Big Tickets Returns

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

BTF photo lineup 2021GAYLORD - After taking a COVID year off – as did nearly every major live music event – the Big Ticket Festival (BTF) is back in 2021 with a two-day array of music in a new July weekend slot.

"We hedged our bets a bit on when everything would be clear," said the Christian festival's president Drew Spanding of plans made months ago when pandemic restrictions were still in force.

"The July 9-11 weekend lined up with when the (Otsego County) fairgrounds were available."

With a shorter than usual timeline to produce and promote the festival, BTF nevertheless has come up with a fine artist roster. Front and center is singer-songwriter Zach Williams. The award-winning artist and his pack of forceful songs were the most listened to catalog on Christian radio last year.

"A lot of his music is about facing fears," Spanding noted of tunes such as "Chain Breaker" and "Fear Is A Liar." Even his most recent, "The Struggle," touches on the theme.

"Everyone's been facing fear through this COVID thing. And missionally we as a festival are re-opening the idea of everyone gathering back together and praising God."

In fact, worship leader/artist Cory Asbury is part of Saturday's worship-oriented main stage program.


Big Ticket is a destination festival of sorts, located in the heart of northern Michigan's tourist region.

"Seventy percent of our crowd comes from more than a hundred miles away," Spanding said of their fans who sometimes include BTF as part of their vacations.

The top two Michigan counties from which the festival draws are: Oakland (near Detroit) and Kent, which includes Grand Rapids.

For a handful of years during its 15-year history, organizers moved BTF toward population centers with stints at the Ionia and Allegan County fairgrounds. But it returned to its Gaylord base realizing that the vacation-rich region was part of its original attraction.

In 2019 Big Ticket drew more than 9,000 fans per day over its four-day run.

Fans this year will find three stage areas. One of them is called "The Big Tent," an 80x160 foot rain-or-shine covering that can accommodate nearly 3,000. It hosts primarily afternoon shows while better known acts at the larger main stage come into the evening.

Some of the highlight acts in The Big Tent Friday afternoon include Grand Rapids-based hip-hopper Steven Malcolm and perhaps surprisingly, the inspirational vocal trio Point of Grace! Yes, that Point of Grace with its long string of Christian radio hits stretching back into the early 1990s.

"I don't care how old you are, when you hear their vocals together you hear the reason for their success," Spanding said.


Big Ticket has also secured two of Christian music's hottest up and coming acts. The brother and two sister trio Cain (1:30pm Fri.) and singer-songwriter Anne Wilson with her moving ballad, "My Jesus" (3:30pm Sat.).

Curt Coffield, former worship/music leader at Resurrection Life Church in Grandville performs Saturday at noon.

On the non-musical side, there's an entire activity area dedicated for children 10 and under as well as for tweeners and teens.
And something else: kicking with former Detroit Lions placekicker Jason Hanson.

"He's bringing along regulation-size inflatable goalposts," Spanding said. Hanson, who is also a Christian music fan, will offer kicking pointers to those willing to give it a try. (See the complete festival schedule online)


Spanding and his non-profit White Stone Project (sponsors of the event) had to do much of their planning before they were even sure the festival could happen. The pandemic-related uncertainties led them to go with just two days of music, plus a Sunday morning worship experience. Fortunately restrictions have since been lifted, and they're full speed ahead.

"We really aren't sure about what kind of attendance to plan for," Spanding said. "Although from what we hear from other similar events, they've had their best year ever." Tickets purchased for last year's cancelled festival are good this year. Camping spaces are already 80 percent sold, a good sign.

Perhaps the final figures will show a surge of interest by Christian music fans yearning to gather together in larger numbers, sharing the inspiring communal experience of live music.

Spanding is thoughtful. "I think there will be something special about this year that you can't really articulate until you're there."

Big Ticket Festival
Fri-Sun. July 9-11, 2021
Otsego County Fairgrounds, 895 North Center Avenue Gaylord, MI
Gates open at 9am each day.
Among main stage artists, Danny Gokey, Zach Williams (Friday) Cory Asbury, Tauren Wells (Saturday)
Three music stages, plus kids zone and other activities.
Camping available adjacent to the fairgrounds
Tickets: One day and two day festival passes available. Lower priced for kids age 6-11 (slightly higher at the gate). Online in advance (and for schedule and other info)
Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Author: Terry DeBoer
Terry is a journalist/feature writer for newspapers, magazines and websites, with a background in radio broadcasting. His usual beat is arts and entertainment, specializing in Christian/gospel music. A married father of two, he is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan Contributing Writer: West Michigan Christian News August 2011 – Present Feature writer: (website and various newspapers) 1988– 2016 -Spotlight New Christian Music Magazine 1997-2008 -Church News Editor, Church Herald Magazine 2004-2009

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