Thinking Out Loud

April 19, 2016

Security Concerns Keep The Newsboys out of Canada

If you were charged with guarding your country's border, would you let these guys in?

If you were charged with guarding your country’s border, would you let these guys in?

This article is about the April, 2016 cancellation. For information on the September, 2016 cancellation, please refer to our post on Saturday, September 24th.

Our friend Randy was standing in line at Subway getting some food for the two hour road trip to the sold-out Friday concert when his cell phone indicated there was a message.

We have an unfortunate announcement. The Newsboys show tonight at Church on the Queensway has been postponed. This show will now take place on September 22, 2016. Please watch for an email in the coming week with an updated ticket for you, as your ticket purchase will automatically transfer to this date. Please see below for the official statement from Newsboys:

To our great fans in Canada,

We regret to announce that tonight’s show in Toronto has been postponed due to circumstances beyond our control.  While we made every attempt to complete all the necessary paperwork required by the Canadian government to cross the border, and with the increased security measures put in place due to the heightened international response to past incidents in Paris, Belgium, and San Bernardino, we were ultimately denied entrance for today.  As such, we have already worked with the great staff at Church on the Queensway to re-schedule tonight’s concert to Thursday, September 22nd.  We are so sorry that we cannot be with you tonight, but we are thankful for the men and women of the Canadian, and American, border security teams, and we look forward to being with you in the fall.

As someone who worked alongside Christian concert promoters in the 1980s, border concerns centered on a single issue: Would Canada Customs allow the band to bring their CDs and T-shirts in? Some tours actually lose money, on paper at least, knowing that the merchandising — the insider term is merch or the merch table — will more than make up the difference.

Once the apparel and music were properly documented, usually a letter from the sponsoring organization was sufficient to get the band members themselves into the country and knowing these were Christian rockers often meant the guards would skip searching the tour bus for drugs.

That was then.

If you’re getting paid to do something, the equation changes. Back in the day, Canadian artists traveling in the other direction were let in on what was called an H1, a recognition that as name artists they weren’t necessarily putting other people with the same name out of work; rather, it was a type of superstar designation that even Christian musicians could use.

But there weren’t then, and there isn’t now the same number of Canadian Christian artists touring the United States as there are American artists Canadians want to hear. In the Christian media industry — be it films, books, or CDs — the U.S. market is the market, and Canada simply is caught up in the spillover from what happens Stateside. (However, it must be said the number of Canadians working in Christian music in the U.S. has grown substantially over the years.)

So whenever you cross the Canada/US border in either direction, be it as a tourist or a professional artist, you are actually having to pass two different clearances at once; (a) Customs and (b) Immigration. The former is concerned with what you’re bringing in, and the latter is concerned with who you are, the area that is now charged with the all important security detail in the wake of increased terrorist activity.

Apparently there was a change in the required paperwork that didn’t get taken care of. Whether or not the concert promoter or the band was responsible doesn’t really matter at this point. But it serves as a reminder to anyone crossing the border on account of their vocation; whether they are going to act, sing or even preach: Make sure your paperwork meets current requirements.

A couple of postscripts:

First, I really like the attitude the band expressed toward the people whose job it was to shut them out. We have to remember that the members of The Newsboys and their support team are, to a great extent, in youth ministry, and here they set a great example for their fans.

Second, I just want to share a true story: When I visited California the second time, I was set up on a blind date with my friend’s neighbor and we dined on the ocean. Part way through the meal she asked me, “I know you flew here this time, but when you came to California the first time, how did you get to the United States?” I explained that we drove from Toronto*, but she wasn’t getting it. Turns out, she thought that the two countries were separated by a great gulf of water. Or a deep crater. Or something. Or now that I look back on it, maybe a big wall.

*The route was something like Toronto to Buffalo to St. Louis to Tulsa to El Paso to San Diego, and I tried several times to explain all that, but I lost her after Toronto. It does really grate on Canadians that we know so much about the U.S., but many of our American cousins are oblivious to all things Canadian.

Musicians: Your CDs and T-shirts are subject to import duties, so it helps to have lots of cash on hand. To pay the duty. Not to bribe the customs officer; that sort of thing is frowned upon.

