Gathering some 35,000 people from a half dozen Western states on a huge tract of land in Longmont and presenting 70 of the best contemporary Christian musical acts on seven stages, Heaven Fest 2010 seemed to offer many of the same features you’d find in just about any mega-concert — tons of great sounds, food vendors, T-shirts, band merch, crafts, a kid zone, sponsor tents, even a structure for skateboarders. But unlike most other large-scale music festivals, Heaven Fest happened not just to provide excellent music so that you could have a great time, maybe dance your ass off, and help make the promoters a pile of cheddar. Heaven Fest springs from a different mindset, based on ardent prayer, evangelical Christianity, and an expansive vision.
The ambience and sensibility of the festivities infused the 90-degree heat next to Union Reservoir with the overarching message that this was also about prayer and worship and the Word. While the sound styles ranged from pop to punk to rap to folk to fulltilt head-banging metal, each song by each artist upheld and commented on some aspect of a Christian lifestyle and the Gospels.
Unlike many of the giant music festivals I’ve been to in the past, the H’fest concertgoers, while enthusiastic and generous with applause and cheers, were more physically subdued. Not a lot of boogying down with wild moves and shaking-that-thang. Instead, there were a lot of hands in the air, waving or reaching, or palms upturned. Just as many sat in folding chairs or on blankets, maybe too crushed by the heat to move.
Another huge difference: no alcoholic beverages allowed on the premises. Without the alcohol buzz that so often marks big concert events, Heaven Fest seemed less frenzied and more easy-going. The Longmont police reported no major incidents of any kind — no arrests, no illegal substances showing up, no trouble at all — definitely a rarity for a public event of this size. But then, this was different kind of crowd, there not just to party.
Dave Powers and his wife Tara, representing a newer generation of Christian ministry, are prime drivers in creating Heaven Fest these past three years.
“We try to hang out with Jesus a lot, ’cause we like him, and one of the things we felt is that he kind of tapped us on the shoulder [and said] ‘I just want you to give me an event that I’d be interested in coming to,’” Dave Powers says. “That idea kind of blew out my brains … and forced me to wonder what kind of event Jesus actually would be interested in coming to. And that kind of has been our quest and our goal.”
Festival attendees represented a multitude of denominations, as well as widely diverse ethnicities and generations. Powers notes how a vast family of Christians has come together over these past three years of festivals, leading to greater networking and connections and supportive partnering for important social programs, such as rescuing children enslaved in the sex trade, or helping to dig wells in remote parts of the world. Of the $70,000 Heaven Fest took in last year, more than $50,000 was spent on programs for orphans and homeless people.
“Instead of trying to make a bunch of money from this,” Powers says, “we’re trying to give a bunch of money off of this.”
Another big difference between H’Fest and other such events: the grand finale. After a long day of phenomenal music, instead of some huge jam session with members from all different bands playing together, there was a three-hour interactive prayer session involving songs, group drumming, scripture readings and more taking place on various stages and in numerous tents around the festival grounds ’til past midnight.
“We want to see Jesus worshipped all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” says Powers, seeing this super concert as a platform for making that happen. “If it ever seems that God’s not in [Heaven Fest] anymore, then we’re dropping it like a bad habit, man. We’re out.”