Chapter 12: All Day Dinner

During the 1800s and early 1900s American Christian Fellowship relied heavily upon the church. Before the relatively recent advent of air-conditioned church sanctuaries, congregations would join together outside in the hopefully breezy air to praise the Lord with all-day singing and ''dinner on the ground,'' as Reba Rambo sang. Church revivals would be held outdoors under the thatched roofs of outdoor worship pavilions. On Church Picnic Weekend, whole families would climb into their buggies, wagons, and automobiles and head out to the lake or assembly grounds for a day of fun and games and rib-sticking food.

   By the mid-1960s, though, most Sunday church meetings were back in the sanctuaries, at a year-round 72°. The brush arbors were hardly more than memories. A new form of fellowship grew out of the Jesus movement in the 1970s, however, which got the people back together outdoors to praise the Lord, sing, learn, and generally have a great time. Though the scene was quite different from the camp meetings of the earlier generations, the spirit of fellowship was just as evident in the outdoor ''Jesus festivals.''

   It was natural that the Jesus festivals should grow out of the Jesus movement in the seventies. Not only did the movement itself start on the streets, on the ''outside''; it also grew out of a generation enamored by the giant secular Monterey Pop Festival in California and the even more gigantic Woodstock festival of 1969, where reportedly more than five hundred thousand young people attended.

   Festivals such as Woodstock were mass outdoor gatherings where young people retreated on their own worlda world virtually void of any reminder of the Establishment, except for the policemen and the chagrined residents of nearby communities. The festivals

Page 83

were meccas for youth who were seeking new solutions in their quest for love, peace, and often total escape from the world.

   Monterey and Woodstock led to other secular festivals: the Palm Beach Rock Festival in 1969; the Atlanta International Pop Festival in 1970 (attended by two hundred thousand), the Pocono Rock Festival in 1972, and numerous others.

   However, at an Altamont, California, rockfest in 1969 the utopian dream of peace, love, and brotherhood began to decay. A man was murdered by Hell's Angels directly in front of the stage where the Rolling Stones were playing before the giant crowd. The band played on, but the rock festivals were somehow never again the same. Festival promoters had more and more trouble finding places to have them, and ultimately learned to move the concerts each year to avoid confronting the same constables. Gigantic crowds of people continued to attend the rock festivals, but the events often became no more than havens for drug abuse, self-indulgence, or, at best, havens of rock music.

   Except for the finale concert of Explo '72 in Dallas, Jesus festivals never reached the gigantic proportions of the rock festivals. But the organizers did experience a greater degree of support from landowners and host communities. The Jesus-festival crowds proved to be cleaner, more polite, more sober, and less rowdy. The members of the Establishment were the lawmakers. Their sympathies tended to favor youth whose beliefs were somewhat within the limits of what even the elders were familiar withthe Christian faith. The new music was different than the earlier generations', but tolerable because of the familiar message.

   The first major Jesus festival was the Faith festival in Evansville, Indiana, in March 1970. More than six thousand people were present in a stadium to hear Pat Boone and his family, Christian folk singer Gene Cotton, and Jesus rock artists Danny Taylor, Larry Norman, Crimson Bridge, and ''e.'' In 1971, the event was repeated and fifteen thousand people attended. The 1971 Faith Festival was covered by CBS television.

   Later, in May, the Love Song Festival at Knott's Berry Farm drew twenty thousand people to the Southern California amusement park, marking Knott's largest nighttime attendance in its fifty-three-year history. Several Jesus-music groups out of Calvary Chapel performed that historic night in various parts of the park. They included Love Song, The Way, Blessed Hope, and Children of the Day.

   The Knott's Love Song Festival began a California tradition of amusement-park Jesus festivals. Special tickets were sold for use on all the park rides, and Christian folk and rock music wafted through

Page 84

the park from various strategically located performing stages. The success of their first event prompted the proprietors of Knott's Berry Farm to stage the Christian music nights more often. At first they were Love Song Festivals, but then became known as Maranatha Night at Knott's, due to the use of musical groups from Calvary Chapel's Maranatha! Music Ministry. For the next three years, three festival nights were staged annuallyone in the spring, one in the fall, and one on New Year's Eve.

   Californians were accustomed to the fun and flash of entertainment, and the Maranatha Music Nights provided an excellent form of Christian entertainment. There were no Bible teachings or baptisms at the amusement park festivals, nor was there much congregational worship. The Southern California youth had those forms of fellowship and worship waiting for them back at their home churches, especially Calvary Chapel.

