17 September 2012

people who know me well, have, without a doubt, heard me talk about one thing. 

five iron frenzy. 

ever since i was 14, my 'favouritest favourite band ever' has been this kooky christian ska band, and few people have been able to truly understand just why i like them so much. yes, others will concede that the music is catchy and quirky and happy, but still they wonder what has elevated this 8-piece from denver, colorado miles above the many bands that i casually call 'one of my favourites', to absolute 'untouchable' status?

i'm convinced that some of my, ahem, not-so-ska-loving friends believe that I am the only person on the planet that loves this band so much. which is why, when i went to their show in new hampshire in august, i decided to photograph other people who like five iron as much as i do... and post said photographs on the internet to prove to my friends and family that my affinity for this band isn't an abnormal case, but one of many abnormal cases. i also wanted to hear exactly what others love about FIF (mostly to demonstrate that i didn't bribe people to don a five iron shirt and let me take a photo to prove a point.) 

first, a little back story for you. five iron frenzy formed in 1995, released 9 albums, and toured continuously for eight years. i discovered them in 2000, and at the beginning of 2003, they announced that they weren't breaking up, but were indeed 'quitting'. they spent the better part of 2003 traveling on their 'winners never quit' tour, and played their last show on november 22, 2003, at fillmore auditorium in their hometown of denver colorado. two of the raddest guys i knew took me on an epic road trip to see them in seattle on november 9. 

after their demise, i, and other fans, always hoped for a reunion, but any rumors of such things were continually dispelled by band members. 

regardless of the lack of new music to indulge in, five iron remained close to my heart. in 2011 (or, The Year That Everything That Possibly Could Fall Apart, Did, In Fact, Fall Apart), after a number of fairly bleak months, someone gave me the legendary advice; 'if you can't move forward, go back to what you know works.' while, for my beloved housemates, it meant listening to the WOW worship 90s compilation over and over again, i decided that desperate times called for desperate measures. I decided to spend a week, listening to nothing but five iron frenzy. in the midst of all the grief, i needed at least a tiny flicker of hope, and five iron had given me that in the past, so i embarked on the 'five iron fast', as i called it. would you be surprised to hear that at the end of the week, i didn't even want to break the fast? the old familiar music had helped me find a silver lining in the clouds; finally a small bit of hope to hold onto. 

and then, it happened. 

in late 2011, a countdown appeared on the band's website (which had been fan-run, since 2008), saying that 'something' was coming on november 22, 2011, the 8 year anniversary of their last show. after months of speculation, waiting, checking the website daily for any more foreshadowing, and trying to keep my expectations low, telling myself that it would maybe be a new website, or perhaps some newly available merchandise. i know i was not the only one that burst into tears when the announcement came that the best thing imaginable was happening. not only were five iron back together, new music was being written, tour dates were in the works, and a new single was about to be released. five iron frenzy soon became the most funded music project in Kickstarter's history, meeting their goal of raising $30000 to record the new album in a mere 54 minutes, and finishing the three-month funding period with nearly $208 000. i was not the only five iron frenzy fan still alive. the new single was released, melodically proclaiming that 'hope still flies.' i couldn't have agreed more. 

the fates aligned in my favour, and i was able to see five iron last month while on my boston adventure... which brings me back to the task at hand. operation prove-i'm-not-the-only-FIF-obsessed-human-being-out-there (operation name under review.) little did i know that in this process, i would be absolutely inspired by the people i met, and re-fall-in-love with five iron again. 

five iron fans scattered throughout soulfest - sarah with a rad diy five iron shirt!

after years of solo travel, i am completely happy to take in concerts and fesitvals alone, and normally wouldn't go out of my way to start conversations with other people. however, it was SO easy to approach someone wearing a five iron frenzy t-shirt, or other ummm... obvious five iron costumery (i'm talking to you bryon garrison!), simply mention five iron frenzy and become instant pals. 

kickstarter backers! i didn't catch these guys' names, cause the music on the main stage was pumping... 

people who had pledged money to the kickstarter project could be spotted wearing the kickstarter-exclusive t-shirts, as the guy on the above left is wearing. others, like bryon, below, identified by other means, such as an apparel reference to the character on the cover of the last five iron album released. 

bryon garrison, from lebanon, PA - and what i presume was the inspiration for his concert garb... 

