This article was published in The Appalachian.

More than 2,000 people and 200 volunteers gathered at the Holmes Convocation Center Sunday for the High Country Praise Festival, an event held each year on Labor Day weekend.

This was the ninth praise festival and the eighth that has been held at the Holmes Center.

The festival is the brainchild of David and Dawn Ward, the founders of Son’s Light ministry.

The Wards’ ministry started in 2002 as a bi-monthly coffeehouse event at the Blowing Rock Ruritan Club. The coffeehouse had several other locations before entering its permanent location next to Los Arcoiris. The once bi-monthly operation is now open Monday through Sunday.

In 2002, the same year the Wards began their ministry, they looked into starting a praise event in Boone.“We used to take kids to other events very much like this, and it seemed like the ones we went to would go for a couple years and then fizzle out,” David Ward said.

The Wards modeled their event after a similar event in Hendersonville, which took place on Labor Day weekend. Because they wanted to collaborate with the hosts of this event, they scheduled their concert in May. Shortly after, the hosts of the Hendersonville event decided they would not be returning the next year.

“I said, well, if y’all aren’t going to do it anymore we’re going to move ours to Labor Day weekend,” Ward said. “That’s what we ended up doing, too, that first year, so we could establish ourselves on that weekend.”

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people attend the High Country Praise Festival each year. Many come from “off the mountain,” Ward said, but Appalachian students attend as well.

Junior education major W. Jordyn Coats chose to attend when she saw her favorite band, Fireflight, would be performing, but also enjoyed seeing speaker Kirk Cameron impersonate his old Growing Pains character.

“Obviously Fireflight was number one, but Kirk Cameron transforming into Mike Seaver was a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me,” Coats said. “I watched Growing Pains avidly during my childhood. It kind of made my night.”

The Wards and their leadership team are already planning next year’s festival.

“We start planning the day after,” Dawn Ward said with a laugh.

David Ward hopes the festival will offer a positive image of Boone to those who visit from other counties and states.

“People who are here for any good amount of time will tell you that Boone is different from any place they’ve ever been,” he said. “That’s one of the goals of our event – to project that.”