Freedom Fest gets big crowd, an extra hand
JANESVILLE—As large crowds turned out Saturday for Freedom Fest, organizers of the Christian-based festival on Janesville's east side said they were glad for the extra hand they got in running the event this year.
New Life Assembly of God head Minister Jason Karampatsos, whose church has put on Freedom Fest on the church's grounds each year since 2002, said more local churches have begun volunteering to help with the event.
In all, Karampatsos said, about 300 of his church's members volunteered to run youth activity booths and host spiritual and Christian outreach to attendants at the festival. But about 100 more volunteers, including people from other local churches, joined New Life in a volunteer role at Saturday's festival.
He said about a dozen local churches worked in tandem to offer outreach, including some at the festival's prayer tent, where festival goers could stop, get out of the sun and pray with volunteers. Other volunteers from local churches floated around the grounds, offering prayer and welcoming guests.
Involvement from other churches has given the festival a new flavor, Karampatsos said, and a sense that the festival is being embraced by the local Christian community as a whole. Karampatsos said the growing partnership was a casual one, but it is meant to give the festival a more inclusive “community” feel.
“After last year's festival, when we as a church de-briefed, we wanted to figure out how to get more intertwined with other churches in this event," he said. "It's about finding more opportunities for other churches to engage and win the day.”
The extra help couldn't hurt. The festival annually draws 20,000 to 30,000 visitors through its gates, according to Janesville Police Department estimates.
The event remains free to get into, and it continues to include a full carnival with large rides and a multi-genre music festival that features ational touring artists.
This year, Karampatsos said the event landed a Janesville Area Convention and Vistors Bureau grant that helped Freedom Fest market itself in Madison and statewide. He believes the extra marketing brought a bigger crowd, based on the early turnout.
“Maybe it was that, or the beautiful weather today," he said Saturday. "But we had to let people in about a half-hour early, at 9:30, because the sidewalks along the street (North Wright Road) were totally filling up with people waiting to get in. So we opened up early. We wanted people to be safe.”
New Life church member Julie Zowaski was manning one popular booth at Freedom Fest: The balloon-shape tent. She inflated and twisted a dozen balloons into different shapes in a span of about five minutes.
A crowd of kids shouted for shapes, some that would have been impossible for even the most adept balloon bender. One kid screeched that he wanted a balloon twisted into a “racetrack.”
“We're really rooting for the kids who want swords, because they're the easiest to do. It's two twists and you're done,” Zowaski said.
Two young boys clamored for a “snake” balloon, which logically, would involve no twists.
“Even better,” Zowaski said.
In addition to the rides, food and music, the festival on Saturday focused on crafty fun. This included a large tent set up as a woodworking shop where youths could cut out and paint decorative, wooden sun and star shapes.
“We're able to think outside the box on some of these attractions, because we're a free festival. There's no money in letting fathers help kids use tools to make things—none of it's driven by the idea that we've got to find ways to sell tickets. We're just offering ourselves up for these different activities,” Karampatsos said.
This year, part of the festival's fundraising draw, after it pays for Freedom Fest's operating costs, will be directed as in-kind donations to Compassion International, an organization that sponsors families in need, globally. This year, the group interactive electronic tours where festival-goers could watch virtual videos that allow them to experience scenes of third-world poverty through the eyes of missionaries.
Karampatsos, who has been the church's head minister for a year and half, has been with church for the last three Freedom Fests. On Saturday, he debunked a rumor that he said seems to circulate every year: That this year will be the last time New Life plans to hold Freedom Fest.
He's not sure how the rumor circulates, but he thinks it might have to do with the way the church structures its contracts with facets of the fair it doesn't own or operate. He speculated people with an inside track on those logistics might read too much into the timing of how the festival sets up contracts.
“The rumor we're not holding Freedom Fest next year is one of those urban myths that seems to never go away,” he said. “And it's not true. We're already booked for next year's Freedom Fest.”