Thunderground to become worship arts hub

April 10, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau

The nightclub-like Thunderground venue on the lower level of Thunder Alley provided a wide range of musical acts and other performances in its first two years.

Thousand Foot Krutch played the first official Thunderground show in August 2012, blowing the audience’s hair back with its heavy brand of rock and roll. The 17 shows since then have ranged from worship singer-songwriters such as Phil Wickham to the danceable electronic rock of Family Force 5 and hip-hop flair of Propaganda, Andy Mineo and KB.

Christian hip-hop star KB gets the crowd's hands raised at his April 3 show.

Christian hip-hop star KB gets the crowd’s hands raised on April 3. Worship music and Christian hip-hop have proven to be the most popular of Thunderground shows. (Photo by Alexis Bolze)

Tonight, the final show of the spring semester features Southern rocker Rhett Walker, a Grammy-nominated artist whose band’s sound is sometimes described as “Christian Lynyrd Skynyrd.” Doors open at 6:30 and tickets are $5 for students with a GCU ID.

But as Grand Canyon University introduces its Center for Worship Arts this fall through the College of Theology, and worship music becomes an academic focus for students, Thunderground will move away from hosting several ticketed national Christian shows each semester to provide a deeper, more intimate level of student creative engagement.

That’s saying a lot, because Thunderground — with its idiosyncratic bowling alley, concrete walls and lack of barriers to keep the crowd from the performers — is about as intimate as it gets for Christian shows in the Southwest.

The fall transition will mean a stronger focus on worship music and Christian hip-hop, the two types of music that have proved most popular with GCU students. Beginning in the fall, the Thunderground stage probably will host one or two big national acts each semester, rather than several from various genres.

Bret Ceren, assistant director of GCU’s faith-based marketing department, said the change will free up time and space for students to practice the principles of worship arts they learn through the new academic programs.

“It will, literally, be an incubator for students as they’re preparing for their careers,” said Ceren, adding that worship music workshops, symposiums and student-led programs will dominate the Thunderground agenda each semester beginning this fall.

“Worship has the power to unify us in a way few other things can, if anything can,” Ceren said. “Thunderground is a very real way not only to develop campus culture but also to bring more people to GCU.”

The new bachelor of arts programs in worship arts include emphases in digital media, worship management, worship ministry and worship production. The aim is to groom students to serve as thoughtful, creative worship leaders and in other media-related positions within church communities. On campus, GCU’s Chapel services and theGathering also will be supported by students studying in the worship arts programs.

Prior to the new academic program, Thunderground and other events on campus included many student volunteers, savvy with audio-video, from a variety of programs.

Some students and staff can remember Thunderground’s live music offerings dating back to the CD release party for GCU’s own Moriah Peters in 2012.

Phil Wickham's brand of worship music has included collaborations with GCU's New Life Singers and other students.

Phil Wickham’s worship music has included collaborations with GCU’s New Life Singers and other students. (Photo by Darryl Webb)

Eliu Gamez, a graduating criminal justice senior who mixes sound for GCU’s campus worship team, said he has had the opportunity to work directly with artists such as Mineo at Thunderground. He also serves a student worker for the A/V team that rigs Thunderground shows and other events on campus.

If a criminal justice major has that access and ability to practice his A/V craft, imagine what students in the new academic programs will be able to do at Thunderground.

“I’m not sure many schools give that opportunity to students to work that closely with an artist of that level,” Gamez said. “I really think God opened these doors for me to do that.”

Events such as Mineo’s CD release party, which Gamez worked, highlighted the intimacy of Thunderground.

“They can do a lot more, interact with the audience, joke around with people,” Gamez said of performers’ affinity for the venue.

That closeness between audience and whomever commands that stage is expected to continue. This semester, worship singer-songwriter Daniel Bashta led a performance where he encouraged GCU engineers to lower the lights to provide less emphasis on him and to encourage students to see the faith-focused lyrics on the screen behind him.

Bashta’s Thunderground appearance included a songwriting workshop in which audience members could interact with the artist and share worship messages.

Gretchen Adickes, a recent GCU urban ministry graduate who handles A/V for the University, said the challenge moving forward at Thunderground would be to balance providing students with the necessary practice in their crafts with the need to manage professional-caliber shows.

“That’s the most special part, talking about and praying for the people we’re trying to reach through the music,” she said.

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or [email protected].

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