After 21 years, SoulStock, a north Alabama Christian music festival that brought together tens of thousands of people and featured Grammy Award winning artists, will end.
“It was never about the music,” said Phillip Presley, founder and organizer of SoulStock. “It was about getting churches to look past their denominational lines and come together as one. Music was just the tool we used.”
Barring unexpected donations and an increase in the number of churches wanting to participate, the music event, a fixture in Athens and Decatur for the past two decades, will not return in 2020.
“When my daughter told me that we were several thousand dollars short the last night of SoulStock, I knew then it was over,” Presley said. “I’m going to keep the account open and our 501(c)(3) active for a year just in case something changes. I’m not happy with SoulStock ending, there have been a lot of tears shed, but I’m at peace with it.”
No one, Presley least of all, expected the ministry — which began as Rockin’ with Jesus in 1998 behind Valley Church in Athens and attracted 175 people — to grow into one of the Southeast’s largest outdoor Christian music events.
At its peak, SoulStock’s crowds reached 20,000. Among the festival’s headliners were some of the industry’s top artists — Chris Tomlin, Third Day, Steven Curtis Chapman, Audio Adrenaline, Laura Story, King & Country, Zach Williams and Britt Nicole.
“Our purpose was to plant the seed of Jesus and we did that every year. The other purpose was to promote unity. We did that too, just not in the way I wanted. Last year, while we only had a few churches volunteer and give donations, there were 220 different churches represented at SoulStock,” Presley said.
After several years of decreased donations and volunteers, Presley began praying about whether or not to continue the ministry in 2018.
“My prayer was that if we were supposed to quit that God would let us know. If he wanted us to continue, I wanted to know that too,” Presley said. “We had a great SoulStock 2019. The weather was perfect and everything went smooth. It was a great memory to close out this chapter.”
Other standout memories for Presley include what he calls “God moments” — when the storm clouds cleared before the concert, when tent posts showed up after a prayer, when people found hope through the music, fellowship and testimonies.
A staple at Athens State for a decade, SoulStock moved to Point Mallard Park in 2010. The first year in Decatur, the festival received support from 48 churches. Last year, only 20 churches sponsored the event.
“My calling has always been to get churches to work together. That calling has not changed. I don’t have a clue what that will look like in the future, but that passion is still there,” Presley said. “I’m sad this is ending, but I’m honored God allowed me to be part of SoulStock. It has grown my faith boatloads.”