May 10th, 2011
07:36 AM ET
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
Arlington, Virginia (CNN) – Jonathan Slye wanted to be a rock star. The wide-eyed 17-year-old spent part of last summer at a Christian rock camp learning how to be a lead singer. But by November he had another thought: he should throw an epic rock show in his hometown.
How hard could it be?
In just a few months, Slye – the son of a pastor – managed to land some of the biggest names in Christian hip-hop, rock and heavy metal to play at his Spring Jam Fest this Saturday in nearby Centreville, Virginia.
He did it through sheer will and a little faith – and at a fraction of the cost of a professional concert.
It helped that no one told him teenagers don’t throw major rock shows.
The theme verse for the camp was from Romans 8:28 in the New Testament: “For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
When he got home, he said, he read and prayed over that verse every night for two months. Finally, around Halloween, clarity came: He would start a radio station for Christian rock, but not until after college.
Still, something was nagging at the high school sophomore.
He went to a small local Christian rock festival, and then it hit him. He said he felt God’s call to be a rock promoter – right now.
“At that point I didn’t have much faith or hope. But [the call] just kept coming. It was annoying. So I decided I’d give it a try,” he said.
Slye wanted to put on a rock show as an outreach to his friends to show them Christian music could be cool and have a positive message.
Sitting at his kitchen table with his parents, John and Krista Slye, last week, Jonathan Slye excitedly explained to CNN how he set up an email account and starting contacting local and national bands.
“I’d like to interject we knew nothing about this,” his father said. The Rev. John Slye is pastor of Grace Community Church, which has 600 members and meets at a middle school.
“Well, I didn’t have much hope at the time this would ever turn into something,” the younger Slye said with a sheepish grin.
“Jonathan has a lot of energy,” his father said, “so there’s a lot of things that fly around this house. So when he first started talking about it, he’s always loved music, so I’m thinking we’re talking about a small thing. He mentions all these names of bands, I don’t know who these names are. And some of them are crazy names.”
At the time, the Slyes thought their son was talking about bringing in a few small local bands to play for free at the middle school. “So I was OK with it,” John Slye said.
Little did they know their son was on a hot streak.
Every day he would rush home from school, open his laptop and plunge into his fledgling music festival. Bands starting agreeing to come and play.
“Finally the switch flipped for me,” his father said. “We got a phone call here and somebody said, ‘Can I talk to Mr. Slye?’ They weren’t looking for me, they were looking for him.”
The two then sat down for a father-son chat. By this point, Jonathan already had talked to a number of bands and had struck informal deals for a website and online ticket sales.
“When I finally realized what he had done and that he had put a lot of time, energy and effort into a lot of phases of this, actually he surprised me,” John Slye said.
“I felt like as a dad I couldn’t just say, ‘We’re not doing this.’ Though you need to know I was and am terrified. Right now.”
“Right now,” his wife, Krista Slye, repeats for emphasis.
Early on, Jonathan Slye got a huge name to play the festival, Brian “Head” Welch. A co-founder of the heavy metal band Korn, Welch sobered up a few years back, left Korn and found Jesus. He is now touring as a hardcore Christian musician. Slye emailed Welch’s agent, and Welch agreed to play – for a fraction of what he could be getting elsewhere.
Welch’s agent also represents P.O.D., one of the most successful Christian bands of all time. The group has sold 11 million records, had hit music videos on MTV, and was equally at home at Christian music festivals and Ozzy Osborne’s Ozzfest tour.
So while Slye was on the phone with the agent, the teen offered over $10,000 for P.O.D. to play his show. It was money neither he nor his parents had. And while it’s a huge sum for a family on a pastor’s salary, it was laughably low for a band this popular. But the agent told Slye she would check with the band.
“I looked at the bill and saw the bands that were on it and was like, ‘Cool, let’s play,’ only to find out later we got a young kid who just has a heart to go out and outreach and live out his faith and promote a show,” P.O.D. lead singer Sonny Sandoval told CNN.
“I’m down with that, I think we share the same heart and the same vision. I look forward to seeing what happens.
“When we first started playing shows, we were all 17. Everybody started somewhere. There were guys throwing shows in condemned houses and backyards just for the love of music and for the love of what bands were standing for,” Sandoval said.
“So I’m inspired by this kid. I think [this concert is] the first of many for him.”
After John Slye fully got on board with the idea, he started looking at the costs. A concert promoter warned him the festival could kill the family financially. The venue, the bands – it was all adding up fast.
On a Monday morning in mid-April, with the concert date approaching, the elder Slye told his son he needed to raise $25,000 by the end of the week or he wouldn’t sign any contracts. (In Virginia, you have to be 18 to sign a legal document.)
“I began to prepare him to be let down softly because I knew this could never work,” the father said. “I spoke about President Lincoln and all of his failures before his great success.”
Two days later, his son came running downstairs saying he had just crossed the $25,000 mark. Money came from sponsors and friends. One church member heard about the situation and handed the pastor $4,000 in cash he had earned that day selling scrap metal, the elder Slye said.
The contracts were signed, checks were written and the show was on.
The price of rock 'n' roll continues to surprise the family. For instance, they hadn’t expected to pay $3,000 for portable toilets at the venue. But they say they the blessings keep coming. The Berryville Grill in nearby Berryville, Virginia, agreed to provide catering for the bands for free, 100 volunteers from the church signed up to help, and someone created fliers and a promotional video for free.
“It was just one blessing after another that allowed us to get by and keep moving forward,” Jonathan Slye said.
Still, the final price tag will be at least $70,000, which includes the $25,000 the family raised.
“It’s 100% risk,” Krista Slye said. “If we don’t sell a minimum of 3,000 tickets, we’ll be in debt.”
As of Monday night, they’d sold about 900 tickets at $15 each and said sales were picking up.
“The reality that John and I had to decide was, ‘Do we feel God’s in it? Do we support our son’s dream?’ Because this is the part that’s scary for us,” she said. “We’re not in debt, but we don’t have any money in the bank either. So it’s definitely a risk.”
Despite a slight drizzle, the big show went off without a hitch on Saturday at Bull Run Regional Park, not far from the family’s home. Eighteen bands were scheduled to play. In the mosh pit there were far more smiles than scowls, the biggest smile by far was on Jonathan.
Not bad for a high school sophomore.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.