So You Want to Go to a Christian Music Festival

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Kingdom Bound Christian music festival, one of North America's largest, celebrates its 19th year this July 31 - August 3 at a Six Flags amusement park and camping resort outside of Buffalo, NY

This summer there are about 15 major Christian music festivals taking place around the United States, attracting thousands of people who want to enjoy food, fun, fellowship, and, of course, music and God.

Now for those of you who have never been to one of these outdoor affairs, I want to tell you about my four days at Kingdom Bound Christian Music Festival.

Held at Six Flags Darien Lake amusement park and camping resort in rural Upstate New York, halfway between the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, Kingdom Bound often welcomes crowds of 65,000 people each year.

You can generally hear music at three major stages around the park: the Park Stage (mostly rock), the Worship Tent (mostly worship) and the Performing Arts Center (the PAC), which presents something for nearly every musical taste.

During four consecutive days and nights, artists and speakers from around the world share their talent and their hearts on these stages, as well as at numerous picnic pavilions.

At 2005’s Kingdom Bound, Stephen Baldwin, Dr. Kevin Leman, Lakita Garth, Michael W. Smith, MercyMe, Rebecca St. James, and members of the Livin’ It BMX bike riding/skateboarding crew are just some of the people who will speak or sing about how their faith matters and, in turn, encourage those in attendance to go deeper with God. But that’s in the future. Re-live with me the highlights from Kingdom Bound 2003 so you can get an idea of what you’re in for if you choose to go to a Christian music festival this summer.

Sunday, August 3, 2003

When I entered the PAC, a semi-covered outdoor tent/amphitheatre, around 6pm, Northern Ireland’s Robin Mark was singing songs like “Jesus, All For Jesus” and “The Wonder Of The Cross.”

Bob Smiley, a Southern comedian and emcee for the PAC throughout the festival, came on stage after Mark finished his set. Smiley entertained the crowd with his high-pitched, rapid fire delivery about Wal-Mart greeters being really old and his experience in a behind-the-times Oklahoma hospital.

Next up, at 7pm, was singer-songwriter Paul Baloche, from Texas, with help from his wife, Rita, and a backing band. He sang “Praise Adonai” and “The Happy Song,” which got people on their feet and clapping. A brief “More Love, More Power” segued into “Open The Eyes Of My Heart,” followed by “Above All” and “God Of Wonders.”

Alvin Slaughter started singing at 9:30pm, helping bring the crowd into God’s presence with songs like “Holy Spirit Rain Down,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and a rousing “Jesus Is Mine.” His desire, he said, was and is to be a “vessel for hope and healing.” I left the PAC feeling the joy of the Lord—Slaughter definitely helped us all praise God.

Monday, August 4, 2003

At 5pm, Latin group Salvador came on stage at the PAC and got the crowd hyped with a percussion-intense “David Danced.” The joy of the Lord was on the face of Nic, the lead singer—he did not stop smiling the entire time. Then the band did their version of Kirk Franklin’s “My Desire.”

Jason Upton, the Keith Green of his generation, was at the Worship Tent at 6pm. He started his retro-sounding set with “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” complimented by the sounds of a capable violin player.

While Upton was singing, I ran into Alvin Slaughter behind the tent and we sang an impromptu “Shout Hallelujah” and “Ain’t No Rock” together—these two songs are on his new CD.

It was getting late in the day, and I had to get back to the PAC in time for Jars Of Clay and Michael W. Smith, the night’s headliner. Jars Of Clay sang hits that I knew, including “Flood” and “I Need You.” The lead singer, Dan, was soft-spoken (almost meek) when addressing the crowd for quite a few minutes about HIV problems in Africa.

