MOUNT UNION - It's easy to find something to complain about at the Creation Festival.
The heat, the dust, the crowds. The wall-to-wall tents, and the neighbors who strum their guitars until 2 a.m. The little critter that woke you up in the middle of the night as it crawled under your tent.
But ask anyone at the largest Christian music festival in the U.S. how they are, and irritated answers are often few and far between. Drop a beach ball in the wind and a stranger runs to catch it for you. Look for a rare spot of shade, and someone welcomes you to sit under their tarp.
Sentinel photos by BUFFIE BOYER
Creation Festival draws about 70,000 visitors each year to the largest Christian music festival on the East coast. See more photos online at cu.lewistownsentinel.com.
Sentinel photos by BUFFIE BOYER
Matt and Robin Werner, FX Cafe house church leaders from Centre, Juniata County, said the local community sometimes negatively stereotypes the Mount Union event - and gives it the nickname "Christian Woodstock."
Though the Werners said there probably are some partying teens who smuggle in drugs and alcohol, their experiences and observations have been very positive.
The only rule that Matt Werner said he ever saw broken was two young men who were walking around without shirts on. The Creation dress policy asks people to dress modestly, including requiring men to always wear shirts.
Still, with Creation typically attracting 70,000 people every year, the crowds are guaranteed to include people whose hearts are not in the right place.
"It's the same way as church," Matt Werner said.
But he and his wife said they hope the musicians' and speakers' messages will plant seeds of God's Word in those who do not attend for the right reasons.
During a Youth Leaders Talkback session on Thursday, Anthony Armstrong, guitarist for Red, said playing on secular tours gives his band the opportunity to witness to those who might otherwise not hear the Gospel.
Secular groups seek out Red to join their tours because they find the Christian band members encouraging and non-judgmental, Armstrong said.
During their first secular group tours, Armstrong said a security guard learned about their faith and knocked on their dressing room door to ask for prayer.
On another night, Armstrong said he witnessed to another musician after they started comparing tattoos.
"It's not all sex, drugs and rock and roll like it used to be," Armstrong said of the group tours. "We're family men. Whether we're in church on a mainstream concert, we are who we are."
Armstrong said they plant seeds that they hope will grow into faith.
These stories from bands like Red are important to Matt and Robin Werner, because the artists can share more about their faith and ministry than the have the chance to on stage.
Red's screaming, head-banging hard rock may cause some eye rolls and head aches; but Matt Werner said the Youth Leader Talkbacks, where only adults are allowed, help older generations see beyond their distaste for the music.
The Werners said they would much rather see youth listen to bands like Red that have a Christian message than to secular bands that promote sinful behavior.
They also like that Creation showcases ministry and missions opportunities where teens can learn about ways to serve others. Vendors from missions organizations like Compassion International give youth a glimpse of the many ways they can make a difference in the world, Robin Werner said.
The festival's messages also open doors for conversations about faith and life issues with the youth, the Werners said.
For themselves, the Werners said the weekend gives them a chance to hear other ministers lead and to refresh their faith.
"Where else can you go and get hot and sticky and say it's refreshing?" Matt Werner said, chuckling.
Worshipping in a crowd of 70,000 people is awesome, he said, remembering writer/singer Chris Tomlin's first concert at Creation.
"It gives you a little taste of what heaven is like," his wife added.
For Kelsey Beasom, of McCoysville, who came to Creation with her family, said the community worship keeps her coming back to the festival ever year.
"Everyone comes together for one reason, all praising and worshipping together," Beasom said.
The festival continues through tonight with speakers Lakita Garth, Reid Saunders, Tony Nolan and Duffy Robbins. Performances include Chris August, Brandon Heath, Carlos Whittaker, Owl City and Toby Mac. The festival will end with a fireworks display beginning around 10:45 p.m.