With more than 50 Christian artists and musical groups booked, including headliner Carman and the rock group Petra, Summer Praise '94 is being promoted heavily among evangelicals, who have turned out in respectable numbers for contemporary Christian music concerts and a recent series of crusade rallies in the Southland.
But the event set for Aug. 11-14 at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center is still a risk for its organizers.
The promoters are an unusual pair of novices--Carey Wong, 31, a Glendale financier and ex-banker, and George Jerome, 50, owner of a Chatsworth computer business. Wong is a Baptist, while Jerome is not a believer but a self-described religious searcher.
They don't have a track record with big-name evangelical backers, although the World Vision relief agency has lent its name as a sponsor.
Nor can they offer festival-goers a lot of comfortable stadium seating. Although they hope to attract at least 25,000 ticket buyers, the Equidome seats only 4,000. Another 8,000 can stand on the dirt infield for the featured performances. Three other stages will be set up in open-air areas and concert-goers will be encouraged to bring blankets or folding chairs.
But the festival does have an array of names from Christian music. Besides Carman and Petra, the roster includes Crystal Lewis and groups such as 4 Him, Newsboys, Guardian and Dakoda Motor Company. Black Christian artists include Larnelle Harris, Helen Baylor and Ron Kenoly. Latino Christian performers include Patty Cabrera and Chuckie Perez. A dozen artists in the country Christian genre will also perform.
A lineup of speakers reflecting a conservative evangelical perspective on social issues includes the Rev. E. V. Hill, a nationally known Baptist pastor from South-Central Los Angeles, and William J. Murray, the Christian convert son of atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Carman is expected to promote his petition campaign calling for a constitutional amendment to permit prayer in public schools.
Evangelism is a low-key aspect of the festival, although the Summer Praise '94 literature says that its goals include affording participants "a life-changing experience that will affirm their faith in Christ" and that "the unsaved (non-Christians) . . . would come to know our Savior."
Wong, smiling at his co-promoter during the interview, added: "Maybe even George Jerome will see it that way."
The two men became acquainted through business relationships. Jerome said he hopes that if Summer Praise '94 makes any profit, part of the proceeds would launch a pet project of his to house, train and employ homeless people as food cart vendors.
The first-time promoters said they will have invested nearly $300,000 of their own money by the time of the festival, despite much more modest plans at the start. "This took on a life of its own," Jerome said. "We're now controlled by the festival rather than controlling it--a poor way to do business."
Wong predicted a turnout of 25,000 to 40,000 people. But Jerome is hoping for more than 40,000.
The five largest annual Christian music festivals in the country attract 30,000 to 60,000 people.
Relatively low ticket prices for Summer Praise '94 may help boost attendance. For all four days, the price is $35 at the gate.
Headliner Carman, twice named by Billboard magazine as Contemporary Christian Artist of the Year, once drew 26,000 to a concert at the Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park, according to the Gospel Music Assn.
opt trim grafs
The biggest single-night crowd at the June 1-5 San Fernando Valley Crusade featuring evangelist Luis Palau was 11,200 for the Saturday youth-oriented night featuring contemporary Christian music--not the opening and closing days of the crusade, which normally get the biggest crowds.
At the recent Harvest Crusade backed by nearly three times as many churches as supported the Valley crusade, evangelist Greg Laurie preached to 128,000 at Anaheim Stadium over three nights. Country music star Ricky Skaggs and pop singer Deniece Williams were among artists who performed.
The Summer Praise festival might have been fatally jinxed had the promoters followed original plans to book singer Michael English, whose Christian music career collapsed over a sex scandal.
Four months ago, Wong and Jerome had a tentative agreement with English as the featured singer. But English was actually their second choice. They were really seeking Carman, a proven big draw on the Christian circuit.
"One day in late March, I said, 'If we don't get Carman by 2:30 p.m., then let's move forward with Michael English,' " said Wong, whose job was to acquire talent. "Carman's agent called a minute or two before our deadline and said Carman would be available."
English was named best male vocalist of the year at the Gospel Music Assn. Dove Awards April 28 in Nashville. But within a week, English returned all of his awards, admitting that he had an affair with a married woman, another gospel singer.
"We would have had to change all our advertising," Wong said. "We definitely would have scaled down the event."
With the commitment by Carman, a five-time Dove Award winner, Wong said, "a lot of Christian musicians who were saying they were unavailable all of sudden became available."
Wong suggests divine providence was at work. "I believe in God's grace," he said.
\o7 Information on tickets and volunteer opportunities is available at (800) 422-3532.\f7