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Concert Highlights Performers Hawk Nelson, David Dunn
Onlookers of all ages were at the Friday evening concert hosted by River Oak Grace church, inspiring a family-friendly vibe.

Anyone traveling south along Highway 120, just before crossing the Stanislaus River into Oakdale could be sure to hear the concert raging recently at River Oak Grace Community Church.

The church hosted Christian rock band Hawk Nelson and contemporary Christian artist David Dunn on Friday evening, June 8. Korey Buchanek, senior pastor at River Oak, estimated a turnout of about 1,200 to 1,300 people.

Not only did the event host musicians, but it provided a quality family experience for all of those who showed up. Two bouncy castles were at the location for kids to jump in, as well as a handful of vendors for guests to enjoy. Though the vendors differ every concert, the church provided tri-tip, tacos, Caribbean chicken, shaved ice, and Bloomingcamp desserts.

“We know the concert is at 6:30 p.m., so people are coming from work ... we try to really make sure people can just pull in and have a family experience,” Buchanek explained.

Hawk Nelson and David Dunn may have rung a faint bell in concert goers minds, which encouraged them to attend, but as soon as they started playing, Buchanek reported “people say ‘Oh I know that song!’ but they didn’t realize when we said the name that they had any connection to it.”

The concert series started four years ago, when Buchanek had just come on the River Oak team. The children’s director came up to him, expressing that a band wanted to play at the church. While a band playing was one of the last things on the pastor’s mind during his third week into the local ministry, after a few more questions he found out it was the popular Hawk Nelson band that wanted to play. The band’s drummer had connections to River Oak Grace, and by their initiation, the concert series was brought back to the church.

“I thought if we have Hawk Nelson, let’s try and make that part of the DNA here, and it just kind of snowballed,” Buchanek recollected. “The staff that’s here now is really part of bringing that DNA back to the table ... it’d been over 12 years since they had a concert.”

Though Buchanek is responsible for booking the bands, he gives the credit to his staff for bringing the event together.

“Josh Eskes really oversees the heavy lifting,” he said, “and set up, tear down, all of the logistics are kind of a well-oiled machine at this point. People know what they do and they love taking ownership of their part of the show.”

The concert ran smoothly and young fan Natalie shared that her favorite part was “when Hawk Nelson did the encore and came up onstage.”

After the show, merchandise for both headliners was sold. While David Dunn signed autographs, hats, and CDs, Hawk Nelson had to prepare to head back to Sacramento for the group’s 3 a.m. flight the next day.

“I wish both churches and community could hear that this is not just about River Oak Grace,” Buchanek expressed. “Our heart is to partner as many churches together so people can see ... there’s a concert that we could really use to do ministry ... it opens a door for people to have a conversation to see why we’re here.”

His main idea was that the concert would be a safe place and safe environment for anyone who wanted to come and even ask questions. Of his hopes for future concerts, Buchanek shared that there are usually 150 to 200 kids right in front of the stage.

“And I would love to see those be Oakdale kids,” he said

The next concert is slated for Friday, Aug. 10 at River Oak Grace, where I Am They and Ryan Stevenson will be performing.