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The quote “It was a dark and stormy night” is not exactly how you would probably imagine an article relating to one of the premier Christian festivals of the year to begin. But truthfully, by the closing of the 16th annual Purple Door Arts and Music Festival, it was a dark evening, and stormy enough in Lebanon, Pennsylvania for its closing acts to be re-located inside to the second and third stages. The festival organizers need commended for dealing with numerous scheduling issues throughout the weekend both efficiently and professionally.  With the recent events of disasters in this season of outdoor festivals, the Purple Door staff ensured everyone was safe and accounted for, and still got their ticket’s worth in the face of the weather obstacles.

Facedown Records artist Sleeping Giant had to pull out at the last minute, causing Saturday’s LBC Insider Stage schedule to be shuffled around. The Purple Door crew had enough time to communicate that change with an insert in the program, with local band My Heart to Fear stepping up to take the spot of Sleeping Giant.

The hectic schedule changes of Saturday started with Disciple, the band scheduled to kick off the main stage’s final three acts of the festival, got delayed, and their set moved to closing the fest inside at the LBC stage, with Aaron Gillespie stepping up to play a second set. And then the rain came, with the forecast showing no letting up of dangerous conditions. They started tearing down the stage as Abandon Kansas was playing, then informing people that Project 86 and Underoath would be taking place inside the second stage, while Disciple would be moved to the third stage taking place after official headliner Underoath finished their set. Sadly for Gillespie fans, his unplanned second set was then cancelled.

For the past 10 years, Purple Door has been held at Ski Roundtop, about an hour away from the Lebanon Fairgrounds location that hosted this year’s festival. It was a good move, as the rain would have probably caused a cancellation or shortening of the festival at the old Ski Roundtop location, which lacked sufficient indoor seating. In the ten years since the Fest was last held in Lebanon, the landscape of the Christian scene has certainly changed. If you look back to 2000, the last time Purple Door graced the Fairgrounds of Lebanon, of the 31 acts that appeared in 2000, only Project 86 and Denison Witmer returned to the stage this year. Some bands from 2000, like Relient K and Switchfoot have gone on to bigger and better things. Some, like Burlap to Cashmere and The Supertones, have split up and reunited in the space of a decade. Others like Beanbag and Skankin Buvas are barely footnotes in the history of the festival.

The majority of the teenage collective that made up this year’s Purple Door attendees probably were not listening to 2000 Purple Door headliner Supertones a decade ago, and sadly probably can’t name a single Joy Electric or Pedro The Lion song, two other acts from that year’s festival. But they can sing along with the barely intelligible screams of the Spencer Chamberlain lead Underoath and mosh to the chaos that is the Chariot.

The festival began Friday night with local band The Historic kicking off the LBC Insider Stage, formerly the stage named after HM Magazine. The second stage in traditionally the harder of the two stages, The Historic is not however a metal band. The early arrivals to the stage, securing their front of the barricade placement for the harder acts later, gave polite applause to the Lancaster based Americana band.

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SisterBrother and Ocean Is Theory followed, again neither being of the metal variety, but providing perfectly enjoyable productions for the lead up to more punkish Yesterday Is Waiting. I must give props to Ocean Is Theory, as they were one of the very few bands to actually promote themselves throughout the festival grounds with flyers and posters. Local violin rock band Reilly kicked off the main stage, while I missed the Hershey, PA based band Yesterday Is Waiting on LBC, choosing rather to check out a personal favorite, House of Heroes. House of Heroes played a pleasant seven song set, which included songs from their last two full lengths “Surburba” and “The End Is Not The End”

The volume finally got turned up with Texas In July on the LBC stage, a local band that has been making national headway. They recently went through a somewhat controversial situation with Bryan Kemper, as Kemper attacked them for not pulling out of a major mainstream tour that picked up a sponsor he felt endorsed abortion.

I did not catch the entire TIJ set, so I’m not sure they addressed the situation. Kemper was at the festival the next day, but I bowed out of his talk early due to him using descriptions of an explicit nature, which were frankly unnecessary and stomach turning.

I tried to catch some of Lacrae at the main stage, but got distracted by some friends. I wasn’t too concerned as I saw him two years ago at the 2009 Purple Door mainstage, and was quite surprised how popular he was, considering I had never heard of him. Granted, I don’t follow the Christian Hip Hop scene at all, but apparently he is quite popular. Shortly after 8:35, the band I came to see took the stage. Douglasville, Georgia only has about 20,000 residents, but a few of them got together and formed the incredible metalcore band The Chariot.