At 9:30pm, Michael W. Smith came out on stage in sunglasses and played guitar. My friend Tim remarked, “Is this an imposter? This isn’t the Michael W. Smith I know.” After telling the crowd over and over to “make some noise,” he did a cover of U2’s “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” while waving a large American flag around the stage, followed by “America The Beautiful.” Smith eventually took off the glasses (thankfully) and played the keyboard. A-ha—that’s the Michael W. Smith people know and love. Songs like “Above All,” “Breathe” and “Let It Rain” moved the crowd. It actually started raining as he finished “Let It Rain.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Rebecca St. James didn’t say anything when she got up to the microphone to start her artist seminar. Instead, she just started singing “Here I Am To Worship.” The crowd sang along. She was happy to report that she loved taking a recent five-month sabbatical where she got to go to ride horses, go on a cycling trip, and visit the beach. St. James was truly in the mood to sing, as she got the group to join her in a beautiful rendition of “I Love You Lord.”

I didn’t want to miss John Reuben’s unique hip-hop sound, so I left St. James’ seminar early, and went to the PAC. With a fellow rapper, as well as a turntable instrumentalist, helping out, John Reuben and friends totally engaged the audience with scratchin’, mixin’, and break dancin’.

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Former Growing Pains TV star Kirk Cameron was at the PAC, saying, “We broke the law, and Jesus paid our fine, it’s as simple as that.” Cameron explained how Jesus saves us from sins like lying, stealing and adultery. In a moment of silence, he asked the crowd to raise their hand if they needed to get right with the Lord. “God is bigger than your sin,” he told them.

At 1pm, I went to the Park Stage and heard the extremely loud rock music of Jeremy Camp. Camp shared about how he met and married a woman who died of cancer, and then sang “I Still Believe,” a poignant song he wrote two weeks after her death. He also sang “Let Everything That Has Breath Praise The Lord.” Later on, at 3pm, at Camp’s artist seminar he said that God is teaching him about discipline, and that he knows God’s calling him to minister. Quoting scripture often, possibly a result of his two years spent at a bible college, he shared that at the age of 16 he gave his life to Christ.

At 4pm, Rachael Lampa sang “Lift Me Up,” “Live For You,” a bluesy “You Are Beautiful To Me,” and “Blessed” at the PAC. At times, the young lady, who just graduated from high school, sounded like a young Mariah Carey.

At 6:30pm, the Worship Tent loved Lenny LeBlanc’s re-worked version of James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You Jesus).” The keyboard-playing songwriter also got the crowd pumped with “My Redeemer Lives” and “Amazing Love.”

At 7pm, Kirk Cameron was on the stage at the Worship Tent telling people how he was an atheist until he was 17 years old (three years into Growing Pains) when a pastor explained Jesus to him. Basically, Cameron’s message in his one hour-plus speech was this: people need to understand God’s law (and how they break it) in order to know why the Good News matters. He also went on to say that modern evangelism uses the promise of life enhancement to woo people to Christ, but he thinks that’s wrong. A biblical way of presenting the Good News, he said, should involve true repentance and belief—in other words, explain the disease and then share the cure. This was the only time during Kingdom Bound when the Worship Tent was overflowing with people, so much so that many stood outside listening in. Kingdom Bound was fortunate to have hosted such a gifted speaker.

The final big show of the four-day festival was courtesy of Australia’s Newsboys. My friends and I rushed over to the PAC to meet up with other friends for the Newsboys’ 9pm concert. The band put on a memorable show, opening with the vibrant, upbeat “Shine.” Smoke machines and strobe lights made Newsboys’ show one of the most visually exciting of the entire festival.

As I walked through a dark parking lot to my car, I felt like I didn’t want to leave the fellowship I had enjoyed that night, and the days and nights before. Kingdom Bound 2003 was a slice of heaven that brought lots of different people together to remind them to put God first in their lives.

Kingdom Bound 2005 takes place at Six Flags Darien Lake, this July 31 through August 3. Kingdom Bound tickets are surprisingly affordable and include admission to amusement park rides, like the giant Ferris wheel and the Superman: Ride Of Steel coaster. Tickets can be charged by phone at 716-633-1117 or 1-800-461-4485, Monday through Friday 10-5pm EST. For more information, visit or Six Flags Darien Lake is located halfway between Buffalo and Rochester, about six miles south of NYS Thruway exit 48A on Route 77 in Darien Center, New York.

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Mark Weber