(and a visit with Rick Florian)
Cowles Center, Simpson College, Indianola, IA
Saturday, April 29, 1995
The weekend was a special event for the United Methodist Church in Iowa as they celebrated their first (annual?) Christ Alive In '95. Pastor Steve Peters of Ankeny UMC tells me the event, which was a weekend long service/ministry effort, was an attempt to put mission work together with ministry. A couple thousand youths from across Iowa got together in Des Moines to either work at mission sites or tour various mission sites and workshops for education and inspiration, or both. Even though there was rain most of the weekend, Pastor Peters says reports from the field indicate it was a successful effort. The weekend finale in Indianola (about 12 miles south of Des Moines) was a festival featuring Whiteheart, and special guests the Bishops and humorist Duffy Robbins. Notice the spelling of Whiteheart. I was one of those (including Whiteheart themselves) who was using "White Heart", with two words, but with the release of their new album, "Inside" this August 15th, and their new relationship with Curb Records; the official spelling is Whiteheart. I'm told this is the way it was in the beginning, but got mysteriously changed over the years.
It's hard to believe it's only been slightly more than a year that I first met Rick Florian, at my first Highlands show. I guess it's that feeling that I bet most of us get when we listen to and enjoy the music ministry of our favorite groups and artists. I'm so moved by their message, I feel like I know them, personally. I've really only been a Whiteheart fan since "Freedom", but they are without a doubt, my absolute favorite rock band (Christian *or* secular). We (my wife Diane, daughters Britta and Jessie, and family friend Sarah Crawford) got to Simpson College early Saturday, so we could visit with Rick, and hear some of the new album. When Rick had told me before, the new album was raw, even more so than "Freedom", I couldn't image the new sound until hearing it. The title song, "Inside", ROCKS! There's really no other way to put it. It has a really fat, heavy rhythm track, and it's clear that Ken Scott (their new producer) and Whiteheart intend to push into a new level of sound. "Even The Hardest Heart" (which will probably be the first single released) is a ballad, but not quite the same as any Whiteheart ballad. First of all, it was the first with just acoustic guitars and a little percussion (no drums). The vocals are all Rick, and again the "new sound" (indescribable as it is) is prevalent. I heard just enough of the new album to cause an incredible anticipation for it's release, even more so than before the release of Highlands. Of course, that anticipation was heightened upon learning the release date was moved back from June to August 15th. Rick didn't seem to be too excited about that either, especially where booking the fall tour promoting the new album is concerned. Actually we spent most of our time (as usual) talking about computers and the Internet. Jon Knox, who just bought a Performa 6115 PPC, and was anxious to get started on-line, joined in. While we were hanging out, Margaret Vitalis (fellow r.m.c.-er) and her friend, showed up to help discuss the official FAQ, which is pretty close to being done. All to soon, it was time for sound check, so on to the concert...
The doors opened ten minutes late, which was a real drag for those waiting in the rain, but most didn't seem to mind. We got in early. The gymnasium filled up fast, well half-filled anyway. I got an unofficial count of 1100 people (capacity of 3000). Everybody then quickly got into the obligatory pre-concert festivities, which included punching around a huge beachball, sailing 10 ft long "Tubealloons" (tube shaped balloons). There was also a brief, but lively round of hopscotch in a crowd that had a pretty young average age. At one point, the beachball got a little to close to the stage, and security became unpopular by protecting the equipment (They caught the ball, and kept it). At 7:40, Andrea and Tom Bishop, came on as Emcees for a warm-up with some praise songs for about 20 minutes. The Bishops are local UMC co-pastors at Jubilee Ministries in Waterloo, Iowa.
