Trey Pearson, the lead singer of alternative rock band Everyday Sunday and a formerly married father who came out to the world as gay in May, was axed from the lineup of a major Christian festival after several members of the event's production crew threatened a walk out if he was included.
The festival, called Joshua Fest, is an annual three-day event in Northern California described as a nonprofit "family friendly Christian music festival" that ministers to "young families and teens."
"We have something for everyone. From music that ranges from worship to hard core, to heartfelt workshops and open forum discussions about faith, pain, and hope. To workshops designed to strengthen your marriage," it explains.
Since 2003, Joshua Fest says it has hosted hundreds of faith-based bands like Tenth Avenue North, Family Force 5, Building 429, and for King & Country, among others.
Almost every year for the last decade, according to Billboard which first reported on Pearson's dumping, the gay singer had performed at Joshua Fest.
Since Pearson's coming out announcement he has been advocating for the LGBT community.
Shortly after announcing he was gay, Pearson went on ABC's "The View" and declared that he still considered himself a Christian.
"Yeah, I feel like I'm more in love with Jesus and the Scriptures than ever. As I've progressed in my faith and as I've experienced this grace, this restoration, being able to embrace truth without being scared," he told the show's hosts.
Pearson and his band also headlined the Columbus Gay Pride Parade in Ohio in June.
When asked on "The View" how the church was reacting to his new lifestyle, Pearson said he was pushing to change the church's position on homosexuality.
"There are all kinds of wonderful people in the church. It's changing right now. We've had to go through a lot of things, you know. There's times where we've had to go through what it's like for women's rights. What it's like for black people's rights, for minorities' rights. This happens to be a pressing issue of our time but it is changing and I want to see our church change," he said.
"I want to see my denomination change. I want to see people to be willing to have the conversation in an open way where we're willing to listen to people's stories, and that's why I think it's so important to tell because there are millions of people going through what I am going through right now," he added.
And it was this advocacy that reportedly made some Christians uncomfortable with Pearson performing at Joshua Fest.
"I am overwhelmed, and honored, to announce that I will be the FIRST OPENLY GAY ARTIST TO EVER PLAY A MAJOR CHRISTIAN MUSIC FESTIVAL!!! I will be playing main stage on Sunday evening at JoshuaFest, in Quincy, California. Joshua Fest happens Labor Day weekend, and I will be there with Skillet, Switchfoot, Relient K, Crowder Music, NF, Five Iron Frenzy and more!" he declared.
Two days after making the announcement, Pearson told RNS that he was humbled that Joshua Fest would still allow him to perform.
"I feel so humbled, honored, and excited to be a part of seeing the world change," he said.
Joshua Fest owner Aaron Diello would later tell Billboard that many of the show's production crew were opposed to Pearson's inclusion in the lineup of performers.
"The information about the stage crew came from our production manager," Diello said. "There was a team of about 14, and he said that about 11 were going to back out. He was trying to get them to change their minds, but it really put our back against the wall. This was just under two weeks out from the event. All of our staff are volunteers, and none of us are paid.
"When it comes to production, we have a production manager who is given a shoestring budget. And the fact that this team works the event for cost really put us in a bind to find a knowledgeable team that was available, let alone affordable. The event is Labor Day weekend, so you can imagine how hard it would have been to find a team that was experienced and available."
Diello called the members of the production crew who threatened to walk out "a group of guys that are stagehands at many of Northern California's Christian concerts. They've been really good to us over the years, and I'm not going to call them haters. They're good guys that need more Jesus."
He also explained that making the decision to axe Pearson was difficult.
"I was hurt. I felt like I was powerless in the situation — like I was just punched in the gut. I was forced to let down a friend, someone that I really wanted to just love and support, the way Jesus tells us to. I was being denied that opportunity, at my own festival. It was a horrible situation," he said.
Despite Diello's decision, Pearson praised him in comments to Billboard.
"The owners are awesome and their hearts are awesome and that's why they were inviting me in the first place. There was no way they would have been able to have the festival. If they keep me, I'm not going to perform anyway, because the festival is not even going to happen, and the festival owners are going to lose probably hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said.
Pearson, who is still friends with members of Switchfoot and Relient K, two of the Joshua Fest headliners, said he decided to attend Joshua Fest anyway as a spectator but was surprised when a member of Five Iron Frenzy, a ska-punk band whose drummer Andrew Verdecchio is atheist, asked if he would perform with them.
"They were like, 'Hey, what would you think about coming up and singing our last song with us' — 'Every New Day,' which is one of their biggest songs," Pearson said. "They were a band that I went to tons of their concerts in high school and looked up to, and so to have them ask me to do that was amazing. They checked with the owners first, and we all decided — it's not me doing my own set, but it's still a way that I can go up there and be a part of the festival.
"So it turned out to be a really beautiful thing. I think there were a couple of surprised looks that I was there by a couple of people who didn't want me there, but everybody was friendly. Of course I wish I could have done my own set, but in some ways this almost felt more powerful, because it was this band that I looked up to growing up that a lot of the fans looked up to, and all these guys from the other bands, too, standing with me in love."
Verdecchio said having Pearson perform with Five Iron Frenzy was about making a statement.
"Having Trey come up on 'Every New Day,' which is sort of our worship anthem at the end of every set, I think made a pretty big statement. Like, he believes in the same God you do, but you're going to excommunicate him because of his sexuality?" he asked.
Reese Roper, Five Iron Frenzy's singer said the band was planning to boycott the festival to make a statement but opted for making a statement by allowing Pearson to perform with them instead.
"We had all talked as a band about just dropping off of [the festival], just to make a statement, like if you're not gonna let him play, then we're not gonna play. We don't like to deal with that kind of intolerance. Especially to me, if you're espousing being full of the love of Christ, that's just not how you do it," Roper said.
"Personally," Roper added, "I feel like the Bible is not clear enough on it (homosexuality) to say. But I do know that it is clear that we are to love each other as Christ loved us, and I don't think the Church is doing that."