Preachers: Going the other way, into the U.S., I baffled a U.S. immigration officer who couldn’t fathom why I would be driving from Detroit to Chicago just for a church service. “Are you the one preaching at the service?” And then, “Are you getting paid to be at the service?” No and no. I’m just a church geek.

No Subway® sandwiches were harmed in the making of this report.

February 9, 2013

Festival Attending in a Security Obsessed World

Beruna Music Festival

So yesterday we remembered the Cornerstone Festival; part of the carefree days in the ’70s and ’80s when Christian music festivals sprang up in Midwest parks and Pennsylvania dairy farms. Ahh… simpler times.

Things have changed. I’ve never been to Kingdom Bound, a bit of trivia which my closer friends find amazing given my history with CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) mostly because the idea of a Christian festival in a theme park seems somewhat contradictory.  Two hot elements competing with each other: The bands and the rides.

But then there’s another issue. Back in the day — and you know you’re getting older when you start talking about ‘back in the day’ — the speakers and the musicians shared a somewhat equal billing. Even the most star-struck music fan could tell you about things the speakers said in the tents. At some festivals today, you’re lucky to get three speakers for every twenty music acts. Or less.

Which brings us to The Beruna Festival being held in July (19-20) on “The Flats at Molson Amphitheatre” in downtown Toronto; the first multi-day Christian event to be held there.  Well, almost downtown; the picture makes it look like the CN Tower and Air Canada Centre are directly in the background, when in fact they are a few miles further down the road. But you wouldn’t want the sound echoing off the high rise buildings anyway, nor the complaints from the condo owners.

Having nothing better to do on Tuesday night, I went poking around their website. The lineup is certainly good.  The pricing is probably somewhat normal for this type of event. The sponsors and event organizers are well respected.

But buried away on a FAQ page, you’re reminded that this is a venue used for general market events not Christian events; that this is 2013, not 1983. So no backpacks. No rigid liquid containers. No beach balls. Really? From all the outdoor concerts I’ve seen, I thought beach balls were required.

And then the one that broke the proverbial camel’s back. No SLR cameras.

What the festival is up with that?

My wife has been talking about getting a Canon SLR camera for some time now. But if we decided to attend this event in July — and we’re free that week and greatly admire some of the 22 bands and both of the speakers — she would be denied admittance.

“You mean I can’t take a SLR camera to the event?  Seriously?”

A camera with a removable lens is considered a professional camera, and professional cameras are not allowed. You might intimidate the people with smaller cameras.

And I’m sorry to say this, and perhaps it sounds rather petty, but with that, they lost me…

…Working with concert promoters for many years before I got married, the management and operating staff of the various venues we used were always impressed with the good behavior of the people who attended Christian events. In two words, they liked that there was “no trouble.” Over the years the promoters built up credibility equity, which meant they were afforded some grace, which they were then able to pass along to ticket buyers. (Neither grace nor customization of the rental package here; the beer vendors will be open though probably not quite doing business as usual.)

In a post-911 world, security at mass gatherings is essential. Purses and satchels do need to be checked. And refreshment vendors are counting on the dehydration of young people spending 12-hour days in the hot sun. And yes, it only takes one person to ruin it for everyone.

And I know that those in youth ministry see the value of these events for their students, and really want these events to be there as an option for the youth they work with.

But in the contract negotiations, I would be crusading hard against a one-size-fits-all approach which, for example, bans beach balls.  (Headline: Beach Ball Ban Baffles Blogger) Or a camera easily picked up for free with Sears points. If it’s that uptight an environment, it’s just too easy to lose the heart of the event. What’s next? Security staff at the megachurch? Oops! Too late. Maybe this is what happens when we get too big.

In a world of liability litigation, environmental impacts, and stricter safety standards for staging (Headline: Staging Safety Standards Set Stricter), it’s not as easy to find a Pennsylvania dairy farm willing to host tens of thousands of teens and twenty-somethings; but make no mistake; those dairy farms do exist and some of those dairy farmers are willing to give it a try.

Anytime soon would be good.

October 12, 2009

Sharing the Spotlight, Passing the Torch

Coming Events sampleFor the last five years I’ve been doing a project on the side that represents something I once swore I would never do.    I’ve been publishing a monthly newsletter that lets people know what’s going on that would be of interest to the local Christian community; and with our twin-towns having a population of less than 40,000; there often isn’t much going on at all, and the whole project seems hardly worthwhile.

