JEFFERSONVILLE — It was music that led Scott Shireman to Jesus. Now, the Jeffersonville resident is the organizer of the annual Rock On Water Christian music festival, and he hopes to give others the same introduction to God that he had.
Shireman’s wife, Nancy, was a Christian, but he wasn’t when she took him to Winter Jam for the first time in 2011, a traveling Christian music concert that passes through Louisville.
“It changed my life,” Shireman said.
He became a member of a church and was soon baptized. Just one month later, he found himself in the Jeffersonville mayor’s office, pitching the idea of a local Christian music festival.
Mayor Mike Moore turned Shireman’s request back onto him: Why didn’t he create his own?
“I was like, ‘Okay,’” Shireman said. “So that’s how it got started.”
He and his co-founder, Greg Smith, expected 1,000 to show up to the first year of Rock On Water, but they were wrong. Over 6,000 came.
Now, in Rock On Water’s fifth year, around 10,000 are expected to attend the free event at the Jeffersonville RiverStage. The one-day festival, scheduled for September 10, features six artists, the most that Shireman has ever booked.
They range from local to national names. Ryan Lynton, Corydon singer-songwriter, will kick off the festival at 5 p.m. and Unspoken, a contemporary Christian group with nationally recognizable hits, will end the evening. Shireman’s group, Hush Harbor, will also be playing.
Rock On Water will also feature food vendors and a family fun zone with inflatable slides and games, starting at 4 p.m.
Shireman hopes to appeal to a few groups of people with his festival, including passersby and non-Christians who are intimidated by church or bible studies.
“This is a very safe way to introduce someone to a Christian lifestyle,” Shireman said.
He wants those people to have the same experience that he had six years ago. Shireman believes that music can introduce people to religion in a way that churches and pastors can’t.
“Music is able to transcend barriers,” he said. “Generation barriers, age, genders, races, creeds, religions, lack of religion. I mean, I think music is able to transcend those in a way that the written word or just the spoken word can sometimes not be as effective at.”
Harmonies, keys — they have a way of opening people up to emotion, Shireman said. He has anecdotes to support his theory, including from past Rock On Water attendees who tell them about their experience at the festival.
“I’ve had wonderful stories of people who had the same type of experience that I had, where they were there and one song by one band happened to be the thing that helped turn their life, helped change their life, and opened the door up to new things,” Shireman said. “And that’s my fondest hope. That one person gets that experience.”
Ariel Munoz, the drummer for Unspoken, has heard similar things from fans that listen to his music.
“Every day, we’ve got letters every day and notes about how a song is changing their lives,” he said.
But Shireman’s festival is also for a third group of people: Christians who are just looking for an inclusive event to attend.
Alan Stewart, a Corydon resident, falls into that category. He attended Rock On Water last year, and it didn’t disappoint.
“It’s fellowship,” he said. “It’s a beautiful venue. You’ve got a a nice breeze coming off of the river even if it’s warm…It’s just a good, family friendly event.”