Over the years I have probably seen hundreds of concerts, but on Friday April 17, I was able to experience a different side of the live show at Circle Theatre in Alliston, Ontario.
I was able to go behind the scenes and spend the day with Anthem For Today. I traveled with the band, helped set up the gear, ate, did devotions, watched the show, and then tore everything down at the end of the night.
As a fan, my concert experience lasts a couple of hours. For the band, it started at 1:30 and wrapped up after midnight when they got home.
Here is what I learned by attending an Anthem For Today show:
• Travelling is sometimes the longest part. In my case, we only travelled 45 minutes to the show and 45 minutes home. But next week the drive is over 8 hours each way. Bring a good book, lots of snacks, and your phone/laptop.
• Every show begins with a walk through. AFT manager, Scott Jackson, meets with the promoter to be sure everything is ready for the big show (dressing rooms, meal times, stage is clear, find washrooms [hugely important], locate the breaker panel if there are power questions, parking, find spot for selling merchandise, etc).
• Setting up the stage is truly an art form. Normally I show up and just enjoy a show and never think about how much work goes into putting it all together. The band asks for help when they arrive to carry everything inside from the trailer. Normally the promoter finds some volunteers. The crew in Alliston was amazing. But if the promotor has not booked anyone, the band has to do it – alone. Imagine if you went to work every day and had to unload your office furniture from a trailer by yourself. And then at the end of the day, pack it up and put it back in a trailer. That is basically what these guys do every day, except they are setting up a stage full of equipment. So when they arrive and see a willing group of volunteers, they are extremely grateful.
• Everyone in the band has their job. They do it extremely well and are very efficient. They have performed over 100 shows so they have it down to a science. What starts as many cases filled with mic cords, wires, fog machine, speakers, instruments, etc, gets transformed into an amazing concert set in a relatively short period of time.
• The sound check is eerily similar to the one at your worship team practice. Everyone plugs in their gear and starts playing at the same time…ha! That is until the sound guy (Evan Duran) turns on his own mic (yes, he has the power) and asks them to quiet down. Of course they quickly get to work and make sure that all of their hard work of setting up has paid off. In this show, lead singer Pip Lucas was using a brand new microphone and when they first turned it on it sounded terrible. But some quick changes to some of the settings and Pip was loving it and couldn’t wait to use it in the show.
• All of their lights are controlled using software on a laptop. They are even synchronized with the music. How cool is that? But at each venue, Robert van der Grift, makes sure each light is pointed in the right spot on stage.
• Jordan Melo, G.I. Holm, and Davey Hooper make sure they their instruments are set up, tuned up, and ready to go.
• Mealtime. This is the great unknown. Quite often you are at the mercy of the promoter. The band asks for a healthy meal but sometimes it is less than delicious. In Alliston, the meal was amazing (Homemade lasagna, three different kinds of bread, Caesar salad, veggie and fruit trays, etc). Alliston Christian Reformed Church really took care of the guys.
• After the meal, the band has a short time to relax before hitting the stage. As they let their food settle, it was time for the band devotional. The guys take turns doing devotionals and on Friday it was G.I.’s turn. It was so good. He was well prepared, vulnerable, and challenging. He read the story of Jonah from the Bible. He reminded us how God put Jonah in a situation he didn’t want to be in. Remember? Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. G.I. said, “But Jonah took time to evangelize regardless of the situation he was in. We might have our own Nineveh, somewhere we don’t want to go. But God can do amazing things through us. Don’t let your own desires and insecurities get in the way of what God wants you to do.” Amen. Thanks G.I.
• When the devotional is over, each band member goes into their suitcase (yes, they brought a suitcase for one show) to get their stage clothes on for the show. I guess if you put the effort into purchasing thousands of dollars of equipment, you should probably look your best on stage too.
• This show was special because All Flaws In Progress (Samuel Campsall - Lead Vocalist & Pianist, Damon Geelen - Guitarist & Current Studio Bassist, Isaiah…aka Iggy…Campsall - Drummer & Backup Vocalist) , a new band from Lindsay, opened the show. They are a talented group of guys with a fun, acoustic sound. They were easy to get along with and have lots of confidence for a band that is just getting started.
• Finally, it was time for Anthem For Today to hit the stage. This is it! The travel started more than six hours ago and now the moment had arrived. But before they hit the stage, I had the honour of praying for the night. It was so good to be a part of something that had been booked, planned, promoted, set up, and now the band was saying, we have done our thing, God, over to you.
• As I slumped down in one of the seats as the guys were about to hit the stage, I realized that I was already tired, and these guys were about to put everything they had into a show. I was so impressed and proud of them at the same time.
If you didn’t make it to the show, here’s what you missed:
• They sang their hits including Earthquake, Falling Asleep At The Wheel, Walk Away, Louder, Inside Out, Way Too Young, and soon to be hit, Raise It Up.
• G.I. took over lead vocals and did an amazing cover of U2’s Beautiful Day. As I looked around the theatre, lots of people were singing along.
• They also did a couple of worship tunes. Everyone was standing and worshipping while they sang One Way and Happy Day.
• The guys also covered Hawk Nelson’s number one song,” Words,” and Anberlin’s, “A Day Late.”
• Lead singer Pip Lucas got deeply personal by sharing his own history of self-harm. I don’t have the statistics to back this up but am guessing there is at least one person at every show that needs to hear what Pip shares. Pip is fun and makes us laugh from the stage but also knows how to speak right to the heart. He is not shy about helping us understand that it is God’s strength that has brought him this far and will do the same for us if we ask.
• Pip and guitarist Davey Hooper followed up Pip’s talk with acoustic versions of Walk Away and Classic Crime’s Coldest Heart. The stripped down versions of songs is often when you get to hear Pip’s true talent and vocal range.
• One of the highlights of any show for me is when the musicians do solos. Davey, Robert, G.I., and Jordan did not disappoint. It is such an entertaining part of the show. Here's a shot of Davey's solo.
• From the, “The Show Must Go On,” department, the drum riser broke halfway through the show. But as per usual, Jordan had a big smile on his face and finished the show by playing the drums on a bit of a slant. Very impressive!
• Oh, and Samuel Campsall, of All Flaws In Progress jumped up on stage with Pip to sing Way Too Young together.
• The band does their curtain call, they bow, and the night is over right? Nope. Next up is a quick breather back stage before rushing out to meet as many members of the audience as possible. They sell merchandise, sign anything and everything, and take lots of pictures.
• I was also impressed to hear the guys reflect on the show. Each of them came off the stage and talked about how they could make the next show even better. I guess we know why they have done over 100 shows. Each time you see them, it will be better than before.
Ok, now, they get to go home…Right? Nope. Now it’s time to tear everything down and pack it back in the trailer. This usually takes just over an hour. You can probably understand that this is the toughest job of the night because there is nothing to look forward to other than getting back home as quickly as possible. But guess what? No one complained. Not one person. Instead, they got right to their job and packed as carefully and efficiently as they set up.
I can’t believe that Anthem For Today works that hard so the rest of us can enjoy an amazing show. I want to thank AFT Manager Scott Jackson for allowing me to travel and hang out with the guys for the day. Thanks to Pip, G.I., Davey, Robert, and Jordan for letting me ask lots of questions and be in your face all day. I know Friday was a great day, but not every show is like that. Thank you for following the call that God has placed on your life. I pray that He continues to use you, protect you, and give you creativity. Bless you guys!