About 25,000 people are expected to pack the National Sports Center in Blaine this weekend for the largest contemporary Christian music festival in Minnesota.
It’s the 11th year for the Joyful Noise Festival, an event bringing some of the nation’s top Christian musicians to the Twin Cities for a weekend-long celebration.
The festival’s growth over the years points to the continued popularity of Christian music, which ranges from folk to rock to gospel, and the radio stations broadcasting it.
“There are a lot of stories about churches that are closing and shrinking, but it doesn’t mean that Christianity is dying,” said Dave St. John, general manager at KTIS radio, which produces the event. “Joyful Noise is a way to bring together people under the banner of Christian faith.”
The festival was launched by KTIS simply as “an opportunity to bring together the Twin Cities Christian community,” he said. The first one was a one-day event that drew nearly 8,000 fans, he said.
“The first year was a lot of fun and a big learning experience for the whole team,” St. John said. “We needed to learn everything from what size [children’s] wagons to let in … to how to keep the festival safe and secure for all ages.”
Over the years, the festival mushroomed into a two-day affair. This year’s lineup features Christian megastars including the Newsboys, Crowder and Matthew West.
Such musicians have huge fan bases, as Christian music has evolved into contemporary genres. A 2015 analysis by the Gospel Music Association said that more than 65% of Americans had listened to Christian or gospel music within the previous 30 days.
This year’s Joyful Noise Festival started at 5 p.m. Friday with a local group, the choir of Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, the festival’s main sponsor. The festival continues Saturday.
Taylor Pleschourt, 20, was among the first fans standing in line at the sports center Friday. The St. Catherine University student arrived at noon so she could stake out some prime turf near the front of the stage.
Pleschourt said she comes to the concerts with her parents, and they’re all big fans.
“We bought the tickets as soon as they were on sale,” she said.
That was last November. St. John said organizers have found that Joyful Noise tickets make popular Christmas gifts, so they begin offering them around the holidays.
Brenda Hougham of Minnetonka also was packing her lawn chairs this weekend. She has attended the concerts nearly every year. When her daughter was younger, she’d bring her along, too.
She appreciates that the place is family-friendly, even with a section of inflatable jumping toys for kids.
“The music is always really good,” Hougham said. “And it’s fun to run into people you know.”
The event is unusual for a major music festival, St. John said, because it is produced by a radio station. The event is supported by the ticket and event staff at University of Northwestern in Roseville, which houses the radio station, and 400 volunteers.
And it’s not a moneymaking venture, he said.
“Joyful Noise is a break-even event,” St. John said. “It was designed to be an affordable event that families and friends can come to.”