Years ago, I met a guy — I think his name was Bill Scarborough — who published the Christian Activities Calendar magazine in several cities.   At the time I thought the whole thing was rather pedestrian.   Why not produce a magazine that does outreach, or discusses doctrine, or deals with youth and family issues?

But now I do the same thing.   The newsletter still goes out, but we modified a blog page to get online quickly.    It’s filled with concerts, car washes, bake sales, conferences, church picnics and lots of advertising for our local Christian bookstore.    It would be easy for someone to say I should be using that energy for evangelism, or theological discussion, or examining parenting and marriage issues.

But nested in between the seminars and the fundraisers and the singles events there are often things that are worthy of reaching a greater audience, often put together by people who aren’t connected or established or loaded with the money it often takes to make things happen.

I just finished watching the first two parts of a four-part series on DVD by Andy Stanley called Playing God and it reminds me of the need to use whatever power and influence I may have to help those who have even less.  His example in Part Two was Jesus stripping himself (literally) of his status and position to wash His disciples feet.

When it comes to these new or unknown or untried or unproven ventures I think my goal is obvious:

  1. We need to promote them
  2. We need to elevate them
  3. We need to resource them

To me, if the premise is valid and the doctrinal convictions of the organizers are sound and the spiritual benefit to the participants will be real; then I want to be seen as someone lending support.   Just as the business world has “incubators” for new ventures, so also do we need to incubate local ministry providers who want to serve the communities where we live.

Christian Events headerWe need to celebrate that in this chaotic world, there are individuals who are still willing to get their hands dirty in ministry; still willing to risk failure; still willing to attempt new ministry start-ups.

I don’t want be a skeptic sitting on the sidelines waiting to see if it will happen.   I want to make it happen.

Right now there are people in your town who are starting something or dreaming a dream or are out there in the trenches doing real ministry who need your support.   Whatever power and influence you have, use it to share the spotlight or pass the torch to those who will follow after.   Especially those next-generation projects that are so easily dismissed by the “religious establishment” as non-consequential.

What will you do to help ministries where you live?

If you want to see what our “Coming Events” site looks like you can click here.   If you don’t have one of these in your community, why not start one?

August 13, 2009

Christian Author ‘Superstars’ Charge for Lecture Series

rob_bellSo there I was, on the telephone, trying to explain to an older pastor who Rob Bell is, describe his preaching style, and explain why he is charging $20 per ticket for people to come and hear him.

“But the gospel should be free;” he interjected, a couple of times.   I made no further attempt to try to defend what would always be to him, indefensible.

Bell’s Drops Like Stars tour is already underway, continuing into July 2010; while Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years tour — with tickets at a more modest $15 US — rolls out next month.    Both consist entirely of spoken word content; there isn’t a band opening the shows.

Bell has done this sort of thing twice before, touring major arenas, concert halls and theaters with his The Gods Aren’t Angry and Everything Is Spiritual tours.   Both tours were made into full length videos by Zondervan running approximately 70 and 80 minutes.

donald_miller_Miller has done fewer videos than Bell;  doesn’t pastor a church; and his full-length (61 minutes) DVD for Bluefish TV, Free Market Jesus, doesn’t see the wide distribution of Bell’s two lectures, or Bell’s 24 short-form NOOMA videos.

Both authors write/speak with a postmodern audience in view, and both use provocative titles for their books and lectures.   It’s possible that this kind of audience isn’t as responsive as their parents were to the concept of a “free will offering” or “love offering,” but don’t mind the ticket option at all.

Just try explaining all this to my pastor friend.

Donald Miller – A Million Miles… tour dates
Rob Bell – Drops Like Stars tour dates

May 22, 2009

Paul Baloche: A Blend of Worship, Testimony and Humor

If you attended a Christian music concert in Toronto anytime in the 1980’s, I was there.   The reasons were often quite varied:

  • attending to a display of Christian music by other artists  (many times)
  • being the master of ceremonies (at least half a dozen)
  • working with the concert promoter (about a dozen)
  • being the opening act (twice that I can remember)
  • doing sound (once)
  • escorting and assisting a video crew from a local TV station (twice)
  • being part of the counseling team (once or twice)
  • playing keyboard with one of the bands (twice)
  • actually being the concert promoter (once, and only once!)

