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Thursday, July 21, 2011 02:51 pm

Gospel Fest, Springfield-style

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Mt. Zion Apostolic Church Praise Team performs with other acts at the Springfield Gospel Fest and Back to School Bash on July 23 at Comer Cox Park, noon to 6pm.  

After nearly a decade of consistent performance, the Springfield Gospel Fest is a standard on the local music summer festival scene. The all-day event held at Comer Cox Park Saturday, July 23, features nearly 20 local and regional music groups, numerous vendors, participation by city services and hosts the Back to School Bash. The event, conceived in 2002 after Darrin Sotor, youth pastor of Springfield’s Mt. Zion Apostolic Church visited a gospel festival at a fellowship church in Joliet, continues to grow year after year.

“I came back from Joliet and asked our church about having a festival and they said if you think you can do it go ahead,” says Sotor. “We’ve been doing it ever since.”

The first year started out small with a few groups in the church parking lot. A rousing success provided the impetus to move to the larger area at Comer Cox Park. And through the years so many groups contact Sotor to ask to play he had to turn some down, a sure sign of a successful event. The event keeps acts in rotation, bringing in new bands and alternating groups, making the show a fresh, but face-friendly, festival.

 “The Jones Family have played several times and the Sanctuary Choir of Joliet have been here since day one as has the Mt. Zion Praise Team,” says Sotor. “We’re really excited about having 4 Across for the first time. They’re a local group and it’s hard to find locals. We’ve been blessed and it’s going great for us.”

Along with the many uplifting, spiritual sounds of the Christian-based, moving music, Gospel Fest has another mission beyond the sonic experience. By hosting the Back to School Bash, the event gives out school supplies to children in need and supports those who could use a boost gaining a foothold in society through proper education. Sotor’s experience in Big Brother/Big Sister programs and through mentoring in public schools allowed him a view of young students ill-prepared for public school educations. The preparation problem through lack of supplies for certain students, for whatever the reason, seemed unfair and unjust, and one that could be partially remedied by participation of caring folks.

The Western Oaks Baptist Church, plus many private businesses and individual donors, give each year to the Back to School Bash project. From the initial giving of some book bags, now the event distributes hundreds of bags with school supplies to children who otherwise would go without.

“We’ve been blessed each year by people and organizations donating and offering to help,” says Sotor. “It’s these little things that make a difference in preparing kids for school and, in a larger sense, the rest of their lives.”

Truly billed as a community event, the festival brings out police cars and fire trucks for kids to see, local civic leaders to politic and mingle, lots of good help from the Springfield Park District and, most of all, a sense of togetherness needed in a city still struggling to mend ingrained differences wrought by years of tension and division.

“This goes beyond the Gospel Fest itself,” says Sotor. “We’re hoping to reach out to the community to find fellowship on a common ground for church and city members. We’ve been tremendously blessed with the chance to do this and thank all for helping make it happen.”

The Mt. Zion Apostolic Church Youth Department presents their 9th Annual Springfield Gospel Fest/Back To School Bash on Sat., July 23, from noon to 6 p.m. at Comer Cox Park near Capitol Ave. and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, featuring Fantastic Jones Family, 4 Across, Elaine Robinson, Aaron Keith, Ryan Brown and more. For information contact Darrin Sotor at (217) 523-1325, the Mt. Zion Apostolic Church, 2637 S. 10th St. or visit the event on Facebook.

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