“But it’s for Israel,” I explained in a rushed response. “It doesn’t matter,” came the retort. “While we appreciate the Jewish community, we don’t find it appropriate to endorse one culture over any another.” “No, not Israel the country; Israel the band”, I countered “Yes, I know Israel has many fine musicians, but we cannot sponsor one of their bands at this time.” Exasperated, I explained, “Israel Houghton is a Christian artist whose band New Breed has joined him on the world’s first international worship tour. He is nominated for five Stellar awards and has a tremendous following in both the black and white worship communities. I am asking for your help to make the dream of this tour a reality.” “OK, now I understand” came the enlightened response. “I’ve heard of Israel. He’s the guy on TV from Lakewood Church in Houston, right? Yeah, we can work something out for him.”
Welcome to the Land of Iz. The life of Israel Houghton (a.k.a. The Iz) has much in common with the complex conversation I had recently with an equipment manufacturer. The Land of Iz is always interesting. Linearity is not part of the plan. It’s more like a sports bar on game day Saturday with twenty televisions, each on a different channel and half again that number of simultaneous conversations jockeying to be heard. At the end of the yellow brick road, though, the Land of Iz delivers what Oz could not: an authentic encounter with the living God.
Israel Houghton doesn’t cross boundaries; he leaps over them. His vision extends beyond the usual twelve-mile limit into the boundless reaches of the deep ocean. Born into a cross-cultural environment, Israel should have added to the statistical rolls of disenfranchised Americans, but his tenacity and humility have instead placed his name on music charts in three genres. The energy and ferocity of his worship speak more to his intense relationship with God than to his intense musical ability and stage talent.
Birthed in a conservative pastoral home and honed on the stages of sonically rich African-American churches, Israel’s music is as much an enigma as his name. He is able to segue from AC/DC rock through reggae to Afro-Cuban styles, all within the same song. His band, New Breed, headed by the amazingly gifted master of the keys, Aaron Lindsey, is, perhaps, the only group of musicians able to keep up with Israel’s superheated musical fusion.
Taking the sound of New Breed on the road presented unique challenges and required innovative solutions. Together the band and vocalists generate sixty-three inputs from the stage, so authenticating their sound required a large format FOH (Front Of House) mixing console, two sub-mixers, a separate monitor console, and two fully digital Aviom personal mixing systems. The venues ranged from cavernous civic centers to intimate dinner theaters, along with dozens of mega churches, meaning one speaker system would have to cover all the situations. The band’s extensive array of backline instruments and amps would also need to be transported to each site and Israel’s desire for visual impact dictated the inclusion of a comprehensive video system. All told, the system would fill two semi-trailers, need to be completely duplicated to leapfrog the back-to-back events, and require a crew of six.
The reality of the budget, however, meant one truck would have to cover every night and a crew of two, Keith Denmon and myself, were all we could afford to send. To make up the difference, Israel’s stalwart road manager, Don Wilkinson, took on the task of securing ten volunteers for each event to assist with load in and load out.
As part of Israel’s vision, the Another Level tour was designed to showcase the best of Christian artistry. Excellence in all areas was inherent in the tour’s character in order to set it apart from “just another worship service.” Israel refuses to perform concerts, he insists on a worship service. Therefore, to meet the quality level he demanded while adhering to time and budget constraints, I sought out equipment sponsors to offset some of the expenses of taking twenty team members and all their gear on the road. Roland and Peavey, two companies well known for their commitment to worship, jumped onboard immediately. Corey Fournier sent four of Roland’s latest Fantom series keyboards, complete with sound card upgrades and a separate VK-8 drawbar organ. Roland’s video and industrial division, Edirol, through the efforts of manager John Broadhead, came onboard with a DV-7PR video presenter package and LVS-400 video mixer. Peavey supplied a dozen top of the line GPS3500 power amps in addition to a slew of mics, processors, EQs, and cabling. Newcomer SLS made the largest contribution with a complete twenty-four box RLA/2 line array speaker system coupled to a dozen mid bass boxes, and eight SLE218 dual eighteen-inch subwoofers. To complete the speaker system, SLS added eight front fill speakers, and enough stage monitors to cover all eight vocalists. Not just another speaker company, SLS is the sole purveyor of large format ribbon devices for use in live environments. Their proprietary ribbon transducer smoothes the high end while rejecting feedback, a combination of attributes that audiences on each stop of the tour appreciated. The willingness of a small company like SLS to give the best they build to support a worship tour is worthy of praise. National sales director Rod Falconer shipped everything in flightcases to the first event, and we never looked back. SLS continued to support us by sending their director of technical communications, R Bob Adams, (a true acoustical genius) to many of our events in order to maximize the system response. With R Bob’s help, Keith and I were able to tame the worst sounding rooms and make them purr like kittens.
As the tour developed, Keith was able to streamline the setup and strike timeframe by pre-configuring each instrument station. For example, the multiple keyboard modules were racked in shock mounted flight cases and then cabled and marked for connection to the main system. The musicians volunteered to configure their own station for each concert and Daniel Johnson, the sole male support vocalist, agreed to help Keith set the monitor levels for all vocalists to eliminate the nightly chaotic struggle to get monitors set simultaneously for seven vocalists.
Gratitude is most evident when grace is given and understood by the recipient. As the tour began, our brand new Freightliner truck developed problems and left us stranded on three occasions. Israel and the team took the delays in stride and even helped unload the heaviest pieces upon our belated arrivals. Aaron, Jerry Harris (keys), Chris Coleman and Marvin McQuitty (drums), Terrance Palmer (bass), Eric Brice (guitar), and Daniel Johnson (vocals) brought physical and spiritual strength to bear on nights when the alternator quit and none of the promised volunteers materialized. I am used to working harder and applying more resources to solve problems. They showed us another way. They led us in prayer, made us laugh, and taught us how to embrace in a “non-white” manner. Mostly though, they taught us how to love and show gratitude in any situation, especially when it is beyond your control. Somehow, we managed to make sound, lights, and video happen every night and God took it from there and made it beautiful. Thanks, guys, for the lesson in love and for taking us to Another Level.