Jeremy Camp Night of Joy

Jeremy Camp performs in front of Cinderella's Castle at Night of Joy 2011.

Nothing is more magical than two nights at Disney’s Magic Kingdom…except two nights at Disney’s Magic Kingdom with your favorite artists. Disney’s Night of Joy–now in its 29th year–is nothing short of spectacular. Back at the Magic Kingdom for a second year in a row after detouring to Hollywood Studios in 2008 and 2009, Night of Joy combines the nostalgia of Walt Disney World with the brightest stars in Christian music. Every year, Disney plays host to some of the biggest names in the industry, and this year’s line-up was no exception.

Celebrating the diversity Christian music has to offer September 9-10, this year’s two-night event featured an array of artists on three stages throughout the park. Plus, a fourth stage highlighted amateur performers. Friday’s line-up included Jeremy Camp, newsboys, Skillet, Francesca Battistelli, Group 1 Crew, Matthew West, Disciple and Sidewalk Prophets.

The evening began with a slight rain delay, but a little precipitation didn’t inhibit the excitement of the crowd lined up in front of Cinderella’s Castle to catch Jeremy Camp. Though he had to play in the rain and his set had to be cut short to keep the evening’s festivities on schedule, Camp made up for it in stage presence and boundless energy in a hyped-up set that breezed through a mix of worship favorites and some of Camp’s biggest hits. He also took time to share a heartfelt glimpse into his personal story of loss and redemption from the death of his first wife to his marriage to Adie Camp and the life they share with their three children.

Matthew West Night of Joy

Matthew West performs on the Galaxy Stage at Night of Joy 2011.

Fans started lining up for Matthew West‘s performance long before the singer/songwriter hit the Galaxy Stage in Tomorrowland at 11:25 p.m. In fact, the standing-room-only outdoor theater space was so full, the overflow of fans crammed in the doorway right outside. Proof of West’s rising notoriety was in the voices of the  fans inside and outside the theater singing along to every word of West’s hits, including “More,” “You Are Everything,” “Next Thing You Know” and “Only Grace,” among others. The second part of his set consisted of the “story” portion of the evening as West played select songs from his latest album, The Story of Your Life (Sparrow). While there wasn’t time to sing the album front to back like he has been doing on his current tour, the impressive set whet the appetites of all those present. It definitely made you want to see the full show as the stories presented are so powerful and poignant.

Skillet Night of Joy

Skillet rocks the Magic Kingdom at Night of Joy 2011.

Skillet closed the evening with an outstanding set on the castle stage. Their set is normally filled with pyro, but their Night of Joy performance took their live stage production to a new level as fireworks shot out from various levels of the iconic castle itself on more than one song. There wasn’t just pyro and special effects for a big finale…It was non-stop, high-energy rock with unexpected sparks flying at every angle during every song. The crowd LOVED it!

Meanwhile, youth leaders were given much-deserved VIP treatment in Frontierland where Word Records set up its own private stage in a small theater, complete with tables, snacks and air conditioning. Word artists took the stage every half hour exclusively for youth leaders, with newcomer Patrick Ryan Clark acting as emcee. Artists performed acoustic sets in this intimate setting.

Francesca Battistelli Night of Joy

Francesca Battistelli performs an acoustic set in the Youth Leader Lounge at Night of Joy 2011.

Artist of the Year Francesca Battistelli performed a stunning set Friday night. While she played the Galaxy Stage earlier in the evening with a full band and full production, the stripped down set in the lounge found a relaxed Battistelli casually perched on a stool taking requests from the audience. She talked about how she grew up in Florida attending Night of Joy each year. There was no clear direction to her set list which made for a loose atmosphere where the spotlight could shine on her pristine vocals. While she played a few obligatory hits (“Beautiful Beautiful” and “Free to be Me”), the highlights were the cuts from her latest album, Hundred More Years (Fervent), especially the nostalgic title track.

Coverage of Saturday night’s festivities will be posted tomorrow. See what people are saying about this year’s event at the Night of Joy Facebook page.

Did you attend this year’s Night of Joy? If so, what was your favorite part?