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Big News: Parachute Festival or Parish Hoot?

Big News with Dave Crampton

23,000 people: Parachute Festival or Parish Hoot?

Last weekend, up to 23,000 people gathered for a four-day music festival in Matamata. It is the biggest festival of its kind in the world, outside the US. As these festivals have been running in some shape or form for more the 10 years it is the oldest festival and the biggest long-running festival in the country. Punters came to see artists, DJs and speakers from around the world performing on at least six stages. Most stages ran simultaneously.

Yet most Scoop readers probably were not aware it was on. If they were, they would not have heard of bands such as Skillet, Earthsuit or the OC Supertones. That’s because the festival, the Parachute festival, is a Christian festival with Christian bands and a big Christian crowd. Like The Gathering, it was a drug-free event, but unlike the Big Day Out, there was hardly any media coverage of the event. In fact there was more media coverage of what Shihad’s new name might or might not be, or when they might or might not announce it, than a Christian festival that draws 23,000.

Most music followers have heard of Parachute Music. Their band, the Parachute Band, release an album most years that deservedly collects the gospel album of the year at the following music awards. A Parachute Band vocalist was also a finalist for a vocalist award last year. Christian music is one of the fastest growing genres of music in the world, not because it is popular, but because it is increasingly popular. This is mainly due to the fact it had a very minimal following five to ten years ago when Amy Grant and Cliff Richard, and a heavy metal band called Stryper were the “in” bands. Now we have bands such as Newsboys, DC Talk, POD, MXPX, and Creed who carry the Christian can, as does Wash in New Zealand. Others like Dave Dobbyn and Zed, shun the local Christian industry. Yet Wash, one of this country’s top Christian bands, was not at this year’s festival, despite being one of the best bands at last years gig. Although sponsor World Vision had a presence, fellow Christian relief organisation TEAR Fund was missing, as was Wellington’s top ska band, the Royal Rumble. They support TEAR Fund so wonder why they weren’t asked? – there’s something going down there……

The Top selling Christian band in the world - POD - were not at the Parachute festival yet they are performing in Auckland in a few weeks. You’d think they would have had more exposure at a Parachute festival, and wonder why the festival organisers did not invite them to their event. Perhaps they didn’t know POD were coming to NZ.

Now before you say, “well, who cares about Christian bands we have never heard of”, you’d think that anything that draws more than 20,000 people on an annual basis would be worth covering in the metropolitan dailies. Yet journalists at the NZ Herald, the Evening Post, and the Dominion probably didn’t know it was on either, if they did they didn’t know much about it or who the organisers were. I didn’t get any media releases either. When I contacted the organisers this week they weren’t sure whether any were sent out to the metropolitan dailies – the person “assumed they were”. I don’t know how many releases I got from the BDO, but it was more than none.

Which brings me to wonder what kind of media strategy Parachute Music has. They run media conferences at these festivals, but most of those attending are wannabe journalists writing for Christian rags for the weekend and the odd one or two bone fide journalists. No journalists or photographers turn up from the main city metropolitan dailies, but there were a few clips on TV seen by a fleeting few. Sometimes I wonder whether the media, if they know about it, sees the Parachute festivals as a newsworthy rock gig or a Parish Hoot filled with lots of happy clappy excited religious teenagers from the many youth groups in the country. Some of the music is actually quite good and would cut it at any Gathering or Big Day Out.

Once again, Christian music in this country has missed out on a golden opportunity to increase its profile outside those in the know at their flagship event. Now that the event is over I guess we won’t hear from them until the next Parachute album wins a gospel award, or, if we are lucky, get to hear of their next festival the same time next year.

- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at davec@globe.net.nz

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