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If you have never seen a show by the Chariot, please, and I do mean please, do everything in your power to catch them live. Do not pay attention to their recorded sounds via CD or LP, go to their show, and experience rock music like you always wanted, but never knew you needed. The albums are pretty great, too, but the live show is out of this world, and a show I would recommend to anyone who could possibly enjoy the current metal scene. They will be touring with Underoath in September and October before heading out on their own headline tour in November and December.

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The chaos of the Chariot is a beauty to behold, like a Viking Warrior giving birth to a bolt of lightning while experiencing roid rage. I’m pretty sure even attending a Chariot show will cause excessive hair growth on your chest, no matter your gender. A true leader of mainly rock shows, lead demolitionist and singer Josh Scogin is backed by a somewhat revolving cast of characters, as he is the only remaining member of the original lineup from 2003.

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Highlights of songs I could make out from within the sandstorm of sound that blasted from the speakers included “Back To Back” from the 2007 album “The Fiancée” and “Calvin Makenzie” from their newest release “Long Live”

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After the dust had settled and the indoor stage cleared, Nashville, TN Sony recording artist RED closed the Friday portion of the festival, playing their popular version of Christian alternative rock. Saturday came early, with some bands starting up at 10am. Seeing as how my plan was to stay until after 10pm, I chose to skip a few of the earlier bands and kick off Saturday with Ace Augustine, the second band to play the LBC stage.

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Ace Augustine signed to Strike First Records last year after being noticed at Purple Door and they released their full length The Absolute. They recently launched their first tour earlier this summer with fellow local act I Am History. The Lancaster/Lebanon area were familiar with Ace, and the out of town folks got a quick education with songs such as “Delorean” and “The Merchant Tales”

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When Sleeping Giant had to pull out, last year’s winner of a battle of bands to play Purple Door, My Heart To Fear stepped up and was able to take their slot. They were followed on the LBC stage by As Hell Retreats and then the Baltimore band I The Breather.

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While all that was going on, I took glimpses of the Relevant Magazine stage, the number three stage this year, for Mike Main and the Branches, and Deas Vail as Ascend the Hill and The Ember Days played an extra long worship set on the main stage outdoors.

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Showbread took the LBC stage shortly after 3, and was a refreshingly honest approach to the metal scene. You can go to their website and download their newest album for free of charge.

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For Today closed out the afternoon on the second stage, speaking a message that seemed to have touched a lot of hearts in the audience. I split a few songs into their set to chill at the Relevant stage with the soothing sounds of Denison Witmer and then a powerful worship set by Aaron Gillespie.

Then the schedule basically went whacky, and as the rain started to drizzle down on the people watching Abandon Kansas on the main stage, the race was on to move Project 86’s and Underoath’s gear to the LBC stage indoors to avoid the storm coming.

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A little bit behind schedule, but nonetheless ready to produce a pounding show of excellent rock, Andrew Schwab led his band Project 86 to the barricade separating them and the masses. They leaned over the barricade and basically played the entire first song in the sea of fans.

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After a loud and powerful set, the long set change for Underoath was underway. Using a video projector and lot of blue lights, the boys rocked out and gave the people a show to remember.  Some people chose to forgoe the end of the Underoath set to get in line for the closed building that was about to host Disciple, who after their flight was delayed, and having been up for over 20 hours, took the Relevant Stage and played for the hardcores that stayed around until 11pm to catch every last song.

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After that, it was kind of sad to end the 2011 Purple Door experience. While the crowd was tired and worn out after a 12+ hour day of sun, heat, music and worship, you almost wanted to push through and keep going.

One of the great things about Purple Door is you get a decent variety of music, and you can either chill all day by one stage, or move around hitting all the bands for a song or three. While I didn’t catch entire sets, I was also able to hear a little bit of a lot of different acts. A smorgasbord of sonic delights, your basic fair food, and some interesting characters of attendees make up a pleasant way to spend a day and a half in the Pennsylvania sun.

Purple Door is highly recommended if you are near the area and enjoy at least some of the bands listed. You can watch the few bands you enjoy, and relax and enjoy the atmosphere and fellowship the rest of the time. —

Michael Todaro 717-460-3980 mike@michaeltodaro.com www.michaeltodaro.com

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