They came for the Christian rock, pop and hip-hop acts, but the youth who found their way to Coca-Cola Field Saturday didn't leave without some words of hope from one of America's most well-known evangelical families.
Several-thousand people turned out Saturday for "Rock the Lakes," as the free festival hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association made its way through Buffalo.
The festival is a retooled approach by the Rev. Franklin Graham – Billy Graham's son – to bringing young people to Christ through today's music.
The event continues today at 4 p.m.
"I really like it. It's really upbeat," said Shawn Marie Cammarano, 16, of Clarence. "Everyone is really nice and that doesn't usually happen at concerts."
A stage was set up in the outfield of Coca-Cola Field, where a youthful crowd danced or sang along to some of the most popular acts in Christian music, including Tedashii, Building 429, Flame and Skillet.
"Music is definitely something that draws them here," said Elizabeth Weber of Ellicottville.
Weber is a youth leader in her church and brought sisters Carolyn and Elizabeth Wellman of Salamanca to the festival.
The sisters aren't big fans of rap, but were looking forward to hearing Skillet.
"We've enjoyed what we heard and the messages we heard from people are impressive," Weber said. "We're looking forward to hearing from Franklin Graham."
The music was interspersed with occasional sermonizing and faith testimonials. Many listened from the stands.
David Thomas, of the Town of Tonawanda, liked that the festival was free. He, too, looked forward to hearing from Graham.
"I think the music caters to the young people and the message is more for the older folks," said Thomas, 29.
Graham, wearing a Buffalo Bills hat, stepped onto the stage shortly after 6 p.m. to deliver a short message, calling it the most important part of the evening.
Graham talked about how at the age of 22, he committed his life to Christ, and asked those in the crowd to do the same.
"God loves you," Graham said. "He wants you to come to him – but you have to take that step."
Although Saturday was a bit chilly, the rain stayed away long enough for the concert-goers to enjoy the music and messages during the evening.
"I think it's awesome," said Fred Williams, 42, of Buffalo, a volunteer at the event.
"It's a great way to bring people to Christ. It shows them they can still be cool and love Jesus at the same time."
Williams is going to bring his 14-year-old daughter back today.
"When I was driving here I came around and saw all the people and I started crying. I felt the spirit," said his wife, Paula, 40.
"I'm just praying the event will be what the city needs and what the individuals need."