there were homemade five iron t-shirts, merch from five iron's early years, blue combs (in reference to a fan-favoured song), and my favourite - handmade wings, stitched with the word 'hope'. i even met a married couple whose first conversation was about five iron frenzy! 

bob & jackie from north brookwood MA, who bonded over their love of ska, with eric from toronto, ON

as i probed these die-hards about the reasons for their devotion - especially the ones who became fans after the band quit in 2003 - a few themes emerged. surprisingly, only a few mentioned the actual sound of the band - and when they did, they were quick to follow with their appreciation for the message behind all of those trumpet and trombone riffs. 

'they're one of the only ska bands to have a really deep message,' said bryon garrison, 'they have a sense of humor, but also a sense of deep spirituality that they can express through their music, and a lot of bands can't.' 

almost every fan i talked said that they appreciated five iron's lyrics more than anything else - not just the depth of meaning, but also band's silly sense of humor. (every album produced has included at least one joke track, one cd even including eight joke songs about a mysterious pair of pants, each song recorded in a different musical genre.) the majority of the band's lyrics are written by vocalist reese roper, and explore themes as diverse as the plight of the north american indians, consumerism, brokenness and hope, and predominantly, the struggles of the christian faith. 

kate and devon bartholomew from syracuse, NY

'roper's openness and understanding of the crushed, broken human spirit, and that it's only god's grace, and it's only god's unconditional love through christ that can carry us through,' was the thing that devon from syracuse NY most appreciated about five iron. 'well, that and the fun that can be had through music as well!'

i especially loved talking to a group of young guys from stanford, CT, who had all become fans in the years following five iron's 'last' show - the concert in new hampshire was their first opportunity to see five iron in real life and they were beyond stoked. 

carlton, tyler, tom and mike (not pictured!) were rad young fans from stanford, CT.  'now that i'm a christian,' said mike,  'everyone's like, 'christians are boring and lame,' and everyone in my house thinks i'm lame, but when you listen to these's a reminder that christians can be funny, and i just really like that.'

'they're diverse,' said tyler, 'you can listen to them no matter what mood you're in, and it's always the right thing to listen to.' 

'yeah,' agreed carlton, 'you're just always in the mood to listen to them, once you pop a cd in, you just keep listening. it'll start over and over again, and you never get tired of it.' 

SEEEEEE people?? i'm not the only one who does that.... it was like finding soul mates. lots of them. 

just as i did, others found that the meaningful lyrics had resonated with them on a more personal level, like carlie from gorham, ME (below, with the rad hope wings), who said that 'their music has a lot of meaning to me personally and spiritually, so, even over the years, throughout everything else, i still find a place in my heart for them.'

carlie with.... homemade winged awesomeness!

listening to the stories of other people who had found belonging in the music, i was taken back to when i first discovered this music...the humor, honesty and spirituality that became a friend when i felt i had none. i remember listening to their song 'suckerpunch' on repeat, singing along to the lyrics - about the trials of not fitting in at school.

they're all suckerpunching me, get in line for a wedgie,
 all i want and all i need is someone who believes in me.
a song sung for underdogs, for all the left out - 
a flag flying for losers somewhere in the heavens.
the god of everlasting comfort believes in me,
loves me when i am faithless, he still died for me.

eric, a fellow canadian who had made the trip down from toronto summed it up perfectly. 

'they don't take themselves too seriously, and it resonates with the left out, the ones that don't fit in, that don't know how to be 'scene'.... a lot of five iron fans seem to just live their lives in this isolation of 'i have this wonderful thing and i just wish you'd all share it with me,' but we still live alone, and then we come to things like this, and are surrounded by people who like the same thing, and ahhh, it's so nice to know you're not alone!'

travis frakes and adam roberts, from yorktown, VA, who had, in fact, driven 500 miles to see five iron play in new hampshire...  adam said, 'i would say that my reason why i love five iron frenzy is the fact that they can go from wild and crazy concerts to, at the end of a concert, just busting out in worship ...they have such a good attitude towards everything. they're just great.'

