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Holy Rock & Rollers: The Campbell Brothers deliver a dose of funk-infused gospel to Kuumbwa this Saturday.

Steel Thyself

Hang on to your hippie hats, Santa Cruz--the Campbell Brothers are putting the 'fun' back in fundamentalism.

By Steve Hahn

Restrained choirboys and little old ladies poking away at the organ just don't bring the crowds into church like they used to. The contemporary churchgoer needs something with a little more spunk. That's where the Campbell Brothers and their sacred steel guitars come in. They praise the Almighty with drawn-out sessions of wild rock & roll solos, ecstatic dancing and uncontrolled screaming that literally leave fans reeling. The New York church where this seven-piece neogospel/Southern rock band plays is so drenched in funk it has attendants on hand specifically to prop up collapsing dancers shivering with ecstasy.

The Campbell Brothers elicit this frenzy using all the tools of a modern rock band, with one twist. The band's centerpiece is the lap steel guitar, an instrument hardly ever found in rock bands, let alone gospel outfits. This Hawaiian instrument is played much like the traditional electric guitar, except it sits on the lap. That makes it easier to race up and down the neck with a ferocity that would make Jesus himself shiver in his sandals. The lap guitar also employs a steel bar that slides along the frets, allowing the musician to elongate and blend the notes.

In this family, Darick and Chuck Campbell are the slide masters, and they're sure to get the praising party started with style this Saturday at Kuumbwa. Two gospel singers, Katie Jackson and Denise Brown, add a little extra glory to these religious rock-out sessions, while Phillip and Carl Campbell provide backup on bass and drums.

The Campbell Brothers got their start in New York's House of God Church, a limb on the Pentecostal branch of Christianity. These "Holy Rollers" believe fervently in getting funky; the ecstatic dancing, screaming and shivering is all about cementing a personal, unmediated relationship with the Holy Ghost. If the congregation isn't up and dancing by the time the sermon is over, then God is having an off day.

Chuck Campbell remembers when the band first took its music outside the church walls and into the traditional concert hall in 1998. He was nervous, but the secular crowd ended up dancing just as intensely as the spirit-infused churchgoers back home.

"Our music is very interactive and geared toward the congregation," says Campbell. "That bodes well for us and allows us to go all over the world. No matter what the language is, our ultimate goal is to get the audience involved in the music."

That should come as no surprise, being that these guys can really play. If it weren't for the pews and crosses, a casual observer could mistake the floor of the Campbell Brothers' House of God for a full-on mosh pit.

"It surprises us a lot of time how similar a secular concert hall can be to church," notes Campbell. "No matter what genre of music you're talking about, people embrace festive music. They love to really get into the music; they just don't call it praising God."

CAMPBELL BROTHERS SACRED STEEL GUITARS performs Saturday, June 14, at 7:30pm at Kuumbwa, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $23 adv/$26 door; or 831.479.9421.

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