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.
'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.
'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!'
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.