when the time came for five iron frenzy to take the stage, i skoochie-skooched down to the very front of the crowd, and ended up beside adam and travis (above). we banded together with dave from boston and a 15year old kid called logan in a shirt and tie, and the five of us shared the time before the show like kids waiting to run downstairs on christmas morning - buzzing with anticipation, bonding over our love for five iron, and sharing what lengths we had gone to to because of the impact the music had on our lives. travis and i even discovered that we had been at the same show in seattle on the winners never quit tour! 

words can't really do justice to the incredible experience the show was - especially being able to share it with people who i knew understood - really understood - how it felt to be there, singing those songs that had brought me so far, in solidarity with a bunch of other misfit kids, who, in this music, found a reason to smile, and a compass pointing to hope. 

just moments before the show started...

every time five iron plays live, they end their set with the song 'Every New Day,' a fan favourite, that talks about the struggles and disillusionment that wear down a childlike faith, and ends with a cry to god, asking for his mercy, and his strength to make a broken spirit new.  

FIF kept this tradition, and closed the new hampshire show with Every New Day, which left few dry eyes in the crowd (and on the stage, actually).  i can find no other word to describe that moment than sacred...where human and divine collide, a thousand voices raised together, unified by hope.

following the lead of the heroes of this story, i'll end this post with a portion of the lyrics of a song that has truly changed my life. every new day. 

when i was young, the smallest trick of light could catch my eye,
and life was new and every new day i thought that i could fly.
i believed in what i hoped for, and i hoped in things unseen,
i had wings and dreams could soar, i just don't feel like flying anymore...

...dear father, i need you, your strength my heart to mend.
i want to fly higher, every new day again.

man versus himself, man versus machine.
man versus the world, mankind versus me.
the struggles go on, the wisdom I lack,
the burdens keep piling up on my back.
so hard to breathe, to take the next step.
the mountain is high, I wait in the depths.
yearning for grace, and hoping for peace - 
dear god, increase!

healing hands of god have mercy on our unclean souls once again.
jesus christ, light of the world burning bright within our hearts forever.
freedom means love without condition, without a beginning or an end.
here's my heart, let it be forever yours,
only you can make every new day seem so new.

if you've made it all the way to the end, you're probably already a five iron fan. but if not, and anything i've written has peaked your interest, check out five iron frenzy's website here. also, the denver post took some pretty rad photos of the band that you can check out here, and an interesting article about their kickstarter campaign here. or, if you want to read more about their reunion, relevant magazine posted an interview here

lastly, i simply must say that five iron frenzy makes it clear that the only reason they have been able to do any of this, is because of the grace of god and the love of jesus christ. i'll echo that sentiment, and add that though this music has so massively impacted my life, i know without a doubt that five iron frenzy was (and is) simply a vessel that god has used to show me his great, unfathomable, unconditional love. 


  1. Awesome blog post Stace! I think you have proved your point that you're-not-the-only-FIF-obsessed-human-being-out-there


    1. thanks babe - and you said that before 24 other fans commented ;)

  2. So great meeting you Stacey! Thanks for documenting an awesome day to remember!

    1. you too, carlie! your wings were my fave :)

  3. This blog is about to blow up :)

  4. I love how you captured Five Iron and their fans. Meeting so many of you at Soulfest to include the guys who drove 500 miles. (They only beat me by about 75 miles.) Unity in something as simple as music is a beauiful thing but when you add the commonality of music and a love for Jesus it is truly breathtaking. Thank you for writing this.

    1. you are SO welcome... i was totally blown away by the unity in meeting other fans at soulfest, you're right, it was an absolutely beautiful thing!

  5. Stacy, I get you. We are knit through this. And to be honest I teared up just a little while reading this.

    One I got the news they were back together I was in a house full of old friends, I had also not gotten my hopes up. I read the tweet, re-read it and screamed "WHAT?! YES! YES YES YES!" A house full of people looked at me like "what's the big deal?" "FIVE IRON IS BACK TOGETHER!" I yelled. "So?" asked my wife. "YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!" I yell back.

    I've thought allot about why I love them...allot. And the answer lies in two songs:
    "suckerpunch" - In middle school and high school I did not fit in. I was rejected, belittled and yes suckerpunched. I was one of the few white kids in that school much less the only punk rocker. And I heard that song...and heard there was a flag flying for losers somewhere in the heavens. That there were others like me...that I was understood...geez, I'm about to tear up again.

    "Dandelions" - do I have to explain?

