came.

I don’t believe a single person at the event could have missed the significance of this weather. Dark clouds rolled in four different directions overhead. Squalls of rain followed, carried by swirling winds that carried the rain in under opposite sides of the roof, only to collide in the middle on nervous fans who did not think they’d need their umbrellas under this so-called shelter. The sound on the roof changed to the snare drum of hail as the sky grew darker still, and the water rushed under our feet like a small flood. I alternately marveled, and cheered, and thought of the best place to go if this storm did spawn a tornado.

Just in time, still fraught with symbolism, the storm passed. The skies lightened and the tarps were removed from the equipment onstage. The massive LED backdrop behind the stage came to life, and at 9:00 the show finally began.

Now, it’s not your typical rock concert that starts with a written request on a message board for… silence. The first five minutes of the show were, in fact, silent, with hearts stilled and prepared for a message from God. An event designed for noise sought to stifle the very cacophony that clutters our world in exchange for a settling of busyness, anxieties, baggage. The message board was the guide through this period of reflection, with rapid-fire, one-word-at-a-time sentences from Louie Giglio that spoke of the human condition and the divine glory in a way that anyone could understand.

Then Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, and Israel Houghton walked to three center-stage microphones, guitars in hand, and became a most beautiful trio. Redman’s guitar was the first instance of the occasional sound troubles that popped up throughout the night, and I pitied the guitar tech, what with the yo-yo atmospheric pressure with which he had to contend. I didn’t mind these little glitches; for me they made the show feel less rehearsed and a little more intimate.

I wondered what sort of tone the performers would set. A Good Friday event could be entirely somber, and that would be appropriate. Such Friday melancholy helps me appreciate Resurrection Sunday all the more. The crowd immediately learned that was not the intent for this night, as Tomlin invited Israel to turn this thing into a party. Tomlin and Houghton are touring together, and they’ve developed a comfortable interplay on stage, and their music is wonderfully complementary. Israel and New Breed did indeed get hands clapping and feet moving with a soaring rendition of “Moving Forward” from his new album, The Power of One. He added familiar favorites like “Friend of God”, with some improvisational hymn-singing carried amiably by the keyboard player. It was during the rousing “Say So” that I noticed something important. When the crowd was encouraged to put a fist in the air to let the redeemed of the Lord say so, they responded. But so did the other acts, standing just off stage. And so did the battalion of stage managers, and techs, and all the other people all clad in black who make concerts happen. They were not visible to anyone in the crowd (except maybe those sitting in third row center!) but they were part of the worship. The phenomenon occurred throughout the night. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Redman or Nockels – both such gifted singers –  step back from their microphones and visibly belt out a praise chorus for none to hear but their Maker. The microphone and the spotlight were necessities not to be craved on this night, and the practice helped focus the audience on the Audience of One.

A Tomlin set followed with old favorites (“How Great is Our God”) and new standards (“Sing, Sing, Sing”, “Jesus Messiah”). The latter ushered in a message from Giglio focused on the verse that forms the song’s first line:  “God made Him Who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Giglio’s very first thought reminded me of something I had forgotten. God did this. We did not place Jesus on the cross. The Roman centurions did not place Jesus on the cross. God did it. He did it to His only Son, in order to make a way for us to become His righteousness. God made Good Friday.

Fittingly, an encore of “Jesus Messiah” followed, along with a stirring “I Will Rise”, which would have benefitted only from live strings. (But seriously, can I ask for more than I got?) If I read the performers right, it looked like a Redman song got bumped earlier, since the delay forced a shuffling of the set list and some concern over the Alpharetta noise ordinance curfew. (Crazy partying Christians!) In this final segment, though, Tomlin found Redman and suggested he insert the new song, which of course fit perfectly. God has a way of working things out like that. I think He might have even orchestrated the delay, since the show ended at just three minutes before midnight. Good Friday is only good because of the promise of the resurrection. On the surface, the events of Good Friday are terrible, and we can only ponder that day for so long until we are desperate to move on toward Easter. So, as I walked out of the amphitheater in the first few minutes of Saturday, I smiled, thinking indeed that Sunday is on the way.

Tomlin hinted in the middle of the evening that this might become an annual event. I certainly hope so. I also hope other artists follow the lead and start their own Easter-themed shows. We can never ponder enough, or celebrate enough, what happened on the cross and in the now-empty tomb.

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Comments»

1. Brenda J. - April 12, 2009

I enjoyed your article, very nice. I had gone to the concert with a few friends, but we got so wet that we decided to leave and missed out, but hope that we will be able to try again next year.

2. Posts about good friday as of April 13, 2009 | Shirasmane - April 13, 2009

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3. Angel - April 13, 2009

I to was touched by the Good Friday concert. The first 5 minutes had me deep in thought and it only got better from there to the end of the night. Thank You Jesus for loving so much that you had rather die a horrible cruel death than live without me for eternity. To say that I Love You barely even scratches the surface of how I really feel about you.

4. Good Friday at Verizon 2010 « A Window in the World - April 12, 2010

[…] You can also take a glimpse at a recap of last year’s event here. […]


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