Joy Jam '94

By Allen Howie

Billed as the country's largest one-day Contemporary Christian Music festival, Joy Jam '94 on June 25 offered concertgoers at Cardinal Stadium a schedule of artists that was as packed with talent as it was diverse.

Joy Jam '94 was conceived last summer when the Redbirds featured singer Sandi Patti in a well-attended post-game concert. Local radio station WJIE and the Redbirds began planning a show with a festival format. Their efforts got a much-needed boost when Louisville-based fast food giant KFC got on board as a corporate sponsor.

Al Denson, backed by taped music, got things rolling before noon on a perfect summer Saturday. His set was followed by Louisville's own Straight Company, whose soulful, a cappella approach dug a deeper groove as it rolled along. With their popping bass lines and sharp rhythmic arrangements, it was easy to forget that there were no instruments onstage other than the ones God gave the band. The group sampled every style from '50s street-corner doo-wop to vintage soul and '90s urban funk.

Next up was the melodic, metal-tinged pop of White Heart. Lean rhythms, a fat guitar sound and clean harmonics propelled the band's tough, tuneful set. A highly anticipated appearance by Susan Ashton failed to materialize when it was announced that the singer was under the weather, giving Denson another crack at the audience, followed by former Stryper vocalist Michael Sweet's generic hard rock.

The musical highlight of the show was Rich Mullins' mid-afternoon set of folk-tinged pop with a heart of pure rock and roll. Alternating between a keyboard and hammered dulcimer, accompanied by a single guitarist, he brought a surprising intimacy to the stadium setting.

Like fellow Hoosier John Hiatt, Mullins' voice is not conventionally pretty but, like Hiatt, his phrasing and character more than make up the difference. With the turn of a phrase or a single simple melody, Mullins can convey a depth of conviction you won't find across entire albums by other artists.

And when Mullins talks to the audience between songs, it's not with the rehearsed fever of some televangelists, but with the plain-spoken common sense of a Midwestern farmer's son, a man who's witnessed providence firsthand and truly knows its source.

After Mullins' set, the rest of the day seemed just a little anticlimactic, whether it was 4-Him's innocuous pop, Carmen's showmanship or Michael W. Smith's crossover polish. Still, with a nice crowd in attendance, perfect weather and a batch of Christian music's most popular artists, Joy Jam '94 seems poised to become another Louisville tradition.