The Bands That Grow With Us: A Skillet Concert Review

On August 24, I walked from my parents’ house to a college performing arts center. Skillet’s buses and semi were huddled around the back of the building, and a small crowd of concert-goers in emblazoned t-shirts clustered around the front. I checked in at will call for my pass, got my camera’s settings in place, and settled in for a night watching Skillet bring their blistering live show to East Texas.

Ten years ago, I stood in that same room to see that same band. Skillet was touring the record Comatose at the time, and it was my very first rock show. Then, I had a general admission ticket which I’d kept on display in my bedroom for months in advance so I could see it whenever I was having a bad day. When the concert day finally came, I was so excited–and nervous–I couldn’t sit down. A crowd pressed against the front of the stage. I edged into the center of it, holding to the railing, ready.

I remembered this as I scoped out the photography situation. I walked past the spot where I had staked my claim ten years earlier, smiling at the memory of how hard I had to hold on once things got rowdy.

The room dropped to black, with an introductory swell of music that had the crowd screaming. Then John Cooper’s voice boomed out over the room: “I feel, I feel it: invincible.”

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The room was instantly captivated, singing along in a roar. The band was electric. Korey Cooper seemed in constant motion, practically dancing with her guitar. Seth Morrison’s guitar work, a marriage of grungy distortion and precision, won the admiration of the metal heads in the room. And Jen Ledger carried herself with effortless grace through her vocal lines despite the sheer intensity being poured into the drum kit.

Skillet followed with “Whispers in the Dark,” a familiar tune that had older Skillet fans screaming every word. I sang along quietly as I snapped pictures, remembering singing along at the top of my lungs ten years ago, when the song was new. Two songs from concept album Rise followed, “Sick of It” and the title track. “Lions” and “Back From the Dead” bridged us back to the present before cellist Tate Olsen took the stage under a single spotlight, signaled the beginning of 2009 smash hit “Awake and Alive.”

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Around this time I was standing halfway back in the room, resetting my camera, when a mom approached me. I could see her eyes bright with tears, so I moved closer to her so I could hear her.

“Are you with the band?” she asked.

“Kind of,” I answered, a little hesitant. “I know them, a little bit.”

“They saved my daughter’s life,” she said.

I dropped my camera and gave her my full attention. “I’m so glad,” I told her.

She started to tell me, through tears, that her daughter had been planning to attempt suicide when she came across Skillet’s music. The songs met her where she was, gave her hope, lifted her out of the dark. “I just want them to know that,” the mom told me. “Could you tell them, if you ever get a chance?”

I promised her I would. I told her it mattered. I asked her daughter’s name so I could hold it with me, carry the story. She pointed her out to me, dancing and singing on the front row in a white dress.

That story was the same story I’d been living in that room ten years before. I’d been the one who had been planning suicide, who had scarred up arms and a desperate spirit, who caught and held Skillet’s music as literal whispers in the dark–whispers that maybe there was more for me. Whispers that maybe I could survive into adulthood, against all odds. And when I saw my first Skillet show, with all those songs fresh and vital in my new steps into a recovering life, I stood on the front row and screamed every word in living defiance of the dark.

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The rest of Skillet’s show continued to be infectiously passionate, touching on hits like “Hero,” “Monster” and “Rebirthing.” An acoustic performance of “Stars” centered the evening on the message of hope. A special performance of Jen Ledger’s solo single “Not Dead Yet” gave Jen the chance to show her incredible growth as an artist, while rallying fans in life-giving determination. The evening ended on “The Resistance,” with plenty of firework style pyro canons.

The show had a lot more bells and whistles than that first Skillet show I saw ten years ago. I’ve seen Skillet somewhere around 25 times since, and their performances only continue to get tighter, more raucously enjoyable. But beyond the exceptional musical offering, I found myself thinking about the way music grows with us.

These songs met me in a place of deep desperation, and it would change everything about me–set me on my trajectory to work in the music industry, change the way I viewed God. Those days are long in my history now, fond memories of a time when I was a different person. Now, I get to see the story repeat itself, get to champion the life-giving cycle perpetuated. I was given what I needed, when I needed it most, through these songs. Now others are having that exact same experience. I am lucky to even get to witness it. I am gifted beyond belief when I get to be a small part of helping people connect the dots between their pain and the songs that meet them in the middle of it.

