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Lee Marie Hostetter plays bass Thursday for Children 18:3. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Christian punk, metal, and hip hop bands are a growing part of Sonshine lineup

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To many, alternative genres like punk and heavy metal are the domain of anti-establishment bands like the Sex Pistols -- makers of music calling for an end to age-old institutions like, say, organized religion.

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Don't tell that to Josh Peterson, who has been coming back to the Sonshine Festival for four years. He says Christian music with a hard edge brings him closer to God like no other form of music can.

"I've had heavy metal music that has brought me to tears," he said.

When the Sonshine Festival -- now in its second full day -- formed back in 1982, genres like Christian punk, metal and hip hop didn't even exist. Today, they make up an increasing share of the festival's lineup of musicians.

As a lifelong hardcore music fan, Peterson said he has never found any contradiction between his Christian faith and the heavy riffs and dark imagery of his favorite bands like As I Lay Dying and Children 18:3.

"There are no melodies in the Bible. It doesn't say, 'play it like this,'" he said. "Whether you're screaming it or singing it, what does it matter?"

Christian punk fan and first-time Sonshiner Stephanie Zins, 16, said that when the punk genre came into the mainstream in the late 70's, it was as much a lifestyle as a form of music.

In her view, that lifestyle -- full as it was of sex, drugs, and the creation of general mayhem -- was very much in contradiction to Christian teachings.

Today, though, she said the style of music the original punk rockers created had been adopted by the Christian music scene free of its associated lifestyle, creating a way for youth to worship in mosh pits, so to speak.

"I can dance to it and I don't have to go to church to listen to it," she said. "Which is good, because I like to be out in the open."

At Sonshine's indoor stage on Thursday, Christian hip hop artist Jay Escobar-Haskins, stage name Anonimust, preached to a crowd of young Sonshiners over a steady beat by DJ One-80.

"You won't get to heaven wearing gold chains and driving around in fancy cars," he told the audience. "You'll get there by submitting yourself every day to Jesus Christ."

Escobar-Haskins, originally of Philadelphia, got his start as a secular artist, performing what he called "heavy hip hop" and eventually, he said, garnering a record deal from Warner Bros.

But then he underwent a transformation, he said, after he moved to St. Paul and joined a church. He started viewing the messages of his music as contrary to his newfound Christian faith.

"I started feeling awkward about my music," he said. "I even went to talk to my pastor about it."

Soon after, he overhauled his music, incorporating scripture into every one of his new songs. On Thursday, he rapped one of those: "Holy Ghost Fire," a song promoting faith over drug use.

Escobar-Haskins said that even though hip hop gets a bad rap for spreading negative messages, it can be a vehicle to spread the Christian faith to individuals who might not have felt any connection to it otherwise.

"For a lot of people, different music speaks to them in different ways," he said.

At the festival grounds on Thursday, first time Sonshiner Barb Rasmusson, 46, said she had never heard about the variety of genres in the Christian music scene until coming to the festival this year. Her relative Mike DeHoop, 17, looked at her in disbelief.

"You've never heard of it?" asked DeHoop, a longtime Christian punk fan.

Rasmusson had plenty of time to get acquainted on Thursday, though. From her view, the amped up noise of the bands she heard was just fine, as long as the messages stayed the same.

"If it's got positive lyrics, then who cares what it sounds like," she said.

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