There’s good reason why California’s called “The Golden State.” From San Diego to San Francisco, the nation’s 31st state boasts some of the most artistically progressive cities in the world, not to mention the entertainment capital in Hollywood. As the state that outdid Minnesota in terms of celebrity governors, California offers an endless array of oddities, from pet therapists to hotels with poolside outdoor waterbeds. Still, the oddest irony of all is that this often secular, largely left-wing, left-coast state remains one of the most supportive places for Christian music.

The Crossover Factor

Exactly 20 years ago, it was the Orange County group Stryper that helped put Christian music on the mainstream map. And thanks to modern bands like Switchfoot and P.O.D. from San Diego and Lifehouse from Los Angeles, the stigma on faith-based music is starting to wash away like Santa Monica waves. Nashville surely provides much-needed focus and centralization for Christian music, but the West Coast bands and labels have often pushed the creative wheel, tested and broken new trends.

“If you are skilled and up on your game, people are more open to whatever you believe,” says FLYNN of LA Symphony, a Gotee Records act that recently performed with X-zibit, Westside Connection, Clipse and Jurassic 5 as part of a Power 106 (L.A.’s trendsetting hip-hop station) radio fest. “Making good music with universal appeal bridges the gap and makes people ask what we’re really about. It’s the catalyst for so much more.”

“The lines are blurred because the art and music are getting better,” says Tim Tabor, a leading Christian promoter and the owner of Floodgate Records, home to such California acts as Cool Hand Luke and East West. “The doors are opening to play the same venues that anyone else plays, which allows for a higher level of ministry. People are going to the same clubs they’ve always gone to, but they are hearing great music that challenges their ideas about faith. To me, that’s a breakthrough.”

In recent years, California bands like Stavesacre (Nitro) and Project 86 (Tooth & Nail) released mainstream albums, following in the footsteps of other West Coast artists such as the 77s (Island/A&M), Guardian (Capitol), Michael Knott (Elektra), Dakoda Motor Co. (Atlantic), Charlie Peacock (Island/A&M) and Freedom of Soul (Epic). MxPx, though from Washington State, got its break on a then California-based label (Tooth & Nail) and with invaluable help from L.A.’s KROQ radio. In fact, today’s mainstream labels are often discovering hot, new, faith-driven acts before the Christian labels do.

“We all love the Lord, and we all love playing and writing good music,” says singer Christopher Wade of the new Elektra Records band April Sixth from Orange County. “I’ve felt nothing but love from both the mainstream and Christian industries. Everyone’s pretty much the same: If the music rocks, then the music rocks.”

Mean Street Magazine, the largest free monthly music publication in Southern California, also took notice and started covering California’s edgier Christian artists. Says Waleed Rashidi, the magazine’s chief editor, “I suppose the Christian element used to be at the forefront of my mind upon receiving such releases, but that was back when the division between Christian and secular music was more blatant. These days, releases from such labels are perceived quite equally to those from secular labels. Overall, there’s been an astoundingly large acceptance of Christian-based artists by the local secular market.”

Among other key benefits, the close proximity to a world-class music market affords California bands access to more opportunities. Surrounded by such a vast and vibrant live scene, talented bands can always find a place regardless of their message. Moreover, there’s no denying the benefits of being near the heart of the entertainment industry.