This past weekend, my wife and I went to the 6th biennial Festival of Faith & Music in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and it proved to be one of the more interesting conference/festivals I’ve ever attended. Culture criticism often has an adversarial relationship with faith and faith often has an adversarial relationship with pop culture, so it was cool to be somewhere where the two were openly discussed together and how better each can be incorporated into each other. So here are five choice cuts relating to the Festival of Faith & Music.
Welcome Wagon – “Up On A Mountain”
New York husband and wife duo Welcome Wagon are the definitions of Sufjan Stevens disciples – they essentially sound like Sufjan without the ambition and creativity. However, that’s not to say their music wasn’t pleasant as they performed at the festival and “Up On A Mountain” in particular is a plain pretty song.
Andrew Bird – “Three White Horses”
Violinist/whistler/multi-instrumentalist/all-around genius was the headlining music act of the festival, and he took on a handful of gospel covers as well as plenty of cuts off his latest album, Hands of Glory, which is ripe with religious imagery. The song was especially beautiful live with Andrew Bird creating Appalachian three-part harmonies of himself by looping his voice.
Tom Waits – “Down There by the Train”
Tom Waits always has a thing or two to say about religion and matters of faith, both positive and negative, and this was highlighted by a cool workshop talking about his evolving views on the Christian faith. “Down There by the Train” was highlighted for shining a sentimental light on the sinner’s gospel.
Tupac – “I Wonder If Heaven Has a Ghetto”
Daniel White Hodge, a professor of Youth Development at North Park University, gave a keynote on the prophetic nature of Tupac’s music and how easily the Christian community brushes off anything said in hip-hop instead of digging deeper as to what is going on. Tupac was clearly considered a messianic figure in hip hop for a reason – the guy had stuff to say that people in his community identified with.
Allison Krauss – “Down To the River”
This song itself was not featured at the Festival of Faith & Music but strangely enough, the impact of the O’ Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack was. One of the workshops I attended spoke of the new roots revival scene led almost exclusively by bands with evangelical backgrounds, and for many of these bands, this soundtrack was considered the starting point in terms of influence. I’m talking Mumford & Sons, The Civil Wars, The Lone Bellow, The Head and the Heart; you get the idea. This caused me to go back and remember this wonderful rendition of a gospel tune from Allison Krauss though.