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Photo by John DiBiase

Audio Unplugged, Hawk Nelson, Joyce Meyer, Worth Dying For, BarlowGirl, Disciple, LeCrae, Fee, Esterlyn, Michelle Bonilla
6/25/09, Mt. Union, PA at the Agape Farm

Staying at a hotel for Creation Fest East definitely has its perks. Besides rain being a threat for the outdoor fest (and this has been a particularly rainy Summer in Pennsylvania), anyone camping within earshot of the Main Stage will get a wake-up call of soundchecking somewhere around 8AM most likely (I remember from past experiences). With a hotel stay, you can more or less pick what time you'd like to get there depending on who you want to see (or, also in my case, how late I was up the night before doing work and how little sleep I then had as a result).

We arrived somewhere around 1PM to catch some of Michelle Bonilla's Main Stage set. Her energetic R&B, pop, and gospel flavor worked well to get the day started for Creation. The first full day of Creation Fest is also the first day the Fringe stage opens up for the festival goers. This year, "National Talent Search" winners opened each day at the Fringe Stage, starting with The Proxy on Thursday. Because of our late nights and staying off campus, we missed each of these acts. While Bonilla was pumping up the Main Stage crowd with her entourage, local PA indie pop rock act Reilly was performing at the same time. About midway through Bonilla's set, we head over to Fringe to catch indie pop rock band Esterlyn performing cuts from their debut album, Lamps. And in true thematic fashion, the guys has several lamps displayed all over the stage for added effect (I have to admit, as corny as it may sound, it was a nice touch).

Because of the two central stages -- Fringe and Main -- the sets overlap quite often. At 2PM, Lecrae, accompanied by Flame, Trip Lee, and others, brought their own hip hop/rap game to the Fringe while worship leader Steve Fee and his accompanying band, otherwise altogether known as Fee, were offering your usual modern worship set at the Main Stage. We caught a little bit of both before seeking out some lunch before the vendors would be closed down for the daily 3PM "Breakout Seminars" across the Creation campus. Speakers like Preston Centuolo, Keith Elias, Margaret Feinberg, Jeremy Kingsley, and Duffy Robbins were spread out across multiple locations on Agape Farm, with messages ranging from "S-E-X in the N-F-L" from Elias to "How to Make Straight Choices in a Crooked World" from Robbins.

The Main Stage remains closed (with soundchecks during the downtime) each day from the time the seminars begin until around 5:30 when the Welcome & Announcements begin for the evening festivities. However, Fringe picks back up at 4PM, and the pop punk outfit Stellar Kart was performing first to kick off the remainder of the day. We caught part of their set before the 5PM performance of Disciple, and SK performed many of their fan favorites including "Innocent," "Me and Jesus," and "Activate." This was apparently the last show for the band's longtime guitarist Cody Pellerin, who has since this show officially left the band. Sadly, for fans, there wasn't much publicizing about his leaving, and since we hadn't seen their whole set, I'm not sure that was even announced. It reminded me of how, at my first Creation in 1998, I saw Grammatrain perform on Fringe for what was supposed to be their bassist Dalton Roraback's final performance with the band. It was a tearful show for Roraback, so I can understand why not all bands would make such an announcement at their shows each time a member exits.

While Disciple was hitting the stage at 5PM at Fringe (which ended up starting a little late), the Barlow sisters were scheduled for a 5:40PM start on Main. Disciple opened their raucous set with "Game On" and continued into "Whisper So Loud." These guys have always put on engaging hard rock shows and today was no different. Before starting the next track, "Rise Up," lead vocalist Kevin Young candidly paused to admit that he had tried to think up something to say if there had been technical difficulties and he'd need to stall. He then felt the need to tell how he had just experienced the worst case of diarrhea in his life a few days prior, going on into some details even. It was an awkwardly funny moment, but a strange one as well. Following "Rise Up," the band performed the new radio hit "3-2-1," and then the title track from their previous album, "Scars Remain." "Romance Me" was next, complete with an impressive back flip from the acrobatic former Falling Up guitarist, Micah Sannan. As we left Fringe to make our way over to Main, we could hear the guys launching into the sweet sounds of the title track from their most recent release, "Southern Hospitality."

