Pockets of quaint houses lining leafy streets all but asleep as the bagpipes strike up the dulcet tones of “Amazing Grace” on a clear and starry night, it’s impossible not to be transfixed by the tune that breaks the heart and soothes the soul from Toowoomba’s Queen’s Park.
As the bagpipe player rests his lungs, Allan Meyer takes to the stage to deliver a sermon to awaken the sleepy Christian with a call to action to seek out ways to deliver God’s grace out in the world. Meyer is big on servanthood beyond church walls, a complement to the festival’s resounding social justice theme.
A vast and curious display of creativity, Easterfest is Australia’s premiere Christian music festival. It attracts some 40,000 people each year who are drawn to the three-day event’s array of acts from all music genres and the opportunity to socialise with people from all walks of life.
|Matt, Johanna and Elizabeth|
Easterfest is as heavy on social justice as it is on metal music with the delivery of messages from musicians of the work they’re involved with beyond recording, touring and promoting their albums.
Headline act Mercy Me, who cite U2 as an influence, have been involved with raising money for people affected by the Asian Tsunami as well as the medical needs of children through Compassion Australia. Melbourne singer/songwriter Jake Nauta is interviewed by Linton Chalmers of Compassion and tells of his family’s adoption of three boys from the Philippines.
Compassion is one of many charities and NGOs with tents (or bubbles, as it were) set up to attract the slew of teens who pass through the park en route to see their favourite acts. The Leprosy Mission Australia, Destiny Rescue, Heartcry Art and She Rescue Home are all represented. Invisible Children’s recent work is a strong talking point.
Three teenage girls follow the boys from Rapture Ruckus to the Big Top tent, barely stifling their giggles, while Greg and Francis are here from the Sunshine Coast to see their son James perform with Void If Removed in The Alley.
|Gabby, Maddi and Steff|
Fans of BMX/FMX crew JC Epidemic* also line up to get posters signed and stickers, while kids take in the activities at Kids World, blokes hang out in the Men's Shed, the ladies flock to Bella magazine's tent, and parents take a break in the YesHeIs café with its easy-listening acts and ready access to tea, coffee and snacks. The Wototo Children’s Choir attract a packed crowd wherever they perform, their smiles and message of hope leaving everyone upbeat.
In the city precinct, which is getting a major post-flood cash injection as people filter onto the streets in search of food and off-campus gigs, music workshops, song writing panels and music biz talks, the feeling is light and airy despite the ominous heat; teenagers skip about and young adults hang about the cafes hosting musicians.
Inside the main Pavillion, where Hillsong is giving away CDs and DVDs and Koorong bookstore provides bookish types with some reprieve, are also number of organisations promoting their work, including Pastor Andy Coller for The End of Greed, which is related to his advocacy for Uzbekistan children.
“The only reason we can buy $5 tee shirts is because we’re caught up in consumerism and don’t care about the people who make it,” he says.
“Uzbekistan is the third largest cotton exporter in the world, so they take their kids out of school to pick their cotton. We’re trying to make sure who people who make the clothes we wear don’t use cotton from Uzbekistan, which in turn we hope will force the government to change their practises. Pacific Brands came on board as we started – they’ve done more than we’ve asked. They’re good guys.”
Lifeline has set up a clothing outlet especially for the three days where people filter in and out, procuring sartorial oddities, like ballroom dresses, ties, sunglasses and hats, to wear throughout the rest of their stay and attract the most attention from passers by. One creative lad dons a bright pink leotard and tights.
While there are a number of issues being canvassed in forum settings around the park, from sex, drugs and abortion to fighting poverty with social media and creative community engagement, the overarching feeling is one of harmony; of people coming together to share in music, food, faith and the all-levelling portaloos. This is something showcased in the short film shown on the final night, made up of interviews produced by this year's Easterfest TV crew.
In the YWAM Chai Tent, cups of sweet tea are procured for a gold coin donation and young people sprawl about on cushions taking in the easy-listening musicians, such as Raising Ruins, Tom Eggert, Maddi Saward and Elijah Cavanagh. There's a style of music to suit all tastes, but a few attract larger crowds, like headline act Michael W. Smith whose gospel music goes over a treat (so much so one dejected teen boy is taken away from the standing pit in an ambulance, much to his annoyance).
While bags of washing will need to be done, and naps taken to make up for sleep deprivation, most people will also go home from Easterfest with short stories of God’s amazing grace, like the woman who dropped $20 only to have it returned to her pocket, the secret smiles exchanged between two women who find the heavy metal music a bit much for the ear drums (ho hum) and the woman whose car window was washed by a happy bloke she didn't know (thank you very much).
Girl With a Satchel
*GWAS is an unashamed supporter of her husband’s ministry JC Epidemic.