    And Hope still flies...this four word phrase does so much to lift my soul.

    You're awesome and you are understood.

    1. thank you SO much for this comment, david. yes... suckerpunch, dandelions & every new day - three songs that have got me through so much throughout dark times, three songs sung with tears in my eyes too many times to fathom.

      no, david, YOU'RE awesome :)

  6. I thought someone was reading my mind and writing this until you got to the part about attending the show in New Hampshire... Great article!

  7. I'm so five iron obsessed I drove from St Louis to make the Kickstarter Concert in denver

  8. We're a special group. But in knowing FIF we've experienced things others may never catch glimpses of.

    Thanks for this post, you make us proud.


  9. Almost went to that show but my wife and I were to broke to make the trip :-(. Instead I have a playlist with all the FIF albums on it that I listened to all day.

    So with the reunion of FIF, do you think we'll be seeing another Brave Saint Saturn trilogy?

  10. Awesome article! I just drove to Lifelight with a few other guys a few weeks ago, and our main reason for going was to see FIF! Your article pretty much describes my experience as well. It was great to connect with all of the other fans. You could walk up to anyone else wearing an FIF shirt and a few moments later be talking as if you were old friends. It was great to get to hang out with the band for awhile as well! I'm the manager of Ska Lives, so I had talked to them online a bit, but I had never had the chance to meet them in person, so it was great to finally have the opportunity!

    I'm absolutely certain that FIF fans are the most hardcore fans on the planet.
    At Lifelight, John Reuben was playing before FIF, and there was also a speaker in between bands. My friends and I decided to try to get up to the front during John Reuben's set so that we wouldn't have to fight the crowd to get to the front for FIF. We got as close to the stage as we could, figuring that we would be able to make it the rest of the way once all of John Reuben's fans filtered out. We soon discovered that every other person in front had the exact same idea though. When John Reuben went off of the stage, not a single person moved an inch. We started talking to other fans and found out that literally everyone in the crowd was waiting to see FIF. Almost no one was there to see John Reuben.

    As the speaker took the stage, anticipation began to build. I felt a bit sorry for him because hardly anyone was listening to him at all. Everyone was talking about FIF, and how they had driven hours and hours to see them, and how they had waited 8 years to see them again. When the band finally took the stage, the crowd began to erupt with excitement. You would think that you were seeing a much more popular band like Skillet or TobyMac, not a Christian ska band that had been broken up for 8 years. From the moment FIF started playing, to the moment that the show ended, every single person was jumping up and down, skanking, and singing every word of every song! I think I had more fun that I have at almost any other show!

    Something else that I thought was really cool is that after the set, when everyone started shouting for an encore, one of the band members... I think it may have been Sonny if I remember right... walked out and said that they could play more, but they would much rather just hang out with the fans, and that's what they did.
    I think that's a great testimony to their character as band, seeing how many other bands simply play their set, and then make no real effort to connect with the fans afterwards.

    Anyway, what else can I say? It was a great experience, and I hope to see FIF live again sometime soon!

    - Ian DeVaney

    1. We're a strange group of people, but I've found one sentence leads to instant friendship: "they're a Five Iron Fan." Thanks for Ska Lives, brother.

    2. That's for sure. You're welcome! Thank you! It's always good to hear that people appreciate it!

    3. I too was at Lifelight solely to see FIF. I and five of my closest friends drove from Duluth, MN (7hrs). I would do it all again. I had never seen them before. Best concert of my life. I had the amazing opportunity to hang out with the band afterwards. I love them so much as they've encouraged me with their love of God, humility and understanding of the human condition. It was amazing to be in a Christian setting, surrounded by Christian people, praising Jesus to the best music ever. Simply amazing.

    4. yeah, the amount of time that five iron spends hanging with their fans really sets them apart from the rest! i was really blessed to meet leanor at soulfest and be able to share with her how much her testimony on the dvd helped me through a dark time. i love how humble they have stayed, even through the amazing response to the kickstarter...

  11. Very nice article. I feel for all those who heard of Five Iron after they broke up (or shortly before and never got to see them live). I was in on them from the ground floor (95'-96') and got to love on them for a long time. Memories. I'm glad they got back together, glad you all get to enjoy it, some again, some for the first time :)

    Yes, more Brave Saint Saturn!