It was a stark contrast to make it to the Main Stage while BarlowGirl was deep into their signature ballad "Never Alone" after just having left a metal set. The emotional set interlude continued with "I Need You To Love Me" and a worshipful segment with "I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever." Alyssa Barlow shared a bit from her heart before performing a brand new song, "Beautiful Ending," and then the girls spoke on doing ministry and the importance of not losing your first love when getting too engrossed in its work ethic. Lauren Barlow, who provides drums and additional vocals for the trio, stepped out from behind the kit to offer an encouraging word to the ladies in the audience, and a fill-in drummer stepped in for her as she lead the band with lead vocals for "Average Girl." The sisters then closed their set with the rocking anthem, "Million Voices."

After BarlowGirl, the Integrity Music rock worship band Worth Dying For served as the warm-up act for the evening's headlining speaker. Their brand of rock worship isn't everybody's cup of tea (and will certainly feel too youthful for some), but they got the job done preparing the hearts of the fest-goers for Joyce Meyer's talk entitled "God's Passion." It was surreal seeing such a high profile speaker as Meyer on stage at Creation Fest. She talked a lot about poverty and the Christian's responsibility to help the less fortunate. It was a sobering but encouraging message.

Around 8:50PM, the first headlining act, BEC Recodings pop/punk rock band Hawk Nelson took the stage. It was cool seeing them graduate from the Fringe Stage in 2007 (again, we weren't at Creation 2008, if they were there) to a co-headlining spot two years later. The foursome have learned how to put on a solid energetic and entertaining set, so it was great to see them in such a featured time slot. As they attempted to open their set with "Bring 'Em Out," it was quickly apparent that frontman Jason Dunn's microphone wasn't working at all. Dunn handled the embarrassing moment extremely well, however, and after festival techs ran a replacement mic out to him which ALSO didn't work, he pretended to flip it upside down as if it were his own incompetence causing the technical difficulties, and jokingly flipped it back and shrugged. Finally, Dunn dashed over to bassist Daniel Biro's microphone in time to finish the song. With things in working order, and a lead microphone that now actually worked, Hawk proceeded forward with "The One Thing I Have Left," "Is Forever Enough," and "The Show." The band then broke out the title track from the debut album, Letters To The President, with Dunn pausing afterwards to revel in the awesomeness of God and give a tribute to our Creator. They then played "Everything You Ever Wanted" before Dunn paused again to talk about how much we tend to take Jesus for granted. The worship song "Majesty" followed, along with a brand new song from their upcoming release Live Life Loud, entitled "Meaning Of Life." "You Have What I Need" from their current album, Hawk Nelson Is My Friend, was next, and then the hit single "Friend Like That." Jason hopped down from the stage and leaned over the barrier into the audience to sing along with the fans. He then returned to the stage for "California," followed by "Let's Dance." To close out their standout performance, they debuted the title track from their upcoming album, Live Life Loud, which offered a classic Hawk pop punk sound, and then left the stage.

To close out the evening, sixstepsrecords recording artist and worship song author extraordinaire, Chris Tomlin offered a set full of some of worship music's most familiar praise anthems. With a full band in support, Tomlin performed many of his staples, including "Jesus Messiah" from his latest album, Hello Love, and even a cover of the Christmas favorite "Come Let Us Adore Him" (in June?!) to help prepare fans for his upcoming holiday album, Glory In The Highest: Christmas Songs Of Worship. There were many worship acts throughout the week, but the biggest problem with most of them was that their sound was often too similar across the board, allowing most of them to just seem too alike and run together. Even when acts like Worth Dying For attempt to change things up a bit, it ultimately just feels like more of the same. We didn't stick around for all of Tomlin's set, but instead took the opportunity to peruse the merch areas and rest up a bit before what was probably our most anticipated event of the evening. Even before Tomlin's grand finish, we made our way to the "Acoustic Cafe" tent (AKA the worship tent or the childrens tent) for "Audio Unplugged," or otherwise known as "AA Talks." AA Talks is the traveling speaking engagement/performance from former Audio Adrenaline members Mark Stuart (vocals) and Will McGinniss (bass). AA Talks features McGinniss and Stuart speaking about their time in Audio Adrenaline and their trials, triumphs, failures, and accomplishments in a very open and honest way. Their set also mixes in the performance of some classic Audio A songs as well as some familiar worship tunes.

