Francesca Battistelli at Night of Joy

@ccmmagazine: @francescamusic in front of Cinderella’s castle at Night of Joy.

Night of Joy 2013 began with a downpour Friday night, September 6, but the rain did little to deter the artists and fans gathered at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom for the two-night event dedicated to Christian music. CCM icons Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith kicked off the annual tradition with a united set that found the two singing one another’s songs together as well as each performing separate sets beneath a tent sheltering them from the unforgiving rain. Chapman’s sons played in his backing band, joining him on fan favorites like “Dive,” “The Great Adventure,” “Cinderella” and his new single “Love Take Me Over.” Smith followed with a set list of his greatest hits and worship anthems, including mega hit “Friends.” By the time MercyMe hit the main stage in front of Cinderella’s Castle at 9:50 p.m., the rain had finally subsided.

Moriah Peters previewed a few new songs from her upcoming sophomore album on the Rockettower Plaza Stage. The new tunes have an empowering edge to them (think Sara Bareilles meets Rihanna). Meanwhile, Peters’ husband, Joel Smallbone of For King & Country, began his set at the Galaxy Stage next door just as she was finishing hers. Although Joel’s brother, Luke, was unable to perform due to illness, the Austrailian co-frontman gave it his all, performing an electric set with the duo’s full band that included a wide range of talented multi-instrumentalists. His brother might have been missing, but Joel managed to more than make up for his absence, giving the capacity crowd their money’s worth.

Audio Adrenaline, Mandisa and newcomers City Harbor and We As Human also performed on the three stages throughout the park Friday night; but it was Skillet‘s high-octane performance closing out the evening that fans will likely remember most. Although the rock quartet played the Castle stage two years ago and wowed audiences with some pyro on a couple songs, this year, they took their production even further. On nearly every song of their intense set, either smoke and fire flared up from the stage or fireworks rocketed off the sides of the castle, making Skillet’s set one of the highlights of this year’s event!

Matthew West at Night of Joy

@matthew_west: Renee w/ Eric, young man whose drunk driving took life of her daughter 12 yrs ago. A picture of FORGIVENESS.

Saturday night brought clear skies and another helping of fantastic music. Francesca Battistelli kicked off the evening on the main stage with an emotional set. It was the Central Florida-native’s first time performing on the Castle stage. Moreover, her performance marked the first time a solo female act had taken the stage in 10 years. (The last solo female to headline was Jaci Velasquez a decade ago.) In addition to a string of her hits, including “Strangely Dim,” “It’s Your Life,” “Free to Be Me” and “This Is the Stuff,” the mother of two performed several worship songs and covered Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” She also debuted two new songs from her upcoming studio project: the fun, singable “Unusual” (along the lines of “This Is The Stuff” with a chorus full of La La’s) and the worshipful “We Are The Kingdom.” Appropriately, she also sang “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” with a scrapbook of personal photos playing on the jumbotron behind her.

DJ Talk at Night of Joy

@therealtobymac: Ran into my brothers at MagicKingdom….BOOM!

TobyMac and Newsboys lit up the Castle stage later that evening with electifying performances, revealing why both acts continue to be fan favorites. Meanwhile, Jamie Grace, Plumb and Group 1 Crew graced the two additional stages in Tomorrowland. Matthew West performed two high-energy sets, ripping through a hit parade, including his latest record-breaking single, “Hello My Name Is.” Prior to singing “Forgiveness,” West introduced the real-life people behind the song to the audience, creating a tear-filled moment for those both on and off stage. Later that night, Building 429 rounded out the evening with a charismatic set, despite their post-midnight timeslot.

Hillsong UnitedSome of this year’s biggest surprises were found in the announcements regarding next year’s Night of Joy line-up. It was announced that Hillsong United is set to headline next year’s event. MercyMe will return as well, and after performing at Night of Joy for five years, Matthew West will finally perform on the Castle stage in 2014. Make plans now to be at Night of Joy next year, September 5-6, 2014! The full line-up and additional details will be announced throughout the year at www.nightofjoy.com.

Did you attend Night of Joy this year? What was your favorite magical moment?