By Amanda Hatfield
COCOA -- A modest musical event that began in a church parking lot has now expanded to a music festival of tremendous proportions.
On Saturday, March 16 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., the 7th annual Spring Praise Fest will take place at Riverfront Park Amphitheater in historic downtown Cocoa.
"We started Spring Praise Fest because we wanted to supply a venue for Christian music bands to be able to share their music with the community," said Mike Reed, co-founder and director of Spring Praise Fest.
A volunteer-run event, Spring Praise Fest is free for all ages.
Mr. Reed, along with the vision of his co-founders, Chris Hernkind and Norm Channel held the very first Spring Praise Fest, or SPF, on May 12, 2007, in the parking lot of Riverside Presbyterian Church in Cocoa Beach.
"We thought that the front parking lot of our church would be a good place since it was next to A1A, and people driving up and down the street could see what was going on," Mr. Reed said. "Maybe people would even stop in and watch."
With six local contemporary Christian music bands and roughly 200 people in attendance, the first SPF was a big success. Mr. Reed, Mr. Hernkind and Mr. Channel decided to hold the event the following year, but in a venue more comfortable than an asphalt parking lot.
"The idea of renting Riverfront Park at Cocoa Village came up, so we tried it in 2008," Mr. Reed added. "About 2,000 people came through that day, and it has steadily grown each year."
At last year's event, Mr. Reed estimates that 5,000 people came out for the non-denominational music festival.
While some people may be hesitant about attending a Christian-based event, Mr. Reed insists that, regardless of background, all are welcome.
"At SPF, we want the community to come watch and listen, without feeling that someone is going to preach to them about their life choices," Mr. Reed said. "Everyone -- everywhere -- struggles with that every day, and we are no different."
The family-friendly event offers a lot of great activities for children, while parents can relax.
"Most people bring blankets or lawn chairs, while they eat food and enjoy great music," Mr. Reed added.
Children can enjoy a performance by John Ace Magic. Debbie Barnes, a solo vocalist and song writer, will also be performing, as well as the Club Zion Dance Group.
As Spring Praise Fest has grown in popularity, so have the number of requests from musical acts wanting to participate.
"We have many bands from all around Brevard County, who would like to participate, and unfortunately, we don't have space for everyone," Mr. Reed said. "SPF has a few bands that are a constant, year after year, but we do rotate some new bands in each year, because we want everyone to feel that they can be a part of SPF."
Mr. Reed explained that, each year, bands must submit a video of a performance, and narrow the line-up from there.
"We look for diversity and want to represent music of all genres," Mr. Reed added.
Spring Praise Fest has become so popular many musical acts from outside Brevard have tossed their hat into the performance ring.
"We have been tempted, but we keep going back to that this is a Brevard County event and we need to keep it local," Mr. Reed said. "It wouldn't be fair to the local bands if we went outside the county."
This year's line-up includes nine bands, ranging in genre and size.
"ECCC Live ranges from creative and edgy rock, to tender ballads and gospel, and even the occasional flare for folk and acoustic," Mr. Reed said.
More Than Conquerors, Club Zion, 11th Hour Crew, Georgianna, Psalm 66 and Something by Friday will also be joined by two local church choirs.
"MCC Voices, the choir from Melbourne Central Catholic School, and Calvary Chapel Viera's praise team, a group of volunteers, play a mix of contemporary music," Mr. Reed added.
Spring Praise Fest isn't just about providing music with a positive message to the community; the event also gives back to the area that supports it year after year.
"This year, SPF is asking everyone to bring a new, or slightly used, pair of shoes that can be donated to the homeless in Brevard," Mr. Reed said. "We are coordinating this with the international flash-mob dance routine, "Dance Your Shoes Off."
"People of Brevard County, and all over, should come out to Spring Praise Fest because it is a free community and family-oriented event," Mr. Reed said. "People can spend time together and enjoy a day full of music in a relaxing a positive atmosphere."
The 7th annual Spring Praise Fest is Saturday, March 16 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Riverfront Park Amphitheater in Cocoa.
Riverfront Park Amphitheater is located at 401 Riveredge Blvd., Cocoa.
Admission is free for all ages.
More participants are needed for the "Dance Your Shoes Off" flash-mob. The dance routine can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KX2-J6uS-o and the instructional video can be viewed at http://search.yahoo.com/search?ei=utf-8&fr=aaplw&p=dance+your+shoes+off+instructional+video.
Spring Praise Fest is a volunteer-run event and relies on community sponsorships and donations. To donate or become a sponsor, visit www.springpraisefest.com/?page_id=83.
For more information about Spring Praise Fest, visit www.springpraisefest.com, like them on Facebook, or call (321) 960-1033.