The Beginning of It, Awe

It all began when Awestruck founder Brandon Grelle started reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for his Arts and Ideas class at Concordia River Forest. As Brandon walked home from Caribou Coffee with the book, he was struck with an idea: an overnight summer festival for high school students that would familiarize teens with the positive Christian message found in contemporary music.

Excited about the idea, Brandon jogged the remaining two blocks to his dorm to tell his roommate about the festival. Brandon knew that Camp Lakeview in Seymour, Indiana had a tremendous impact on the spiritual lives of high school students. But at that time, Lakeview’s program options weren’t viable for many busy juniors and seniors. They could apply to work for two weeks as junior counselors, but many couldn’t commit for two full weeks and those who could had to compete with numerous other applicants. An overnight festival would provide a new opportunity for many teenagers to participate in the camp experience and another means for them to align themselves with Christian truth and practice.

Brandon wasted no time. After talking to his roommate, he raced to Concordia’s library and created a logo, complete with a far-fetched made-up date, August 12, 2006, for the festival.

The first Awestruck Festival logo, April 2, 2006.

So, Awestruck.

The Idea Goes Public

Awestruck had its public debut April 2, 2006 on the social networking site Xanga. Brandon posted his initial ideas and a tentative schedule:

1:00-5:30 Free Time (This will include a 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, Puppet Show for the little kids who come, time at the lake, small groups to perform on amphitheater, slip ‘n slide, field games, perhaps Ultimate Frisbee or a softball game)

5:30-7:00 Dinner; Cookout Style

7:00-9:00 Worship Concert with a message provided by a youth speaker.

Brandon wrote that he had already asked some youth speakers to pray about speaking and some youth leaders to consider bringing their groups if the festival happened. He asked everyone who was willing to people about participating or donating money. The Xanga post also mentioned other potential elements that would later become integral parts of the Awestruck Experience: a service project with spaghetti lunch and a worship service the following morning.  Brandon was guided by the though process, “However God reached me, God can reach others with those same blue prints.”  He credits Gods work in Ichthus Music Festival, LCMS Indiana District Youth Gatherings, and the Chrysalis Flight through Columbus, Indiana.

The Xanga page became the meeting grounds and main promotional outlet for the Awestruck Festival. It drew college students who were passionate about their faith in Jesus, their love of camp ministry, and their gifts of music. Some 25 people, all under the age of 24, quickly formed Awestruck’s first volunteer staff.

Filling a 22-Hour Festival

Within the next two weeks, Awestruck Festival received its confirmation e-mail from Camp Lakeview Executive Director Tom “Digger” Franke. The idea was becoming a reality.  With the excitement of a devoted core group of supporters, a committed and dynamic location, and the youthfulness and creativity of a dozen camp counselors, Awestruck was ready to take the next step.  Three days later, Awestruck already had its first keynote speaker – John Nunes, its first festival pastor – Dave McClean, and a formalized mission statement and theme.

John Nunes, Awestruck’s First Keynote Speaker

Dave McClean, Awestruck’s first pastor

Awestruck’s First Mission Statement:

The culture we live in moves more rapidly today than ever before.  The winds of today’s society are striking your body at all angles, sending you into a spiraling effect that has the power to move you without your control.  You are swept up in a storm that seems inescapable as everything around you begins to lose all focus and stability.  However, you remain unshaken.

A God that cannot be shaken lives inside of us and He shows us who He is on the outside.  Amidst the wind, hail, and thunderstorms of life, we are only struck by one thing: awe; a mixed emotion of reverence, respect, and wonder inspired by authority, genius, great beauty, sublimity, or might.  The light that bursts through the clouds and strikes at our very being is He, who is a consuming fire.  

Prepare to get struck, Awestruck.

The Awestruck Festival is an overnight event designed for people, especially Sr. High youth, to come and experience Jesus through outdoor worship and camp activities.  The event will include athletic games such as a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, volleyball games, Frisbee Golf, food, bands, speakers, and activities that can be found during the camp season.

It was now time to find the Awestruck faithful. Little did most of them know just how blessed they were about to become. 

The first “core” Awestruck staff, including all directors, was comprised of college aged students, all under the age of 22.

