- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

Tents cover the hillside under a canopy of trees, and families splash in a lake about 100 yards away. DC Talk, a rock alternative group, pre-pares to take the main stage for a crowd of 20,000 on the other side of the campground in June at the Alive Festival in Fulton, Ohio.
This is the realm of summer Christian music festivals, most being three- to four-day events that offer audiences rock 'n' roll, other forms of entertainment, camping and worship. At least 15 to 20 are held each summer across the country.
Paul Clark of Frederick, Md., recalls his experience a few years ago at Creation East in Mount Union, Pa., the longest-running Christian festival in the country. "On one side of the campground were tents everywhere. There were 60,000 people, and they had a main stage on the side of a mountain. There was another side stage 200 yards away. And there was only one bathroom for everyone," Mr. Clark says.
Mark Joseph, author of the book "The Rock & Roll of Rebellion: Why People of Faith Abandoned Rock Music and Why They're Coming Back," says Christian festivals are growing in popularity. "They only started 20 years ago, so they've got a lot of room to grow," he says.
Mr. Joseph, whose book chronicles the history of Christian rock music from its birth in the early 1970s to the late 1990s, says Christians originally formed rock groups to play popular music with Christian values. He says there has been a recent acceptance of Christian values in rock music by the secular music industry. He cites bands such as Six Pence None the Richer and Lifehouse, which sing music with Christian themes, although neither professes to be a "Christian" band.
"The secular world is becoming aware of what great music sounds like played by devout Christians," Mr. Joseph says.
In recent years, the increase in Christian music festivals and their attendance and the popularity of Christian artists such as DC Talk and P.O.D. have brought this summer pastime more into a mainstream light.
Fred Caserta, head of the Kingdom Bound festival at Darien Lake, N.Y., which opens tomorrow and runs through Wednesday, believes festivals can reach out to people by offering positive messages through popular music styles.
"Christian music has a positive message, and the world needs that today," says Mr. Caserta, whose festival, founded in 1987, draws annual crowds of up to 53,000. A smaller version of the New York festival is also held each year in Florida. "I think people hear the songs, and it can have an effect on their lives."
SonShine, a three-day mid-July event in Willmar, Minn., in its 20th year, hosted 120 bands this year on five stages for a crowd of 15,500.
"The Christian music industry is growing, over all, with more artists every year. It's the fastest-growing sector of music, in terms of sales, and festivals fill into that big circle," SonShine chief Bob Poe says. "It's becoming diversified in style, so whatever kind of music a kid likes, he can find Christian music to match that style."
Bill Graening, director of the Alive Festival, an event he founded 15 years ago with his wife, Kathy, says a diversity of music styles such as punk, rap, hip-hop and pop have helped festivals gain in popularity. Popular Christian artists featured at Alive such as DC Talk and the Orange County Supertones, a ska-rap band, appeal to hard rock and alternative rock crowds, while artists such as Jennifer Knapp, a folk-rock singer, and Plus One, a Christian boy band, appeal to pop-rock or light-rock audiences.
"Pretty much, any style of music you find in the secular industry, you'll find in Christian music," Mr. Graening says.
Mr. Poe of SonShine agrees. "A lot of kids I know, their music world is all Christian, that's what fits with their lifestyle," he says.
Teen-agers flock to the events often pitched to church youth groups as a popular alternative to summer camp.
However, in recent years events have created more of a draw for families as well as teens, with events for all ages and the safety of an alcohol-free environment. Many of the festivals feature recreational as well as extremist entertainment, such as motorcycle stunts, skateboard half-pipes and Christian wrestlers.
"Ours (Alive Festival) focuses on the water, the beach, swimming and other recreational activities," says Mr. Graening, whose event is hosted annually at a water park in June. He says most festivals have some sort of recreational focus along with their emphasis on Christian music.
Kingdom Bound is unusual in that it is held at Six Flags/Darien Lake Amusement Park.
"A lot of the events done around the country are just held in a field. Six Flags makes a perfect backdrop for the festival," he says.
The amusement park and family entertainment, Mr. Poe says, make the festival an exciting event for the whole family.
He says diverse styles of music and entertainment have helped festivals draw an increasing number of people, but he believes the main reason for growth has been the advance of quality music and entertainment.
"The Christian music industry 20 years ago was not on par with the popular music industry," says Mr. Poe. "We're not second rate, anymore."

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