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Joyful Noises at Christian Music Festivals

Make a joyful noise!

Faith-based music festivals present opportunities for church groups to combine the best of worship, entertainment and travel. These crowd-pleasing events create memories groups will return to year after year.

From contemporary to gospel, bluegrass and more, each of the following festivals promises an uplifting, exciting, family-friendly experience.

Big Ticket Festival

Gaylord, Michigan

One of Michigan’s biggest Christian music festivals takes place just an hour south of Mackinac Island the last weekend of June: the Big Ticket Festival.

“We asked ourselves: Why don’t we make a festival? And God has been faithful for the last 18 years, and we expect him to continue to be next year,” said Big Ticket Festival executive director Becky Mason.

Gaylord, Michigan, attracts thousands of festivalgoers each year. Among dozens of other artists, David Crowder and Zach Williams will headline this year’s program. But talent isn’t the only aspect making Big Ticket unique.

“It’s a whole experience where you have people worshiping and praying over each other,” Mason said. “Believers from all over Michigan and even Canada connect as the Kingdom of God for the Kingdom of God,” Mason said.

While nearby hotels are available, staying on the grounds offers an authentic communal experience. “We bring in showers, bathrooms and power, so people can set up right outside the gates,” Mason said. “A lot of them sit around the campfire and jam out with their friends talking about Jesus.”

Activities abound daily during the festival. “In addition to the worship tent with music, kids can enjoy inflatables, a climbing wall, a zip line, a big sandbox and a Lego station, and we have lots of food trucks,” Mason said.

Camping runs from Thursday through Sunday. Read the FAQ section on the website for a good packing list. Tickets and add-ons are available online.

SonRise Music Festival

Virginia Beach, Virginia

In light of the sunny and life-changing reputation of SonRise Music Festival, one would never know the beachy Virginia festival was born from a personal tragedy suffered by Trina Olsen Keeney.

“Eventually she realized, ‘I have to come out of this,’ and the only way she knew was to get more into Christ and more into worship,” said pastor Moses David, director of local and indie talent for the festival. “That healing led to a vision of worship at the Virginia Beach oceanfront.”

Kenney founded the festival and brought her vision to life. Over the past decade, SonRise Music Festival has helped people surrender to Christ through local and mainstream Christian music.

“The beauty of SonRise,” David said, “is that everyone who is involved goes to different churches. It is a weekend of unifying under one banner, which is Christ.”

Group travelers who attend the Memorial Day weekend festival have the chance to enjoy a diverse music lineup. Tauren Wells will headline the 2023 event. “It’s amazing. You’re going to have every single style of worship represented here,” David said. “All cultures, all ethnic groups, and national and local music.”

In between frolicking in the Virginia Beach surf, families can enjoy a children’s activity zone. Tour planners can take advantage of the proximity of hotels on the strip and 24th Street. While most of the access is not ticketed, some spaces in the concert area can be reserved.

National Quartet Convention

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

There’s something about a gospel quartet that transports the listener out of time and space.

Maybe it’s the vibration of a deep baritone — or perhaps it’s when the foursome slide into a goosebump-inducing resolution. Whatever it is that defines the magic, the headquarters for the art found its footing in 1957 with the first National Quartet Convention.

“It was started by J.D. Sumner, a man often remembered from his Elvis years,” said Clarke Beasley, executive vice president for the National Quartet Convention. “He wanted to create a one-stop shop for the gospel music fan. All these years later, it’s still true.”

The Pigeon Forge event takes place the last weekend in September, when the colors are starting to change in east Tennessee. The auditorium of Pigeon Forge’s Leconte Center is filled with groups singing the paint off the walls, to the delight of fans young and old.

“It’s very much a fan festival,” Beasley said of the largest event in gospel music. “That’s the focus.”

Music featured on the Gaither Homecoming Special provides a good sampling of what to expect.

“We’ll have prominent artists like The Hoppers, Greater Vision, Triumphant Quartet, the Mark Trammell Quartet, and Dollywood’s host group, Kingdom Heirs,” Beasley said.

Look online for church and tour group discounts. Pigeon Forge is packed with lodging and extracurricular activities if groups can bear to pull themselves away from the artistry. The convention partners with the local CVB to develop special tour packages, so inquire early.

Faith Country and Bluegrass Music Festival

Williamstown, Kentucky

Kick off the summer with faith-filled country and bluegrass music, hosted at the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky. An offshoot of the popular 40 Days and 40 Nights of Gospel (another musical mainstay of the Ark Encounter, held during August and September at the park) Faith Country and Bluegrass Music Festival features country and bluegrass artists from around the United States, as well as some local Kentucky talent performing rousing music with faith-based lyrics.

“This is the second year that we have done the Faith Country Festival,” said Vonda Armstrong, director of media for Singing News Magazine, which organizes the event. “We added bluegrass this year. We were already doing 40 Days and 40 Nights of Gospel Music in the park and saw that many people who were coming to see the ark loved the faith country music. We had Ricky Skaggs and Jimmy Fortune. People loved that faith country style, so we decided to do a week-long Faith Country and Bluegrass this year.”

This family-friendly festival is free with admission to the Ark Encounter — an exhibit and museum with a show-stopping full-sized replica of Noah’s Ark, built according to biblical dimensions.

Group planners and churches will be happy to offer a variety of activities as their travelers are free to enjoy music throughout the day as well as experience the majesty of the ark.

The Ark Encounter is located in the grasslands of Grant County, halfway between Cincinnati and Lexington. Planners will find plenty of hotels within 20 minutes of the Ark Encounter.

Hills Alive

Rapid City, South Dakota

Hills Alive is a 35-year-plus institution in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.

“By making it free in a high tourism area, it’s an outreach opportunity for people to invite friends and people who may not know the Lord to encounter Jesus for the first time,” said Tanya Eiklor, station manager for KSLT 107.1, the presenting organization. 

Rapid City, South Dakota, welcomes some 25,000 people to the festival each day. Hills Alive takes place in downtown Memorial Park, overlooking Memorial Pond. Bring a lawn chair and plenty of sunscreen.

“The most talked about group this year is For King and Country,” Eiklor said. “They are a Hills Alive favorite.”  The full 2023 lineup also includes Blessing Offor, Rhett Walker, Colton Dixon, Sanctus Real and more.

Food and merchandise vendors are plenty.

“What we hear most is how much people appreciate being able to bring their family together to collectively worship with other believers throughout the park throughout the weekend,” Eiklor said. “Afterward, we hear from people who feel rejuvenated and renewed in their walk, and they’re just excited to carry that feeling as they go forward.”

July in Rapid City is predictably very warm. Lean on the Rapid City CVB and plan for plenty of sunshine.