Dylan Liles remembers he was in sixth grade when he first heard Casting Crowns perform live.
The now 18-year-old from Dalton, Ga., was struck by the contemporary Christian band’s popular hit “If We Are the Body” because he could relate to the words.
“Their music just reaches out to kids,” he said. “They’re not church hymns.”
Many fans of the Atlanta-based band that rocked the Coca-Cola Stage at Riverbend’s Faith and Family night on Tuesday shared Liles’ feelings — that Casting Crowns breathed a new depth into Christian music.
“They focus on the heart of what is wrong with Christians,” said Mike Valovcin, a Middle Creek Baptist youth pastor in Oliver Springs, Tenn. “It has to be more than going to church on Sunday.”
Casting Crowns didn’t disappoint its fans as the band opened with its title track song “Until the Whole World Hears,” a song that lead singer Mark Hall said captures the band’s message.
“If you stumbled on Faith and Family Night by accident, it’s OK,” Hall told the packed crowd. “We’re not going to shave your head.”
Faith and Family Night brought church youth groups, families with small children and couples to the festival.
Before Casting Crowns performed, Christian music blared through the speakers as the chains were tightly clad around the beer ice chests.
Some visitors agreed they were attracted to Riverbend on the alcohol-free night.
Reserved seats filled quickly. By 3 p.m., Kristen Davenport couldn’t reserve a seat in the middle row. Instead she paid $5 to sit up front in the blanket seating.
For her, Casting Crowns was a lifeline.
When she first tuned her radio to J103 and heard their song “Praise You in This Storm” — which speaks about thanking God even in the hardships — she was touched.
“It came on at the perfect time,” she said.
For others Faith and Family Night took on a whole new meaning.
As the gates opened at 4:30 p.m. and the crowds began to trickle in to the festival, 22-year-old Michael Orszulak and 19-year-old Brittany Fitzgerald said their wedding vows to one another from the Tennessee Lottery Stage.
“They were going to get married at the courthouse,” said Fitzgerald’s big sister Ashley. “[But] Riverbend has been such a part of her life.”
The bride’s parents, Dawn and Rick, have worked the festival for at least 15 years — most of her life. For 10 years, they worked security at the Tennessee Lottery Stage, Rick Fitzgerald said.
When the couple’s daughter told them she was going to elope because Orszulak only had three weeks off from his military tour in Qatar, Rick Fitzgerald thought of Riverbend.
“I couldn’t send her off without trying,” he said, after the ceremony with tears in his eyes. “I’m still amazed that it was going on. It was so great.”
Chip Baker, executive director of Friends of the Festival, said every year they get requests to have weddings at the festival but they are always turned down.
This year, officials made an exception since Orszulak is an Army medic and only has a few weeks off before he is deployed again, Baker said.
“This was extra special,” he said. “We were very glad to make it happen.”
Escorted by her father, Brittany Fitzgerald walked up the stage platform in her short ruffled white dress and met her groom. Chattanooga City Court Judge Russell Bean married the couple.
Afterward when the newlyweds were asked where they would spend their honeymoon, they shrugged.
“Riverbend,” the bride said with a laugh.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...