Bundled in warm jackets and rain ponchos, a crowd of Christian music fans of all ages gathered in the BB&T Ballpark Stadium to sing, dance and celebrate at the first annual two-day music festival on Sept. 26 and 27.
On Saturday night, the concert was headlined by the nine-time Grammy Award winning and multi-platinum-selling artist, Kirk Franklin, and the Grammy-nominated band, MercyMe, who has accrued 27 number one multi-format Christian radio singles.
Sunday night featured the headline singer-songwriter Jeremy Camp who has sold four million albums, received three American Music Award nominations and a Grammy Award nomination.
The brisk wind and consistent drizzle that fell over the stadium failed to dampen the Christian spirit of many, including Cristen Letourneau who danced and sang the entire time as the band Zealand Worship performed on the center stage. She had won tickets to the festival from the Winston-Salem based Christian radio station, WBFJ.
“I actually am excited that it’s raining,” Letourneau said. “The rain is a reminder of the presence of God and I actually got better seats up close to center stage because of it!”
The concert was organized by the Winston-Salem Dash, the Minor League baseball team affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. The president of the Winston-Salem Dash, Geoff Lassiter, said the festival marked the first concert to be hosted at the Dash’s home baseball stadium and is projected to become an annual event.
“During the baseball season the field is put to good use, but we wanted to create a signature event in the off-season that would also make use of our great ballpark,” Lassiter said. “This event represents a special opportunity for our community to join hands in a diverse setting.”
Lassiter said he chose Christian music because the genre would appeal to a range of city residents in Winston-Salem.
“From our research, 77 percent of the Winston-Salem population identify themselves as a Christian,” Lassiter said. “We wanted something that would welcome all people, all kinds, all races and all types of diversity so we chose Christian music as the genre because we recognize that Christianity reaches a variety of demographics. We selected different artists with different backgrounds and races to target Christian music fans of all types in order to symbolize different groups of Christians coming together.”
Union Baptist Church member Robyn Spruill said that the diverse lineup of the Christian music artists is one of the things that attracted her to the concert.
“I like Christian music because it all has the same subject,” Spruill said. “It may sound different and be from different artists, but it all has the same idea and that is to praise the Lord.”
Both Spruill and her young daughter said the poor weather could not have kept them away from seeing their favorite artist Kirk Franklin 一who is known for blending gospel and contemporary music to convey the power and presence of God.
“I have always loved gospel music and I wanted it to be the first concert my daughter was exposed to,” Spruill said. “We love Kirk Franklin and when this opportunity was announced at our church, I ordered tickets right away.”
As the contemporary, traditional, rock, gospel and rap Christian artists performed on both the center stage located on second base and the ancillary stage located in upper left field, Kyle Farrell, the praise and worship leader of 40 years at Harvestville Outreach Church, raised his hands and let the rain drip from his lips as they formed the words to every lyric of every song.
“I was blessed to receive free tickets to this event and I love hearing the variety of ways the love for God is expressed through music,” Farrell said. “Because of the rain, I was just going to come back late Sunday night to see Jeremy Camp but after I realized the talent of all these bands such as Zealand Worship I realized the bad weather couldn’t keep me from this concert.”
Even with the unfavorable weather, almost everyone in the stadium had a smile on their face. With hopes of better weather next year, the executive board of the Winston-Salem Dash said they want to reach more people in years to come with the Awakening Festival.
“There is not another multi-day Christian Music Festival in our southeastern region so we are hoping that we will eventually draw a crowd across the region and hopefully in the long-term draw a national crowd,” Lassiter said. “It’s a new business and we have to build it up starting with our community.”