On Friday afternoon I exchanged the flat farmland of the South Plains for the scrubby, rolling oilfields of the Permian Basin in order to attend a Christian rock festival in Midland. It beat staying at home, but events conspired to cause me a lot of frustration as well. I arrived at Beal Park on the outskirts of town at around seven o'clock, a few hours after the beginning of the concert, and cruised around looking vainly for a parking space. People were even parked in empty lots, and it was in one of these that I finally I found a slot, nestled between two church vans--the space was apparently left empty because of some bushes growing there. In one of my less noble moments, I gave in to my fatigue and, environmentalism be damned, squashed the shrubs as I rolled into the spot. But Gaia would not be mocked. When I stepped out of the car I saw that these bushes were spiked with thorns two to three inches long. I cursed inwardly and scrutinized the tires for puncture wounds. I didn't see any at the time, but the next morning I went out to the car to get my camera and, sure enough, the front left tire was flabby. Fortunately it had enough air to get me (slowly) to a nearby Exxon, where three concertgoers were already getting their tires repaired for the same reason.
Getting back to Friday evening: after fretting over the prickly mesquite bushes for a few minutes I grabbed my camp gear and walked to the park, a large treeless field with an impressive sound stage at the east end, a colorful village of camping tents at the west end, and a row of big pavilion tents for vendors and organizations on the south end. The sky was overcast and a high wind whipped grit into my eyes. An announcement boomed from the sound stage: "A severe storm is heading this way in 10 minutes. Please find shelter immediately. Tonight's concert is canceled." I scurried to the camping area and set up my tent in a panic, expecting a thunderstorm to roll through at any moment. But despite repeated warnings over the next couple of hours, the threatened storm never materialized. As on the first night of my Taos trip, I spent a long evening in my tent with nothing to do. And I didn't get much sleep either because the rambunctious whippersnappers in the camping area just wouldn't bed down at a decent hour, including the four teenage guys who decided to set up camp right behind me and hit on girls until 3 a.m.
The music resumed late the next morning. After getting back from the Exxon station and using one of the long line of port-a-johns, I set up my camp chair at a distance from the stage, with hundreds of other older folk and young children doing likewise, while the teens crowded together up front. I had my Žižek book to while away the time in between sets or during boring acts. I didn't see too much "Jesus junk", i.e. evangelical kitsch, except for T-shirts with slogans like "Yahweh or the Highway," "Satan is a Nerd," and "Body Piercing Saved My Life."
The sun was set on Broil and I sweated in a slow burn, although that finally changed at around seven o'clock in the evening when, yes, a bank of black clouds drifted towards the stage. But no announcement was forthcoming--perhaps the previous night's mistake had made the organizers wary of giving false alarms. Despite this, when the wind picked up I folded up my chair and walked back to the camping area. I was just getting into my tent when I heard distant screams coming from the stage area, and a couple of seconds later a tidal wave of wind crashed into my tent. The walls rippled violently but I had pounded the pegs flush into the ground with a rubber mallet and so the tent remained firmly anchored. A downpour followed the burst of wind and drummed loudly on the taut nylon. Thousands of teenage girls screamed with (probably gleeful) fright. Through my air vent I saw the crowd packed tightly under the pavilions.
I settled in, enjoying the feeling of being cozy and dry with just a few square feet of fabric separating me from a West Texas storm, and read The Interior Castle until the weather cleared. I then decided to stretch my legs. While chomping on a sno-cone I drifted to the stage. I was surprised to see a message on the jumbotron stating that "The concert will resume. We're setting up the stage right now. Pray that God's will be done." After a long wait the performance continued with a poem, a sermon (which the kids ignored), a trailer for Mel Gibson's Passion (introduced by Mad Max himself), and finally an hour-long set by someone named Toby Mac.
The music wasn't anything special, but I sorta liked Superchick, who played sprightly pop ska, and Toby Mac, who fronted a talented ensemble of musicians pumping out a rap/r&B/pop/metal melange often based on the rhythm tracks of old school classics (Sugarhill Gang, Chic, etc.) which the kids in the audience probably didn't recognize. I don't know if it was deliberate, but the program included a wide variety of genres--besides the aforementioned, there was T-Bone, a west-coast style rapper, Salvador, who did Latin flavored rock, Justifide, a clone of Rage Against the Machine, and a classic-rock band who did a very convincing imitation of AC/DC. Christian rock is handicapped, though, by the fact that the set of devout believers and the set of musically talented people are both small, and it stands to reason that the intersection of the two would be even smaller. (Although it might be argued that churchgoers have an advantage, in that they get an informal education in popular music by singing hymns every Sunday, and certainly the black church has been an effective school for the training of r&b artists.) I think secular rock remains more innovative and compelling, although CCM has come a long way from the days of Sandy Patti and Amy Grant (sorry Khads). I love Van Morrison and early U2, but although they are Christian rock artists, they aren't Christian rock artists, if you get my drift.*
*I recently found out that Michael Omartian, one of the many hotshot studio musicians hired by Steely Dan in the late 1970s, has a double life as a Christian rock musician. I might want to give him a try. I also haven't gotten around to investigating the albums of Dylan's Christian period.