…or “Props to GMA ’09” (as in a “proper review,” instead of some broken-up review in two blogs separated by almost a month. Here we go:

Saturday promised to be amazing, with a Mute Math show on the agenda. This was “Record Store Day,” the second annual event taking place at independent record stores all across the nation. Since I was without vehicle on this trip, I took a shuttle bus over to the Nashville Convention Center and looked for a way over to the giant Record Store Day party at Grimey’s on 8th Ave. My friends were there and had gone out to get something to eat and were going to pick me up to take me to the show. Their insider contacts at the event informed them, however, that the small building was packed beyond capacity and there was over 200 people outside wanting to get in. People were being turned away. We all agreed that it would be futile to try to get in. So we passed on that and instead sat around and laughed … a lot. Good friends getting together really works the old diaphram and stomach muscles, because good times, memories and jokes are shared in a free-form fun time that is super enjoyable. I’ve learned over the years by experience that these are the memories that stay with you much more so and longer than business meetings and most of the shows. There are memorable performances, for sure, and that is the combination that makes coming to something like this so enjoyable.

Sunday evening saw some really big events. One was the PB&J party on the rooftop (which was transferred into a gym at a church across the street from the Convention Center). This thing was packed with people, lots of free Rock Star Energy drinks, people walking around with trays of PB&J sandwiches (for real) and small cups of milk. There was some funny videos on the wall played between some bands. One of them had an edited interview with Will Farrell, which must’ve been blue-screened so that Will was in a room with Syntax Records logos on the wall and they answered questions about the artist that was coming on next. Lots of cool lights and a great sound system made this the best event I’d seen so far. By the end of the week, it still stood up as the best-run and hippest event of the entire week (granted, I did miss the Johnny Lang and Phil Keaggy guitar duel that happened later in the week).

Later on I went over to the Renaissance Hotel for a Stryper listening party. There was a small suite filled with people, a tiny stereo, and Michael Sweet and his band’s manager. Michael would explain a little bit about each song and then play it. We heard a good half dozen songs off the record and … I think … I’m going to like it … a lot. I still need to hear it on a good loud sound system (like my car), but I’m thrilled at the inclusion of so many good guitar leads. Michael described the goal of this album to kind of get back to their roots, so he said there was a lot of double harmony guitar leads and harmony vocals. I enjoyed hearing that again, but mostly because it sounded fresh, energetic, tight and on. I love the little squeals and guitar string-bending notes I heard all over the place. It has that big metal sound, but of course, the tunes are very melodic. A friend or two heard it and prepared me for not liking it, but I don’t agree with their assessment at this time. What I heard sounded very promising. The stories he told about various songs were touching, particularly one where he described his lovely wife, Kyle, taking her last breath and him giving her a kiss goodbye. He also answered questions afterward, where he touched on playing on tour with Boston, how he had a big ear-to-ear smile on about the whole time. He explained how the reclusive Tom Scholz played a cameo part on the new Stryper album (that dude NEVER does that!). The band’s manager, Dave Rose, announced that Stryper would be playing a headlining tour with two parts — a full set with new material; a short break; and then a set in yellow & black outfits with the original lineup (Yes, that means Tim Gaines on bass) running through a set of Stryper classics. It was great to see Michael and give him a big hug. Lots of folks in the room brought memorabilia to have signed, and Michael stayed around to chat and sign it all. One little guy showed me his Oz lego figure that he painted that he was hoping to give to Oz, who was a no-show due to a late flight from the West Coast. Both Mike and Oz will be performing at BB King’s on Tuesday night as part of the always good Dog & Pony Show.

I was able to see a couple metal bands I didn’t know, as well as the White Collar Side Show. I had seen their DVD that featured a live show in a giant empty theater and knew I was in for a mind-bending, raw audio and visual treat. It was something else to be there and see it live. They’re really good … and original. Two of the guys play drums and various percussive instruments (including a giant saw and a 50 gallon barrell). A female bass player jams in a cage on stage right with a “faceless” mask on. Lots of fast-paced video with antique and campy footage runs on a screen, and there’s lots of rhythmic sound bytes and voices that play loud over the system. Lots of clapping going on. When T closes the show, he announces that: “I am not naive, but we can change the world.

This Fires Embrace put on a really heavy, but short set of pummeling songs. Blissed rocked the house out late into the night, with David Pierce’s vocals living up to his last name.

