Some believers protest, others enjoy TobyMac

Advocate file photo by LEILA PITCHFORD-ENGLISH -- TobyMac performs Nov. 30 at the River Center in Baton Rouge as part of his Hits Deep Tour.
Advocate file photo by LEILA PITCHFORD-ENGLISH -- TobyMac performs Nov. 30 at the River Center in Baton Rouge as part of his Hits Deep Tour.

By LEILA PITCHFORD-ENGLISH

Advocate staff writer

Before TobyMac rocked the Baton Rouge River Center on Nov. 30, there were fireworks outside in downtown.

The literal fireworks were provided by the downtown Christmas lighting celebration.

Figurative fireworks were provided by members of the Consuming Fire Fellowship of Woodville, Miss.

Consuming Fire Fellowship members displayed large signs and loudly chanted and preached for hours before the show. The only thing that quieted them all night was the fireworks.

Among their arguments, members said that TobyMac’s concert “grieves God” more than a Van Halen or a Guns N’ Roses show. Concert-goers were chided for worshipping the creature instead of the Creator and were told there is “No hip-hop in Jesus. No rockin’ and rollin’ in Jesus.”

The picketing group’s loudness didn’t turn people away from the concert. Instead, some people asked if they could purchase VIP tickets, a $35 extra cost, so they could enter the arena early. People leaving the Christmas lighting were surprised and sometimes amused to learn that the group was picketing other Christians.

Once inside, as promised, the Hits Deep Tour was filled with hits for the sold-out show.

The opening set started with Jamie Grace singing “You Lead” and flowed smoothly to each of the other opening acts: Group 1 Crew, Chris August, Britt Nicole, Mandisa and Brandon Heath.

Each of the groups played two or three songs, often sharing the stage with one of the others. For instance, Chris August joined Group 1 Crew’s final song, “Never Let You Go.” They then introduced him as the next act. Since all the groups used TobyMac’s band Diverse City, it was a constantly moving set of an hour and a quarter.

Other highlights included Mandisa’s interaction with the audience. She shared about her time on “American Idol” and dealing with Simon Cowell. She also took off her boots and joked about weight loss while adjusting her pants. She made certain that despite rumors, people knew that she is not dating Heath as she welcomed him to the stage.

Heath was the only one who mentioned the protesters. After singing “Your Love,” he mentioned the “friends with signs as we were walking in tonight.”

He said, “God is love. Say three things to our friends when you are leaving tonight: ‘Jesus loves you.’ That’s all we gotta say.”

He used that to lead into his current hit “Jesus in Disguise” and finished with 2009’s Dove Awards Song of the Year “Give Me Your Eyes.”

The auditorium didn’t fill until right before TobyMac’s set. Once it did, the crowd was filled with people of all ages singing and dancing. Many attended as families, sometimes with three generations.

TobyMac encouraged even more interaction.

“An amazing concert happens when we all get involved. … Concert takes you and us,” he said.

Each of the acts joined TobyMac at different points. Early, it was Mandisa on “Lose My Soul,” a song she sang with him on the album.

Then came “Boomin” and “Eye On It,” songs that are edgier than heard on most Christian radio stations.

A set by DJ Maj — Mike Allen, of Lafeyette — allowed TobyMac and two band members to set up at the back of the auditorium, to play an acoustic set with radio hits “One Love,” “Hold On” and “Gone.”

Back up front, “Funky Jesus Music” took on a Louisiana flavor with trumpets and trombone. It also featured video with many people, including Mac Powell of Third Day and Bart Millard of Mercy Me.

A handful of other upbeat hits made TobyMac’s set over an hour also.

At the end, all performers were on stage singing the worship chorus version of “O Come Let Us Adore Him” and as a nod to Christmas, performed a version of “Winter Wonderland” with more beat and volume than most have heard it performed.

Overall, this stop of the Hits Deep Tour was a very full, hard-hitting, fun musical expression of love of Jesus and care for others.