The weather is warm, the bass drums are thumping, and across the country, teenagers are gathered by the thousands. For today’s youth workers, annual Christian music festivals can be a highlight of the summer.
Young people flock to music festivals for weekends full of late nights and loud music with their friends. While they’re there, they’ll also encounter teaching and ministry from some of today’s foremost speakers and youth experts. Music festivals give youth groups an opportunity to bond as they travel and camp together, and offer a safe environment for young people to explore and make new friends.
There are some 25 major festivals around the country every summer; we’ve picked five to highlight in this issue. For more information or to find a festival near you, visit the Christian Festival Association online at www.christianfestivals.org.
Contemporary Christian music festivals started some 40 years ago with Ichthus in Wilmore, Ky., home to Asbury College and Asbury Theological Seminary.
“Bob Lyons was a professor at Asbury Seminary, and he wanted to know why there wasn’t an evangelical Christian alternative to something like Woodstock,” said Ichthus spokeswoman Tina Pugel. “So with a handful of students, he decided to have a festival with some of that time’s Christian artists. People showed up with their tents, and it was so successful that they decided to do it again.”
Today, Ichthus takes place on the organization’s private 111-acre farm over four days. This year’s festival featured some 100 artists on seven stages, including stages dedicated to alternative, techno, independent and worship music. The main stage regularly features artists such as Toby Mac, Skillet and Family Force 5.
The festival also features numerous ministry moments, such as seminars, main-stage speakers and altar calls. Youth groups can also participate in a program that coordinates service projects in Kentucky in the days before the festival.
Mount Union, Pa.
The largest event of its kind in the country, Creation Festival drew some 72,000 attendees this year to its secluded location in Pennsylvania.
“We really like to break it down to basics and bring our audience to an area in the middle of nowhere,” said Nick Kulb, Creation’s director of marketing and sales. “We’re in between the Allegheny Mountains, so there’s a natural amphitheater, and people won’t be distracted by other things.”
The four-day festival features a lineup of artists designed to reach every demographic, including a stage dedicated to children’s entertainment. One of the largest components of the festival is ministry — about 20 speakers will take the various stages during the festival, holding more than 30 different seminars and sermons.
About 50 different artists performed on the Creation main stage this year, among them Chris Tomlin, Reliant K, Casting Crowns and Skillet. Additional acts appear on the Flame stage, which features more alternative music.
Atlanta Fest has been rocking Georgia since 1986, at a variety of locations around the city. Now, the festival has found a home at Stone Mountain Park, which provides a great scenic backdrop, as well as abundant entertainment opportunities for festivalgoers.
“Stone Mountain Park is a very large public park,” said Bob Thompson, managing director of Atlanta Fest. “They have wonderful family-friendly rides and attractions, including a cable car to the top of the mountain and a steamboat on Stone Mountain Lake. It’s a beautiful natural setting where the heavens declare the glory of God.”
Atlanta Fest tickets include admission to all the park’s rides, as well as four stages with continuous music and teaching. Recent artists have included Brandon Heath, Leeland and Natalie Grant.
Another unique aspect of the festival is the Prayer Path, a secluded spot in the woods near Stone Mountain Lake. The path is set up with a number of contemplative stations for prayer and meditation.
Spirit West Coast
Spirit West Coast launched in northern California in 1997 and opened a sister festival, Spirit West Coast Del Mar, in the San Diego area in 2004. Each festival attracts about 15,000 attendees each year, who come for the likes of Mercy Me, David Crowder Band, Kutless and Thousand Foot Krutch.
This year’s festivals featured seven stages, which ranged from hardcore rock to camp-meeting fare. It’s all part of the festival’s strategy of reaching a diverse group of people.
“We have ministry happening on different levels,” said festival director Jon Robberson. “We have a skate park that always has teenagers in it. A few times a day, we stop that and have someone get up and give those kids a message.”
The ministry also includes a number of breakout seminars throughout the weekend, as well as main-stage sessions with evangelists such as Luis Palau and Tony Campolo.
Canal Fulton, Ohio
Taking place lakeside in Canal Fulton, Ohio, the Alive Festival celebrated its 23rd year this summer. The festival features about 50 artists and speakers each year, as well as a host of activities for attendees.
A big component of Alive is its recreational facilities. In addition to camping, guests can take advantage of sandy lakeside beaches for swimming and volleyball. The venue also has waterslides, paddleboats, miniature golf, diving boards and other amenities.
Another unique aspect of the festival is the Alive Sports Zone, an interactive area with a variety of athletic challenge courses. Sports celebrities make appearances in the Sports Zone throughout the festival, sharing their testimonies with the youth gathered there.