BB&T Ballpark Awakens:

Christian Music festival a success despite the rain

| @chanelrdavis

Despite the cloudy days and rain, a steady stream of attendees came to the inaugural “Awakening Music Festival: Sing Your Heart, Loudly” held at Winston-Salem’s BB&T Ballpark in Downtown Winston Salem.

The two-day Christian music festival is part of the Winston-Salem Dash’s goal to bring non-sports related events to the ballpark during baseball’s offseason. The festival featured a diverse line-up of Christian music performers on a national, regional and local level.

“We were really looking for a signature event that could be on an annual basis that we could build some long term value in for the betterment of our community,” said Geoff Lassiter, president of the Winston- Salem Dash.

He said that there’s not a festival of this magnitude within several states and he is hoping to develop the festival into a national event.

“Our city would be a destination place where we are known for an awesome entertainment experience in the Contemporary Music Arena for all walks of life,” Lassister said. “Our mission is to grow Downtown Winston-Salem into a better place to attract people from outside Winston Salem. There’s not anything that burns me up more that when I hear somebody from Winston-Salem say they want to go to Charlotte or Greensboro because it’s cooler. I want people to realize how cool the city of Winston-Salem is and be able to experience something that we haven’t had in the past.”

Dollars and Cents

After having some research done, and looking though several event options, the company decided on a Christian music festival for several reasons.

One reason was the Christian history of the Winston-Salem area dating back to the Moravians.

“For the Moravians music meant so much to them in their worship time,” Lassister said. “We felt that was a good match.”

Lassister said that they wanted to reach the majority of the community as well.

“Winston-Salem is the most, percentage wise, Christian-based community in the state of North Carolina. Seventy-seven percent of the people in Winston-Salem say that their Christians.”

It was those numbers that let the company know that by holding a Christian event they could reach as many people in the city that would want to come to an event at the ballpark.

“We wanted to hold an event that was all-inclusive with the majority of people in Winston-Salem. We had a diverse line-up,” he said.

Lassister said that there are big payouts for the city and the surrounding downtown area because of the revenue generated by the event.

“This is an opportunity for us to not only entertain our local community but to bring economic development to our community,” he said. “We want people to come to our community to enjoy what we produce while spending money in hotel rooms, restaurants, gas stations and in stores.”

That economic boom is not new. When the ballpark was being realized, a promise to bring revenue to the surrounding area was included. Lassister said that this is them making good on that promise. Councilman Derwin Montgomery said that the festival is full of economic opportunity catering to the local community through attendees, vendors and jobs.

“When you think about the financial impact, you have to look at heads in beds in the sense of our hotels and customers at restaurants and others businesses,” Montgomery said. “I think this will continue to grow and have an even bigger economic impact. We have vendors and we are putting our highly-rated stadium for more than baseball and it is in the interest of The Dash and the City.”

Big names bring out crowds

On a national level, the concert brings some pretty big names to the area and gives an opportunity for local and regional talent to share a stage with them.

“That’s pretty unique to be able to go to a music festival in this genre and see local churches participating to Kirk Franklin, Mercy Me and Jeremy Camp,” Lassister said. “We’ve put a melting pot together in this contemporary music area that makes our festival really, really unique.”

Kirk Franklin, who co-headlined Saturday’s event with MercyMe, has been in the business for nearly two decades as a multi-platinum-selling artist. He is a considered a pioneer in gap-bridging musicianship, uniting audiences across gospel, hip hop, pop and R&B. His talent at bridging those genres has resulted in albums that rocket up the charts topping both Billboard’s Gospel and Christian charts, as well as the Top 10 of the R&B/ Hip Hop chart. Franklin is the author of “The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life’s Storms”, the host and executive producer of the gospel talent show “Sunday Best”, and he has garnered nine GRAMMY Awards, 39 Stellar Awards, 16 Dove Awards, eight NAACP Image Awards, two BET Awards, an American Music Award, a Soul Train Award and numerous others.

GRAMMY-nominated, American Music Award and multiple Dove Award winners MercyMe have sold more than 8.5 million units in CD, single and DVD sales, garnered 27 No. 1 multi-format Christian radio singles and four consecutive mainstream radio hits with “I Can Only Imagine,” “Here With Me” and “Homesick.” The group made history in 2014, as “I Can Only Imagine” surpassed 2 million digital downloads, making it the first song in Christian music to go platinum and double-platinum in the digital domain. In 2009, Billboard named MercyMe’s “Word Of God Speak”

the No. 1 Song of the Decade and the group the No. 1 Artist of the Decade in both the Christian Songs and Christian AC Songs categories, recognizing them as one of the industry’s most notable talents.

Sunday’s concert was headlined by Jeremy Camp. The songwriter and recording artist has only been doing this for 12 years in the business but has plenty to show for it, including four million albums sold, four RIAA Gold albums, a multi-platinum DVD, three American Music Award nominations and a GRAMMY Award nomination. He’s been a part of more than 25 tours (headlining 18 of those) in the United States and has performed in more than 32 countries. Camp describes himself as “a minister who happens to play music as a way to minister.” His eighth studio album is dubbed “I Will Follow.”

Local group Renaissance, originated in October 2001 as a mass anniversary choir that assembled at Macedonia Worship Center. Renaissance is comprised of members from different churches in the Triad area. The choir has performed with other Triad acts such as Peace of Mind, The Ebony Chorale, Mischel Goldsmith and Sold Out, and The GateKeeperz as well as national names such as Yolanda Adams, Trinity 5:7, Myron Butler and Levi, and Bobby Jones. The choir has two albums and multiple awards under their belt, including the Choir of the year from N.C. Gospel Reflections in North Carolina and Choir of the Year 2007 at the Excellence Awards in Greensboro.

Director Dionn “Maestro” Owen said that he was excited to be able perform right before Kirk Franklin, as he is a fan.

“At first, I was thinking about how much of a big deal it was but then I was reminded that I have to just be myself, do what I do, and let it flow from there,” Owens said.

He said that he hopes organizers continue giving local acts an opportunity to showcase their talents.

It’s an inclusion that has impressed Phil Joel, leader of Zealand Worship, and one that he says he doesn’t get a chance to see across the country.

“I love any sort of citywide event that brings churches and families together. It seems like there is a real move of unity here among the churches, which is a big deal,” Joel said. “Jesus was pretty clear in saying that they’ll know me by how you love one another and that’s pretty much what’s going on here.”

Zealand Worship is led by Joel, who is best known for his long-standing role as bass player and vocalist for the multiplatinum-selling band Newsboys. The contemporary band prides itself on focusing on the worship and word of God without the distraction of the everyday world and reminding its followers to do the same. They disconnect by going camping or off the grid to reconnect with God.

“Zealand isn’t about where I’m from but helping people become zealous for the land and excited about what God has for them. In order to hear that we have to shut down the noise and be still long enough to allow God to speak to us because what he has to say is pretty important,” Joel said.

What’s next?

Lassister hopes the concert can bring people together in worship and in the community who wouldn’t normally cross paths.

“I think that we are trying to bring diverse people together in a unique way so that next time an equality matter comes to light this experience will allow us to look past the color of our skin and make good decisions for our community for the future,” he said.

Councilmen Montgomery agrees. “I think next year they have an opportunity to grow it bigger and enhance the acts. People are going to want to be a part and look for the opportunity to be engaged see what’s going on,” Montgomery said. “There’s this absence of what we see happening today which is being able to bring different people together from different cultures and denominations, races and ethnicities. This is the way to do that.” !