Recap of Escape To The Lake 2016
I walked into Escape To The Lake 2016 a bit conflicted. I felt confident that God would meet us in a special way. Yet, at the same time I knew that I wouldn't be able to shake how difficult the journey was to get here, and I knew in some ways it would likely sour (or at least limit) my enjoyment of the gathering. I won't go into all the details, but there were several moments - even as recently as 6 weeks prior to the event - that the proverbial plug was almost pulled on ETTL 2016. But thank the Good Lord, this is not a sob story... but rather a resurrection story.
A huge part of this year's story was that ETTL 2016 moved to a new location (Cedar Lake Ministries in Cedar Lake, IN) with new dates (August 7-11). Our camp expenses more than doubled over last year and our registration numbers dropped more than expected, which made it difficult to pull off. Getting to break even was our new goal. God really put on my heart to let go of the hurdles and hardships and focus on the joy of the present moment. It became easier to do that as the ETTL Bootcampers and first artists arrived on 8/7. Many people will say this, and this is so true... the best part of ETTL is the community of people.
From midday 8/7 thru midday 8/8, we held our 2nd annual ETTL Songwriters Bootcamp. It was an incredible kick-off event, and several folks noted that it was even better than our 1st year. The rest of our attendees arrived on the afternoon of 8/8. We kicked things off with a big surprise for our opening session: a lip sync battle for the ages between myself, Nick Flora, and Sara Groves (amazing!).
The next 72 hours were filled with an abundance of laughter, inspiration, worship, fun, food, deep conversations... and of course beautiful music in every nook and cranny! This gathering is so warm, so caring, so loving, so... special. This wouldn't be possible without the generosity of spirit and talent of our artist roster: Mike Farris, Sara Groves, 6'10, Jess Ray, Eric Peters, Joy Ike, Giants & Pilgrims, Nick Flora, Christopher Williams, Roy Salmond, Chris & Jenna, and about a dozen others. This group of artists had an incredible heart to serve those around them, and the sense of spiritual ministry was palpable.
Literally about halfway through the event, some time on 8/9, I started to realize that something had happened that I didn't think was possible when I was driving to the camp at the start of it all... the event was making a deep impact on my heart and soul. I was more dialed into the community aspect of the event than previous years, and it was a balm to my spirit. I did not think it would be possible to say these words... but ETTL 2016 was the new single biggest highlight of my 22-year career. And God provided on the financial side too. For a while we thought breaking even would be a long-shot, and in the end, we were more comfortably in the black than we anticipated... and that's just one more reason for rejoicing and gratitude!
Here is some of the incredible (and encouraging) feedback we received from the ETTL 2016 artists and attendees:
* "Escape To The Lake feels too good to be true. I listened to UTR podcasts and checked out the website... and I just didn't get what Under The Radar was all about. It seemed a little intangible to me, like what is the point of this. Now being here at ETTL, it all clicks - there's a lot of vision and mission behind it - I now get it." - Joel Ansett [artist from Colorado]
* "I just feel like these are 'my people.' Music is such a huge part of my spiritual life, and having conversations about art and beauty is so refreshing to my soul. It's a community unlike any other I've experienced... and I'm leaving feeling a little more sure of who God made me to be." - Nicole V. [attendee from Nebraska]
* "ETTL has such a sense of family, unity, honesty, truth, beauty, creativity, honor, support, diversity, celebration... I could go on and on!" - Jess Ray [artist from North Carolina]
* "God has used Escape To The Lake to speak to me and encourage me in so many small and gentle ways. The place, the community, the artists, the art are all so special and such an immense blessing." - Mary S. [attendee from Ohio]
* "I received incredible encouragement and affirmation from artists I respect. The event has challenged me to be a better writer, performer, artist, contemplative, friend, brother, & follower of Christ. I was able to meet so many new artists and made friendships that I believe will last." - Adrian Mathenia [artist from Kentucky]
* "I gained an appreciation and hunger for hearing more from the not-so-famous but amazingly talented artists. Definitely enjoyed this week and plan to listen to more UTR music and attend ETTL again!" - Lisa H. [attendee from Ohio]
* "I would consider myself an atheist, but that doesn't matter here. There have been so many times I wanted to cry since I've been here because the entire experience has been so beautiful. I'm so grateful. I feel like I've grown in the last few days as an artist, musician, and human being." - Zack E. [attendee from Illinois]
* "One of my favorite things I've noticed since the beginning of Escape To The Lake - but especially this year - is that in a lot of communities, especially religious communities, usually the first thing you feel is that you are alone or don't fit. But at ETTL, there's a feeling that, 'Oh, you showed up! You're one of us! Come in!' This is an open community. Come in and be loved." - Nick Flora [artist from Tennessee]