Garry Warden has been with Kingdom Bound since its beginning 16 years ago, when, as he says, a group of
misfits used to meet on the trunk of a car to eat, dream and scheme. He laughs and shakes his head. “We didn’t
think for one hot minute that anything would ever come of it.”
But in 1987, when Darien Lake asked the group to coordinate a day of Christian music at the park, and offered to
underwrite the expenses, these dreamers began the adventure of a lifetime. “We were just a bunch of guys and
girls that got together; we really didn’t have any great skills other than we had hearts for Christ,” admits Garry.
“Individually we‘re not too much, but collectively we know how to do a festival now.”
That’s an understatement. The festival began on a cold October afternoon in 1987 as a day of Christian music,
with concerts by Sheila Walsh, Russ Taff and Mylon LeFevre, a few snowflakes and a crowd of about 6,000.
Sixteen years later, annual attendance has reached 55,000 for the four-day August event, which now offers
continuous music on four stages throughout the amusement park as well as a full schedule of speakers in various
pavilions. Thousands of festival attendees stay for the entire four days, either camping in the amusement park
campgrounds or checking into the park hotel.
Festival goes have been treated to performances by big-name artists like Darlene Zschech, dc Talk, Steven Curtis
Chapman, Rebecca St. James, Michael W. Smith, and festival favorites The Newsboys, as well as speakers like
Reggie Dabbs, Pam Stenzel, Kevin Lehman, Jay Bakker, and Frank Reich. The festival has also showcased
up-and-coming stars through the Kingdom Bound Talent Search, which gives winners a chance to play at the Park
Stage opening night of the festival, and give their fledgling careers a boost. Canadian rockers One Cross won the
contest in 1999 and have just released their fourth independent CD, attributing their regional success in large part
to the following they’ve gained through the festival.
But more importantly, the festival has introduced thousands of people to Christ. Garry estimates that each year,
more than 2,000 people respond to an altar call during the event, and that number is growing. This year festival
organizers witnessed what some are calling a first in Kingdom Bound history: on the first night of the festival,
more than 500 young people came forward after Reggie Dabbs spoke at the Performing Arts Center (PAC).
Reggie shared the very personal story of how he was born to a single mother and of his experience with Christ. It
was moving, touching and inspirational. But Reggie also plays the soprano sax, and ended the evening by playing
“Shout to the Lord”. For Garry, that was a special moment: “I was weeping! The Holy Spirit fell on that tent and
it was really an awesome moment.”
He attributes that moment to the huge altar call, one of the largest on one stage in Kingdom Bound history.
Despite an audience that was a mix of all ages, the altar call was mostly teenagers – about 500 young people out of
an audience of 5,000. “I think there’s a tremendous hunger among young people,” Garry says. “Music is
spiritual and kids are really hurting. I think kids are looking for something solid in their lives.”
And he hopes that Kingdom Bound is helping to fill that need. Garry says that Christian teenagers often use the
festival as an outreach. “We find that young people can go to their friends and say, Our church is going some
place for the weekend and we’re gonna camp and there’s gonna be music, there’s gonna be a festival, hey you
want to come? It’s an opportunity to invite friends to something special.”
But the festival isn’t just for teens. Families are drawn to the event because there are activities for all age groups: a
kids pavilion with performances by Veggie Tales and Bibleman; a rock music stage for teens; a worship tent with
praise music all day long; an evening performance with national headlining acts; and seminars for the whole family
on issues like parenting, understanding world religions, purity and abstinence, and missions.
The goal of the festival is to “bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and to encourage and strengthen
believers in their walk with the Lord”, and the group is committed to keeping the spiritual integrity of the festival.
They pray about the theme for each festival, and then ask God to bring artists and speakers that exemplify that
theme. This year’s theme was “Come, Now is the Time to Worship”, chosen in response to the September 11th
tragedy. The music line up was heavy with worship leaders like Robin Mark, Chris Tomlin, and Paul Baloche in
the Worship tent, but also included performances on the other stages by rock artists downhere, delirious, Nicole C.
Mullen, Mark Schultz and Third Day.
“Kingdom Bound kind of has a unique reputation among the festival genre in that we really try to be really, really
spiritual,” Garry says, and that carries over into every decision the group makes about the festival. Garry even
prays with the artists before they hit the stage. “They just drove in on a bus from Timbuktu, they don’t know what
we’re doing,” he laughs. He sits the artists down and tries to give them an idea of what’s been happening during
the festival in order to maintain spiritual continuity from day to day, program to program, artist to artist and
speaker to speaker so that, as he says, everyone is on the same page.
“All these people come to Kingdom Bound and they’re coming to be entertained, but they’re really seeking
Christ. They’re really seeking something spiritual, that’s why they’re here.”
And people see Christ not just in the performers, but also in the volunteers. More than 500 volunteers spend days
and even weeks helping to make the event happen. Volunteers check tickets and pass out programs; help in the
kitchen; set up tables, chairs, tents and even artists equipment; sit at the vendor tables; provide transportation to and
from hotels and the airport for artists and speakers; and even coordinate other volunteers.
And they have an impact on more than just those who attend the festival.
Don Carll is the chef with Lorraine Costal Catering, the caterer who has the contract to provide food for all the
concerts held at Darien Lake. It’s usually pretty hectic in the food tent, where the caterers serve three meals a day
to more than 1,000 people. But the Kingdom Bound volunteers make a big difference. “Actually they had a
couple prayer circles with some of the workers,” Don laughs. “We usually don’t get in a circle and pray so that
was a little different.” But he was also quick to point out that it’s been calmer than usual in the kitchen during the
festival. “Usually we got a lot of stuff going on and everybody’s on edge. This is much calmer. It’s been fun.”
With this year’s festival over, Garry says it time to begin planning for 2003. Over the next few weeks, they’ll
chose a theme, and Kingdom Bound president Fred Caserta – who Garry says is the heart of the ministry – will
begin booking acts. Negotiations will begin again for sound, lights, tents, golf carts, two-way radios, and other
But that’s not all. Kingdom Bound continues its ministry year round, with concerts and other outreach events. The
organization supports charities like Crisis Pregnancy Centers and Youth for Christ. They minister to single parent
families, and support inner city missions. Since they estimate that about 30% of the festival attendees are
Canadian, 30% of the ministry’s tithing goes back to Canadian organizations.
The group has also reorganized, with a new board of directors to guide the ministry as it continues to grow. Garry
says that they’ve had requests from all over the country to hold festivals at other parks. They’ll wait for the new
board to map out a course, but, Garry says, “We believe that God is calling us to do this in other places. Our
challenge is to stay focused with our integrity and our spirituality and our dedication to Christ, but still have good
stewardship and good management.”
Joanne Brokaw is a freelance writer in Rochester, NY. You can reach her a firstname.lastname@example.org
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