SWC lineup features some fresh and famous faces

DEL MAR, Calif. — Spirit West Coast will celebrate its sixth anniversary Memorial Day weekend with a lineup of fresh faces. Of 19 confirmed artists, 10 did not perform in 2008. Several acts will be making their SWC-Del Mar debut.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Jon Robberson, founder of Celebration Concerts, the festival's producer. "It's a new year, with new things. We do think we have a refreshed look. We are a Christian music festival, so the quality and freshness of the lineup is a really important element."

Some of the early confirmees for the May 22 to 24 festival are Mercy Me, tobyMac, Kutless, Relient K, Brandon Heath, Lincoln Brewster, needtobreathe, BarlowGirl, Red, Family Force 5, Addison Road, Todd Agnew, Flatfoot 56, Phil Wickham, Leeland, Project 86, Fireflight, Stellar Kart and Disciple.

Robberson said putting together the lineup is an evolving process that still continues. Festivals must compete with road tours, studio recording sessions and off-time for bands.

"Sometimes it's just the way the cards fall. You don't always know who you're going to get," he said. "You can't always control these things. There's a lot of elements. It's not just as simple as saying, 'We want to get Joe, Curly and Moe.'"

This year, that applied to the Newsboys, which headlined each of the previous five years, but weren't available this year. Even so, with such musical giants as Mercy Me, TobyMac and Lincoln Brewster, Robberson said fans will be treated to some powerhouse performances.

"Every baseball team plays 162 games," the promoter said. "It's always three strikes and nine innings. But it's not always the same players. It's the same festival, same fairgrounds at Del Mar. All the elements are still there. We have a different group of players."

Robberson also said the festival is aggressively pursuing independent artists and promising newcomers. Among the emerging bands are Addison Road, needtobreathe and Leeland. Sara McIntosh and Phil Wickham, both with ties to host city San Diego, are on the schedule. Rock favorites like Family Force 5, Red and Relient K are on the docket.


Music and inspiration
Festival favorite Todd Agnew returns Friday night with a performance that will include inspirational comments. A similar approach last year at a smaller stage venue drew standing-room-only crowds. The festival producer said they are trying a new approach with the main stage by having Friday's and Sunday's acts incorporate their talent with the evening's message.

Sunday night's show will feature Brock Gill, illusionist, who Robberson said "does some hip and funny stuff" and will interweave his craft with a message.

 "It brings great continuity to the evening. It's tough to ask people to come after a music show," he said, adding that the fans are generally amped up from the music and it can be trying to get them to settle back down for a serious message.

Although TobyMac headlines on Saturday, fans will be treated to the dramatic testimony of Nick Vijicic, founder of Life Without Limbs, who will share about his life. Vijicic was born without arms or legs. He will also speak Sunday at the youth stage.

"He's a great speaker, he's young, he's only in his 20s. I think he's going to be a dynamic speaker. He can say to them, 'You think you've had problems. It's not about arms and legs. It's about something much greater.'"

Another new element for the 2009 festival will be Latino Saturday in which organizers have booked several top Spanish-language bands —Rojo, Alex Campos and Annette Morino—to perform for the Hispanic community.

"This lineup is solid," Robberson said. "We really want to reach out to the Spanish-speaking, Latino community."


Challenging the economy
Robberson acknowledges that the economy is making it difficult for people to part with discretionary funds.

"Last year sales were down and it was a difficult time," he said, adding that gas was over $4 a gallon. They also were treated to a day and a half of rain, which added to the lower attendance.

Despite the worsening economy, Robberson said the new acts—coupled with the vast opportunities for worship—should be a strong draw.

"God didn't stop working last year because gas was $4.60 a gallon. This year God is not going to stop working because unemployment is at 8 percent. He's not depressed. His economy is not stressed at all. He's still working.

"Not much happens by staying home and watching TV. It's getting out, enjoying what God's doing. We provide a place for people to go."


Popular highlights
Although billed as a music festival, the three-day event is much more. Below are some of the more popular highlights:

Returning this year will be the Christian Examiner Exhibit Hall, a sports club, mechanical bull, bungee trampoline and rock-climbing walls, skate park, inflatables and the children's VeggieLand with train rides, a petting zoo, clowns, puppet shows, face painting, crafts, games and concerts.

Terrace Club, which offers VIP seating privileges for Spirit West Coast, is back. Included with each individual seat purchased is a "late night" artist reception where Terrace Club patrons can "meet 'n' greet" artists up close and personal and enjoy some snacks in an exclusive V.I.P. atmosphere.

Tickets for the entire festival are $108 until March 31. One-day wristbands are $55, also until March 31. Discounts are available for groups and juniors. Children 5 and under are admitted free. Prices will continue to rise as the event approaches. For more information on the price breaks, camping and deadlines, visit www.spiritwestcoast.com.