"The bleachers were packed and we estimated more than 3,500 in attendance," said Carolyn Manting, music director at WOW's sponsoring church, First Reformed of Grand Haven.
The Sunday evening crowd had assembled to hear singer-songwriter Mark Schultz who has numerous Christian radio hits in his song catalog.
"The space in front of the bleachers was filled and people were on the grass all the way to the marina on one side and filled all the grassy areas on the other," she added about the event under early evening sunshine.
Manting says attendance at the free-will offering series has been growing each summer, even as the music and the artists have taken on more of a worship focus. "We always try to provide an evening that is worshipful, challenging and meaningful," she said.
Among other artists scheduled to perform this season: the inspirational-pop band Mikeschair (July 12), singer-songwriter Josh Wilson (July 26) and the brassy sounds of West Michigan-based Down Home Horns on Aug. 9 (complete schedule and details below).
FIRST TIMERS AND VETERANS
Manting is excited about the return of Wilson, who is bringing a full band with him for his July 26 appearance. Previously he's performed as a solo artist.
"J.J. Heller was new last year but we've had numerous requests to have her back. And Jason Gray was scheduled for two years ago but couldn't come at the last minute. So we're excited he can come this summer," she noted.
The band Mikeschair, featuring Holland native Kyle Schonewill, has scored several national Christian radio hits during its 10 year run.
A rare performance comes July 5 with the husband-wife duo of Nic Gonzalez and Jaci Velasquez. Gonzalez is lead singer of the Latin-rhythmed band Salvador. Velasquez is an award-winning solo artist.
The WOW variety seems to spark new interest, according to the coordinator. "We have a wonderful base of regular attenders who love the talents, atmosphere and the venue," Manting said. "But it's interesting how each talent draws a unique crowd of regulars, fans and people who are visiting the area."
Also new this year is Plumb (aka Tiffany Arbuckle). Several years ago the vocalist's chart-topping ballad "Need You Now (How Many Times)" was nominated for a Dove Awards as Song of the Year.
The series concludes with singer Chris August on Aug. 30.
Manting reiterated that the WOW series is weather dependent. In case of poor weather, the event is cancelled or may be shifted to an indoor venue. (monitor the website www.worshiponthewaterfront.org for the latest information).
CONTINUING A INSPIRATIONAL HISTORY
Begun more than 70 years ago as "Vacationland Hymnsing" featuring old time hymns and meditations by area pastors, church officials refined the format back in the 1990s. They added outside music artists with more contemporary music plus a mix of area church praise bands to lead singing before the guest artist takes the stage.
"Also, the guest artists we bring in have a heart for worship," Manting added.
Corporate underwriting and support have been crucial for the series, as free-will offering totals do not approach the entire cost. Manting salutes church and community support as well as "generous givers" who help keep the series going year after year.
Even Christian music events contain elements of entertainment as well as inspiration. But WOW has begun several features that have offered a specific spiritual direction.
Last year organizers added a "prayer table" where visitors could go after the program to pray with persons from First Reformed. Their requests were also referred to the church prayer team.
"This year we're beginning a 'wrap-up' moment at the end of the evening where the Gospel is shared and people will be invited to meet with others," Manting said.
The coordinator said she runs into people throughout the year who say how much they love coming to WOW and look forward to it each summer.
DETAILS: Worship On the Waterfront (W.O.W.) a summer inspirational music series
Where: Waterfront Stadium, downtown Grand Haven
Time: 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 30.
Admission: free-will offering
Contact: www.worshiponthewaterfront.org. 616-842-6600. Sponsored by First Reformed Church of Grand Haven
The WOW line-up:
July 5 – Nic Gonzalez and Jaci Velasquez
July 12 - Mikeschair
July 19 – J.J. Heller
July 26 - Josh Wilson & Band
Aug. 2 – Plumb
Aug. 9 – Down Home Horns
Aug. 16 – Jason Gray
Aug. 23 – Peter Eide
Aug. 30 – Chris August