Christian rock combines the Lord's message with the devil's beat. Sometimes the result is exhilaration. Sometimes it's god-awful confusion.

"The idea of Christian rock & roll to begin with is an oxymoron," he continues. "You see rowdy rock & rollers in leather jackets and stud-cut hair and assume they're worldly. But when you actually sit down with the guy from Skillet, he's talking about the moving of the spirit and "the pastor led me to this and this and this,' and he'll quote Scripture between lines of a song. And it turns out he's very churchified, and pretty much a part of this evangelical conservative subculture, with all of its pretexts and understandings."

Even a band as evangelical as Skillet, though, occasionally gets stranded with the expectations of the community while trying to make music. Says John Cooper of an incident at Crossover: "When we got here, I was really stressed. We had a lot of stuff to do, and I met somebody (backstage), and he said, "OK, we're going to pray for you guys before we get started,' and I was like, "Oh man, I don't have time' — I didn't tell him that, but you know what I mean? There's always something somebody wants to do right before, and you're just stressed to high heaven. Like, today I didn't get to tune or check my bass, and I was miserable the entire concert because my bass sounded so bad. And it all went back to giving up that time to pray."

As soon as Sonny Sandoval, lead singer of metal band P.O.D., kicks into the group's first song at the Mid-Rivers Baptist Chapel, all eyes are on him. He's dark-complected, with long black dreadlocks and a ragged demeanor. The crowd — half like-minded rockers who dress the dress and seem like your typical 1999 metalhead; half young, conservatively dressed kids whose parents will be waiting out front precisely at 10 p.m. when the concert is over — pushes forward. A few guys in the audience are standing on one of the few pews left in the sanctuary, and as P.O.D kicks in, the guys leap from the pews and race toward the crowd. One of them props himself up on the others's shoulders, and as the crowd parts to accept them, a few hands push the one up above all the heads until he's surfing in a sea of arms, each doing their part to keep him afloat. He stretches his arms and legs wide. The crowd is moving him slowly, and as he loses momentum and the arms start to tire, he falls onto the stage at Sonny's feet. The crowd-surfer stands onstage for a moment, stretches his arms out and slowly steps back into the crowd. The audience's gaze returns to the singer. He screams the lyrics to the song as the horde continues to surge.

Rebecca, Sara and Deborah Dickson swoon to the music of 4Him at the Crossover Christian Music Festival.
Jennifer Silverberg
Rebecca, Sara and Deborah Dickson swoon to the music of 4Him at the Crossover Christian Music Festival.
Jennifer Silverberg
AllStarUnited field questions from the Christian press during their performance at Crossover. Below: AllStarUnitedís Ian Eskelin mingles with his flock .

"Sonny," says J.T. Ibanez, "as soon as he steps onstage he has everyone's attention. He just has this aura about him that's just like "He is God.' He just has this stage presence. Even if they all just stood there and played the music and didn't move at all, you would still be in awe. It's just unexplainable. Sonny just has that effect on everyone. He's just a very godly man, as is everyone in the band."

Sandoval screams the lyrics to "Breathe Babylon": "Look to the sky! Heed the warning!/The shadow is coming! The shadow is coming!/The plagues are coming! The plagues are coming!/I feel the breath of the death beast!"

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