And that is a great grace in the progress we make, in the things given to us for healing: they don’t end with us. We get to turn around and give them to others as we grow. In this way, a small seed of life creates life abundant.

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For a full gallery of photos from this concert, click here. To find out when you can see Skillet in a city near you, visit skillet.com.

Stories: ‘Awake and Alive’ by Skillet

The Song: “Awake and Alive” by Skillet

The Story: “I got into Christian music completely unintentionally. My family was Christian, I was Christian, but I was never really into praise and worship,” Amy shares. “I preferred modern music.”

It would be Pokemon that unexpectedly led Amy to music that would change her life. “Soon, I started watching AMVs, or anime music videos, with Pokemon and any song that sounded catchy. There was one that stood out from the others, genre and lyric wise: ‘Awake and Alive’ by Skillet.”

Two years later, that initial discovery would snowball into something much bigger. “I gradually started listening to some of their most popular songs, such as ‘Hero,’ ‘Monster’ and ‘Rebirthing,'” Amy says. “Another two years later, I was a full fledged panhead. Now (another two years), I’m still proud to call Skillet my all time, number one, absolute favorite band. Disciple, RED, TFK, The Afters and Manic Drive are also some of my favorites.”

“I find it way easier to connect to God through their songs than through most worship songs,” Amy explains. “At first, I thought this was wrong, but really, it’s still worship, just not the specific genre. About three years ago, I started my YouTube channel (AMyV), with the goal of bringing AMV watchers to Christian music, particularly Skillet.”

You can see Amy’s video creations on her YouTube Channel AMyV.

If you have a story like this of ways a song has changed your life, visit our contact page or email directly to maryrosenikkel@gmail.com.

Chester Bennington: What We Do, One Year Later

This post originally published on Threads of Stars on July 20, 2018.

All afternoon on July 20, 2017, my phone was going off: “did you see the news?”

And I had; all of us in the rock community had, the news spreading through our tight knit family like a blackout, lights suddenly switched out. Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park and easily in the top 5 most influential voices in rock for the past two decades, had died by suicide. Just months after their latest record. Just months after all the interviews saying he’d been in a dark place but was in so much therapy, getting so much better.

It’s early to call it, but this might be the Kurt Cobain of my generation.

It matters because we’d identified with him for so long, processed our own emotions through his own words. I know it well; of a thousand memories, I remember being 17 and watching and re-watching the music video for “Numb,” because it was me. That was simple fact for millions: somehow, these songs were about us. And when we find ourselves echoed in someone else’s journey and then it ends in the dark– what does that say about our journey? What does that say about the possibility of hope?

And what do we do next, after and during the grieving?

First: we take from lives like Chester’s a legacy of the full sum, not the tragic mistake of a moment. His stories of rehab, of healing, of fighting to be more than an illness or addiction: those are still just as true as they were 24 hours ago. They are perhaps the truest things about his life. We will not remember the tragedies of others as their definition. We’ll be braver and paint the whole picture, light and dark.

And this does not have to be an indicator that the inevitable end is in shadow. It can instead be a reminder of how costly it is to continue to leave issues of depression, suicide, addiction, and mental health unaddressed for a single second longer. It can make us kinder to each other. It can make us fiercer in our fight against the killer that’s eating whole generations alive, leaving holes in families, in schools, in churches– on stages.

We can take to heart the reminder that fame and fortune aren’t any kind of antidote, and that sometimes the people who seem to have it best need help the most. And even if sometimes all the right methods of treatment can’t erase the choice of a moment– those methods are still worth pursuing, because if there’s a chance that they can keep one person alive for five more minutes, that’s a chance worth fighting for.

We should be sobered. We should never be without hope.

“They say that I don’t belong
Say that I should retreat
That I’m marching to the rhythm
Of a lonesome defeat
But the sound of your voice
Puts the pain in reverse
No surrender, no illusions
And for better or worse
When they turn down the lights
I hear my battle symphony
All the world in front of me
If my armor breaks
I’ll fuse it back together.
My battle symphony:
please just don’t give up on me.”
– Linkin Park

Let’s fight together, my friends. It’s what we do.

Chester Bennington’s wife Talinda Bennington has risen as an incredible voice of advocacy and life in the year since losing Chester. For more about her mental health initiatives or if you need help, please visit changedirection.org. You can also follow Talinda on Twitter to join the conversation.

