Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Estes Park - Feature Story

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
Estes Park - Feature Story

by Mike and Paula Parker for the Music Channel at

For details on this year's event at Estes Park, including our exclusive photo scrapbook, click here!

"The brightest stars are out at 8000 feet!" It is a boast the folks at the Christian Artists' Seminar in the Rockies at Estes Park, Colorado have been making for twenty-five years. And with artists like perennial Dove award winners {{Steven Curtis Chapman}}, {{Michael W. Smith}}, {{Jaci Valesquez}}, {{Point of Grace}}, and {{Jars of Clay}} on hand for the evening concert series, you know the ad is not just talking about those little bits of twinkling lights overhead.

"The Seminar does a great job of attracting top artists," says Greg Rumburg, Managing Editor of CCM Magazine. He says for the established artist, signing on for the annual event is a no-brainer. "Have you ever been there? It's gorgeous! Estes Park is a quaint little mountain town with these unique little shops and hiking trails and beautiful scenery. There is lots of down time to just hang out. It's a vacation, man! It is a great way for the artists to get out of the summer heat in Nashville."

But what about those less luminous "stars"? Is it possible for a quasar from Omaha to achieve super-nova status by being seen at the Christian music industry's equivalent of the soda counter at the Hollywood drug store? Sarah Meeker, lead singer and primary songwriter for Sparrow Records' phenomenal new band, {{Chasing Furies}}, says an enthusiastic, if qualified, "Yes!"

Sarah, along with her siblings Joshua and Rachel, decided to attend the Seminar two years ago in response to a challenge from a friend. "He said, 'You shouldn't go. You wouldn't fit in at all.' That kind of propelled me into going," Sarah laughs. "Because I thought, 'Where among other Christians can I not fit in? That's ridiculous!' But you know what? The guy was right. We didn't fit in - in appearance. But by the end of the week we totally fit in with other people's hearts."

Not only did {{Chasing Furies}} win people's hearts; they won the respect of the competition's judges, and the respect of the recording industry. Sarah placed 2nd in vocal competition, 3rd in songwriting, and the band placed 2nd in the group competition. By the end of the week, she says they had business cards from every major label in the Christian music industry. Six months later they had signed with Sparrow Records, and have shared the stage with such artists as {{The Waiting}}, {{Switchfoot}}, and {{Burlap to Cashmere}}.

"We weren't expecting a record deal," she explains. "I had just started writing music about six months before. We didn't feel like we had paid our dues yet."

Still, the week is not all about seeing great concerts and being discovered. It is about learning to minister through music at the national, regional, and local level. It is about forming relationships with people of a like heart. It is about worship.

"I would say, before anyone goes to Estes Park, just check your heart," Sarah says. "Why are you going? They have workshops for people who just want to minister in their home church, and for just about anyone who is involved in Christian music at any level. But if you are going with your hopes up expecting to be discoveredwell, just be careful. A lot of people end up disappointed and upset by the end of the week."

Sarah is quick to point out that while she placed in three competitions, her brother, Joshua, who also entered the songwriting competition, failed to make it past the semi-final round.

"He is one of the most phenomenal worship writers that I know," she says. "But we didn't go up there to compete. We went up just to see what was going on in the industry. Competing was really a side issue for us."

Aside from the competitions, Estes Park is also known for the seminars that are offered to attendees. From Vocal Technique and Dance & Movement to Drama & Comedy, a wide range of interests are addressed in these sessions. And the instructors carry some weighty credentials. Speakers for some of this year's seminars include:

  • Jack Hayford - Pastor, Author, & Composer
  • John Fischer - Artist, Author, & CCM Columnist
  • Chris & Carole Beatty - The Vocal Coach
  • Todd & Marilyn Farley - MIMEistry International
  • Jeanette Clift George - actress/playwright/founder of A.D. Players in Houston

What is the intrinsic value of these seminars? "It's all in the eye of the beholder," states Rumburg. "What is your level of experience? If you have none, then this is a great introduction to the Christian music industry. Please understand - it's not the same as receiving a degree in commercial music from Belmont University in Nashville. It's roughly the same instruction you would receive from Gospel Music Week in Nashville, just in a more beautiful setting."

For those contemplating full family involvement there's KID'S KAMP, a VBS for children grades K - 6th, which will feature the Veggie Tales' curriculum, "Building Citizens for God's Community", and include a special visit from Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. TEEN CONNECTION, for ages 13 - 19, will have daily morning sessions designed to challenge teens spiritually.

So, back to the burning question - should you go to the Christian Artists Seminar in the Rockies at Estes Park? It depends on your motivation and expectations. If you are only going in order to be discovered, Rumburg warns, "It's a really expensive way to buy a break."

If, on the other hand, you are interested in learning more about the Christian music industry, it's a great place to rub shoulders with industry insiders and learn from veterans. Sarah Meeker sums up her experience at Estes Park with a return visit. "I went back last year and I am going again this year. It was an eye opener for me about the industry and where Christian music is going. I loved it!"

For details on this year's event at Estes Park, including archives of the concerts and a photo scrapbook, click here!