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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Where would Jesus jam? 1800s church hosts SXSW concerts

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Central Presbyterian Church only has two rules for rockers who play its sanctuary as part of South by Southwest: Don’t drink; and don’t shatter the stained glass.

Other than that, pretty much anything goes.

“No one’s bitten the head off a bat so far,” said co-pastor Joseph Moore - testament to the fact that the minimal rules have worked out fine so far.

This is the sixth year the Central Presbyterian Church has been an official concert venue for this wild music festival in Austin, Texas, and it’s become one of the hippest places to watch a live music here. The reasons are kind of obvious when you think about it: After a week of wandering streets awash with trash water and wobble-walking drunks, the church lets concert goes sit down and actually listen to music for music’s sake. Few talk through performances in the sanctuary, and the vaulted ceilings and limestone walls create an amazingly clear, full sound.

It’s “one of the most pleasant places you'll ever see a show,” wrote Paste Magazine.

Plus there’s this whole heaven-hell dichotomy thing going on. Rock and roll has the reputation for being the devil’s music. Church is Jesus’ hangout, obviously, and that’s impossible to forget at Central Presbyterian, which has a car-sized cross on the wall behind the stage. This gives shows at the church a music-video kind of effect. Think how many times Madonna and other supposedly sinful pop stars recorded videos and songs in houses of worship.

~ ~ ~
Moore, the church’s hip 33-year-old preacher, who was wearing a Superman T-shirt and Nike sneakers when we met, sees much in common between church and music, no matter the genre.

“Music at its best … points us to something beyond ourselves,” he said. “At it’s best, churches and religion in general point us to higher things.”

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