Album Review :
Sonshine Festival in Wilmar, Minnesota

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This review was co-written by Steve Sloan and BMer

(BM)The Sonshine Festival in Minnesota is starting to become a tradition for me.  Even though the festival has been around for almost 30 years, i’ve only gone to the past two.  Its a little strange since i grew up in Northern California and we currently live in Colorado, my wife is from Minnesota and used to go to the festival as a teenager.  Now i’m flying out there to meet up with an old colleague and take in the festival, which is now 3 full days long.  A very fortunate coincidence this year found both myself, and fellow IVM writer Steve Sloan both at Sonshine, he’s currently living in the area.

Sonshine has three main stages, two stages for mainstream artists like Newsboys and David Crowder, and a second stage for somewhat more accessible poppy bands like Children 18:3 and the Supertones.  The third stage is the heavy music stage, setup in a hockey rink. On one end of the rink is the stage and the other end is the merch and the load-in.  Basically there is only one big entrance to the rink so bands and fans are all in the same area, creating a pretty intimate dynamic for fans to meet their favorite bands and labels.  There’s also a fourth stage, outdoors, for small bands like The Suit and Blank Page Empire.

Obviously Steve and I spent a majority of our time at the HM Stage, occasionally wondering off to catch David Crowder or Addison Road.  Steve has a little more tolerance than i do for the mainstream acts so he’ll have to tell you about them.  The weather this year was really hot and really humid (something i’m not used to coming from Denver) and therefore us old folk weren’t able to survive entire evenings cramped into a hockey rink standing on hard concrete for hours.  Fortunately Steve and I have somewhat different tastes within the hardcore/metalcore genre so between us we saw almost every band that played.

The first night featured some of Minnesota’s up-and-coming bands like Venia and Your Memorial.  Hands also played and apparently consider Minnesota home even though they’re from North Dakota.  We arrived mid-afternoon and didn’t bother setting up our camper because i didn’t want to miss Venia. We jammed over to the stage to find that there had been a slight delay because some bands had dropped off.  The crowd was full of amped up teenagers waiting to unleash all of the pent-up teenage aggression so when Venia finally took the stage everything broke loose!  Even though i’m sure not everyone was familiar with Venia, they danced throughout the set featuring songs Seeker, Predictable and Strength of Heart.  They also played a new song that will be on the 7” released later this fall.

After Venia was Take It Back, another band that apparently didn’t have a huge backing among the kids but was able to keep the crowd going.  I was impressed with the tightness of the band, especially the drummer which was solid.  I’m not totally down with the new singer although he was rocking a Ruiner shirt! His live vocals were pretty weak but his messages to the kids were very well taken, reminding them that not everything said through a microphone is truth, to question everything.  I believe their set consisted of songs mainly from Atrocities because i didn’t recognize all of them, but they did close with Skies Are Empty.

After that it was Hands who are always solid live.  Shane Ochsner’s vocals are ridiculous, my buddy Alan and I concluded that they were probably the best of the weekend, powerful and throaty yet still somewhat melodic.  He also announced between songs that his wife is expecting!  Drummer Josh Silbernagel was the MC for HM Stage all three days and was responsible for raising over $2000 for the Overseer who had their trailer stolen with all of their gear.  Josh started collecting donations Thursday night and was relentless all the way through Saturday evening.

We skipped Showbread to grab some dinner, and then headed back to catch Minnesota’s Your Memorial who recently signed to Facedown Records.  We saw them last year and were impressed, they were even better this year. Blake is an ideal front man who commands the stage and has a huge presence.  They had a very passionate set and played a new track from their upcoming release November 9th.  I did notice that they were playing along with a track that featured a lot of lead guitar parts and asked their bass player about it afterwards.  He said that they lost their 2nd guitarist about 2 years ago and haven’t added a replacement, they just got used to playing with the track.  That was a little concerning to me, somewhat of a letdown considering the track had the lead parts while the live guitarist was playing mostly rhythm.  I’m sure they’ll add a 2nd guitarist in the future.

(SS) This was my 2nd year of seeing Impending Doom at Sonshine and both times they did a great show.  Nothing really memorable happened during the show to make me recall anything but it was just another solid performance by Impending Doom.

(BM)The headliner for the night was August Burns Red and they never disappoint.  I think the mix at Sonshine this year was much better than last year, allowing the vocals to be out front and clear enough to understand.  ABR was probably the biggest crowd, at least close to the biggest and they were fueled by the energy, blasting through Meddler, 30 & 7, Mariana’s Trench, White Washed, Your Little Suburbia, and closing with the 7th Trumpet.  Frontman Jake talked about his faith between songs which was also refreshing.

We left before the encore to catch the end of the Integrity Worship set on the outside Stage 2 featuring The Ember Days.  It was a great way to end Day 1 and get some rest before Day 2, us old folk need our sleep, we can’t stay up all night like the high schoolers do.

