By Jerram Watts
In two days and five hours the biggest Christian music festival in the Southern Hemisphere will kick off in Hamilton.
An estimated 25,000 punters will descend upon Mystery Creek in Hamilton for four days of music and mayhem at the 21st Parachute festival.
“At this stage we have 18 to 19,000 confirmed, which is right on track with the previous few years, so we are expecting around 25,000 over the weekend,” says general manager of events and marketing for Parachute, David Curtis.
“Fortunately for us at Mystery Creek, we don’t have a capacity crowd.”
An important date on many calendars, the last weekend in January attracts thousands of Christians, but also many who wouldn’t describe themselves as religious.
“One in four of our crowd would not consider themselves Christian,” Mr Curtis says. “As a festival we subscribe to a set of Christian values so there are things we encourage as values which we want our audience to endorse.”
Things like no drugs and alcohol; respect and courtesy to neighbouring tents, recycling and being a tidy Kiwi, and “strong encouragement” to tent with friends of the same gender if you are not married.
But the festival is less about rules and more about having a good time with friends, enjoying quality music and engaging and soul-searching and uplifting worship.
Punters will enjoy a quality line up again this year at Parachute; and while the headliners don’t quite have the gravitas of Switchfoot, some big names in contemporary Christian music are heading down.
Elemeno P kick proceedings off on Friday night, while Saturday belongs to Stan Walker, Skillet and Rapture Ruckus.
Two of the biggest names in Christian worship are also on show on Saturday morning and Sunday night.
Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio planted Passion City Church in Atlanta in 2008 – Giglio founded the passion movement in 1995 – and will bring their ‘Indescribable’ worship message to the masses.
Along with the big names come some welcome olds faces – The Lads, Late 80s Mercedes and the perennial Parachute Band – and some new ones.
Avalanche City is playing at the festival for the second time and frontman Dave Baxter says while he has written his music from a Christian perspective, Avalanche City is just at Parachute to entertain.
The band has a mishmash of musicians playing the various instruments, as Baxter wrote, voiced, played all the instruments, recorded and produced the album Our New Life Above The Ground himself.
The song ‘Love, Love, Love’ was picked up by TVNZ for an ad promotion, and has been a favourite on Christian radio station Life FM.
But it’s not Baxter’s favourite.
“It’s one of those things where people seem to like it, but even though it’s one of my most popular songs, I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite.”
So what is? Baxter takes some time to decide before saying: “I like ‘The Streets’ and ‘You And I’. ‘You and I’ is most personal to me, it’s about me and my wife I guess.”
Baxter has played at Parachute before in a metal band a few years ago, then a hardcore band.
The mellow sound of the new album couldn’t be more different to metal and hardcore – so what prompted the shift?
“This [new album] style has been one I have experimented with; I guess I’m just getting older and liking softer music; it’s like a musical experiment.
“With heavy music there are only certain things you can do, but with [the new album] it’s more like a free musical project; we can do whatever we want with it.”
Avalanche City play on the Deluxe stage on Friday at 7.40pm.
Music is played almost around the clock; but if the melodies get too much to handle, there are many other activities to keep punters entertained, Mr Curtis says.
“We’ve made some changes to the venues; the Palladium has gone from music to a great big recreation zone – we’ve got a skatepark, paintball and blow up games.
“Hamilton tends to get very hot this time of year so it gives punters a place to get out of the heat and have a bit of fun.”
Also available is a waterslide, a massive four-way volleyball game, a food ‘village’, 8am Zumba classes and midnight movies for the night owls.
Day and weekend passes are still available at www.parachutemusic.com