   But for young people in other parts of the country, there were often no churches such as Calvary Chapelchurches which opened their doors to barefooted, blue-jeaned teens who needed acceptance. The festivals became church for many young peopleoutdoor sanctuaries with the sky as a canopy. For many people, the Jesus festivals marked the beginning of new lives in Christ.

   In August 1973, a central Pennsylvania potato field became one of those sanctuaries. Mennonite Harold Zimmerman organized Jesus '73, the start of an annual tradition. Jesus '73 featured three days of festival, with guest appearances by top-name Christian musicians and speakers.

   Young people and some adults of all faiths attended Jesus '73. The breaking down of denominational barriers had already become a trait of the Jesus people. Baptists worshipped with Assembly of God members; Catholics fellowshipped with Mennonites. Musicians from the Church of the Nazarene played before Presbyterians; gospel performers from the Church of God in Christ sang for Methodists. In the midst of them all, there was a large number of non-Christians who heard the gospel and responded to it.

   Jesus '73 spanned three days. Though makeshift entrance gates set up in a field passed festival-goers in automobiles, trucks, vans, Winnebagos, on motorcycles, and even on horseback. There were numerous hitchhikers, too. From all over America and from overseas people came to join in the fellowship. Visitors stopped at the entrance gates, registered, and received their ''welcome packets'' with information on who would be singing when, where to go for first aid, and what not to do while visiting the festival. By the time the first music group struck up a chord on the giant stage, a tent city

Page 85

stood where there used to be farmland. Rows and rows of campers, tents, and cars fashioned a pattern of lines which stretched over the next hill. A blue haze filled the air as campfires flickered throughout the campsites,

   After the tents had been pitched, everyone filed to the concert area to hear and see the Christian singing groups and solo artists perform and ministers speak. For the next few days, the people present at the festival would be in a world completely different than the one from which they came. Musicians performing at Jesus '73 included Andrae Crouch and the Disciples, Danny Lee and the Children of Truth, Danny Taylor, Randy Matthews, Randy Stonehill, and othersmany of the same performers who had appeared at Explo '72.

   Jerry Bryant, who later became host of the nationally syndicated Jesus-rock radio show ''JesusSolid Rock,'' sold records at Jesus '73. ''I phoned all the religious record companies I could think of,'' he recalls, ''and told them, 'Send me everything you've got.' Of course, I meant contemporary music, and in those days there wasn't much! Just Larry Norman, Love Song, and a few others.

   ''So I loaded up a Winnebago we had rented for the occasion, and carted all the albums to Jesus '73. We were packed to the grills with records, so much that the camper leaned to one side. We set up our record display, with the traditional gospel on one side and the Jesus music on the other.

   ''People freaked out. 'Where did you get all this stuff? We've never heard of it! By the end of the first day, all of the contemporary records were sold.''

   An estimated eight thousand people attended Jesus '73. The music they heard, in many cases for the first time, was contemporary Christian music. As each person returned home, the news of Jesus music spread. One year later, Jesus '74 drew twice as many people to Pennsylvania as its '73 predecessor.

   Twenty-five hundred miles away, at the Orange Country Fair-grounds in Costa Mesa, California, Praise '74 attracted an estimated sixteen thousand people. Praise '74 was a combination Jesus festival/ fair, with daily outdoor stadium concerts, Christian art and craft exhibits, and a steady program of quality Christian films.

   John Styll, whose radio show ''Hour of Praise'' on KGER was the pioneer Jesus-music show in Southern California, recalled in 1978 that Praise '74 helped to introduce varied California talent, rather than solely Maranatha groups as had the amusement park festivals.

   ''Praise '74 was sponsored by Maranatha Village,'' he adds, ''a

Page 86

local Christian bookstore which grew out of the Jesus movement. The festival featured Andrae Crouch and the Disciples, Terry Talbot and the Branch Bible Band, Love Song, the Latinos, Ralph Carmichael, Cam Floria, Jerry Sinclair, and numerous other musicians.'' Disneyland fireworks a few miles off lit up the sky behind the stage each night while explosive Jesus music filled the stadium.