The Acoustic Cafe, which I'm not sure I've ever experienced before, offered reasonably priced refreshments like donuts and fresh coffee for only 50 cents a cup (provided by the delicious Land of a 1000 Hills Coffee). It was a great way to close out our evening, even though we were pretty tired by this point in the night. However, staying up to see AA Talks at midnight was easily one of the highlights of the entire week. While Audio Adrenaline might remain as at the top of my list as my all-time favorite artist, I found the honesty and heart-to-heart realness that these guys presented was encouraging and refreshing. It's the kind of barrier breaking that makes the worship time by the end of their presentation all that more intimate as you worship together. Stuart and McGinniss weren't alone on stage. They brought with them former Seven Day Jesus vocalist/guitarist Brian McSweeney, as well as an additional guitarist and vocalist and a drummer. For an "unplugged" show, the band was altogether plugged in, just approaching everything from a much more laid-back position, with everyone seated on stools the entire time. A slide projector off to the side of the stage displayed photos of Audio Adrenaline from throughout their career as well as from even before it. Audio Unplugged opened right away with "Get Down" and then, surprisingly, "Never Gonna Be As Big As Jesus," before Will and Mark began sharing stories about their beginnings. They then played the song that put their band on the map, "Big House," and shared about the pain and struggles they were going through while on the road that people never realized they may have been going through. At this point, the guys weren't being very descriptive about what some of these struggles were, but Stuart's admittance to feeling broken so often when they would be performing became a segue into the song "Ocean Floor." Afterwards, Stuart opened up very honestly about the erosion of his longtime marriage and how he had fought for it but had lost the battle in the end. He shared a beautiful story about how God used one of the Audio Adrenaline's own songs, that he had previously written for a friend years earlier who was suffering through a failed marriage, to encourage him. He felt he finally knew what fans felt when one of Audio A's songs had ministered to them. This lead into the performance of that song, "Good Life," and then the Matt Redman worship song "You Never Let Go." The guys began talking about missions and performed "Hands and Feet," then took the time to share some great stories about their Hands and Feet Project orphanage in Haiti. It was wonderful to hear about the incredible work the ministry has been doing straight from the mouths of the very guys who started it. And after a few emotional tales, they closed with one last worship song.

When all was said and done, it was after 1AM, and pouring rain outside. We tried to wait out the storm a bit but had to make a break for the car (which wasn't short enough of a walk unfortunately) while it was still raining pretty heavily. We couldn't imagine camping there on that night, that's for sure. By the time we found food on the way back to the hotel and then got back to our room, we were ready for a much needed night's sleep.

On to Friday... (review and gallery coming soon!)

-- John DiBiase, 7/11/09


Creation 2009: Thursday Photo Gallery
click on an image for a bigger size
**vertical images cropped for thumbnails**

Michelle Bonilla -- 1:00pm Main Stage

Esterlyn -- 1:00pm Fringe Stage

Lecrae, Flame, Trip Lee, etc... -- 2:00pm Fringe Stage

FEE -- 2:00pm Main Stage

Stellar Kart -- 4:00pm Fringe Stage

Disciple -- 5:00pm Fringe Stage

BarlowGirl -- 5:40pm Main Stage

Worth Dying For -- 6:35pm Main Stage

Joyce Meyer -- 7:10pm Main Stage

Hawk Nelson -- 8:50pm Main Stage

Chris Tomlin -- 10:45pm Main Stage

Audio Unplugged -- 12:00am Acoustic Cafe

*all photos by John DiBiase and are the property of

Creation 2009 Review: MAIN | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday


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