Promptly at 8:00, the lights and music took on a familiar tone. (This was my third time to see the Highlands Tour.) The stage, looking like a Scottish castle, took on a little more atmosphere as the music seemed to evoke images of a time long ago. It rose in intensity until the burst of lights and synth announced "You can see the world from here". And Whiteheart came out rocking. The first thing I noticed was the same as the first time I saw this tour - the rhythm section. The first time I saw the Highlands tour, the most noticeable thing was that Anthony Sallee was no longer playing bass. The temporary replacement was John Thorn. At that time, I wasn't too sure about the change, but now listening to the new Whiteheart (John being the new official bass player), and especially after hearing part of the new album, the rhythm section ROCKS! After a few minor fixes at the beginning to sound problems with Bryan's guitar wireless system (which I'm sure most didn't even notice), they sounded awesome. The walkway out from the stage added a nice touch, and the audience loved being touching distance to Rick. As a matter of fact, Rick shared after the concert that some audiences got a little too excited (use your imagination). Some of the highlights of the concert included a guitar/vocal dual between Rick and Bryan at the beginning of "Change The Way"; Rick's unintentional "mosh" into the crowd from the walkway; John's drum solo leading into "Nothing But The Best" (part of which was performed perched atop the drum throne) complete with multi-directional laser strobes; Rick teetering from the stage retaining wall and from the drum riser; Brian's blazing guitar solo (part of which was played with his teeth); Mark's vocal ad-lib during "Morningstar" beckoning, "Does anyone out there need Jesus?"; and the bagpipe player (like on the cover) appearing during "Heaven Of My Heart". Other highlights included testimonies by the band as to what they're all about; Mark's reference to the "empty tomb" and the salvation it implies; Billy's desire for our prayers as they venture into a new relationship with a secular mainstream record company while remaining faithful to Christ's call to ministry; and Rick's description of a God who remains faithful even through our pride and offers freedom to those who will accept His invitation. At that point, Rick directed those who, in fact, accepted that invitation by raising their hands to join some counselors at the back of the gym for a time of heart sharing. I must be honest and admit that we go to Christian concerts, not as Christians in need of ministering (although it turns out to be the case some of the time), but as Christians seeking God-fearing entertainment. However, as I watched two young girls make their way to the back of the gym, one with her arm around the other who was crying, I realized again, this is what it's all about. It's all about praising God, and "one beggar showing another where to find food".
They played two sets that lasted almost an hour each. In between the sets we heard from humorist Duffy Robbins. Our friend Sarah tells me he was at the DC/LA True Love Waits event last summer. Robbins, who is Chairman of the Department of Youth Ministry at Eastern College in St. David's, PA., gave us a strong and often funny message with a three part theme - 1) God has a Plan, 2) Man has a problem, 3) The choice is up to you. He also made it clear that if you want to understand God's plan, you have to look to Jesus, who was God's plan in the flesh. It was an effective message.
The crowd was not the most enthusiastic (especially for the encore), but considering a majority were there for the youth gathering, and not specifically to see Whiteheart (although some, like us, were there only to see Whiteheart), they were very receptive and appreciative. As matter of fact, I'd venture to say that there were a lot of new Whiteheart fans that night. The only down side of the whole evening was when my wife got busted for taking pictures. The security claimed there were adequate signs posted banning cameras (which there were none), and also claimed that it was a Whiteheart thing (which we figured was not true and found out later it was in fact not true). It was cool though, she got some pictures, and our little friend Sarah, who was on the front line the whole concert, got tons of pictures. After the concert, Kevin Mills (former bass player for the Newsboys, and now road manager for Whiteheart) came up to the merchandise table to escort all members of the Whiteheart fan club backstage to meet the band. Only our little group went to visit. Having been previously in the music business for 15 years (albeit secular) and experiencing some of the stresses of road life and concerts, I was (once again) impressed with the cordial way we were treated by all. Thanks again, Whiteheart, for another awesome evening!
Whiteheart's Set List-- Albums represented- Don't Wait For The Movie (1986 Sparrow) - (DWM) Freedom (1989 Sparrow) - (F) Power House (1990 Star Song) - (PH) Tales Of Wonder (1992 Star Song) - (TW) Highlands (1993 Star Song) - (H) Nothing But The Best - Radio Classics (1994 Star Song) - (NBRD) First Set You Can See The World (H) His Heart Was Always In It (TW) Change The Way (H) Powerhouse (PH) The Flame Passes On (H) Let The Kingdom Come (F) Nothing But The Best (H) Power Tools (F) Bye Bye Babylon (F) Second Set How Many Times (Seventy Times Seven) (DWM) Morningstar (NBRD) (and also briefly on TW) Desert Rose (PH) Heaven Of My Heart (H) The Cry (H) Independence Day (PH) Encore Sing Your Freedom (F)
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