You can also read Linkin Park’s reflections on one year without Chester on their Facebook here

10 Tattoos Inspired By Lyrics

Happy National Tattoo Day! Tattoos can be a powerful way of telling our stories, of marking life events, of honoring the processes of our soul. For anyone who processes the world through the lens of music, the intersection of tattoos and songs just makes sense.

We asked you to share the stories of your lyrical tattoos. Here are your stories, your works of art.

The Song: “The Rose” by Memphis May Fire

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Molly designed this piece with artist Spencer Minor, inspired by the Memphis May Fire lyric “we are the rose that grew from the crack in the concrete.”

The Song: “Times” by Tenth Avenue North

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“A few months after my dad was killed in a traffic accident, I heard the song Times by Tenth Avenue North. My dad was a farmer that loved sunsets, and in the midst of the time of grief, and now in the time without my dad, God was and is still over under inside and in between.” – Dan

The Song: “Stars” by Skillet

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“This is Inspired by the Skillet song Stars. I’m a huge long time fan, but I love the lyrics to this song and the story behind it…that God is there for you no matter what!” – Sharayah

The Song: “Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot

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“‘Dare You To Move’ by Switchfoot has played a huge role in the last several years of my life. Wanted to get this as a reminder of where I’ve been (and all I’ve still yet to do.)” – Sarah

The Song: “Unbroken” by Disciple

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“[This is] Disciple’s Attack album cover with the artist’s flare put on it.” – Courtney

The Band: Random Hero

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“It wasn’t so much song lyrics, but it was inspired by Aaron from Random Hero message that he gives to the crowd at shows. He always stresses how we can not avoid pain, but can chose to be miserable or do something to change it.” – Jennifer

The Song: “Feed the Machine” by RED

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“My ‘Feed the Machine’ tattoo inspired by the Red song of the same name.” – John

The Song: “Invisible” by Disciple

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“This song came into my life during a broken time. I had been dumped by a not so serious boyfriend at the time in a very lousy way. I felt like I was undeserving, a vapor. I was crying every night feeling completely worthless, like I could never be loved and was all alone… When that Disciple album came out, I had set it aside and didn’t listen until one night I was driving home from picking up some of my belongings from my ex’s house. That song came on, and I had never felt God’s presence so harshly until that moment… I felt like he had just wrapped me in his arms, telling me that I am deserving and I’m not alone or invisible. To this day I still cannot listen to that song without crying because it reminds me of a time where God physically comforted me when I needed it. The Bible verse is what the song was inspired by straight from the CD booklet.” – Breanne

The Song: “I Am A Stone” by Demon Hunter

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“DH has been a huge and important part of my life since they began and these lyrics are a daily reminder to me that God in his unshakeable love and faithfulness to me and his unending pursuit of me is and always will be by my side…even in the darkest moments when we tend to forget that He is there and we are not alone.” – Amy

The Band: Day of Fire

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“This is Day of Fire’s logo. Got this done a few years ago by the former lead singer, Josh Brown. It’s supposed to represent the Holy Spirit.” – Jeremy

Do you have a special story about how a song has impacted you? You can share the story by clicking here!

Stories: ‘Control’ by The Protest

The Song: “Control” by The Protest

 

The Story: “I said for years I needed to stop drinking because it wasn’t good for me. Yet I never was able to,” Courtney shares. “Early 2015 God said it was time to put the bottle down. I told God I thought that was impossible. I told the creator of the universe something was impossible. Over and and over God told me I could do it and that it was time to put the bottle down. Over and over I ignored him.”

That’s where The Protest’s song came in. “I got The Protest’s Great Lengths album in mail. It felt like it came out of nowhere through friends. I stuck it in my car. I decided to drink before church because I thought I could endure it better. So I had a buzz at church on a Wednesday. I got in the car to leave and ‘Control’ came on.”

That experience became a turning point for Courtney in her process of defeating addiction, although it was still a process. “That song became God’s anthem to continue telling me to put the bottle down. I still didn’t listen. I put the album down for a while even because I couldn’t stand hearing God talking to me. July 2015, I finally decided to have faith that if God said I could quit drinking that it must mean I could. I dumped out what I had left of a bottle of Jack Daniels and gave it up.”

