A Timely Light: Chains Unchained 2020

In a time when the music industry is already being rocked by changes in how people listen to music, the COVID-19 pandemic came as a near death knell. Summer festivals, once as common as flies, dwindled to near nonexistence in the summer of 2020. Those that did happen had sparse attendance and raised eyebrows.

One festival that pressed on was Chains Unchained.

While you may have heard of the festival, now in its third year, you might not have heard about the ministry. As the name implies, the Chains Unchained ministry is dedicated to breaking the chains of bondage found in our society. Whether it be homelessness, human trafficking, abuse, neglect, addiction, poverty, or any of the other things that negatively affect our community every day, the ministry works to be an avenue of help. It is dedicated to helping groups in the community that deal with families, adults, and children who have fallen through society’s cracks. Listen to the stories of the ministry leaders and you’ll hear tales of broken drug addictions, alcohol recovery, food pantries feeding the underserved, employment skills training, and restored families. 100% of all profits from the event are directly funneled back into the community groups the ministry serves.

I mention the ministry because in this time of lockdown due to the pandemic, the types of problems that the Chains Unchained ministry addresses have become greatly intensified– addictions solidified, hunger heightened, domestic abuse aggravated, and hopelessness deepened. The real and practical help that the ministry provides is needed now more than ever.

So maybe that’s why, with much prayer and supplication, the organizers pressed on with holding this indoor event in the midst of the pandemic. God closed and opened doors, moving them twice to the final venue just north of Springfield, Missouri. But in the end, it went on without (much of) a hitch.

In addition to the ministry funding, the bonus prize was that bands got paid in a season where bands are struggling to make ends meet. I applaud AudioFeed for paying bands even though that fest was cancelled; that has not been the norm this summer. As tours got cancelled, so did bands’ incomes.

Chains Unchained ran from Friday evening through Saturday night. The Protest headlined on Friday, and Disciple headlined on Saturday. The lineup featured some of the most outspoken bands with regard to living and acting out their faith in real and meaningful ways, encouraging others to do likewise.

Friday started off with FaithHead, a hard-rocking band from Tennessee.  Following them was Weapons of God, a metal band from Ohio returning from last year’s CUC. 

Next up was to be Chaotic Resemblance. Their drummer had a family emergency. Rather than cancel, they packed up the worship team from their home church and held a rocking worship service. It was not the set we expected, but it was certainly the set we needed.

The Protest ended Friday with their usual amazing performance.

Saturday’s local opener was Sacred Throne, another metal band returning from last year. Following them was Becoming Sons, another story of tragedy turned to triumph. The band is normally a five-piece group of hard rockers that hails from San Antonio, Texas. In the days leading up to the fest, one by one, different band members had life events that prevented them from coming until it was down to just the vocalist and the drummer. So we were blessed with another worship set, this time just the two of them.

The day really started heating up with Tulsa, Oklahoma based metal band XIII Minutes. The band continues to go through lineup changes, but you’d never know it as they gelled marvelously for the crowd.

Up next was Amongst the Giants, the new Rockfest Records metal band from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Normally, Blaise Rojas of Seventh Day Slumber would be pounding the skins, but since he was out with his dad’s band, ATG had the amazing Josh Seehorn stand in. But the real surprise was their fill-in bass player, Patrick Madsen. Yes, that Patrick Madsen: former drummer for Random Hero and current husband/drummer of the amazing Zahna. It was shocking to see him unbound by the constraints of a drum kit. You’d never think a drummer would have moves like that!

Keeping the pace hot was another new Rockfest band, Relent, from San Antonio, Texas. If you’ve never experienced Relent, you need to change that now.

The aforementioned Zahna came next, this time with Patrick sitting down behind the kit where he’s supposed to be. Supporting Zahna were Amongst the Giants frontmen Brian Boyd and Marco Pera, this being the second of three times we got to see Marco. Frontwoman Suzy Madsen brought her usual moving passion.

Missouri rocker family band Light Up the Darkness did a very special set.  Light Up the Darkness is led by dad Randy Meredith (guitar), sisters Sammie Brakebill (drums and clean vocals) and Shannon Graham (bass, keys, screams), and Sammie’s husband Paul (guitar). What made this night special was it was their final show ever as Light Up the Darkness. As such, they put on an incredibly passionate performance. The band has very old roots dating back to when the sisters were little girls, so for this to be their final show was very emotional. But the good news is that the two sisters are each starting new projects with their respective husbands. We got to hear preview songs from Sammie and Paul’s new band, Ink & Ember, and Shannon and Jay’s new project, World Breaker.

The final supporting band was Bred 4 War, militant in both their musical style as well as in their outspoken faith. Returning from last year’s Chains Unchained, they didn’t disappoint. They also did a great job riling up the crowd for the final headliner, Disciple.

One of the ironic things about Disciple headlining was the number of bands that, earlier in the day, had talked about how Disciple influenced them when they were kids (you know, 20 years or so ago). But based on their performance, you’d never know that Disciple had albums older than most of the attendees. Kevin Young and company are as fresh today as they were in the mid-‘90s.

Returning for a single-event live show was Andrew Staton, who recently left tour status to be a “studio-only” member of the band.  In addition, supporting regulars Kevin Young, Josiah Prince, and Joey “Skinny” West was Marco Pera, making his third appearance of the night– this time on bass and backing vocals.

And speaking of Marco, he sang the Andrew Schwab part on “Panic Room.”  I’m not going as far as saying he was better than Andrew on the part, but he killed it nonetheless.

While the crowd numbers may have been smaller, the fest was still mind-blowing, the ministry supported was unabated, and bands walked away with a paycheck. All of those things made Chains Unchained an absolute success.

This article contributed by Chad Fenner. All photography credited to Chad Fenner (Concert Fotos) and Tyler Byars.

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