While Category 5 Hurricane Irma churned in the Gulf of Mexico heading straight for Florida, Christian music artists set to perform at Disney’s 35th annual Night of Joy played on. MercyMe, Colton Dixon, TobyMac, Natalie Grant, Danny Gokey, Rend Collective, Zach Williams, and Matt Maher braved the impending Category 5 storm to take the stages Friday night of the popular two-night event, praying and praising as winds and rain from Irma’s outer bands began to descend on the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.

@DannyGokey performs Sept. 8 at Disney’s 35th Night of Joy as the outer bands of Hurricane Irma begin to move over Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The eye of Irma moved over Central Florida on Sunday, Sept. 10.

Irma caused Disney to cancel Saturday night’s concerts, a first in the popular event’s 35-year history. Despite the storm, artists at the Friday night concerts gave it their all, performing their hits, new songs, and old favorites and encouraging the light crowds who turned out for the shows.

“It’s crazy that we have a hurricane coming our way,” Dixon said from the HP Fieldhouse stage at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, where Night of Joy moved last year. “It’s nuts. We’ve been here all week and it was sunny and beautiful and now Irma is coming.”

Dixon led fans in prayer, asking God to protect Florida. He also invited wife and worship leader Annie to take the stage with him, telling the crowd that he had proposed to her two years before at Disney. “Disney has a special place in our hearts,” the American Idol alum said.

@officialTobyMac and @coltondixonmusic join Mickey and Minnie Mouse at Disney’s 35th annual Night of Joy. Photographer: Natalie Gillespie

Over the past three decades, Night of Joy and its Universal Studios Florida rival Christian music weekend Rock the Universe have turned into a full week of conferences, concerts, and artist appearances for worship leaders (Experience Conference), youth leaders (Youth Leader Experience), and Christian music broadcasters (Momentum), who gather by the thousands at the Orlando-area theme parks and resorts to attend workshops, bring their youth groups, learn more about worship leading and songwriting, and broadcast live from the events.

“We got to be part of Momentum and Experience. It was a great week,” said Zach Williams. “We stayed and performed tonight even with the hurricane coming because we wanted to be here for the fans. It’s been a dream of mine to get to play Night of Joy. So we’re just riding the storm out.”

MercyMe closed out the evening, debuting the trailer of upcoming movie I Can Only Imagine and keeping fans in the stadium for the full hour-plus set, which included the current hit ballad “Even If.” Lead singer Bart Millard admitted it felt tough to perform while his family was waiting for him so they could try to beat Irma out of town. “I’ve got my whole family in a hotel room tonight waiting to see what the hurricane’s gonna do,” Millard said. “I’m struggling, but I can honestly say through it all that God is still good. It may not feel good sometimes, but I can’t see what he sees. Tonight we stand together as the body of Christ, saying, ‘God, if you can change this, please do. But even if you don’t, you’re still worth it.'”