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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2003

Youth-oriented festivals to roll into region

Kutless has a smoldering rock style, inspirational lyrics. Kutless has a smoldering rock style, inspirational lyrics.
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Twenty one musical acts, one comedian, a preacher, and sideshows ranging from bungee jumping to a motorcycle stunt-riding exhibition are headed this way as two touring youth-oriented Christian music festivals will be rolling into the region.

Festival Con Dios, headlined by the Newsboys, Kutless, Plus One, and Toledo's own Sanctus Real, is setting up its traveling amphitheater tomorrow on the grounds of Sandusky Mall on U.S. 250 in Sandusky, Ohio.

Shoutfest, whose stars include ZOEgirl, Tait, Skillet, and Tree63, will be featured Oct. 7 at Cathedral of Praise in Sylvania. The event, which had originally been scheduled for Thursday but was postponed several weeks, also will include bungee jumping, rock-wall climbing, and inflatable games.

“We're really excited about the Shoutfest tour,” said Kristin Swinford, one of the three members of the female trio ZOEgirl. “We've been in the process of evolving, musically, and this tour will expand our audience a little more.”

The group started out in 1999 as a bubbly dance-pop vocal band whose upbeat songs were aimed primarily at 12-to-16-year-old female music fans. Their lyrics offered inspirational messages about challenges their audience commonly faced, including low self-esteem, eating disorders, suicide, and teen sex.

“It was so rewarding to look into these little girls' eyes and realize we're having a positive influence on their lives,” Ms. Swinford, 25, said in a recent interview.

The group's self-titled debut and its 2001 follow-up, the more R&B-influenced “Life,” made ZOEgirl a rising star in the contemporary Christian music field and their first two discs sold more copies than any other new artist in Sparrow Records' 25-year history.

But Ms. Swinford said she and her colleagues - Chrissy Conway and Alisa Girard - wanted to be able to grow artistically and not be confined to a marketing niche. That growth is reflected in a third disc, “Different Kind of Free,” which comes out Tuesday, she said.

“We threw out any sort of mold and tried to create music that we wanted to create,” Ms. Swinford said. “The music is so diverse and it's a little bit deeper, I would say, in terms of the lyrics. This is the album that we've been waiting to create.”

Despite the changes, ZOEgirl's basic message remains the same.

“First and foremost, with each of us, our faith is the thing we're most passionate about and that we end up writing most of our songs about,” Ms. Swinford said. “Our ultimate goal is to express to our listeners and show them that our relationship with God changed our lives and helps us face things, the struggles and pressures of life every Christian faces.”

The new ZOEgirl sound will appeal to a slightly older audience, she said, and in many cases it may be the same girls who were just entering their teens when the trio first hit the national spotlight.

The three band members were all singer-songwriters in their own right who had been pursuing separate career paths when they joined forces in 1999.

“None of us had any idea we'd be doing a three-girl band,” Ms. Swinford said.

She had been in a pop-rock band, Ms. Girard had been working as a solo artist, and Ms. Conway was in a band with the singer Pink.

“When the idea was presented to us, each of us really felt this sense of calling to it, that we need to do it,” Ms Swinford said. “It's not what we expected but we're seeing now God had a purpose for bringing us together. It's evident in the letters we get from people who tell us how the music has impacted their lives. It confirms this is what we should be doing now.”

Kutless is one of the bright new stars in Christian rock, with a smoldering rock style paired with inspirational lyrics. The group's self-titled debut disc on Tooth and Nail Records has sold more than 100,000 copies and produced such hit songs as “Your Touch” and “Tonight.”

The five-person group started out as a praise-and-worship band at Warner Pacific College in Portland, Ore., and later decided to write and perform original songs, guitarist James Mead said in a recent interview.

The group is in the process of recording its sophomore disc, tentatively titled “Sea of Faces,” and will be playing some of the new songs on Festival Con Dios, Mr. Mead said.

“On our last record, the songs would tend to be written by one person, but on this record there's a lot of creativity and a lot of contributions from everyone. What's really cool is that everyone's taking part in it and by the end of the song it's like, `Man, who wrote this?' It's really a group effort.”

Mr. Mead, 20, is the newest member of Kutless, accepting an offer two years ago to join lead singer John Micah Sumrall, guitarist Ryan Shrout, drummer Kyle Mitchell, and bassist Stu (who goes by the single name).

“I got saved when I was a junior in high school and I was in a secular band at that point,” Mr. Mead said. “As I started to grow in the Lord, I realized that wasn't the direction I wanted to go in my life so I quit that band. It was kind of a big deal at that point because we were getting offers from major labels. But I turned my back on that and just placed my life in the able hands of the Lord. And three months after I joined Kutless we got a record contract. So the Lord worked all that out.”

Festival Con Dios runs from 4-10 p.m. tomorrow at Sandusky Mall, Sandusky, Ohio. Performing will be the Newsboys, Plus One, Kutless, Sanctus Real, Thousand Foot Krutch, Seven Places, KJ 52, FM Static, Stereo Motion, Matthew West, and Sky Harbor. Tickets are $20 in advance from Ticketmaster, or $25 tomorrow. In addition to the musical groups, the festival will include comedian Bob Smiley, speaker Ryan Dobson, a Christian music talent search, a community cook-off, extreme games, and a motorcycle stunt show.

Shoutfest will be held from 4-10 p.m. Oct. 7 at Cathedral of Praise, 5225 West Alexis Rd., Sylvania. Performing will be Tait, featuring Michael Tait of dc Talk, ZOEgirl, Skillet, Tree63, Nate Sallie, Kelcey, Overflow, Tinman Jones, Detour 180, and Lil iROCC. There will be 6 “extreme games” including bungee jumping and a rock-climbing wall. Tickets are $22. Information: 419-882-8463.

- DAVID YONKE



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