Although some people don’t think rock music and Christianity go together, there are quite a few who believe the two can go hand in hand, according to Lori Cunliffe, youth and parish-life coordinator at Victor’s St. Patrick Parish.
More than 100 such people came to the parish June 9 for Unity Rocks the Tent, a concert featuring performances by three Christian-rock acts from western New York. The concert took place under a large tent, which had been set up on the parish grounds in anticipation of the parish festival, which was to take place the next day, Cunliffe said.
The tent would have been standing empty that night were it not for the concert, and the parish grounds — especially the grassy field behind the parish center — make for the perfect place to hold a concert, said parishioner John Oliphant, who organized the event.
“Ever since the moment I first set foot on the grounds of St. Patrick’s, it just screamed to me ‘Christian Woodstock,’ with clothes on, of course,” Oliphant said.
Unity Rocks the Tent brought together Christians from congregations in Victor, Farmington, Canandaigua and Henrietta and developed as an outgrowth of several local ecumenical initiatives, Oliphant said. In 2001 the Victor and Farmington churches began sponsoring Unity Fest, an all-day festival featuring various types of Christian music. This event still takes place each January on Unity Sunday, when the area’s pastoral leaders speak at other churches as part of a pulpit-exchange program, he said.
Unity Fest organizers soon added Unity Rocks, a Christian-rock concert geared toward teens that is held in the evening after Unity Fest, Oliphant said. This will be the first time the churches have had an outdoor summer event, but each event has been built around the same message, he noted.
“As Christians, regardless of our denominational affiliations, we have much more in common than we have different,” Oliphant said. “Really, the core issues are all things we can agree on. They’re the nuts and bolts of our faith, and we can agree to disagree on finer issues of theology.”
These ecumenical efforts have been so well-attended that many Victor and Farmington residents have formed friendships with their neighbors from different denominations.
“I can just walk into any church in the area and pretty much be guaranteed to know at least somebody,” Oliphant said.
St. Patrick Parish, Farmington United Methodist Church, Victor’s Willowbrook Christian Church and corporate sponsor Rossi Music in Canandaigua funded Unity Rocks the Tent, he said.
“We’re trying to reach the kids where they are, and if this is a way to touch them, we’re all for bringing it for them,” Cunliffe said.
The newly formed, Canandaigua-based band Within the Shadows made its debut performance as the opening act for Unity Rocks the Tent. Buffalo native Tina Marie Williams took the stage next. The 18-year-old singer writes and composes her own songs, won the 2005 Kingdom Bound Christian Music Festival’s International Talent Search, and was very well-received by the crowd, Cunliffe said.
“She was phenomenal. The kids fell in love with her. She has an amazing story to tell,” Cunliffe said.
Williams struggled with depression and an addiction to cutting herself with a razor blade, a form of self-mutilation, Cunliffe said.
“She was always feeling like she wasn’t good enough and had to be better, (until) she kind of took on her faith on her own instead of her parents doing it for her. She realized that God loves her for who she is and she doesn’t have to change,” she added.
“She kind of related everything back to her life, and I could really understand her,” said 13-year-old Erica Randall, who belongs to St. Patrick’s youth group.
Williams sang about her struggle to fit in with her peers, the importance of loving yourself first and the stereotypes she faced as a homeschooled child, Erica said.
“I liked her style, and I thought she was creative with her lyrics. She was really funny when she was onstage,” agreed fellow youth-group member Sharlyn Ramirez, 15.
The Dig Project — which features Christians from Rochester and Syracuse — closed the show. The group has performed at several other Unity Rocks events in the past, and its members have always been extremely supportive of these shows, Oliphant said. Both The Dig Project and Within the Shadows were good at pumping up the crowd’s energy level, Sharlyn said.
Sharlyn, Erica and their fellow St. Patrick’s youth-group members took turns manning a concession stand at the concert, where they sold nachos, candy, popcorn and ice cream to raise money for their upcoming November trip to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Columbus, Ohio. Youth groups from several other churches also ran concession stands selling such items as pizza and drinks, and there also were booths where concert-goers could make and buy jewelry or have their faces painted.
Erica said she enjoyed being in an atmosphere where every person, from the musicians to the people in the crowd, was so enthusiastic about his or her faith. The only time she’s ever experienced anything like that has been at diocesan youth events, she said.
The concert provided a good way to show Christians “that even though we’re all under a different denomination, we all believe in one God,” Sharlyn added.
That sentiment sums up the ultimate goal of these concerts and festivals, according to Oliphant.
“I hope that Victor’s legacy and St. Patrick’s legacy can be to be the catalyst and have some sort of ripple effect to get people to know they’re on the same team,” he said.