DEL MAR, Calif. The All-Stars of Christian music are coming to town.
On Memorial Day weekend, May 23 to 25, thousands of Christians will gather for the fifth annual Spirit West Coast festival at the Del Mar fairgrounds. This event, along with its sister concert to be held July 31 to Aug. 2 in Monterey, is the only multiday Christian music festival in the southwestern U.S and ranks as one of the premier Christian music festivals in the nation, drawing more than 40,000 visitors from California, Arizona and Nevada.
Festival director Jon Robberson equates the atmosphere at Spirit West Coast to the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the Olympics.
"It has a similar energy and dynamic," he said. "There is a spiritual power in coming together."
Robertson stresses the importance of believers gathering in an inter-denominational spirit of unity.
"If you never come together, you don't sense the dynamic," he said. "If someone attends a church where 10 people attend the youth group, imagine how affirmed and encouraged they will be to see thousands of young people come together to praise and worship the Lord. They sense they're not alone in the world."
Robberson's heart and vision for unity also meshes with that of Caz Taylor, who serves as a public relations representative, for the festival. Taylor has also been meeting with local pastors and leaders to help build unity countywide. In his view, SWC is yet another way to inspire unity in the local body of Christ, much like the 2003 Billy Graham crusade and the struggle to preserve the Mount Soledad cross.
That is why his passion is to promote a festival stage devoted to local musical talent and drawing volunteers to service as prayer warriors for the event. And, since the major focus of the festival is evangelism, organizers rely on volunteers to assist with the estimated 500-plus people who dedicate their lives to the Lord each year during the three-day event.
"With eight stages giving altar calls throughout the day we need volunteers who can help lead people to the Lord," Taylor said. New believers are later plugged in with a local church that is willing to commit to receiving and discipling them.
As he works behind the scenes, Robberson is busy with the myriad details required to produce concerts by more than 40 of the nation's top-tier Christian artists from rock, heavy metal, alternative and rap to praise and worship and pop. Regardless of the genre, the message is Jesus.
Headline groups such as Newsboys, tobyMac, Third Day, Matthew West, Stellar Kart, Disciple, Pillar, BarlowGirl, Aaron Shust, Seventh Day Slumber, Kutless, Skillet, Phil Joel, The Myriad, Leeland and Jars of Clay are only some of the groups that will perform on six stages throughout the fairgrounds.
In keeping with the stated purpose of the event to impact people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, many of the artists such as Phil Joel, Todd Agnew, and BarlowGirl will not only perform, but also hold teaching sessions.
Other scheduled speakers include author David Nasser, Dr. Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa, teen authors Alex and Brett Harris, and Brad Duncan, lead guitarist, songwriter and founding member of Fusebox, a new rock praise and worship band.
This year, two stages have been set aside to showcase the talents and spiritual gifts of local musicians, Christian bands and worship teams. Local television and radio personalities are scheduled to introduce the various groups and give their testimonies.
In addition to the Del Mar sunshine and uplifting music, festival visitors can soak up solid teaching by well-known, contemporary speakers. For those seeking a lighter fare, comedians Bob Smiley and Taylor Mason will serve up laughs and smiles for all ages.
Country fair meets Jesus
Fans, families and groups can attend for one, two or all three days. And, in keeping with the country fair atmosphere, the price of admission includes more than passive fare. The adventurous can strap on helmets and pads and head for the skate park or pull on their Stetsons and cowboy boots for a spin on the mechanical bull.
But the event is Jesus 24/7.
Prayer tents, evangelism training, new believer's classes, a water baptism opportunity, and morning devotions all provide visitors from youth, singles, families, couples, and children with a way to connect with Christ.
The festival's youngest visitors can meet VeggieTales characters, catch a Jesus Rocks! puppet show, or meet a furry friend in the petting zoo.
Most visitors make a day of it, but up to 10,000 diehard fans a night camp out in tents, trailers or RVs on the fair ground's primitive campsites. Nineteen-year-old Bethany Sousa of San Diego attended her first SWC festival in 2005. Her five-person youth group spent the entire three days camped out near the horse stables at the fairgrounds.
"We had a blast," she said. "The campground has a very family-friendly, positive atmosphere."
Sousa came away impressed with the humble spirit of the artists, especially Seventh Day Slumber.
"No matter what the atmosphere of the crowd, whether rowdy or quiet, he (lead singer Joseph Rojas) would stop and give his testimony," she said. "Hundreds of kids were saved."
She also liked the stages set up to showcase emerging talent such as StellarKart and Leeland, who are now headline acts for 2008. But her favorite part of the festival may have been the comedians.
"I loved the way Bob Smiley tied in his testimony with all his funky stories and jokes," she said.
Sousa encourages everyone not only to come out and enjoy the weekend but also to invite their unsaved friends.
"Teens love music," she said. "I ask people, 'Why not come out and spend the whole weekend away from the world, listening to great music?' When they get there, they end up having a great time and getting saved."