A Look Back at the Year That Was

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

calendar page turn-1Well, 2019 is but a calendar-page away from completion. So maybe it's time to share a take on the West Michigan Christian music scene over the last 11 months. Let's see where we've been, and maybe a bit of where we're going.

A Concert Year:

Van Andel Arena hosted several faith-based shows during 2019, included the annual Winter Jam (headlined by Newsboys), MercyMe, TobyMac, Casting Crowns and Hillsong United, plus the recent Christmas show with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. And Switchfoot made a memorable stop at 20 Monroe Live.

The state's two major Christian music festivals also boasted top notch talent. The Big Ticket Festival in Gaylord included headliner Chris Tomlin, while the Unity Christian Music Festival in Muskegon featured Skillet and Matthew West. (West will return in 2020 as Unity celebrates its 20th Anniversary.)

There were also West Michigan visits from some of the nation's larger Christian music tours including For King & Country, Zach Williams, Gaither Vocal Band and Francesca Battistelli. And there was a pre-game concert by Sidewalk Prophets at Fifth Third Ball Park.

*"Hark Up," the annual Christmas multi-media presentation, celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019. Director Chris Hansen and his talented ensembles and guests have presented a high-quality show each December and continue to build on the event's noteworthy legacy.

*Worship on the Waterfront – This summer Sunday evening concert series completed its second season at the renovated Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium in downtown Grand Haven. More great things are in store for this donation-based outdoor program, which draws thousands of people each week. An April 24, 2020 concert at Harvest Bible Chapel south campus in Grand Haven will reveal the line-up for next summer. For more info visit https://www.facebook.com/events/464994760820545/.

A Loss On the National Scene:

Singer-songwriter-producer Rick Elias passed away from cancer April 2 at age 64. During the 1990s he recorded several albums with his faith-based band The Confessions. But the Christian music world knew him best for his work with Rich Mullins in A Ragamuffin Band. When Mullins died tragically in 1997, Elias led a tribute tour which performed all of Mullins' classic songs. I still recall an evening at Calvin College Fine Arts Center when the band laid out great song after great song before a sold out audience.



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The Calvin College Student Activities Office will not be the same with the departure of director Ken Heffner. Over the last several decades, Heffner has brought thoughtful and sometimes challenging music artists and films to the campus, serving both students and the wider community. Although not without occasional controversy, he found an artistic niche which had been underserved. Over the years we've seen artists as varied as Caedmon's Call, Over the Rhine, Lecrae and Keb' Mo' take stages on the campus. Newly-appointed Jake Droppers (an area music artist with a band called The Best Intentions) looks like a good choice to follow in his footsteps. (There is currently a fund drive to create a long term endowment for the work of the SAO. Visit https://calvin.quadweb.site/giving/sao?dotcmsredir=1).

Tip of the Hat:

Local inspirational radio station WCSG-FM (91.3) won a national 2019 Radio Impact Award from the Gospel Music Association. The station, licensed to Cornerstone University, is preparing for a move to a new location in a remodeled building on the south edge of the Grand Rapids campus.

Down Memory Lane:
Although Sunshine Community Church left its long-time location several years ago, there was a sense of finality earlier this year when the building on East Beltline NE in Grand Rapids Township was torn down.

The church's 2,000-seat capacity as well as its outward focus led it to become one of the region's hot spots for contemporary Christian concerts during the 1980s, 90s and beyond.

I can't tell you how many concerts I've seen there through the years: from Five Iron Frenzy to Amy Grant/Vince Gill. Sometime in the 1990s, I witnessed Third Day's first ever national tour with two bands called All Star United and Seven Day Jesus. Performing there have been Plus One, Relient K, Randy Stonehill, Steven Curtis Chapman, Natalie Grant, Jeremy Camp....#toomanytoname

Sunshine Church now has moved to a smaller building on Coit Ave. NE north of Three Mile Rd. But the memories of all those concerts at its former home linger among area Christian music fans.

What's Ahead:
We'll post a feature in January about concerts coming in the new year. (Lauren Daigle March 12 at Van Andel is sure to be a highlight). But until then a blessed Christmas and a happy calendar page turn into 2020.
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Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Terry is journalist who writes for newspapers, magazines, newsletters and websites. His most frequented “beat” is arts and entertainment. He is married with two children and lives in Grand Rapids.

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