DEL MAR, Calif. Thousands of people from across the state, Nevada and Arizona lapped up the pre-summer sunshine and the cool ocean breeze, while enjoying some of the best Christian music in the country during the fourth annual Spirit West CoastDel Mar, held Memorial Day weekend.
Saturday, with such headliners as the Newsboys, Delirious and Todd Agnew, was the largest draw to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, with 15,000 in attendance. Friday drew 12,000, while Sunday's attendance was logged at 13,500.
Attendance was down over previous years, and concert promoter Jon Robberson said tourism around San Diego County was lower across the board, with most experts citing higher gas prices.
Robberson said plans are already under way with local pastors to begin promotions for next year's festival, set for May 23 to 25. While Robberson and his crew are already focused on next year, the fans who attended this year, are still relishing the experience.
Jamie Cope, a 15-year-old resident of Las Vegas, returned after having a blast last year. This time she brought her friend, Andrea Carter, a newcomer to the Del Mar festival.
Jamie said she was eager to see her favorite band, Falling Up.
"You get to see all of the new artists and hear all of the new songs," Jamie said as she waited in line to get band members' autographs. "It was a really good price. You pay $100, and most of the bands (here) I listen to on a daily basis."
Andrea, 16, said her favorite group was Thousand Foot Krutch.
"I love getting to see them," she said. "I've been hearing them on the radio. It's great seeing them in person."
Jon Ledbetter, a native of North Carolina who is stationed at Nellis Air Force Base north of Las Vegas, traveled to Del Mar with a group of service buddies. It was his first foray into California.
"I'm not used to going to three-day concerts," he said. "It's my first big concert."
He called the event breathtaking, which also described his smile.
"I can't believe the weather, it's perfect," he said.
The group spent the evenings camping across from the fairgrounds.
"We've just been grubbing it," he said.
While he enjoyed the music, he said he's also taking something home a little more lasting.
"Live life to the fullest and let God take control," he said, summarizing the biggest lesson he learned over the three days.
While music is the largest draw, the event featured speakers throughout the day and festival staff manned separate prayer and ministry tents. Special events were also held for youth pastors.
Justin Martinez, who came from Rancho Cucamonga, said he was impressed with the prayer ministry.
"They had a lot of people on the ground asking us if we needed prayer," he said.
Martinez was also scoping out local vendors who might be interested in his custom-designed cross-shaped skate board, which he's hoping to market next year.
Rachel Ricker, a volunteer from Phoenix, said she was glad she took the time to make the trip from Arizona. She also cited a camaraderie that happens among Christians.
"There is awesome fellowship that happens here," she said. "I was fed and I felt I was a blessing. The works of the Spirit can sometimes be subtle."
Patrick and Jackie Lockhart brought their three children from Fontana after he attended last year with a couple of their kids. Both parents described Spirit West Coast as a terrific family event.
Even some of the bands took something home from the experience. Members of the group Red were given a flag that had been flown while they served in Iraq. Several soldiers presented the flag as a thank you for their music.
"They flew the flag in honor of the band," said Jayson Fowler, the band's manager. "They listened to their music over there and were really inspired to keep in the fight."