This Fires Embrace's happy bassist

Monday started off for me nice and late, with a luncheon put on by probably the finest record label in the entire world — Tooth & Nail. I heard a few artists get up and share some of their new music. Instead of freestyling with an acoustic or an instrumental track KJ 52 described some of his songs and then played them over the sound system. I was impressed with one that had some of that Black Eyed Peas funky style.

Seventh Day Slumber

Seventh Day Slumber.

The band Seventh Day Slumber was there and they all sat down and performed an acoustic song or two from their new album, which was a worship collection.

FM Static

Trevor of FM Static wailing away.

Trevor McNevan and a friend played a couple of FM Static tunes from Dear Diary, as well as telling the basic story behind the collection of Diary entries.

Compassion International hosted a cool dinner of appreciation to all the artists and folks who help spread the word about child sponsorships and other wonderful work that this organization does. The guest speaker was a young woman who had been sponsored as a child and then graduated through the exciting Leadership Development Program. She did a great job comminicating but also simply displaying how life-changing Compassion’s programs are to each individual. She made a very sad statement that rings true and sounds like a battle cry: “Poverty tells children that they have no right to dream.” That is SO wrong! I’m glad we can be about correcting that.

Seabird

Seabird’s Aaron Morgan.

12th & Porter had some good music going on Monday night, which included a set by Seabird. The song “Apparitions” is such a good one. They filled the room with joyous, lilting notes and Aaron Morgan’s powerful voice.

I sat down with Michael Sweet and Oz Fox for an interview for the upcoming issue of HM as well as the cover story of the next Heaven’s Metal Fanzine. At one point, Michael had to take a call or a pit stop or something, so I asked Oz to demonstrate the fluttering solo from the song “Surrender,” which he happily obliged. Partway through the explanation I whipped out my cellphone and videotaped a segment of it, which I posted on my facebook page immediately. Check it out here:

I went up to one of the hotel suites later in the week to drop in on Bruce Adolph’s guitar room. Bruce used to sell ads for HM Magazine back in the day and he currently publishes two magazinesChristian Musician and Worship Musician. He outfits a suite each year with lots of samples of the latest gear, some snacks, and just a place to relax, jam, or chat. I was pretty impressed with this folding guitar he had. It’s an acoustic guitar that unlocks and folds up to fit in a small backpack that can easily fit in the overhead compartment of an airplane. The last snap action when unfolding the guitar is kind of scary, as the torque the strings provide is quite strong. The thing stays in tune and looks like a beautiful instrument. I videotaped a demonstration from Bruce on my cellphone, which I posted on my facebook that week. Check it out.

Tonex never ceases to amaze

One of the top choices on my list was to catch Tonex at the Dog & Pony Show at B.B. King’s Blues Club on 2nd Street downtown. I was dependent upon the lovely Erin Lee for transportation, so after we watched Exit The Ordinary bring the rock at the Rock For Life showcase, we ducked into another showcase a friend was hosting, and then I talked her into checking out this guy named “Tonex” at B.B. King’s. I knew she and our other friend (Travis Waugh) were probably exhausted, so this performer better bring his A-game. Oh my! Did he ever! This guy is like the best of Little Richard, Prince, James Brown and Michael Jackson rolled into one. Oh my gosh! The dude just does not fail to impress each time. I leaned over to my friend, Dr. Tony Shore and asked him, “How many people are born, live and die, and never see a talent like that?” Wow! When I heard him repeat the statement to a lady standing next to him, I knew we were all in the same blown-away category as an audience. Besides hitting high notes that should’ve caused ceiling tiles to come crumbling down, the dude had a band behind him that could stop on a dime. They were rocking it one minute and grooving down slowly the next. In one impromptu-looking moment, Tonex took a t-shirt he was using to wipe sweat off with and covered his hands as he expertly played a trumpet solo — with no instrument but his voice, of course! It wasn’t just a few notes to show off and that was it. The band played a series of measures that just let him cook and fry that lip machine trumpet until he was through with his moment. It must’ve been a good 4-5 minutes long. Just amazing. He welcomed a guest singer up on stage with him, who wailed like he did, making the duet a beautiful and soul-stirring event. This stuff is like big, heavy metal riffs and grooves — only with voices. I turned to my friends and I could tell by the look on their face that they weren’t mad at me for demanding that we catch this little set before we all went to our various homes.

this guy is golden

On Tuesday morning I had a chance to interview two really cool girls from Boston (accents and all) — Tal and Acacia. I also chatted with Rob Buckley from Pillar, who has a new album coming out in September. Also enjoyed getting the last info on the all-girl band ilia (it’s easier to spell with a lower-case “i,” as the capital “I” looks so much like a lower-case “l.”). I participated in a cool seminar thing called “The Objective,” which the Extreme Tour puts on to equip artists with knowledge and vision. Performance consultant Tom Jackson did his spectacular thing there, where he shows how important it is to work on your live show. I helped moderate a huge panel of industry types, who talked about marketing, radio airplay, management, and promotion. I had a great dinner with the kind of youth pastor every church should have — this talented guy that knows radio, video, and the value of relationships. It was cool to meet and hang with someone that had so much talent and love for people.

the JUDGMENTAL character posing with the Thompsons

John Thompson and his son Wesley with one of the actors from Jesus People Movie.

