Review: After 25 Years, Rock The Universe Remains Iconic Music Experience

When the lineup for the long-running Rock the Universe music festival in Orlando dropped last September, nobody could believe the collection of talent that Universal Orlando Resort had amassed for its 25th edition of the well-attended music festival. Top to bottom, it featured one of the most comprehensive lineups of the year… for any kind of music festival. It seemed like nearly every genre of music was represented on this bill, and this past weekend (January 27 & 28) fans across the country converged in Orlando for an unseasonably chilly two days of Christian music and a rocking and rolling good time.

Matthew West – Photo by: Rick Munroe for MFN

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 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 chilly night while waiting patiently for the night’s headliner.

Korey Cooper of Skillet – Photo by Rick Munroe for MFN


If you were not able to attend, you might be a bit jealous of anyone who was there. After all, this was the 25th edition of the massive festival and provided plenty of reasons to celebrate beyond the memorable concerts. And the fact that it was happening on the Universal’s 541-acre amusement park made it even more intriguing. It was great to see the enthusiasm amongst the youth groups who traveled from both near and far to attend as has been the case ever since Rock the Universe first launched in 1998.

John Cooper of Skillet – Photo by Rick Munroe for MFN

Things at Rock the Universe began to heat up at 4 p.m. when those who had been at the park and didn’t have the special after-hours ticket were slowly encouraged to leave before the park’s official closing time of 6 so that Universal Resort could transform itself into an incredible music festival setting featuring three stages across the expansive park. The special ticket allowed entry into Universal Resort after 4 p.m. to enjoy and experience an all-night music and thrill-ride experience that would last until the park closed at 1 a.m.. It was an opportunity to experience the rides with smaller crowds and shorter wait times to catch a ride on Despicable Me Minion Mayhem Rides, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Transformers 4D: The Ride, Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, Revenge of the Mummy, Fast and the Furious Ride, E.T. Adventure, The Simpson’s Ride, Kang & Kudos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, Men In Black Alien Attack, Escape from Gringotts in Diagon Alley, and Hogwarts Express.

Rend Collective – Photo by: Rick Munroe for MFN

While some came for the rides, most came for the music, where they packed all three stages elbow-to-elbow, but nearly everyone had great site lines to catch their favorite artists. The epic sound system and stage lighting played a critical role in creating an incredible theatrical performance leading the energetic crowd to sing along and dance from the opening note to the final bow. This year’s lineup provided a rocking good time. The lineup included two-time Grammy Award-nominated hard-rocking quartet Skillet, who has played RTU 12 times, and featured other headline acts who performed iconic sets, including Florida-born Southern rocker Zach Williams, who made a return as a regular and fan-favorite RTU performer. The festival’s diverse music lineup included Tauren Wells, Matthew West, and Rend Collective, just some of  the 18 notable bands that performed on three separate stages scattered across the theme park grounds for two nights of unforgettable performances.

Anne Wilson – Photo by: Rick Munroe for MFN

While nearly all the performers were great to see, there were standout moments that included Skillet’s hard-driving rock sound coupled with a powerful spiritual message, with guitarist Korey Cooper shredding to some of the bands biggest hits like “Monster,” “Whispers in the Dark,” and “The Resistance.” She was one of the highlights of the night; her stage presence is more punk rock than anything else with her contortions on stage pumping up the crowd. Skillet drummer Jen Ledger‘s relentless pounding on the drums, hair flying in every direction added to the excitement of this hard-rocking band that is no stranger to this festival, having played it several times. Other notable performances included Tauren Wells, who is a true multi-talented performer, reminding me a bit like Michael Jackson, Bruno Mars, and a pinch of The Weeknd all rolled into one. Wells’ voice is his greatest isolated strength and shows his pure and amazing talent.

Taylor Cain – Photo by: Rick Munroe for MFN

What was missing? Not a whole lot. Rock the Universe clearly knows what their fans want, and they continue to deliver, having perfected the experience over the past 25 years with plenty of fun for nearly everyone who attends. It was no surprise that when you get extraordinary talents like Skillet, Zach Williams, and Tauren Wells and along with other talented performers on one incredible weekend that the atmosphere is going to be something truly special. What can we expect for next year? Perhaps a little warmer nights, but one thing is for sure: many are already making plans for next year’s Rock the Universe 2024.


Jen Ledger of Skillet – Photo by: Rick Munroe for MFN
Zach Williams – Photo by: Rick Munroe for MFN
Logan and Madisson Cain – Photo by: Rick Munroe for MFN
Seth Morrison of Skillet – Photo by: Rick Munroe for MFN
Tauren Wells – Photo by: Rick Munroe for MFN

Comments are closed.