Rock The Universe Delivers A Spirited Weekend Experience

If ever proof is needed that music is the universal language, you need to look no further than how this weekend’s Rock the Universe music festival pulled people together during these extraordinarily difficult times, uniting them spiritually and musically, leading many to raise their hands in the air and shed tears of joy in celebration. Thousands of families along with countless youth groups from across the nation gathered at what has now become an annual go-to destination for the largest Christian music festival in Florida.  For more than 34 years, Disney held a similar event at the Magic Kingdom but a few years ago decided to pull the plug on the event, making Rock the Universe at  Universal Orlando Resort the only Florida event of its kind. Those who had tickets to the after-hours event that took place from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. got to experience an all-night music and thrill-ride experience at the annual two-day event at Universal Music Plaza Stage, featuring some of the biggest names in Christian music, including for KING & COUNTRY, Casting Crowns, Crowder, Matthew West, Rhett Walker, Jordan Feliz, Riley Clemmons, Zach Williams, Big Daddy Weave, We the Kingdom, Cory Asbury of Bethel Music, and other bands that performed on three separate stages scattered across the theme park grounds for two nights of unforgettable performances.

While the name of the festival is “Rock the Universe,” the festival’s music lineup was comprised of a diverse set of genres that included everything from pop and country to folk, hip hop, and rock, all sharing a common Christian message that filled those who attended with hope, faith, and fun. On opening night on Friday, temperatures dipped into the low 50s, quite unusual for Orlando and Florida in general, but a jam-packed crowd of more than 8,000 relentless music lovers endured the coldest temps of the year while waiting patiently for the opening night headliner.

Rhett Walker – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN

Southern/country rocker Rhett Walker made a reappearance at Rock the Universe. This highly talented singer/songwriter didn’t disappoint and has what it takes to play country, Southern rock, or whatever genre he wants. A highly underrated artist who needs to be kept on your radar, Walker performed a memorable show, and one of the highlights of his performance was singing a duet with his 17-year-old daughter.

Crowder – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN

Rock the Universe favorite folk rocker Crowder returned to Orlando for his second time, his first during pre-pandemic 2019. The Waco-based Crowder got the audience moving and waving their hands in the air while performing crowd pleasers “Run Devil Run” and “I Know a Ghost” among others while priming the crowd for headliners for KING & COUNTRY.

For King & Country – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN

After incredible performances by Walker and Crowder, the stage lights dipped at exactly 11 p.m., setting the stage for Rock the Universe veteran headliners to rock the freezing fans. Australian-born pop duo for KING & COUNTRY quickly warmed up the crowd by delivering a high-energy performance that kept fans of the Christian alternative rockers dancing and singing along to every word of their nearly two-hour set.

The now Nashville-based four-time Grammy Award winning brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone known as for KING & COUNTRY are widely recognized for their magnificent stage productions that include outstanding set design, heavy drums, and a terrific light show. They opened the night by appearing on stage in separate elevators as the duo slowly descended as they got into their first tune. The duo continued with a non-stop run of their very best songs including “Relate” and “For God is with Us,” two recently released singles that are quickly climbing the charts and both from their soon-to-be-released fifth studio album What are We Waiting For?  They continued through fan-favorites “God Only Knows,” “Joy,” and “Burn The Ships” among the many tunes they performed along with the other six band members of for KING & COUNTRY.

On night two, Saturday was by far the coldest night of the event that had festival-goers bundled up with scarves and gloves in thirty-two degree weather. Undeterred, the cold weather wouldn’t dampen the spirits of those who came for a second night of rides that included Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Transformers 4D: The Ride, Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, Fast and the Furious Ride, Woody Woodpecker Nuthouse Coaster, E.T. Adventure, The Simpson’s Ride, Kang & Kudos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, Men In Black Alien Attack and Hogwarts Express. If the rides alone didn’t keep you entertained, the music sure did. Whether you wanted a more intimate experience with your favorite bands who performed on the smaller stages or the huge concert experience taking place at Universal Music Plaza Stage, there was a buzz in the air as kids from nearly every corner of America gathered with friends or perhaps made some new ones, these new friends and memories will remain long after the road trip back home and return to normal life. For the final night of Rock the Universe there was plenty of good music to be enjoyed despite the freezing temperatures. Perhaps the biggest decision to be made was whether to ride the rides or catch a set of music; clearly, the music was the choice of many, and there were overlaps with three stages working.

Zach Williams – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN

On the Universal Music Plaza Stage, Florida-born Christian rocker Zach Williams performed several of his most recognized chart-topping hits, including “Rescue Story” and “Less Like Me,” both from his second studio album Rescue Story released in 2019. The stage setup featured church-type stained glass windows that served as a backdrop to the band’s incredibly melodic sound that kept fans on their feet and moving hands in the air from side to side during the 75-minute set.

Casting Crowns – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN

With fans crowding and packing tightly into every inch of the concert grounds at the plaza stage, a buzz filled the chilled air as fans welcomed back one of the regular performers at Rock the Universe, Casting Crowns, led by Mark Hall, who is a pastor when not performing and used to attend RTU with his youth group before making a name for himself in the music world. Casting Crowns now travels the world performing to sold out shows regularly. The band is comprised of part family, part youth group and together they create the band’s hard-hitting tunes that have won several awards, including both Grammy and Dove awards. Serving as the headlining band on the final night of Rock the Universe, they immediately engaged the crowd with an inspired message of hope that it’s never too late for greatness before getting into the band’s very best tunes that included “Nobody,” “Only Jesus,” “One Step Away,” and “Scars in Heaven” among other notable songs. Casting Crowns doesn’t rely on special lighting or stage props; what they deliver is music that comes from the heart; it is pure emotion and music that you would most likely sing along to in church on Sunday morning.

It was no surprise that when you get two extraordinary talents like for KING & COUNTY and Casting Crowns along with a dozen other talented performers on one incredible weekend that the atmosphere was going to be something truly special. What can we expect for next year? Perhaps better weather, but one thing is for sure, many are already making plans for next years Rock the Universe 2023.

Zach Williams – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN
For King & Country – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN
Crowder – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN
Rhett Walker – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN
Luke Smallbone of for King & Country – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN

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