  12. *Sigh.* Oh, Five Iron. They feel like family. And their fans, too. This band is so much more than just another band, and will always be a part of who I am. I love them! Thanks for the article, I'm feelin' the camaraderie!


    1. i totally agree, nikki! thanks for reading!

  13. I discovered FIF a year or two before they quit, but never saw them live. When they announced they were reforming my best friend and I scraped up some money and drive almost 1000 miles to their kickstarter show. Amazing.

  14. Thank you so much! I discovered FiF two years after the break up. And when I found out they were back together this past year, my year was made! I've worn out It Was A Dark and Stormy Night. Can't wait for that new album! And for sure Every New Day and On Distant Shores my two favorite FiF songs. This made me smile so much!

  15. Thank you! This post so beautifully encompassed all that I have felt about the band and the reasons I love them. That show was incredible and I will never forget it. Also, that picture of me is great. (I'm the girl in the caricature t-shirt made into a tank top at the top of the post.)

    1. yay! it was rad to meet you sarah, and thanks for letting me get all up in your grill to get a photo :)

  16. I was lucky enough to discover FIF in 8th grade (early in '96) and was hooked. I had always wanted to go see a live show of theirs and finally got the chance in 2003...I saw them 3 times that year including driving from Indiana to Nashville to pick up two friends, then to Lawrence, Kansas to pick up another friend so that we could go out and watch the not-so-'final' FIF show in 2003. I have loved them for exactly the reasons you posted above. My life seems to have formed around FIF albums. When I play an album, each one resonates with different stages of my life. So each one is special and holds specific memories. I'm very excited to keep going with new albums for new experiences in my life. I'm sure all of you are too!

    1. i know exactly what you mean, andy. i, too, find that five iron has formed stages and seasons. SO MANY TIMES during the past decade of doing youth ministry, i find myself sharing a bible study or sermon and going... 'a wise man once said... the only jesus this world's gonna see is the jesus in you and me...' (or insert ANY other five iron frenzy lyric here...) bring on new albums and more inspiration!

  17. I blogged about my Five Iron story not too long ago!
    Loved hearing your story!

    1. awesome charity! it was rad to read your five iron story too!

  18. Anybody else there for the watermelon at Soul Fest way back around... 2002? ish?

  19. This is amazing Stacy it was so great to meet you. Thank you

    1. it was rad to meet you too, tyler! it was great to met such 'fresh' fans, getting to see five iron for the first time :)

  20. I was unfortunately late to the awesomeness that was (and now is again!) FIF. The first time I had even heard them was on their Winners Never Quit tour, they were playing at my cousin's church and my cousins had invited me to the show. I bought a CD and a shirt, and started my FIF journey with "Our Newest Album Ever" because, at the time, I had thought that that had MEANT that it WAS their newest album ever! Silly me! I developed a love for their music, and eventually got all of their albums. Over the years, I had been hoping and wishing for a reunion, but kept tabs on some of the members and their side post-FIF projects (Reese- Roper and Brave Saint Saturn for example). When I heard they were getting back together, I was so freaking excited! And when Christmas came, so did one of the BEST PRESENTS EVER! My cousin had gotten us tickets to their first show back, in Denver! If you want to get a sense of family, I suggest you look up a group on Facebook called "FrenzyCon". It's a bunch of Kickstarter show people(and a whole bunch more that didn't get to go to that particular show, but still love FIF!) that love FIF and are trying to fund raise and have another get-together in for everyone Denver each year. They are awesome people, funny, and offer prayer for anyone who asks.

    Thank you Stacey for writing this blog entry, I had always felt the same way until there was a Kickstarter group made on Facebook for those going to the show. It was a way for all of us to get to know each other before the show, and I made some awesome friends from ALL over the U.S. and one from Australia!

    1. awesome liz! I LOVE the frenzycon group. how amazing is it to finally be 'got' by so many other people!?! love it.

  21. Also, the band members are pretty awesome, and very active on many groups on Facebook. Scott's getting input from one of the groups about writing a song about Bacon, and Micah, Leanor and Micah's wife Tricia is pretty awesome and pretty much does a LOT for the band, and the fans.

  22. Still a great article and still one of top 3 bands of all time. I will be seeing them in less than a month!


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