DAY 2

Day 2 on the HM Stage featured the Scream the Prayer Tour. Throughout the day we heard from different bands that some of the bands were not going to make it due to troubles, including Blessed by a Broken Heart.  I’ve never seen BBABH so I was bummed, and the Tour this year was not carrying the heavyweights of the past few years, featuring some more up-and-coming bands like Hundredth and I The Breather.  Since the start time had been pushed back we decided to check out The Supertones around 4p.  We lasted about 2.5 songs, Adonai and Supertones Strike Back, before heading in to catch the beginning of the HM Stage.

First up was The Great Commission, they were powerful and heavy.  It looked like they had 3 guitarists on stage, included a female who was also providing the backup vocals.  She was incredible, her snarl was fierce and she held her own very well.  The Great Commission mentioned that they hadn’t been touring much, but were about to release a new album.  The highlight of their set was probably the Hillsong cover for the closer.

Next up was In The Midst of Lions, they were intense.  Heavy awesomeness, and great energy as well.  The drummer was very fun to watch, he couldn’t stay in his seat; he was standing up and pounding on his drums.  They played great, some very entertaining duel guitar solos, a guest vocals appearance from Josh of Hands during “Reborn” a new song, as well as another new song “The Machine” too.  They opened with “Tongues of Fire” and closed with “Herod’s Demise”.

After ITMOL was Hundredth. I’ve been waiting to see these guys live, I love their album and everything I’ve read has been positive about their live show.  They opened with “Catalyst” and then “Willows”.  They had a lot of energy but the crowd didn’t love it for some reason, probably not many of the kids have checked out the band before their performance, but they were grabbing the merch after the set.  Their music revolves around some heavy themes about violence and losing friends, and the bands passion was unmistakable.  They played “Betrayer”, “Brighter”, then closed with “Desolate”.

There were a lot of newer bands this evening so only real fans of hardcore/metalcore were hanging out at the front of stage which made the crowds smaller, but very energetic.  Apparently the rest of the kids were over at the main stage checking out Superchick and Hyland…no comment.

I The Breather was up next.  Coming off their recent signing to Summarian Records these guys haven’t even released an album yet, but the crowd was still buzzing.  This band is connected to a lot of bigger bands like Oh Sleeper and August Burns Red so the buzz seems justified, and their performance was awesome.  The band seemed to understand that no one would know their songs so they had to impress fans with their energy, I think the fact that the singer was crowd surfing probably helped.  Their sound is sort of like August Burns Red with technical drumming and guitar-work that is very intricate and sweeping.  The songs they played were “Longevity”, “Crown Me King”, and “High Rise” and a few others that I didn’t quite recognize.

After that I think it was The Color Morale.  They’ve had some vehicle problems and whatnot but they were able to make the show, and were pretty good.  The singer told a story about how the band was touring in Texas and their van broke down.  They rented a U-Haul truck and 3 of the band members rode in the back, in some serious heat.  Pretty impressive I guess, anyway, I only remember recognizing “Hummanniquin”.

(SS) After The Color Morale (By the way, The Color Morale gave me a shout out during their set), A Plea for Purging proceeded to add to the great day of Scream the Prayer.  For the second straight year, APFP had some difficulties starting the show and after an abrupt start in which Andy actually stopped the band and made fun of themselves for messing up, APFP began to go heavy and fast.  They actually played a lot of their new material off the new album.  My favorite track they did was “Shiver.”

(BM)We took a break after this to get some food and rest our feet.  We walked over to the main stage to catch a few songs from Dave Crowder, where apparently 19,000 of the 20,000 people also were.  Unfortunately we walked over right as they started to play “I Saw the Light” hoedown and well, there were a lot of older folks participating in the hoedown.  We walked around for a bit and checked out the awkward Christian merch, shirts with the “Gossip Girl” logo on the front, but instead saying “Gospel Girl” and 14-yr old girls walking around with shirts saying “Virginity Rocks”.  Too much for me personally, like I said, awkward.

After getting some food and chilling out we headed back to catch Project 86.  I’m not the biggest fan of theirs but it was cool to see a lot of really devoted Project fans pogo-sticking and just letting loose.  Project still puts on a great show, lots of energy and they play some of their greatest songs, always ending with “The Spy Hunter.”  They also played a few new songs from their upcoming release.

The headliner this night was Maylene and the Sons of Disaster.  This was my first time seeing this band and I knew it was going to be a little weird in this setting.  The hockey rink was about half as full as it was during bands like For Today and August Burns Red which was a little lame for a headliner, but then again Maylene isn’t really music you can hardcore dance to, so what were the kids going to do, actually listen to the music?  Maylene was rocking with a smoke machine and some good old southern rock guitar solos.  I was really impressed with the band as they rolled through “Step Up”, “Listen Close”, “Last Train Coming”, and “Tough as John Jacobs”.

Another full day and we were off to bed, only one more day to go.

