For four days each summer, the Darien Lake Amphitheater is transformed into a place of worship, fellowship and praise for Kingdom Bound, the Christian music and arts festival that has become a staple of summer in Western New York.
Festival organizers estimate more than 35,000 people will attend this year's festivities, which runs July 29 and through Aug. 1, featuring more than 60 musical acts and speakers.
Kingdom Bound Director Donna Russo said the response to this year's lineup has drawn a strong response and she expects attendance to eclipse last year when the festival saw 32,000 people pass through the gates. And though the music is the centerpiece of Kingdom Bound, Russo emphasized the festival is much more than music.
"I know people focus on the music, and it is going to be phenomenal, but the programming is equally important," Russo said.
That programming includes local and national speakers, as well as daily events for children and times of worship.
"We have a kids tent for kids as young as 4-years-old and we have programming right through college-age kids," Russo said.
With music, speakers, worship tents and children's activities, there is plenty to take in whether you are attending for one day, or all four. Here is a breakdown of each day's highlights to help make the most of your Kingdom Bound experience.
Headlining band: North Point InsideOut
Act you don't want to miss: Brothers McClurg
Opening night is the lightest day of the festival, so it's a perfect day to enjoy the theme park (admission is included in every Kingdom Bound ticket), and then make your way to the mainstage in the amphitheater at 4:50 p.m. for the festival kick-off.
The evening's headliner, Atlanta-based worship group North Point InsideOut doesn't take the stage until 9:30 p.m., but you'll want to be in your seats by 7:30 p.m. to catch local artists, Brothers McClurg. A mainstay at Kingdom Bound, the band - started by brothers Anthony and Chris Hoisington - has developed a national following and offers the perfect set to kick off your Kingdom Bound experience.
Headlining band: for King and Country
Act you don't want to miss: Danny Gokey
Get a good night's sleep because day one is packed with dynamic speakers and music that you won't want to miss. Whether this is your first time at Kingdom Bound, or your 32nd, make time to hear Reggie Dabbs speak in the Awaken tent at 9 a.m. (For guest staying on-site). Part inspiration and part motivation, Dabbs defines high-energy and his message will resonate with everyone, regardless of what brought you to Kingdom Bound.
“American Idol” fans will want to be in the amphitheater by 7:30 p.m. to catch Danny Gokey perform. Gokey, who made it to the finals on Season 8 of the talent show, has parlayed his television success into a Grammy-nominated career.
Australian-born siblings Luke and Joel Smallbone, better known as, for King and Country, headline day two in a return to Kingdom Bound. Known for their large band of talented musicians and their penchant for having fun on stage, for King and Country has built an international following.
"Kingdom Bound was one of the very first festivals my brother Joel and I ever played," Luke said. "I think we've played that festival more than any other festival in America, so it's really special, it feels like welcome back every time we are there."
In addition to playing their well-known chart-toppers, Luke said he and his brother will be playing a "surprise song" that has yet to be released, giving fans even more reason to mark this show on their calendar.
Headlining band: Casting Crowns
Act you don't want to miss: Zach Williams
Christian Rocker Zach Williams, the construction worker turned chart-topper and Grammy nominee, brings a backstory as powerful as his music to the stage.
"For me, I'm just pouring my heart out up there, singing the songs God has given me," Williams said when I talked to him in 2017. "I bring a little rock, a little country, a little Southern edge to it and a testimony of what God has done in my life."
Williams will set the table for perennial crowd favorite and Grammy-winners, Casting Crowns. Behind the rich vocals of frontman Mark Hall, Casting Crowns have been regulars in Western New York for years. In addition to performing multiple times at Kingdom Bound, the group, founded by members of a church worship team, has performed at area churches, including a sold-out 2017 show at the Chapel at Crosspoint. If you want good seats, plan to arrive early because their faithful fans definitely will.
Headlining band: Toby Mac
Act you don't want to miss: Ryan Stevenson
If you missed Reggie Dabbs during his daily 9 a.m. talks, Dabbs will be on the mainstage at 8 p.m. His message is often geared toward the younger members of the audience, so bring the whole family and be ready to be mesmerized by Dabbs' boundless energy and passion. For families looking to connect a child with the gospel, you won’t want to miss his talk. Dabbs finds that sweet spot between electrifying preacher, passionate teacher, and the crazy, cool uncle.
Kingdom Bound 2018 wraps up with six-time Grammy-winner Toby Mac. The Christian rapper and former founding member of DC Talk has sold more than 11 million albums. If there is a belief that Christian music somehow can’t be cool, and that it isn’t possible to have rap music that isn’t profanity-laced and edgy, Mac will quickly dispel both falsehoods. Mac is as talented a hip-hop artist as you'll see on any stage, and he is the ultimate showman. At his last visit to Kingdom Bound, he had thousands of fans on their feet for the duration of his nearly 90-minute set.
Kingdom Bound Music and Arts Festival
July 29-Aug. 1 at the Darien Lake Amphitheater. Tickets: $69, single day, $159, four-day pass (itickets.com). For the full schedule of events, visit ingdombound.org.