Creation Festival Turns 30

By Andy_Argyrakis
Posted: Tue, 06/03/2008 - 21:01

album promo image for Creation Festival Turns 30

By Andy Argyrakis, senior music editor,

Three Decades of Memories
Some cite it as one of the most ambitious events in Christian music history; others call it the spiritual equivalent to mainstream mega-events Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza, while those who've personally been impacted by the experience revel in its life-changing scope. No matter what Creation means to a person, the famed festival's northeast location is celebrating its 30th anniversary, combining concerts with various ministry mechanisms across an extended weekend (visiting Agape Farm in Mount Union, Pennsylvania from June 25–28).

"For one thing, I think there's just a sense of gratefulness in our hearts that we're able to celebrate 30 years and we're going to highlight our history throughout this year's festival," notes co-founder Pastor Harry Thomas. "We're putting together tributes to [late artists] Larry Norman and Keith Green and have a lot of video segments highlighting the last three decades and all the personalities who've come in the past. Some people who last came during those early years are going to notice some changes, mostly that the music's changed and the festival's bigger than ever."

Squeaky Clean Acts
Though the current make-up of Creation is slated to house fans numbering in the upper tens of thousands, it was first staged in the much more humble confines of Muddy Run (near Quarryville, Pennsylvania) in 1979. The inaugural year was an intimate affair in comparison with 5,000 attendees who did not take a shower the whole time because none were available. The following year, cold showers were installed and Thomas described the whole experience as "really roughing it," though it's since been peppered with the pleasantries of more modern times (which especially came in handy during 1989's mud slide mess).

However, what early participants missed in amenities, they made up for in catching top-notch talent, ranging from the aforementioned Norman and Green, to Petra and DeGarmo & Key at their most seminal stages and even secular superstars-turned-believers like B.J. Thomas and Al Green. Creation also became the birthing grounds for several burgeoning stars in a major public forum, including Amy Grant (who inaugurated the event's candle-lighting ceremony in 1983 after an underground transformer blew out the power), fellow pop crossover act Jars of Clay and the always unpredictable dcTalk.

"Boy, it's hard to pinpoint one or two major highlights, but there were so many wonderful performances in the beginning that really showcased Christian music in its earlier stages," Thomas recalls. "I'll of course remember the power going out and Amy Grant and [her longtime producer] Brown Bannister going on stage with a lantern to lead praise choruseswhich became our first candle lighting service. And then there was dcTalk's entrance in 1992 when they flew over the grounds in a helicopter and then descended onto the stage. It was unbelievable. In fact, I was a little scared, but it all worked out and was a lot of fun!"

New Generation
This year finds that group's tobyMac reprising his role as a solo headliner, along with fellow main stage attractions like Newsboys, Switchfoot, Skillet, David Crowder Band, Jeremy Camp, Chris Tomlin and Kutless, the latter of whom will also translate the weekend's communal spirit to the first ever Creation Festival: The Tour this fall.

"It definitely brings out the musical side of the festival environment having several artists in the same place for a full day," says Kutless frontman Jon Micah Sumrall of the upcoming outing, includes Thousand Foot Krutch, Pillar and Fireflight, "but it's somewhere in between a festival and a big tour because it's just one night and there's no camping.

"We have a tradition we started four or five years ago. When we're done with our show, we find a campsite and roast marshmallows with whoever's there. At first they might think it's a little weird, but then they figure out it's us and they get really into it!"

Another act returning to the bill is Skillet, alternative rockers who steadily workedtheir way from an early after fringe stage slot (gearedtoward up-and-coming artists) to main stage mainstays. Though singer/bassist John Cooper, keyboardist/guitarist Korey Cooper and guitarist Ben Kasica are veteran visitors to Creation, the group's brand new drummer Jen Ledger is looking forward to experiencing the festival for the first time, especially given the milestone year. "I'm not sure if I'm more excited or more nervous to be playing at Creation, but whatever I'm feeling, I feel a lot of it!," she exclaims. "I'm having so much fun playing with Skillet and it's an absolute honor to get to play at such an awesome, huge, exciting event with such a great band!"

A Gift that Keeps Giving
Aside from the excitement brewing for this year's extravaganza, it's literally going to be history in the making, capped off by what Thomas calls "a very special surprise." Though fans will have to make the trek firsthand to find out exactly what's up his sleeve, legendary guitarist/main stage entertainer Phil Keaggy promises satisfaction for fans of any genre association.

"It's seriously a major part of Christian music's history because everyone who's ever done anything has probably at one time or another played Creation," he muses. "It gives music lovers a chance to see artists who they otherwise might have the chance to see and it's an amazing opportunity to see God's creation all around you."

While eyes are on the anniversary edition of the event, Creation's branches have also extended tothe West coast since 1998 (held at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington), along with the internationally recognized Friendship Fest in 2005 (held outside the walls of Marrakech, the Kingdom of Morocco's cultural capital). Though all of the events run like clockwork these days after much trial and error (including Eastern rainouts in 1995 and 2006, plus a last minute venue move in 1996 due to flooding), it's a lineage that Thomas never would've imagined30 years ago and one he credits to divine intervention.

"When we first started – and I'm not trying to sound short-sided here – we were scared," Pastor Thomas admits. "Back in those days we said, 'if God wants us to have another year after the first, then He'll open those doors.' And after the first, we found that there was a need for it and it was ministering to people, so we just kept going. Every now and then, we discuss how long we've been doing this, but it only seems like ten years. I guess time really flies when so many ministry opportunities are taking place and you're having this much fun!"
Creation Festival The Tour: Coming this Fall


About the Writer

Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois Entertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, and He's also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park's Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel's very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).

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