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Concert Review: Chris Renzema at John Emerald Distillery

It was a stormy night on April 10th, 2024. Fans packed into John Emerald Distillery to escape the rain and see Christian rock/folk artist Chris Renzema. The show marked Renzema’s debut in Opelika and the first show at John Emerald Distillery in 2024. He brought Christian rock band Citizens along as the opener.

This is the first time I’ve been to John Emerald Distillery for a show, and it’s a pretty unique venue. It’s an outdoor venue that has a roof over the stage and crowd. 12 chandeliers hang from the top of the roof, with plain Christmas lights lining the pillars of the roof. The roof doesn’t cover the whole space, so there were areas where the audience could see the rain coming in. The venue is so open that the audience can see downtown Opelika and the tour bus for the band to their left.

But the coolest thing about this venue is the space. Unlike similar outdoor venues around Atlanta and Birmingham, there was plenty of space for fans to move and dance around freely. Because of this, opener Citizens set felt like a giant party, as fans scattered around and danced as much as they wanted to.

At 8 p.m., Citizens took the stage. I’ve heard of Citizens or seen them play before this, so I was excited to see how they performed. On this tour, Citizens consisted of frontman Zach Bolen and drummer Dan Folgado. Normally Citizens is a five-man band, but they went for a more stripped-down lineup for this tour. Working around losing most of the backing band, Bolen had some backing instrumentals playing along with Folgado’s drumming. Bolen sang and played guitar and piano on certain songs. He had a great energy, jumping up and down the stage throughout their set and getting the audience to participate in the songs. At one point, Bolen had the audience waving their hands from side to side.

Citizens did a great job to set the mood for the concert. They brought high energy to their set, and got the audience riled up for Renzema to come on. They were everything a band would want in an opening act. After a brief break to set up equipment, Chris Renzema hit the stage.

I was familiar with Renzema’s work before the concert, listening to his new album, Manna, that came out last month beforehand. This was one of the first stops on his Manna tour that ends in early May. Renzema played guitar and brought along four other bandmates that played piano, drums, bass, and rhythm guitar.

The crowd was really into Renzema’s set. The concert felt more like a worship service than a show, as audience members swayed back and forth and lifted one hand to the sky. The set was a lot more laid-back than Citizens, with Renzema having some more folk influences that slowed down the pace and let the audience breathe.

The concert was extremely intimate because of Renzema’s vibe and the setting. The audience was queues and hung on every word Renzema sang. At one point, the show stopped because it was quiet enough to hear a train pass through the town. Renzema’s music puts his heart and struggles right there on his sleeve, so it wasn’t surprising that the audience was drawn to him.

The set started off hot with more fast-paced songs like “Holy Ghost” and “Faith!?.” But the set got more mellow and emotional as the night went on. At one point, the band switched out their instruments for more of a folkier setup. Renzema kept his guitar, but the rest of the band played accordion, ukulele, tambourine, and the harmonica.

Renzema closed the show with his biggest hit, “Springtime.” This got a huge emotional response out of the audience, with multiple members having tears streaming down their faces. A unique attribute to this venue is the backstage area is through the audience, so instead of going offstage for an encore, the crowd chanted for it and Renzema never left the stage.

Overall, it was a really good night of music. If you’re into more contemporary Christian music, then Renzema is one of the best artists you can listen to for that genre. He puts on a great show and his bandmates are technically gifted. If you want to catch any more of Renzema’s tour, he’s touring around the US for the next month, with the closest stop left being the final show on the tour in Nashville on May 9th. If you’re looking for a show at John Emerald Distillery, the Brook and the Bluff is playing two shows at the venue on April 25th and 26th.


  1. Holy Ghost
  2. God Be
  3. Faith?!
  4. Square One
  5. Let the Ground Rest
  6. God & Prozac
  7. Old Dreams
  8. Hard Drugs
  9. 17
  10. Caught in the Reeds (Moses)
  11. Narrow Road
  12. Son of God
  13. Adonai
  14. Springtime / Just As Good
  15. How to Be Yours
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