Night of Joy 2012 LogoThis year, Walt Disney World celebrated 30 years of Christian music at the parks at this year’s Night of Joy. In its 30-year history, 330 different artists have performed–all considering it an honor to perform at the beloved landmark, many in front of the nostalgic Cinderella’s Castle. This year, on September 7-8, Night of Joy welcomed 16 diverse artists to three different stages throughout the Magic Kingdom, including NEEDTOBREATHE, Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, Disciple, Royal Tailor, Francesca Battistelli, Brandon Heath, Red, Lecrae, Third Day, MercyMe, Kutless, Thousand Foot Krutch, Yolanda Adams, Chris August and Dara Maclean. This was my fourth year attending Night of Joy, and as in year’s past, it was filled with unforgettable performances, magical moments and lots of laughter with friends. Here are five of my favorite moments from this year’s Night of Joy:

1. NEEDTOBREATHE’s Encore

If you’ve ever been to Night of Joy, or any festival for that matter, you know that there are no encores. Artists cram as many songs as possible into an allotted time, generally specified by event coordinators. In order to allow fans to see as many artists as possible, it’s imperative that the schedule stays on track. This year, NEEDTOBREATHE defied the schedule, and fans couldn’t have been more delighted! As the event’s opening act on the mainstage in front of Cinderella’s Castle, the band’s set was delayed for a good half hour due to rain. But that didn’t hinder the crowd’s passionate enthusiasm for the band or NEEDTOBREATHE’s spellbinding stage presence once the rain cleared out. The band blew through a host of their biggest hits and ended with the title track of their latest album, The Reckoning (Atlantic). Their set left the audience wanting more and chanting, “One more song” after the band exited the stage. Surprisingly, the members came back out with frontman Bear Rinehart telling the audience that an encore was ill-advised so they were going to sing as fast as they could. The band treated Night of Joy attendees to a never-before-heard song they had written only two days prior. It’s one of the most brilliant songs I’ve heard from them, and that’s saying a lot considering their impressive catalog to date. Watch their incredible encore performance here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9EW5W7h-Qc&feature=share

2. Chris Tomlin’s Acoustic Set in the Rain

Inclement weather proved to be a battle Night of Joy attendees fought throughout the entire weekend. It postponed Chris Tomlin’s set indefinitely Friday night. While a sea of fans, dressed in soaking ponchos waited for Tomlin, the local Christian station in Orlando blared over the loudspeakers, and the crowd began singing in unison to the worship songs, despite the downpour. Tomlin, with drummer and guitarist in tow, eventually came out under a tent to play an acoustic set. He simply continued the worship that had already begun. After the first song, he moved his mic stand from beneath the cover and stood in the rain with the rest of us. After playing over half his set acoustically, he began to sing “I Will Rise.” As he sang the powerful lyrics, the rain let up, his drummer and guitarist moved backstage and crew came out to remove the tarps on the rest of the gear. By the end of the song, he was playing with a full band. It was without a doubt one of the most memorable moments of the entire weekend. Here’s a sneak peek at his brand-new single, “Whom Shall I Fear?” from his forthcoming new album slated for early 2013.

3. Francesca Battistelli’s Gold Plaque Presentation

Francesca Battistelli Celebrates Gold AlbumFrancesca Battistelli grew up attending Night of Joy, dreaming of one day singing as part of the event. This year the young singer’s dreams came true. It was her third time to perform at Night of Joy, and before her first performance (She performed two sets.), her record label surprised her with a plaque presentation onstage commemorating her first Gold record. Her debut album, My Paper Heart (Word), has sold in excess of 500,000 copies and has been certified Gold. Casting Crowns’ release in 2003 was the last debut album in Christian music to receive RIAA Gold certification. Battistelli’s family was on-hand the next day to celebrate this milestone in her career. Check out the video below of her singing her hit “This Is the Stuff” live at Night of Joy with a beautiful intro of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

4. Dara Maclean’s Midnight Set

New Word artist Dara Maclean treated Night of Joy attendees to a late night concert set in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom on Saturday night. This was the first time I had seen Dara perform live, and I was immediately impressed by her remarkable vocals and enthusiastic stage presence. With a talented backing band that included horns, her funky set was full of flair as colorful as her personality. The songstress wowed with her fun single “Suitcases,” among other lively numbers. But her current single, “Yours Forever,” seeing come encouraging airplay, was the pinnacle of her performance. She played for nearly 60 minutes, and despite the late hour, she had one of the most soulful, enjoyable performances of the event. She sings “Suitcases” in the video below.

5. Lecrae’s Mainstage Performance

While Night of Joy is certainly great for families, it’s a perfect event for youth groups. In fact, there are numerous opportunities for group discounts for pastors who take their youth groups to Night of Joy. Youth pastors are invited to a VIP lounge throughout the event where they can meet artists and grab a snack in the air conditioning. Lecrae’s headlining performance in front of the castle was likely a highlight for many of the youth groups in attendance. During his killer performance, I snuck off to the side of the castle so that I could get a better view of the crowd. As far as the eye could see, teens fist-pumped and jumped from the castle stage all the way down Main Street. Lecrae’s set was red hot, complete with background dancers and a killer backing band. His performance proves why he’s one of the most talked-about artists in Christian music right now, and it was refreshing to see hip-hop on the mainstage this year. The 2012 Night of Joy line-up was a great reflection of the diversity found in Christian music. Watch Lecrae’s opening song below.

Night of Joy will take place next year September 6-7, 2013. For more info, visit www.nightofjoy.com.

Were you at Night of Joy 2012? What was your favorite moment?