Chains Unchained festival in Missouri has quickly become a grassroots staple in the Christian heavy music scene. With a heart laser-focused on community and ministry, lines blur between bands and fans as everyone involved shares a yearly unforgettable experience.
This year, Rock On Purpose was a proud sponsor of Chains Unchained 2021. Our contributor Matt Sassano caught up with Chains Unchained founder Wayne Nale to learn more about the event’s history and the man behind its origins.
Matt: This is my first time attending a Chains Unchained Festival. From what I understand, this event was heavily inspired by a book. Could you speak about how Chains Unchained was founded and the mission behind it?
Wayne: Sure! So it did start as a book. It’s a devotional book, and it’s called Chains Unchained: Friends and Sinners. Its subtitle is “devotions for the rest of us.”
I come from a very bad addiction background, so I wanted to do something that spoke to that crowd. You couldn’t just go into a bookstore and buy something geared toward that. I’m a procrastinator. I was a year into it and had nothing written. I’m a pastor, so it’s not like I couldn’t write it. I had some stuff, but not nearly what I needed. It was just sitting there. Then one day, the idea came to me: “I have so many people I can draw from. I know all these bands. I’m friends with all these guys, and a lot of them have a story that would speak to those people!”
I reached out to a bunch of guys I knew would be good for the cause. Shawn from Graverobber came on right away. The guys from The Protest came on. Dan Streety and the guys from Bred 4 War joined. We had like 20 band members saying that they would contribute a couple days to this devotional. A few of the guys from the band Nine Lashes did a full week.
We put those devotions together in a book. They are now available at our table for free. Our idea was to take the books to concerts in town and give them away. That’s how it started: it was one book. Then it became two books. From the books came the idea of a compilation CD. Now on top of the books, we have a really nice compilation CD with about 20 songs featuring all of the bands that contributed to the books.
After that, I was on the phone with Dan Streety one night. I said “you know, we’ve been going to Kingdom Come Festival for 3 years. They are awesome! How do we do a festival like that here, but still fit within our ministry?”
We wanted to reach within the addiction community, the homeless community, and the forgotten community to tell them that Jesus did something for them that could change their lives. When I spoke to Dan about the idea of the festival, he said “let’s do it!” Without hesitation.
That’s where Chains Unchained as an event started. We started with nothing, but continued to pray. The first year, To Speak of Wolves was our headliner for Saturday, and Convictions was our headliner for Friday. We had about 20 bands in attendance.
God had to bring all this money together, and He did! Every penny that comes in over and above the cost of our bands and production goes towards the mission. We support the Springfield Recovery Community Center. We support His Table Ministries, which are all the great people doing our cooking. They go all over the country to feed people and tell them about Jesus.
Matt: To be at the center of a music festival like Chains Unchained, I have to assume music has had a huge impact on your own life. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how music relates to your personal journey and faith?
Wayne: I grew up in San Francisco, where I graduated high school in 1983. I was very much involved in the underground music scene there. Bands like Metallica, Exodus, Slayer, and Megadeth all came out of the San Francisco area. When I was 18, they were all playing in local clubs, and they were house and party bands. I got to work with a lot of those bands. Cliff Burton was a good friend of mine, and he was the bass player for Metallica. He ended up sadly dying in a bus accident over in Europe.
Through the 80s, I did a lot of traveling with bands. That was kind of our culture. That also led to a bad addiction problem. Everyone I knew was in addiction. Eventually, I had to step away from that. I ended up calling my grandparents in Florida, and they told me I could come out there and stay.
So I moved to Florida. I didn’t really change much, but I got myself out of that situation and put myself into a new situation. I had no money or food. I had moved out on my own and was just scraping by. My grandparents told me “if you want to go to church with us, we will take you out to lunch.” I agreed.
I sat in the back of their church. I ripped all the pages out of their hymnals and carved into the benches. I was an angry person. There’s a lot to the story that I don’t tell, but I was a very mean and angry person. I walked out of that service and didn’t care.
I eventually started feeling bad about my grandparents. They took me in when nobody else would. I cared for them, but didn’t care about God. I looked at God like a drug: I did meth, and they did Jesus. It was just another means of helping you get through the day. Eventually, I called my grandparents back up and said “Listen, I don’t want to go to lunch or church again. But to respect you, I’ll go, and I promise this time I’ll sit and listen.”