   In the summer of 1975, Cam Floria and Bill Rayborn designed and sponsored the First Annual Christian Artists' Seminar in the Rockies, held at a YMCA camp in the mountain resort town of Estes Park, Colorado. There was an abundance of music and talent. The gathering featured Evie Tornquist, Andrae Crouch and the Disciples, the Archers, the Continental Singers, Jeremiah People, the Imperials, the Hawaiians, and a wide array of other performers.

   The Seminar was unlike any of its Jesus-festival progenitors, however, in that it catered to the musicians and other members of organized churches and colleges and their music more heavily than to the Christian ''street people'' whose tastes leaned to Jesus music. Also, the Seminar was not intended to be a festival to draw in music fans, except for the evening concerts. Rather, the Seminar was mainly intended for people in music ministries.

   In the ensuing years of the Seminar, referred to around the country simply as ''Estes Park,'' attendance would increase greatly from the 1975 attendance of approximately eight hundred. Seminar leaders trained musicians, music ministers, and choir directors. Concerts at night featured a potpourri of artists running the gamut from classical to rock, and a ''National Talent Competition'' was begun, with cash prizes and recording contracts going to the victors. Probably the most important contribution the annual gathering offered was a much-needed time of fellowship between musicians. For some, it was the only true retreat for fellowship they had during the year.

   1975 was also the year that Jesus festivals sprang up everywhere. There was Jesus '75 in Pennsylvania, where rain turned the festival grounds into a quagmire of mud, though it failed to dampen the festival-goers' spirits. In Michigan, Salt '75 featured ''twenty-five hours of music, teaching, Bible study, and prayer.'' The music was performed by Simple Truth, Randy Matthews, Good News Circle, Oreon, Honeytree, the Continental Singers, and others.

   At the northern end of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, Fishnet '75 began what was to be a yearly pilgrimage for many Americans to Front Royal, Virginia. Elsewhere that year, Jesus '75 Midwest was held in St. Louis, the Sonshine Festival in Ohio, Lodestone in Vancouver, B.C., and the Road Home Celebration in Colorado Springs, in the shadow of Pikes Peak.

   In California, the Maranatha Nights continued at Knott's Berry

Page 87

Farm. At the Joyland Amusement Park in Wichita, Kansas, the first Jesus Festival of Joy drew around three thousand people. In Texas, the Hill Country Faith Festival featured Terry Talbot, Liberation Suite, Jamie Owens, and Children of Faith.

   As each year passed, more and more ambitious promoters and would-be promoters attempted to program festivals of Jesus music. Some succeeded; some failed. The events were held at stadiums, mountain glens, orange groves, amusement parks, fairgrounds, race-trucks, rodeo arenas, campuses, and beaches. Most of them featured musicians and ministers offering praise, worship, and learning experiences. Communions, baptisms, and altar calls were often included.

   The festivals should have been the envy of thousands of ministers across the country who saw the free interchange between people of so many varied faiths. In some cases, that was the feeling. However, in other instances church ministers refused any support for fear that the youth would be ''caught up'' in someone else's religion.

   The fears of proselytism could not be ignored. Some churches had lost their youth to the Jesus movement, and the Jesus festivals became about the only spiritual nourishment some youth ever got. Over the years, however, many of the skeptical churches began sponsoring busloads of their youth to go to the festivals, providing adult supervision and guidance. Such church efforts resulted in a melting of many barriers, as the adults were able to explain to the young people the differences which existed in the varied faiths and persuasions. The interdenominational fellowship was invaluable for youths in understanding other faiths. People who attended the festivals testified to the life-changing experiences they encountered:

At Jesus '74 I had my first encounter with God's love. Boy, was I surprised! Everywhere I went, there was love shining forthin our camp, in many long lines, and in problems. ''Praise God!'' was on the lips and faces of those near me. I just had to know the source of this love and joy. So I asked Jesus to fill my heart and become Lord of my life. He did. Praise the Lord!

   Last year at Jesus '75 the Lord's love and power was also manifest in many ways. Even through rainstorms, mud and all the resulting difficulties, He showed His love and power. In love He taught us to look only to Him, put our trust in Him and to praise and thank Him in all circumstances. It really works! He used the mud in a very special way, to help my mother to come to see and know His love and to become her Lord.

Page 88

   Memories such as this helped one forget the sunburns, the poison ivy rashes, the cut feet, the bugs, and sometimes rain and mud to boot. The adversities were of little import when one was being saturated with Christian love, fine music, Bible teaching, new friendships, great fellowship, and often, changed lives.

Chapter Thirteen  ||  Table of Contents