You can see some of Courtney’s art inspired by songs like this at Photography Art of an Eccentric Sheep.

If you have a story like this of ways a song has changed your life, visit our contact page or email directly to maryrosenikkel@gmail.com.

Panic! At The Disco Topped the Billboard 200. Here’s What That Means

Panic! At The Disco, one pillar of what is widely known as the “Emo Trinity” (the other two being Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance), recently scored their first debut at number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album that finally landed that status is Pray for the Wicked, which dropped on June 22.

If I were writing this from the year 2000, this event would be more or less unremarkable: a band with 14 years of history and decent chart success nailing a number 1 album. But the fact is that the year is 2018, and for a band that gained its momentum and maturity in the alternative rock scene to be sitting atop the charts? That is enough of a novelty to pay attention to.

Panic!, now the sole property of frontman Brendon Urie, has shifted its sound from vaudeville-meets-emo to more of a brassy west coast pop sound. The guitars have become more muted, the melodies more hooky. But the influence of Urie’s alternative background remains: you can hear it in the clever, tongue-in-cheek lyricism that remains far more wordy than your standard pop fare. This is a classic emo trait.

What this means is that rock still has something valuable to offer the market at large. Even if some core aspects of rock shift or adapt with time, the key elements that forged a fiercely loyal following still have the ability to keep gaining new audiences. What Panic! At The Disco has proved is that you can grow up as a rock artist without losing the best of where you started, and there’s still a world out there who will (quite literally) buy it.

Granted, Pray for the Wicked is primarily a party album, with themes that only venture as deep as possible cautionary tales (“Roaring 20s,” “One of the Drunks,” “Dying in LA”). Some rock fans might hope for the days when weightier examples of their culture were in the spotlight again. A hope which is a distinct possibility; if we go back just a few years, this same general concept was upheld in 2015 with Breaking Benjamin’s The Dark Before the Dawn. The long-awaited return from Breaking Benjamin was piercingly spiritual, as most good rock tends to be in one form or another, and also extremely forthright in its aggressive musical style. In December of 2017, U2– who set the tone for this entire generation of conscious rock– secured their eighth career number 1 with Songs of Experience. The market is making a declaration to any rock and roll makers: we’re still listening.

Stories: ‘Watch it Burn’ by Disciple

The Song: “Watch it Burn” by Disciple

The Story: For Courtney, “Watch it Burn” became an anthem in the middle of extreme anxiety. “When I first started experiencing an allergic reaction to disposable gloves, it triggered immense anxiety and compulsions. I was terrified of dying. I worried about contamination and infection all day every day. I never felt clean. Yet I was working with urine samples in a lab that probably would glow like the sun in a black light. I was out of my mind with anxiety.”

“For some reason, Disciple’s song ‘Watch it Burn’ is the one that kept my sanity together,” Courtney shared. “It was just something about singing that line, ‘to all the hell inside that’s been controlling me, set it off, watch it all burn down,’ that got me through many bouts of panic.”

You can see some of Courtney’s art inspired by songs like this at Photography Art of an Eccentric Sheep.

If you have a story like this of ways a song has changed your life, visit our contact page or email directly to maryrosenikkel@gmail.com.

Bro-Am

The Cause: Bro-Am Foundation

The Mission: The Bro-Am began as a yearly charity event hosted by Switchfoot in their home territory of Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, CA. Although originally the event benefited a multitude of charities supporting at risk youth in the California community, eventually the event would grow into a foundation all its own. Now in addition to the summer surf and music festival, the Bro-Am foundation is active year round in providing music lessons to at risk youth and providing homeless kids with resources and safety.

The Band: Switchfoot has masterminded the event and the foundation from day one. Over the years they have had a multitude of legendary artists get involved and share the stage with them at the event itself, and their own music studio in San Diego has hosted some of the year round work of the foundation. Switchfoot wrote their song “Dark Horses” (from 2011’s Vice Verses) as an anthem to the youth they have been partnering with for well over a decade.

Get Involved: You can volunteer to facilitate the event itself, sponsor the work directly supporting children, be a vendor at the event, or simply donate from wherever you are in the world. To learn more, visit broam.org/play-your-part.