By the end of that sermon, I was in tears. I ended up leaving my drugs at the church altar before I left at the end of the service. At that point, the pastor came out to meet me in the parking lot, and we talked. I told him, “I don’t have that need for drugs anymore. Something is different.”
From that experience, my life began on the journey that led me to where I am right now.
Matt: For as long as Chains Unchained has been going on, what would you say some of the highlight moments have been? What should a newcomer expect?
Wayne: I’ll start backward: the new comer is hopefully going to find a family. We steal the tagline we’ve heard so many times at Kingdom Come Festival: “This is a great family reunion with amazing music.”
Hopefully, you’re going to feel loved and accepted no matter where you’re at. I don’t care if you’ve been walking with God your entire life and everything’s been going well, or if you are totally broken, have no hope, and don’t know if you’re gonna be alive tomorrow. We want you to feel loved and accepted, whether you accept the message we bring or not.
As far as highlight moments: the best thing that happened for me took place one night when The Persuaded was attending. It was our second year. They got halfway through their first song, then Josh, their singer, said “we don’t need to play! We just wanna be with you guys!”
Totally unscripted, their guitar player just began playing and took the event in a whole new direction. The other guys in the band just went out and started praying with people in the audience. This prayer meeting broke out in the middle of a metal concert. There were people kneeling everywhere. I get goosebumps thinking about it; it was amazing. That was the moment when I said “this is what it’s all about!”
Matt: Chains Unchained works with a variety of other ministries that are at the forefront of many important causes, like drug recovery and human trafficking prevention. Can you speak about those efforts?
Wayne: we work with Springfield Recovery Community center. David Stoker has started this group that now reaches all over the country. He’s an amazing speaker to the addiction culture, and an amazing Christian. We’ve teamed up with them, and we try to support those groups financially. I can’t do everything they are doing, but I can help so they don’t have to struggle as hard.
We also support Grindstone Ministries. Grindstone does a thing called Kaleb House, reaching out to the trafficking community. When survivors come out of human trafficking, they get a lot of initial support, but then there’s nothing for aftercare. In America, there are only 360 beds at halfway houses that are dedicated to the care of human trafficking in the whole country. Ten times that number of people are pulled out of human trafficking every week. There’s nowhere for these women to go.
Grindstone Ministries builds homes where these women can go to spend as much time as they need, free of cost. The ministry speaks not only to the physical and mental needs these victims have, but also to their spiritual needs.
Matt: As you mentioned, one of the co-founders of Chains Unchained is Dan Streety from the band Bred 4 War. What has it been like working together, and what have you learned from each other?
Wayne: Dan is one of my best friends. We share a very similar past. He grew up in Southern California, and I grew up in Northern California. We share a very similar walk. From Dan, I’ve learned strength. I’ve learned that God is bigger than anything that stands in front of me. Dan has really taught me to step out in faith when I know God has called me to do so. If God is for us, who can be against us?
Matt: I know Chains Unchained has been met with both successes and challenges. What would you say some of the challenges have been? Where would you say help is most needed?
Wayne: Honestly, help is most needed financially. Everybody says “it’s always about the money!” Well yeah, it’s always about the money because without any money, what do you do? The bands have to be paid. The people that provide the production have to be taken care of. This is their livelihood too.
We do what we do with very limited money. A week after this festival ends, our bank account for Next Level Promotions will have $50 in it, because everything else will be given away. It’s through our sponsors, our fundraising, and the people who faithfully donate that we are able to do this. We commit to this every September with $50 in the bank. We book all the bands, and God takes care of the rest.
We always wind up giving money away. You see all these festivals with big budgets. We do everything we do on about $9,000. Our volunteers are amazing. We have so many people that are willing to step up. While we have and could use all the volunteers we can get, we already have people. We don’t have money.
Everyone can pray, some can volunteer, and some can give. You could donate through our PayPal at PayPal.me/nextlevelcp. Or my personal phone number is on all of our social media pages: (417) 827-6686. Everything we put out has my personal cell number on it so people who want to give can call directly, and we can figure that out. We have a lot of ways to donate.
Matt: Any closing remarks?
Wayne: we just want people in the metal community to know that we love and accept them!