By Mark Weber
Kingdom Bound is a Christian music festival and a year-round ministry located in Western New York. While you’d expect something like it in the Bible Belt, for over two decades Kingdom Bound has been going strong in an area not generally known for “born again” Christians. This year, Kingdom Bound celebrates its 25th year of continuous ministry in Western New York.
Many people have “grown up” with Kingdom Bound, and now bring their own children to ride the rides at Darien Lake, the popular amusement park where its held, as well as to hear inspiring Christian speakers, singers, and bands.
Kingdom Bound Begins
Kingdom Bound started as an idea in the hearts and minds of two people from Buffalo, New York: Fred Caserta, a booking agent and concert promoter, and Mike Caputy, a drummer and evangelist. In 1986, they presented a concert featuring Sheila Walsh, Russ Taff, and Mylon LeFevre. Following this concert, Kevin Ketcham, Special Events Coordinator for Darien Lake Theme Park, in rural Darien Center, New York, halfway between Buffalo and Rochester, presented them with the idea of a Christian music day in the park. The first Kingdom Bound debuted on a chilly October day in 1987. Even though it was 39 degrees, 6,000 people showed up for the three day event, and had a great time in the Lord. Speakers at the first Kingdom Bound included Will McFarlane, Michael Peace, Larry Norman, Rick Cua, and Jeri Barricks. Other notable talents at Kingdom Bound 1987 included Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart, Twila Paris, Steve Taylor, White Heart, and Randy Stonehill. In 1987, a three day pass cost between $24 and $31. After its October debut, Kingdom Bound wisely moved to the end of August for 1988 and many years to follow. In 1989, a children’s ministry, deaf ministry, and the worship tent were added. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Kingdom Bound grew in attendance and scope, welcoming artists like Petra, Margaret Becker, Phil Keaggy, Glad, Carman, Larnelle Harris, Bryan Duncan, John Michael Talbot, Tony Melendez, David Meece, Newsboys, and Wayne Watson. Speakers like Josh McDowell, Dave Roever, Mike Cavanaugh, and Fred “ReRun” Berry (from the show “What’s Happening”) also made appearances. In the early 1990s, during the last weekend of May, Kingdom Bound offered several “Praise” weekends held at Darien Lake. In 1992, the August festival got soaked with rains from Hurricane Andrew. No matter what the weather, Kingdom Bound has always had prayer at the center of the ministry, and many people from all types of backgrounds have “given their lives to Christ” because of this. From the beginning, a communion service and water baptisms have been an integral part of Kingdom Bound.
Kingdom Bound Grows
In 1993, the new Performing Arts Center began to take shape at Six Flags Darien Lake. For the first time ever, Kingdom Bound booked three headliners for the festival: Newsboys, dc Talk, and Steven Curtis Chapman. During the 1990s, Kingdom Bound and Six Flags Darien Lake grew by leaps and bounds. Kingdom Bound became very active in booking concerts year-round in cities such as Buffalo and Rochester, bringing in artists like Steve Green, Michael Sweet, and 4Him. At the summer festival, several artists and speakers making Kingdom Bound appearances during this era included: Ray Boltz, Angelo & Veronica, Charlie Peacock, Acappella, DeGarmo & Key, Babbie Mason, Alvin Slaughter, Anointed, Cindy Morgan, Jars of Clay, Jaci Velasquez, Christafari, Bart Campolo, Ron Luce, Lenny LeBlanc, Audio Adrenaline, Delirious?, Third Day, Darlene Zschech, Ron Kenoly, The Donut Man, family and relationship expert Dr. Kevin Leman, and noted newspaper columnist Cal Thomas. In 1994, a “Sports Experience” included clinics in basketball, soccer, and football, the Buffalo Bills’ Pete Metzelaars and his wife Barb hosted Main Stage events, and Darien Lake added a nightly “Laserlight Fantasy Show.” On June 22, 1996, Kingdom Bound celebrated its 10th year anniversary with a day of prayer and praise at the ballpark in downtown Buffalo. A concert featuring 4Him and First Call followed a Bisons’ baseball game. Also in 1996, the summer festival offered patrons a lot of things to do—you could choose from a “Rave in the Café” with DJ Scott Blackwell, a Singles Coffee House with Testify and Big Wheelie, or a nightly Bible Study with Rochester’s Pastor Samme Palermo, among many other activities. A few times in June during the late 1990s, Kingdom Bound partnered with an Albany radio station to present a one day event called “KB at The Great Escape: Splashwater Kingdom,” at an amusement park in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. In 1999, Kingdom Bound’s theme was “Be Like Jesus,” and there was enough news and information to fill a thick 40-page newspaper given to festival attendees. 1999 was the last year when Kingdom Bound was held at the end of August. In 1999, a four day pass to the festival cost between $51 and $70.