DAY 3

Day 3 was full of anxiety as we were scheduled to interview The Devil Wears Prada but hadn’t received the final confirmation from their manager.  We spent a chunk of the morning at a nearby lake trying to stay cool from the heat and relax.  Once we got back to the Sonshine grounds we heard from the manager that we would be interviewing the band at 4p on their bus so most of the rest of the afternoon was spent getting organized and laying low.

We ventured over to the rink a little early in hopes of catching some Big Al, in the mornings the HM stage turns into the Holy Hip-Hop stage.  It’s almost tough to watch the hip-hop artists because there are only maybe 10 kids in there.  I felt so bad for them, they’re trying to do crowd-response moments but there’s no crowd.  We missed Big Al but did catch a little SaulPaul and Psalm Fresh which was cool.

At about 4p we headed to the area where The Devil Wears Prada bus was located.  After essentially barbecuing in the heat the band showed their mercy and let us board their air-conditioned, fully out-fitted touring bus for the interview which you can see here.

The Devil Wears Prada Interview at Sonshine 2010 from Indie Vision Music on Vimeo.

After the interview we got dinner and reminisced.  We headed back to the rink to catch Blank Page Empire, another local band that is on the rise.  They were great, Ryan’s vocals were solid and the band showed a lot of power and aggression during their set along with some of their more restrained material.  Unfortunately they don’t have a ton of material yet so they played just about every good song from their debut release Theives, Beggars, and Liars, but it was still a short set.

After this some bad weather began to roll in.  Eventually we had to make our way back to our car as the tornado sirens sounded.  Sonshine shutdown the mainstage and instructed everyone to either head to the high-school or their cars.  It was pretty intense there for about an hour but in the end nothing too bad happened.  I’m not sure if the HM Stage rolled on through the storm or what but when we got back we were just in time to catch A Hope For Home’s set.

(SS) Becoming the Archetype was one of the shows I was looking forward too most because I love their music and have never seen them live before.  They were a late Tuesday addition to Sonshine taking the place of MyChildren MyBride (I still don’t know why MCMB were a no show).  BTA started out playing their discography from Terminate Damnation through Dichotomy.  The also played their latest single Necrotizing Fasciitis and a new song that I didn’t catch the name of.  The new song by the way was a great song.  I spoke to vocalist Jason after their set and they said that they would have a new album out in early 2011.  This show was a surprise for a lot of people.  BTA started with less than half the hockey rink full which is kind of small for an artist of their caliber and place in the lineup but by about half way through their set the crowd had swelled and began the usually large circle pit and tons of hardcore dancers on the perimeter.  It was the first time BTA had played Sonshine in about five years and given the fact that they hardly ever do shows in this part of the country I assume most of the crowd had never really heard or seen much of them before.  I would say that they had won over quite a few fans by the end of their set

(BM)Sleeping Giant played second to last on the evening. They were short a guitarist so they’re sound wasn’t as full as usual, but nonetheless they still brought the force playing through most of their popular songs like “Blame it on the Holy Rollers” and “No One Leaves This Room Sick”.  Tommy shared his testimony before “Whoremonger” as he usually does.  They also played a new song coming off of their upcoming release.

(SS)After a long day of extreme humidity and weather warnings, it was finally time for TDWP to take the stage.  While I didn’t catch the whole show because I couldn’t stand any longer (probably wasn’t too smart of me to take on Sonshine after major back surgery 6 weeks before).  This was the first time I had the pleasure of seeing TDWP and they didn’t disappoint.  The show started out at max capacity filling the hockey rink.  They started off the show dedicating their set to a young fan that had unexpectedly died the year before.  The crowd instantly turned into mayhem of hardcore dancers, circle pits, and mosh pits.  The craziness reminded me of As I Lay Dying closing down Sonshine the year before.  TDWP played a lot of their “…Roots…” album and even played their newest song “Outnumbered” from their upcoming Zombie EP.   I was amazed at TDWP’s stage presence and the quality of the show.  A lot of bands good or bad sound different live than on their albums but TDWP sounded incredible.

(BM) As the headliners and the band that would close Sonshine The Devil Wears Prada had a lot of responsibility and they did not disappoint.  They are so impressive live, Mike’s vocals are awesome and he keeps varying his growls throughout.  He took a moment between songs to underscore the bands faith in Christ as well, which was cool to hear, but not shocking since we were at a Christian festival.  They played most of the songs you would expect “Sassafras”, “Danger:Wildman”, “Ben Has a Kid”, “Assistant to the Reginal Manager”, “Dogs Can Grow Beards All Over” and many others.  They also played “Outnumbered” off of their upcoming Zombies EP.  For their encore they started with “Louder Than Thunder” then closed with “Hey John, Whats Your Name Again?”.

Throughout the weekend bands instructed the kids to participate in “the biggest circle pit ever” which was interpreted as taking a lap around the hockey rink, no “pit” included.  It was pretty annoying after awhile as it merely resulted in kids sprinting around in a circle.  When this event happened during The Devil Wears Prada the band wasn’t exactly impressed, as Mike put it: “it’s more like a moat, with a small island in the middle.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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