Let me confess that I didn’t expect to enjoy Parachute music festival very much. I expected rampant consumerism, plastic presenters, TOO MUCH NOISE, and all the discomfort of camping without the compensations of the beach – which is where we had been for much of the last two weeks. But having washed most of the sand from our sleeping bags, we put the tent back into the van and took ourselves to Mystery Creek for four days (and nights) of full-on festival. And all my expectations were fulfilled.
But wait, THERE’S MORE!
While it’s true that I used my ear-plugs at almost every presentation, It’s also true that I really enjoyed most of the music! There were, as usual, a few dud bands, and some that where just boring. And this bears no relation to the amount of hype the bands got previously. One of the acts I walked out of was one of the ‘Big Name’ international bands. They were just mediocre. And one of my favourites was a completely unknown group who looked like schoolboys, but who produced some fantastic rock. And they were on the ‘Indie’ stage off to one side.
On the other hand, one of the acts I was perfectly prepared to sneer at, because it had been heavily promoted, turned out to be a real highlight of the festival. I bought the DVD even! ‘Rapture Ruckus’ is a rap/rock act whose front-man puts enormous energy into his performance, and works with the crowd the whole time. The lyrics were good, the music was great, the percussion was mindblowing. Look out for it in a service some-time soon!
Of course the big act for our family was Dave Dobbyn. We stood in the pouring rain and whooped and cheered and sang with him at his performance at Parachute two years ago. No way were we missing him this time! The girls and I managed to get right up front where we were very much in on the action and I got some great photos. The performance lacked the some-thing-special feel of braving a storm that the last one had, but it was nevertheless a thoroughly satisfying set. He wisely avoided many of the better known tunes through the bulk of it, bringing a variety of songs out of his large back-collection, and then finishing with the crowd-pleasing favourites.
The real find of the festival, however, was the ‘Massive’ stage. On the opposite side of the village from the mainstage, it was dominated by hip-hop styles, and exuded Pacifica. The ground was covered in clean sea-grass matting, the presenters were comfortably at home with crowd and performers, with no insecurity and no apparent need to whip up false hype ("Are you excited to be here!!??? I said are you EXCITED to be here!!!???!!!!" urrgh!) that characterised the big stages. They sat down on the edge of the stage, made jokes that were genuinely funny, got people involved, and generally had a good time. They even sang – and did it well. Of the four acts we saw there, one (a rap duo) was just a bit boring, though they were competent enough. Two dance groups were stunningly good. ‘Alkasayians’ danced and performed dance-dramas, and "Swarm" mixed up prayer, preaching, dance (lots of it and all very good), tagging(!!), mime, and more dance. They were all very impressive.
One other act hadn’t been able to make it to the festival, so they brought on several of the crew who read poetry, performed Fijian chants, and on the instant presented a deeply moving and impressively polished performance. If any one part of the festival gets a big thumbs up, it was the Massive stage.
Other highly enjoyable features included blues pianist and performer Dr Bob (aka Jeff Crabtree), the high-energy ‘Late 80s Mercedes’, good quality bathroom facilities, a big emphasis upon recycling, the challenge from World Vision head honcho Tim Costello to see the BIG picture of redemption, and the frequently funny, often crazy antics of 25 000 young people out to party for four days together! Such delights as endurance leap-frog, post-modern country dancing, and midnight soccer (at 3.00 a.m.). Most of this, of course, takes place in the wee small hours when the stages have finally shut down for the night, and the heat has become bearable.
Now for the gripes.
"God and Music is a Powerful Thing" proclaim the parachute tee-shirts. "Thing"? Since when is God a "Thing"? And since when does God need music or anything or anyone else to be powerful? If God is powerful with music, what is God without music? Just who is this ‘God’? You have to wonder. In fact I wondered throughout the festival if the parachute leaders were losing sight of the God who brought them into existence? So much of the preaching and so much of the ‘worship’ music was human directed. It wasn’t just applicable to human beings, it was all about human beings and all too often glorifying human beings. "I can sing of your love forever..", "I can find you anywhere…", "I know you…". Hubris. God got the occasional mention. Christ was barely acknowledged. I didn’t hear anything about the cross at all. Particularly I didn’t hear anything about the challenge to follow Christ on the way of the cross.
So the parachute people get a 10/10 for organisation, but a very sad 5/10 for the theology they preach and teach from the pulpit and through their songs. Send them back to school. Or at least persuade them to open their bibles.
But basically, we were blessed. And for that we’re really grateful and are happy to let them have our ticket money. And we may even go again next year…