Kingdom Bound’s Golden Age
In 2000, Kingdom Bound moved from late August on a Wednesday thru Saturday schedule, to early August on a Sunday thru Wednesday schedule. Fred Caserta wrote in the 2000 program, “Make it a point to get to one of the early morning worship services—it’s the best way to start your morning. Please plan to attend at least one seminar each day. There are a wide variety of topics to minister to all who attend. You can get tapes of the sessions you miss from Eastco Pro Media who will be taping all teaching sessions.” In 2000, Kingdom Bound debuted its Web site, www.kingdombound.org. In March of 2000 and April of 2001, Kingdom Bound mounted a festival in Florida at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, but Kingdom Bound Florida never caught on, and it was decided that the staff would concentrate on Upstate New York, where its offices and strongest connections were. During this era of cell phones, e-mail, and i-Pods, Kingdom Bound continued to grow in size and scope, appealing to more people than ever before. Artists and speakers during this era included: Michael W. Smith, Jay Bakker, Frank Reich of the Buffalo Bills, Selah, ApologetiX, VeggieTales, Reggie Dabbs, Paul Baloche, Robin Mark, The OC Supertones, Cheri Keaggy, Rebecca St. James, Skillet, Relient K, Jason Upton, Sanctus Real, Andrew Carlton, Todd Agnew, Jeremy Camp, Denver & The Mile High Orchestra, Nicole C. Mullen, Kutless, Pillar, Ryan Dobson, Lakita Garth, David Crowder, Seventh Day Slumber, Casting Crowns, MercyMe, and T-Bone. Also during this era, Kirk Cameron, the actor from Growing Pains and the Left Behind films, along with another famous actor, Stephen Baldwin, made numerous festival appearances, talking about their faith in Christ and encouraging young people to get to know God not through a dead religion, but through an intimate relationship. In 2004, Kingdom Bound welcomed members of the Christian Wrestling Federation, as well as BMX bike riders and skateboarders, who demonstrated what they do and also talked openly about their faith with onlookers. Thanks to the efforts of their first professional publicist, Mark Weber, Kingdom Bound received widespread media attention during this era, often being featured in newspapers and magazines, as well as on TV newscasts and interview programs. In 2005, Kingdom Bound attracted 63,000 people over the course of four days. Ticket prices for a four day pass in 2006 were between $80 and $100. During its 20th anniversary year, 2006, Kingdom Bound lost its leader, Fred Caserta, who passed away at the age of 65. His funeral, held at The Tabernacle in Orchard Park, New York, was a joyous affair as hundreds of people in attendance sang along to the songs Fred had chosen for his final event. Amidst tears and smiles, those who spoke at Fred’s funeral remembered how he was always praying with and for people, and how he had such a strong desire to see people come to Christ. Kingdom Bound’s staff, and its hundreds of volunteers and supporters, vowed to carry on Fred’s mission, and, so, Kingdom Bound continues to this day, helping encourage people in their faith journeys, as well as leading those who are lost or hurting to Christ.
Kingdom Bound takes place July 31-August 3, 2011 at Darien Lake. Headliners include Newsboys, Casting Crowns, Skillet and Chris Tomlin. For more info, visit www.kingdombound.org.
--Mark Weber owns and runs BuffaloChristian.com and ChristianMusicDaily.com. He also is a recording artist, with music at WebbaWeb.com.