Several days ago, we got an invite to a Nichole Nordeman/Casting Crowns concert from some friends in our small group whom we have been wanting to get to know better. Jim & Misty have followed Nichole Nordeman since she first started out, and they were excited about the concert. Neither Jennifer or I had even heard of her, but we thought it would be a good opportunity to spend some "kidless" time with our friends and get to know them better. Also, I've heard Casting Crowns and liked them a lot, so I figured we would enjoy the concert too. At first, it looked like it wasn't going to work out, but at the last minute, all the stars lined up and plans were made. Misty was going to meet Jenn and I at the downtown train station and take it to Dallas where Jim would pick us up since he works in Dallas, and we'd have dinner before the concert. However, due to some "directional uncertainties" and unexpected construction, we arrived at the train station in time to rush towards the train as it was pulling away. ARGH! Misty had gotten on the train thinking maybe we were waiting for her on the train. We got in the van and started driving to Dallas and phoned Misty and told her we'd just meet her in Dallas. So, we got directions from Jim to the restaurant and met them at Ninfa's, which had some pretty good Mexican food! We had a great dinner - good food, great conversation, and then piled in to their vehicle and went to Reunion Arena.
The seats were relatively close, on the risers at the bottom, and we arrived just in time for Nichole Nordeman's first song. She was at the piano and had a drummer, stand-up bass player, and guitarist/back-up vocalist. She talked in between each song, and I really enjoyed her honesty and message. I thought she had a very "relevant" sound with regard to the contemporary pop-ballad style. Music was great, lyrics were very deep and powerful, and the back-up vocalist had an incredible voice and talent. Some heavy songs and some good uplifting songs as well. I enjoyed her music and wanted to hear some more and take some time to pore over her lyrics....we bought her "Brave" CD today.
It was so fun to watch these professional musicians performing up there on stage in front of 20,000+ people. I haven't been to a concert in quite a few years, so when it comes to live bands, I'm still accustomed to the sound of the worship band I played/sang in at Grace Church in Wichita Falls. There are some very talented musicians in that band, who perform regularly with other cover bands every weekend, but really, they're probably still on an amateur level. Because of this, I was just in awe, listening to this concert with such high quality, professional musicians. I could easily pick apart each instrument and was impressed with their talent level. I knew very quickly I was going to enjoy the evening. After several songs, the stage lights go out and they start changing sets, getting ready for the main band, Casting Crowns.
Knowing that Casting Crowns had just won a grammy a few nights before, I was anticipating quite a treat! From the very first song, I just didn't think it could get any better. They can really rock! As the night went on, song after song, the lead singer, Mark Hill, talked a lot about the band and how they are the youth worship band at their church FIRST and then a touring band SECOND. Every single Wednesday night, even while on tour, they lead worship for the youth group at their church in Atlanta. How cool is that?! He is actually the youth pastor there. Minute by minute, I loved them more and more! After the intermission, I wondered how they were going to top the first set. They started out with a very powerful song - "Set Me Free" - that was so moving; musically, spiritually, and visually. They had 3 large video screens behind them that always had graphics/video playing that was very fitting to the songs they were singing. They also had all sorts of colored spotlights all over the place that they used to put on a cool and very effective light show during the songs. I was so "in" to it after "Set Me Free", and then Mark Hill starts talking about this little girl the band met a few years ago whom they stayed in touch with. She came down with cancer and ended up losing the battle. Through the ordeal, the band had grown close to the parents of the little girl and saw how faithful they had been through the "storm" of their precious little girl's illness. The band wrote a song for this girl and her parents titled "Praise You In This Storm". This song was so touching and heartfelt...very powerful. Especially since I've had some big struggles in the past, and still to some extent, of having a circumstantial faith...when the storms come, I don't always praise or remain faithful to God, and in light of this little girl and her parents, my storms have been nothing in comparison. After this song, I was literally beside myself, hardly believing I could be experiencing something as incredible as this. I've been to quite a few concerts and conferences with live music similar to this, but I have never experienced anything like this concert. I highly recommend them to everyone! The music is rockin' and fun and powerful and moving and uplifting and their message is very real and relevant to today's culture, regardless of age, gender, or religious affiliation. Mark Hill believes as a youth leader you have to earn the trust of the youth by letting them know that you have struggles everyday just like them. He has dyslexia and ADD...which he said means 2 things: he can't read good....and he doesn't care. HA! Anyway, it was a very "real" and worshipful experience.
At the end of the concert, he was introducing the band, and we got a little treat from the drummer. He was so fun to watch because he was so energetic with his playing style - slinging his arms all over the place while bouncing his head up and down enthusiastically with the rhythm. After being introduced, he proceeded to give us about a 5 minute drum solo - one of the coolest things I have ever seen!! After he finally ended his solo, Mark Hill says "Some people take pills, this guy plays the drums." HA! It was pretty funny. Anyway, they played one last song and then left the stage. Of course the crowd was going nuts, so they came back for an encore. What an awesome concert! Here's something funny - at the beginning of one song, he asked us all, sort of tongue-in-cheek, to hold up our lighters if anyone had one. After chuckling for a few seconds, what followed literally made my jaw drop. Thousands and thousands of people opened their cell phones and held them up with the backlight display lit up!! I mean, I know most people own a cell phone, but this was truly a remarkable sight. Mostly because of how many young teenagers I saw holding up cell phones. It was really something cool to see!
After the concert, Jim & Misty took us to our van at the restaurant and we stayed and chatted for a good 30 minutes before leaving. Jim and I have a lot of similarities and so do Misty and Jennifer, so we're excited about the budding friendship and we look forward to hanging out with them again soon! I will close this long post now, but not without urging you strongly to check out Casting Crowns! You can go to the following website to download 30-second samples of their songs - http://www.castingcrowns.com/. Just click on Music, choose either album, and then click on "Audio" by a song title and you can hear a little bit of Casting Crowns.