The scene was Easterfest 2011, a massive music festival in Toowoomba, Australia. It was Saturday night, just hours before Easter Sunday. Record-sized crowds had descended upon the city from all over the country for a weekend of fun and festivity.
I’d been appointed as an “Official Photographer.” That meant I was allowed to enter the pit between the crowd and the stage to enjoy the best view in the house while photographing all the concerts (by the way, how cool is that?!). Friday night had gone off without a hitch. I rocked out to some awesome concerts and had a ton of fun taking photos.
Saturday was supposed to be the marquee day of the festival. All day I could feel the energy and excitement mounting around the park. By the time ex-Newsboys lead singer Peter Furler took the stage, the mainstage was packed! He pumped even more life into the crowd with Newsboys classics like “Breakfast” and “He Reigns.”
Now only one band stood between me and my first ever Switchfoot experience. As Newworldson came on, I ran back to the media tent to recharge my camera battery and empty my memory cards. I wanted to be fully prepared for the main event. Just as I was getting ready to head back, I heard a loud thump. “Was that a rain drop?” asked one of the photographers.
The forecast for the weekend was for perfectly clear weather. But sure enough, it started raining…and it didn’t stop. I slopped my way out of the media tent and back to mainstage. Already the water was up to my calves! I had purchased a brand new pair of white shoes for the weekend, but in an instant they were ruined. Newworldson didn’t get the pandemonium memo. While thousands and thousands of people fled the grounds for shelter, they just kept on playing. They were loving it, dancing around and getting soaked along with their crazy fans. Drenched from head to toe, I was trying to enjoy the show, but I couldn’t stop worrying about the impending storm.
Did I mention that this same town, Toowoomba, experienced a severe flood only months earlier? Back in January, an inland tsunami swept through the area causing widespread panic and destruction. There couldn’t have been a person at the festival who wasn’t having flashbacks to the January flood. Still the show went on. As Newworldson finished their set, I left the mainstage, thinking for sure that Switchfoot had already fled the park for safety. I arrived at crew shelter area to find it packed with nervous volunteers and family members. The energy and excitement that I’d sensed only hours before had been replaced with anxiousness and uncertainty. Not knowing what else to do, I sat there solemnly, wallowing in the disappointment of missing out on Switchfoot. And then I heard a wonderful, beautiful sound…
No way, it couldn’t be. Oh but it was. It was the sound of Swtichfoot taking the mainstage by storm, literally! Instinct took over as I rushed out of the crew shelter and practically hydroplaned across the now-massive pool of water along the way. Flashing my “Official Photographer” pass, I entered the pit and took my place in front of the stage.
I’ll never, ever forget the 45 minutes that ensued. Swtichfoot didn’t just play their set. This is a band that probably plays two to three hundred shows a year. But this show was different. The rain scarcely let up for the duration of the show. I estimate less than a thousand people had stuck around in the nearly knee-deep water. However, those who remained were a spirited bunch if ever there was one.
Jon Foreman and the boys brought all the energy, all the passion, and all the emotion I could ever have asked for. While 20,000 festival goers were being evacuated from the park, they played their hearts out for the faithful few. It was an absolutely incredible show. I sang along at the top of my lungs as they bellowed out anthems like “Dare You to Move” and “Meant to Live.” How fitting it was when Foreman sang the line “Here we go now with the falling sky and the rain….we’re awakening!”
My favorite moment of the night came during the song “Free.” This particular song has brought hope and inspiration to my life many times before. In fact, it was one of the main factors that inspired me to start my blog and leave for my New Zealand adventure in the first place. Here at the tail end of this adventure, it was such a satisfying and emotional moment as I sang along,
“I had a dream that my chains were broken, broken. Broken, OPEN!“
I wanted so badly for that show to gone on forever. Finally they played their last song and thanked everyone who was still there. Jon Foreman said it was a night he would never, ever forget. Since I had access to the backstage area, I ran and waited for the band to leave. As they made their escape from the stage in the pouring rain, I gave them all huge high fives and thanked them for what they’d just done. I have so much respect for them for staying and playing their show, given the circumstances.
It was such a fitting night. It was a concert I’d wanted to see so badly. At first it looked like it would never happen. And then somehow it happened anyway, and it happened in an unforgettably special way. I don’t even know what to say, accept thank you. Thank you Switchfoot for a night of inspiration I will cherish for the rest of my life.
The rain eventually subsided and thankfully no one was seriously hurt or killed. The 3rd day of the festival was cancelled due to the flooding.
All Switchfoot photos taken by Trent Rouillon. Thanks to Trent for braving the rain with his camera for these awesome shots!
Question: What is your most memorable concert experience?