The Ottumwa Courier

July 15, 2013

Shouting the Good Word

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The driving sound of drums and electric guitars might not have disappointed a heavy metal fan, but the philosophy behind the music might have surprised them.

Young people at Promiseland Fest told the Courier that while these days they can hear Christian rock on the radio, seeing their favorite bands live is much different. One of the most popular of those playing at Ottumwa Park on Saturday was "Thousand Foot Krutch," known for both their rock music and Christian songs.

"We're waiting to see TFK," said Emilie Paddock, 17, of Carlisle, who came to Wapello County to hang out with friends and hear some live music.

But when asked what brings her to this type of concert, she answered, "Jesus."

So, can she only relate to rock music instead of the quiet hymns at a country church?

"I like that, too," Paddock said. "I think there's multiple ways you can worship God with music."

That idea, that there is more than one way to share the message in the Bible, is key to some performers combining their faith and their talent.

The lead singer for the rock band on the second stage seemed as comfortable talking to the crowd as he was singing for them. That makes sense: He's a licensed minister.

The song Steve Shettler and his band, "Piercing the Darkness," were starting was inspired by hard rock icons "Metallica."

"We're showing people the love of Jesus, expressed through music," he said after their set ended.

Everyone deserves to hear that message, he added, from old people to young. And music that teens can relate to gets the message out to a wider audience.

Promiseland Fest was founded by Ottumwa resident Nathan Grooms, who was busy helping a musician find a microphone Saturday afternoon.

"We feel in our hearts this community can use a positive influence. When there are issues in the community, we feel like that positive [feeling] " Grooms said. "Ultimately, we're out here with the message of what God has done for us in our lives, and we want to share that with others."

Last year, Grooms said, the festival was held at a campground north of Bloomfield off U.S. Highway 63. Ottumwa Park has more space and is easier to reach for more people. Grooms has definitely seen growth but can't say how much. With multiple entrances and no admission fee, keeping a count was not a priority. The fact that everyone was welcome, however, seemed more important.

"I don't think I'd be out of line to say that for some people, this may be the only church they get," said Doug McAntire, one of the festival volunteers. "But that's how God works. There are different ways to reach people. They need to hear the message, and the music gets them stirred up, [motivating them] to come and listen."

One of many volunteers, McAntire told the Courier that this is a great opportunity for his town, Ottumwa, where young people have said they want additional activities. More than 20 bands put on an outdoor summer concert with free admission. The acts drew Christian music fans as well as everyday rock fans.

Band after band played in Ottumwa Park on Friday and Saturday. There's a similarity you will notice among the band members, Shettler said: This is their chosen way to praise God. And no matter how hard they rehearse — or rock — musicians like Shettler make no secret of their priorities.

"We consider this a ministry," he said of the band.

For one piece of music, he spent a few minutes getting the audience ready to help out with a song. He wanted them to do the catchy, fun part. He and Piercing the Darkness taught the occupants of the park shelter house how to sing the "La La La" chorus.

And though the crowd couldn't quite match the rocker's amplified voice, they did manage to keep up and sound good doing it, Shettler said.

"But the most important part of this song isn't the La La La's," he told the audience. "The name of Jesus was the most important part."

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark.