Under a blue, wind-swept sky and with temperatures that never broke 90 degrees, the weather at Faith and Family night was as blessed as the performers said they hoped their audience felt.
"Listen to the words of this song. I hope you get a blessing and just worship [God's] name," said 15-year-old gospel singer Mallory Ledford before launching into a rendition of "Cries Have Awoken the Master."
Mallory's performance at 5 p.m. on the Volkswagen Stage kicked off the festivities Tuesday for Riverbend's annual showcase of Christian artists. By the time she surrendered the stage to local contemporary Christian group As Isaac, she said she felt as if she had achieved her goal of sharing her faith with a receptive crowd.
"It was amazing," Mallory said. "It felt wonderful to minister to so many people here. I definitely feel like I reached them."
The evening, colloquially known as "sweet tea night," has a more sedate pace than the festival's other nights and prohibits alcohol sales, leaving the beer coolers chained, padlocked and left to collect water after Monday's showers.
As they filed in the gates, many guests found plenty of seating still available near the Coke Stage, where Texas native and Grammy Award-winner Chris Tomlin took the stage at 9:30. He opened with "Our God."
Ringgold, Ga., resident Willis Callaway and his wife and daughter found seats halfway up the stage's amphitheater when they arrived around 5:30. A passionate fan of Tomlin's music, he said he especially wanted to hear "Amazing Grace (Our Chains Are Broken)" and "God of This City," which became a kind of unofficial city anthem for Ringgold, Ga., after last year's devastating tornadoes.
"We've been a fan of his since, gosh ... forever," he said, smiling. "I've got all of his albums on my iPod. Anything Chris does will be exciting, but those are the main ones I want to hear."
Many guests said the lack of alcohol sales is a major draw for Faith and Family night, which some attend exclusively in lieu of purchasing an all-access pin. Single-night wristbands for Faith and Family night are $5 instead of the usual $26 charged during the rest of the festival.
Although he said he comes to Riverbend on many nights, Leroy Roberson and his wife, Irene, said the evening's quieter pace was appealing as they sat in the handicap-accessible area to the right of the Coke Stage.
Overall, Leroy said, this year's selection of Coke Stage headliners was "middling," but he did appreciate a brisk breeze blowing in off the river. If the music didn't quite meet his expectations, at least the temperature was better than average, he said.
"It's a little hot now, but with the breeze flowing, it feels good," he said. "So far, it's been perfect weather, except the rain."