OSHKOSH – The annual Christian music festival Lifest took a year off in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resurged last year, when even COVID-19 precautions didn't keep fans away.
Festival director John Dougherty said the 2021 attendance was similar to the last pre-pandemic festival in July 2019.
Still, it was stressful to plan an event amid strict COVID-19 restrictions, and he's grateful to see things more loosened this year — though they've changed some practices due to the pandemic.
"Things are still different, and everything changes every year," he said. "Still, it feels like we're getting back to our normal pace. It's July. It's Lifest. Let's go."
The festival runs Thursday through Sunday at Sunnyview Expo Center, 500 E. County Y, with three days of live music scheduled Thursday through Saturday. Sunday's lineup includes a morning worship before the event ends at noon.
Here's what to expect at this year's festival:
'Up-and-coming' band takes main stage opening night
In 2019, Christian rock fans may have barely known We the Kingdom. Dougherty said the group hit the scene shortly before COVID-19 hit and has since built its fan base.
At last year's festival, the band performed a 4 p.m. set. This year, they're headlining on opening night, after winning Contemporary Christian Artist of the Year during the GMA Dove Awards in October.
"They've kind of leap-frogged," Dougherty said. "They're one of the best in the industry."
The lineup offers familiar faces and new ones
The ever-popular rock band Skillet is returning as the Saturday night headliner, performing at 9:15 p.m.
Dougherty said he's also excited about For King and Country, "one of the biggest names in music right now." That band performs at 9:15 p.m. Friday on the main stage.
He's also excited for newcomer Dante Bowe, a gospel and Christian artist based in Nashville, Tenn., who has been nominated for five Grammy awards. He'll perform at 7 p.m. Friday on the main stage.
"We're excited about our whole lineup," he said. "It's strong."
There are plenty of events for the whole family, including bonfire worships, artist conversations, comedians and other events. Green Bay Packers player Mason Crosby will speak at 8:15 p.m. Saturday with Eric Samuel Timm, just before Skillet takes the main stage.
Oshkosh native Franki Moscato will also perform at 3:45 p.m. Thursday on the main stage.
For more information and the full lineup, visit lifest.com/oshkosh/lineup.
Meet and greets are back and revamped
Lifest has traditionally offered meet-and-greet opportunities with the artists, including autographs and photos. With COVID-19, Dougherty said many artists didn't feel comfortable doing one-on-one shots.
So they revamped the process.
"There are some changes, but I wouldn't call them changes, really — they're now the status quo," he said.
Individual meet-and-greets are determined by the artists but the space where it's done now includes a stage with a small platform that the artists can stand on to still be in the photo but maintain distance.
Renovated lot adds electric camping spots
Dougherty said the grounds are laid out similar to previous years, but the expo center's parking lots got an upgrade: There's more hard gravel surfaces for RV campers.
Parking lot renovations nearly doubled the space, adding 90 electric camping spots. The lots previously accommodated around 100 electric camping sites and around 3,000 total campsites.
"Last year we got hit with a ton of rain going into the festival, so we lost some of our camping," he said. "Having all of that hard surface is going to be much nicer for our festivalgoers."
Things are 'back to normal' — or, at least, the new normal
Lifest made a lot of changes in 2021 to accommodate safety and sanitation during the pandemic, and Dougherty said many of those have been incorporated into normal process.
That includes enhanced sanitization and cleaning practices. People are welcome to wear a mask if they feel comfortable, and they will still be encouraging social distancing on the grounds.
They also introduced contactless wristbands and ticketing last year, and he said that process will continue, though festivalgoers can print tickets at home if they desire.
More than 1,100 volunteers make Lifest run
When someone asks Dougherty how he keeps everything straight, his answer is simple: He doesn't. Instead, he's got an entire team of around 1,200 people that are assigned to certain jobs — and excel at those.
Life Promotions, the group behind Lifest, has a staff of about 20 people. Then they have a 15-member volunteer executive team, who Dougherty calls "key leaders" that are responsible for various areas, such as camping, set up and tear down and other specific needs.
"I'm involved in the day-to-day, but it's really this executive team that's making this happen," he said.
Below them, there are another 1,000 volunteer positions filled during the festival's four-day run.
"We need everything that would be in a normal, healthy ecosystem: Security, medical, food vendors," he said. "It takes about 1,200 people to put on this event."
Tickets for Lifest are $72 for adults and $36 for youth and can be purchased in advance through Wednesday After that, tickets can be purchased at the gate for $78 for adults and $39 for youth. Single-day options are also available. Learn more at lifest.com.
This article originally appeared on Oshkosh Northwestern: Lifest 2022 returns to Oshkosh this weekend: Here are 6 things to know