But when we moved out to the boonies, a lot of concert connection — including the free admission and going out for pizza with the artist after the concert — abruptly ended.   (Although personally, I think my wife once saved a Brian Duncan concert in a nearby town when she had the necessary cough candies in her purse.)

Then the kids came, and nobody wanted to be our regular babysitter, so we just gave up on the ‘date night’ concept and stayed home.   For about twenty years.

Until Wednesday.   Given that one of them is starting university in the fall, we don’t need a babysitter anymore, so I realized we were running out of excuses.   So for her birthday, Mrs. W. got, among other things, tickets for us to go to a “worship concert”  — the woman who took our tickets told us to “enjoy the show” — with songwriter and worship leader Paul Baloche.

Joel AugeListening to open act Joel Augé, who apparently is also known for inventing some game that is part of Facebook, I got this strange feeling — not a deja vu, exactly — that I was doing something I had done in another lifetime, only now the sound and lighting were better.   Although he’s a worship leader at The Meeting House, Canada’s fastest growing church movement, for this night Joel did a short but excellent peformance set including a killer version of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.”

The remaining 2 1/2 hours — less an intermission and the now obligatory presentation for Compassion, which didn’t exist back in the day — belonged to Paul Baloche.   If you’re still scratching your head wondering what songs he has contributed to the worship genre, check out a post I wrote here several months ago about a rather obscure French worship album that Paul released which lists a few, or a most recent post here about the Compassionart project, to which Paul was a contributor, or just hang on for a few paragraphs.    (The host church, in their newsletter, actually counted the songs their worship team does which Paul authored, and there are twenty-one of them!)

Although some of us were expecting a worship event, and not a concert, while others were expecting a concert and not a worship event, Paul’s treatment of the evening was certainly commendable.    Starting out conversationally, he sought to get to know. and thereby connect with, his audience.  I’ve read more than a few blog posts recently where the opinion is expressed that some worship sets fail because the element of connection between worship leader and congregation is missing.

Admittedly in the middle of a tour that had left some of the band a bit punchy, he later defined what he was doing as trying to blend the worship into the everyday; something about which he believes strongly.   My wife put it this way, “I liked that he didn’t take everything seriously, but he knew what to take seriously.”

Then there were the many, many personal moments in the concert, including introducing people he recognized in the audience, and telling a bit of their story, which a few times intersected with his own.

And then there were the many, many lighter moments.   If you’ve seen the Compassionart DVD, you know that Paul takes life a little less seriously than most.    Around the middle of the evening, I wondered if that would prove a distraction to worship purists, but really, that’s who he is, and it is out of all that his worship songs quite naturally flow.   Throughout the evening he was able to move from rather silly moments to serious worship, and the audience was willing to make the transitions.

The worship songs were strong; actually it was a kind of worship “greatest hits” evening, to the point where the projected lyrics were redundant.   Paul likes to start songs with just the band, but a few times the audience jumped right in.  Although not all these songs were performed that night, consider this is the guy who wrote or cowrote:

  • Paul BalocheA New Hallelujah
  • Above All
  • All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises
  • Arise
  • Because of Your Love
  • I Love to Be In Your Presence
  • Offering
  • Open the Eyes of My Heart
  • Our God Reigns
  • Praise Adonai
  • Revival Fire Fall
  • Today is the Day
  • What Can I Do?
  • You Gave Your Life Away
  • Your Name
  • and the various Compassionart songs
  • and another 120+ worship songs

~source CCLI

I wished that Baloche had done one of the songs from the French album, although Belleville, Ontario, while it’s part of Canada, isn’t exactly a French part of the country.   I also wished that a couple of the songs from Compassionart had been part of the concert, especially with all the airplay they are currently getting, not to mention the natural lead-in they would have been to the Compassion appeal before the intermission.   But with over two hours already accounted for, these aren’t major concerns.

My biggest take-away from the evening is that when you subtract the stories and testimony and some of the lighter moments, just about 100% of what was shared was from the Bible.   If you want to make your mark as a worship leader, begin in the Word.

Given my strong suspicion that no two Paul Baloche events are the same, I would definitely buy a ticket for another concert, now that I’m a Christian concertgoer once again.

Wanna read more about worship?  Check out this post from Ben Cotten at LiveAwake blog. (HT Jeff McQ at Losing My Religion.)

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