 

Farewell, Third Day: A Look at the Legacy

Legacy. Priscilla Chan, a philanthropist and spouse to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is quoted as saying “We–the current generation–have a moral responsibility to make the world better for future generations.”

In the music industry, this has often been fulfilled over the course of time. We’ve seen legacies left and ways paved by many, from Elvis Presley and The Beatles to Larry Norman and Petra.

After time has passed, this generation will be able to reflect on the music and legacy left by a group of high school kids hailing from the Peach State (Atlanta, Georgia) who decided to form a band. Initially, singer Mac Powell and guitarist Mark Lee experimented with the band Nuclear Hoedown, but later initiated a southern rock band that would garner some impressive statistics: 1 American Music Award, 4 Grammys, 24 Dove Awards.

Over their 27 years as a band, Third Day has indeed left an indelible mark not only on the industry, but by leaving behind impactful songs that will transcend generations. For the majority of their tenure, Third Day was comprised of Mac Powell (a dude who was made with vocal chops for southern rock), Mark Lee (one of the most brilliant songwriters who happens to be a solid guitarist), David Carr on drums, Tai Anderson on bass and Brad Avery tickling the ivories. The lineup has changed a bit in the last few years, but Mark Lee and Mac Powell have been constants.

Among their many legacies, Third Day paved the way for the industry as we know it today, from their freshman self-titled debut through their final studio album. It may be too early to know the full impact of their legacy; only time will tell. However, it’s not too soon to reflect back on what they’ve meant to so many fans. Their early records were rooted in southern and grunge rock, with tunes like “Consuming Fire,” “Blackbird,” “You Make Me Mad,” “Alien” and “Sky Falls Down.” Their sophomore project, Conspiracy No. 5, garnered a Dove Award for Rock Album of the Year along with a Grammy nod for Best Rock Gospel Album, an award they’d later earn for Come Together and Wire. Over time, they updated their style to a more pop rock vibe on their later records, all along continuing to earn accolades, recognition and chart success.

Beyond their musical impact, Third Day was uniquely able to sing about some very challenging and soul-searching subject matters. Their lyrics contained themes of broken people in need of grace and hope, messages that can be found throughout rock and roll today thanks in part to their willingness to go deeper in their message than simply praise songs written for Sunday mornings (they found space for Sunday music, too–but more on that later).

“Thief” is a song from their debut record that tells the story of the cross from the forgiven thief’s point of view. “Cry Out to Jesus” and “I Need a Miracle” are songs with messages of hope for those going through a dark season; the latter was written because of the former. The story goes that the band met a couple in New Jersey after a concert whose son had been depressed and drove deep into the woods to end his life. But he turned on the radio to hear “Cry Out to Jesus,” which gave him encouragement to keep going.

Third Day also was one of the first rock/pop bands to release worship albums with Offerings and Offerings II, which led the way to an explosion of bands crossing over to worship (here’s looking at you, Newsboys). This became a trend in radio that shapes what is played in most Christian formats today: a blend of pop and worship, with very little room for music that pushes boundaries.

Their final album, then, is an ironic indication of the state of the industry they helped shape. In 2017, Third Day released Revival, a passion project in which the band returned to their southern rock roots. It is among their best work, filled with plenty of hooks, plenty of rock, and showing off those familiar vocal chops provided by Mac Powell. Though it is deserving of attention, Mac Powell put it best during their final show in Nashville: many folks haven’t heard of it because the founding members decided to do a project they would proud of. Unfortunately (and ironically), it is not music friendly to the radio format Third Day has helped usher in, so it is not a record that was recognized by many fans.

This adequately sums up the state of the industry: there is a small subset of artists getting the bulk of the national airplay from radio, and a growing alternative and underground made up of independent rock and hip-hop artists, making music that still speaks to the deepest, darkest parts of our soul and gives us hope to carry on.

It is hard to be in a successful band for 25 years. After their recent hiatus, Third Day recently embarked on a 12 city farewell tour to say thank you to longtime fans. Perhaps it would be fitting, years from now, if we can reflect back on this moment as the beginning of a Revival in the music industry — a time when creativity is rewarded and lyrics are real and honest. That would be the most fitting legacy of all.

So thank you, Third Day, for staying true to your roots, and for leaving us with music that gives us hope to carry on through the toughest seasons of life.

This post was written by contributing writer Matt Durlin.

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