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Rock the park

While the music industry as a whole has struggled, Christian contemporary music has continued to grow. Huge events across the state, notably in Willmar and Detroit Lakes, are testament to the growing demand, and this weekend the phenomenon arrive...

While the music industry as a whole has struggled, Christian contemporary music has continued to grow. Huge events across the state, notably in Willmar and Detroit Lakes, are testament to the growing demand, and this weekend the phenomenon arrives on Duluth's biggest stage, Bayfront Festival Park.

This weekend's Rock the Park -- that's as in "Jesus is the Rock," in case you're wondering -- features three national groups, a rising regional band and a couple of popular local performers. Add in amusements and rides, 50,000 watts of sound, 75,000 watts of lighting and professional sound by a Blues Fest veteran and you've got yourself a real show.

The man behind it all is Rick Davis, who says he has put $30,000 of his own money on the line in an act of faith to make it a reality.

"I believe the vision was given to him," said the Dan Stone, a pastor at Jesus is Life Ministries. "The Lord gave him the vision to have this in Duluth."

Davis said the catalyst was taking his daughter to see this show's headliners, ZOEgirl, when they appeared previously in Duluth. He says she was skeptical at first, and he didn't know what to expect, either.

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But the group, which won a Dove Award as the best new Christian artist of the year, won both of them over. The group, a trio of girls, sings and dances in a strong pop style Davis says reminds him of Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson.

"And their love for the Lord was just real evident," Davis added, noting that one of the beautiful girls had rapt attention talking about abstinence and the fact that she planned to be a virgin when she got married.

A bigger event in Duluth seemed natural. "There's not another place in the whole state of Minnesota that has a venue like this," he said, noting Bayfront, Lake Superior and nearby Canal Park.

Davis, Stone and Charles Erickson, a Duluth police officer, took on the planning about a year ago and have had remarkable success in getting corporate sponsorships. Cub Foods printed up grocery bags with pictures of ZOEgirl advertising the event. Soft drink companies, RV companies, book stores, several radio stations and car dealers have all joined in to support in one way or another, along with countless churches and the city.

Stone, with Davis nodding agreement, outlined Davis' motivation: unity. "The reason that he's doing this ... is to pull the churches together, the communities together, the businesses together," Stone said.

Davis adds that he wants to touch people and create a family event -- one need not be Christian to attend. No alcohol will be served, and the music and amusements should attract people of all ages, he said.

Heavy-hitting lineup

The lineup for the event is impressive. In addition to the popular headliners ZOEgirl, Peter Orta and River will play.

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ZOEgirl -- the trio of Chrissy Conway, Alisa Girard and Kristin Swinford -- derives its name from the meaning of "Zoe," which is eternal or God-like. The group released its second CD, "Life," on the Sparrow Records label in late 2001. Early this year, the group spent two weeks at the top of the Christian music pop charts. The shows it puts on are highly choreographed and feature professional dancers.

The group talks particularly about issues of self-esteem and depression facing teens; it's press bio takes direct aim at Spears. "If someone with values isn't willing to be a role model for kids, then somebody without values is," Swinford is quoted as saying. "We want to give these kids more than just a show. We've got to give them the truth."

Orta, from Texas, played guitar for Petra, one of the early breakthrough Christian contemporary bands. Now on his solo career, the Grammy-winning artist is exploring his faith even more and pounding out rock, blues and fusion inspired anthems.

River, a Minnesota-based group, has been very popular for a long time, with 11 top ten hits from the Christian charts. Featuring three-part vocal harmonies, the group appeals with an adult contemporary sound.

The Twin Cities-based group We3Kings will perform, along with local performers Christina DeLoach and the band Free Spirit.

The crew in We3Kings will be the real rockers in Rock the Park, with a distinctly heavy rock sound. Matt Adams, the group's singer, said that style hasn't turned anyone off.

"We've had even grandparents come and enjoy our shows," he said.

In fact, it works in their favor sometimes.

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"When we go to a club, or when we go to a church that's having an outreach event, the kids are not going to be so excited to see us singing harmonies and doing the quartet kind of thing," said Adams, 20.

The kids with piercings and tattoos like their style better. "We're there to bring their style of Jesus to them," he said.

He said the group has had more than one concert where 40 or more kids have been "saved" -- that is, they have "asked Jesus into their hearts."

"It's what we're all about," Adams said, "and it's just the greatest feeling in the world when that happens."

DeLoach, on her impressive debut CD "He Calls My Name," shows the vocal range of a budding R&B diva and some promising songwriting. Free Spirit is a local band with members who used to play secular music in clubs.

Do you wanna Rock?

Events start at Bayfront at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 20. Tickets are $15 at the gate, but the organizers were adamant that cost should not be a hindrance to those wishing to attend.

"We would rather lose money and fill the park ... than have 3,000 people there and make money," Davis said, despite his substantial financial stake.

Several of the performers have Web sites, where you can check out their biographies and in most cases sample their music, too.

ZOEgirl:

http://www.zoegirlonline.com

Pete Orta:

http://www.peteorta.com

River: http://www.rivermin.com

We3Kings: http://www.we3kings.net

Christina DeLoach: http://www.christinadeloach.com

For more information on the event, call 729-6140.

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