I heard about a new indie movie that was premiering on Tuesday at a hip theater in the West end of town — the Belcourt. It was a “mock-umentary called Jesus People Movie. I did something I rarely do to make the movie. I took a taxicab. I made it to the show on time and sat down next to Jay Swartzendruber. Here was the editor of HM and the last editor of CCM sitting down to watch a spoof of the industry we’ve been a part of. The movie starts off with a pastor going to visit a doctor, and he is told that his kidney is failing. All he hears from the conversation is that he’s going to die. His wife later asks how the meeting went and he hides the medical details from her and announces that God has called him to start a Christian band. I almost busted my stomach laughing so hard. At other times I was laughing to myself as Jay groaned. I don’t think he appreciated it much when the movie makers crossed the lines of tasteful-ness, like when the band films a video and they get an actor to play Jesus, who holds up scaled models of the Twin Towers (which He would have saved if His people had prayed); or when this Jesus is holding a small black child that is supposed to represent an “AIDS baby,” whom they drop flies on from a ladder above during the video. Yeah, some of the movie is pretty over-the-top in the taste category. But the idea of seeing the ridiculous in some of the “crossover” and “mainstream acceptance of Christian music” philosophies was priceless. There was a real heart-warming scene where the pastor realizes he’s got a group of friends that care about him. It’s quite a fun movie, which started out as a web series.

the future of glitter rock?

Sam Hancock of Luminate.

After the funny movie I went over to Rocketown to see a couple more bands perform. Luminate was rocking through a version of “Shine.” This band has really honed its sound well. The Shiny Darks put on a rabble-rousing set of snotty punk rock.

The look of punk

The Shiny Darks.

They’ve got a great look and attitude. Afterwards I conned Erin to taking us back to B.B. King’s before the night was over. Just like she did two years ago when Bloodgood played Rocketown, she rang in her birthday around midnight by listening to the melodic metal of the 80s. Before Stryper came on for its acoustic set, I noticed the guys in Manic Drive were sporting some cool suits and putting on quite a visible show.

Canadian import

Manic Drive’s Michael Cavallo.

I went up to the front to take pictures and I was blown away by their professional performance. They were entertaining to the max, shoving their guitars around and moving in syncopated motions to the tunes of their smart and quirky alternative pop rock. They get my vote for most-improved act of the year (both in songwriting and performing), though they’ve been working hard at this for a good decade or more.

explaining a song

Prior to playing, Michael told a few stories.

Stryper‘s acoustic set with Michael Sweet and Oz Fox was above and beyond what I think anyone expected. Instead of a couple of bar stools and a lot of syruppy balads, they were rocking through brilliant acoustic versions of fast, double-lead metal tunes, like “Calling On You” and “Soldiers Under Command.” They were bending strings and hitting high notes (both of them) with harmonies of the vocal and guitar variety. It was quite impressive.

Notice the string bending

Michael Sweet and Oz Fox going after it.

[Note: Now, after seeing some of the videos and knowing that I tweet about a lot of this stuff as it’s happening at an event like this, isn’t it about time you started following me at twitter and bookmarking my facebook page (it acts as my social networking interface for HM Magazine). Go for it.

Oh yeah, there was the Dove Awards, too. I usually don’t attend that but once every few years. There’s not a lot of rock or real edgy music going down at that awards show. On my last day there I sat in on another event put on by the Extreme Tour folks, led by Ted Bruun and Allan Aguirre. I shared a little bit about how I came upon my definition of what it means to be a “Christian journalist,” and then sat and listend to Allan as he explained in great biblical detail about our identity as saints of God and the authority that Christ gave us. It got me pretty fired up to hear that kind of encouragement. He tried to help us set the bar higher for our art. Good stuff. I hopped on over to the Thompson’s house, who hosted a BBQ cookout on behalf of Gyroscope Arts, who do the advertising/marketing for HM Magazine and Cornerstone. There was about 60 artists and friends over there hanging out. It was a great way to end the week.