Those who were the “forefathers” of Awestruck (In Bold: “Core” Team, those who were committed to two months of service or more.)

  • Julie Zipay (now Beck)
  • Janet Linden (now Carson)
  • Matt Beck
  • Stephanie McGarvey (now Traphagan)
  • Chelci Spiegal (now Richardson)
  • Molly McKelfresh
  • Amanda Quillen (now Scheier)
  • Scott Ostrander
  • Andrew Sands
  • Brad Oeklers
  • Rose Crockett (now Ebeling)
  • Brandon Winter
  • Ingrid Jung
  • George Denholme
  • Digger Franke
  • Jo Suzuki
  • Laurie Lehenbauer
  • Laura Kageman (now Cox)
  • Amanda Gregory
  • Sarah Groth (now Wayt)
  • Jeremy Seward
  • Eric Brewer
  • Danielle Sass (now Sands)
  • Shellie Carothers
  • Andy Johnson
  • Matt Jung
  • Emily Chapman (now Johnson)
  • Ashley Angerman (now Maney)
  • Justin Michal
  • Greg Guziar
  • Kenny “Nitro” Stark
  • Taylor Jarson
  • Jaymes Hayes
  • Sarah Wilkinson (Burr)

The Months Before In Oklahoma

A ragtag group of Seymour college students visited every single business in Seymour, Indiana, in order to find bands, buy $7 trophies, make a banner, and find prizes for little contests that would take place during the festival from May 11-14.  Brandon worked the summer months at Camp Lutherhoma, a camp in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.  From a coffee shop named “The Iguana café,” he had weekly meetings with Andrew Sands, Awestruck’s first Webmaster and audio tech.  He also checked in with Shellie Carothers, head of registration, Brad Oelkers, Camp staff director, and George Denholme, DCE at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Columbus, Indiana.

God Moments

With a week to go, Awestruck had 72 people, including four youth groups, registered for the event. That first year, Awestruck had more bands than youth groups.

It was also around that time that Greg Guziar and Kenny Stark, two staff members, decided they were going to come from Oklahoma and Kansas, respectively, to Awestruck. Awestruck now had a staff hailing from eight states. God had been providing abundantly for the festival, and continued to amaze the planners.

One day, some of the staff volunteers were gathered at Ritters Frozen Custard in Columbus, Indiana. A man started whistling the tune of  “Mercy is Falling” and his son started doing motions. Chelci, one of Awestuck’s staff members, began singing along with the song. She got into a conversation with the man, whose name was Andrew Voils. Chelci mentioned that she was from St. Louis and that everyone with her was from different places. Andrew asked why they were there and Brandon began explaining Awestruck to him.

Andrew responded that he had once had a vision with youth, bands, speakers, food and fellowship. It sounded just like Awestruck! He left with his son because his wife was waiting in the car. When Andrew began to tell his wife what had happened, they immediately decided to turn around and offer to donate money for Awestruck. We had already left, so he called Brandon and left a message:

“Hey, Brandon, this is Andrew. I just met you at Ritters.  My wife and I were talking and we just feel called to help you guys out with the festival. Give me a call at this number. We can talk it over and pray about it.”

They set up an appointment but instead of waiting, Andrew just showed up at camp fifteen minutes later and handed us a check for the festival. Many other God moments occurred during that week and weekend. Like finding a drummer two days before the festival and finding a drum set the day before the festival. And then there was the festival.

The Festival

The first Awestruck took place at the Amphitheater at Camp Lakeview in Seymour, Indiana on August 11-12, 2006.  The first artist to ever grace the stage at the Awestruck Festival was Angie Reichenbacker.  The bands, in order of appearance, were Angie Reichenbacker, Steve Cobb, Branches, and Failure to Yield (a collection of Brandon’s friends who never practiced with each other before their Saturday night performance).  We ended the concert series with Chris Tomlin’s “Indescribable.”  After the show, we all went down to the campfire for Awestruck’s first “Afterglow.”

Awestruck 2006 included many door prizes, a three-point contest, and “Bee” the Awestruck mascot who made it’s first Festival appearance.