With the Aug. 8-11 line-up of David Crowder, MercyMe, Casting Crowns and For King & County, the Unity gathering has arguably the strongest top-of-the-bill offering of any Christian festival in the Midwest.
"We work on it quite far in advance, and this year fell together especially well and the response has been tremendous," said festival director Kevin Newton.
Crowder has been performing tunes from his "American Prodigal" album as well as a new song, "All My Hope." The multiple award-winning Casting Crowns was scheduled to headline Unity last year, but their performance was rained out prompting them to arrange to return this year.
The inspirational-pop band MercyMe is buoyed by this year's surprise hit movie, "I Can Only Imagine." It told the life story of lead-singer Bart Millard and the origin of the signature song which reached far beyond Christian audiences. (The film grossed more than $80 million).
For King & Country, featuring the sibling duo of Luke and Joel Smallbone, had a great reaction to its Grammy–winning collection "Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong." The band is poised to issue another album this fall with a new song, "Joy," that already tops Christian radio charts.
"But even if someone didn't want to see the headliners, the other artists are wonderful – a mix of well-known acts and up-and-coming bands that perhaps people haven't seen yet," Newton added.
Each day on Unity's four day schedule includes at least one new artist.
Friday afternoon The Young Escape is featured on the main stage. From its alt-pop-rock landscape, the band of four siblings (two guys, two girls), pack a high-energy presentation.
North Point Insideout is part of a church in Alpharetta, Georgia and has a worship-flavored repertoire. Among their songs is "Every Beat," which has already reached Christian radio. They're set to perform at 7:10pm Sat. just before the headliner For King & Country.
The Spotlight stage has its share of newer artists, but also features seasoned Christian performers such as Remedy Drive and KJ-52 (both on Thurs.). Noteworthy on Saturday is the one-two punch of George Moss and Steven Malcolm, both with roots here in West Michigan.
And back on the main stage (4pm Sat.) is "old school" singer-songwriter Russ Taff, a solo artist whose also been part of several music groups through the years. His struggles along life's journey will be chronicled in a feature film this fall.
BUILDING ON SUCCESS
Newton said that Unity has had it greatest success in most recent years and crowds are growing. Typically, more than 50 thousand people pass through the gates each year. The festival is part of a network called the Christian Festival Association, which represents more than 40 similar events across the nation.
"One thing I've noticed is a desire for community above and beyond your own church," said Newton of a recent audience trend. "To be out in community with other Christians at a public, safe and family-oriented event... more people are valuing that."
Another trend is more worship music – Christian radio highlighting an increase in worship artists and more artists placing worship songs and segments in their performances.
"This year we have worship artists sprinkled throughout," he noted.
The volunteer Unity Choir is back for this year, kicking off the music on the festival's final three days while demonstrating a unified approach. Its 50 or so members come from 27 area churches.
This year's Unity includes many of the additional activities of past years – the family fun zone and children's area, extreme games, youth lounge, Master's Touch art program, prayer tent and exhibit areas.
Admission and seating rules are available on the festival website (www.unitymusicfestival.com) but are standard for such events, with restrictions on chair size, outside food and drink, etc. The safety and comfort of attendees is a priority.
"It's a different kind of atmosphere...we get feedback that people love the setting and the feel," Newton said.
Unity Christian Music Festival featuring music and more Wed. Aug. 8 – Sat Aug. 11
Headline artists: Crowder, MercyMe, Casting Crowns, For King & County.
at Heritage Landing, Shoreline Dr. in downtown Muskegon
Wed. Aug. 8 is free-admission, with gates opening at 4pm. Other days gates open at 1pm.
Grounds contain both main stage and the youth-oriented spotlight stage. (For complete line-up visit http://www.unitymusicfestival.com/
Advance prices: One-day pass $37.50, two-day $55, three-day $75 (higher at the gate). Kids under 5 are free, with free kids' activities. Buy tickets online
For General Info Call: 231-773-3361