Tune up your soul in the heart of the Whites

Christian festival rocks Lincoln, N.H.

Email|Print| Text size + By Jillian Orlando
Globe Correspondent / July 25, 2004

Rock will rumble through the White Mountains this week when SoulFest, an annual Christian music festival, takes over the Loon Mountain ski resort in Lincoln, N.H., for four days and nights.

The festival, Thursday through next Sunday, expects 13,000 attendees and more than 125 musicians, but you won't find any alcohol, litter, or brawls at this event. If past years are an indication, the crowd will be family-oriented, friendly, and joyful. SoulFest forbids alcohol and smoking anywhere on the property.

A wide array of nationally known bands and small local groups is scheduled. All the performers are self-proclaimed Christians who use their music for worship, but don't expect to hear church hymns. These songs sound like the top hits on the radio.

The artists, including Relient K, Rebecca St. James, and John Reuben, represent a variety of music genres including rap, rock, and R&B. The performers are considered "Christian rock" because they sing about religious joys, struggles, and biblical stories, and many open or close sets with prayer.

The musical celebration is now in its seventh year at Loon. The event was developed and organized by New Sound International, an event management company that plans concerts for Christian bands throughout the United States.

"We want to bring together Christians from all walks of life," said Dan Russell, cofounder of New Sound International.

Each year, the festival starts with a candlelight ceremony. Last year after the sun set, approximately 10,000 concertgoers were given candles. The flame was passed from person to person until the mountainside glowed with tiny flickering lights and the band Audio Adrenaline took the stage. The performance electrified the reverent crowd and kicked off the four-day extravaganza. This year, popular Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman is scheduled to start the candlelight concert.

Three large stages offer a variety of musical acts starting at noon and continuing through the evening. The most popular acts take the stage each night from 9-11. Third Day, Jars of Clay, and the Newsboys are among the nationally known bands that are expected.

Smaller stages and cafe-style venues are set up across the mountain, including a majestic mountaintop stage accessible by ski lift where rows of wooden benches are set in a clearing with a breathtaking view of the mountains. For the last few years, Holy Fire has mesmerized the audience against that backdrop.

In addition to music, there is a lecture series for adults called Soul University offering workshops, group discussion, and even religiously inspired dance classes. A youth conference offers structured daily programs and events with religious themes for junior high and high school students.

Other activities include swimming in the Pemigewasset River, hiking, taking nature walks, and exploring glacial caves. A bungee jump and rock-climbing wall will be set up, too, for thrill seekers.

Merchandise tents will sell souvenirs, food, and Christian apparel and jewelry. Bibles, other books, and CDs abound in this open-air market as do information booths with details about charitable organizations. An important focus of this year's festival is creating an awareness and compassion for victims of the worldwide AIDS epidemic.

"The church should be a group of people that love their neighbor and help the poor," Russell said.

Camping is an option for families with young children who need to head back and take a nap midafternoon, or older siblings who may want a taste of freedom but can still walk back to the campsite. Other nearby campgrounds have additional amenities such as showers, electricity hookups, and laundry facilities. The Beech Hill Campground in Twin Mountain, about 20 minutes from Loon, even has an indoor swimming pool and river tubing.

For travelers looking for refuge from the heat, InnSeason Resorts South Mountain has air conditioning, indoor and outdoor heated pools, and cable television. The resort is within walking distance of SoulFest, but a free shuttle goes to the mountain every half hour. The Millfront Marketplace next to InnSeason Resorts has restaurants, gift shops, and a grocery store. The small movie theater in the marketplace is great for a rainy day or to beat the heat.

Now is off season for this ski town, but expect peak-season prices during the festival because it is the busiest week of summer in the Lincoln area.

Jillian Orlando is a freelance writer in Boston.

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