A native New Yorker, Hope Bonarcher’s formative experience of festivals centered on drug-fuelled “raves”. Now a Christian and mum, she has learned to enjoy mainstream music events on a different level


As an American, the closest I’ve come to UK festival season was raving in my teens. An avid partaker in the 90s ‘designer drugs’ craze, I can remember raving so high on ecstasy, I saw a tongue come out of my friend’s nose! There were good trips and bad trips, all to the soundtrack of Orbital or some relevant new DJ. Later, at university, I’d go to the Hemp-Fest on the Boston Commons. I worked at a niche, hemp store on a posh street, where I could go to work stoned, smoke in the back room and again after work, with the cool owners. My 30-something, entrepreneur bosses, ahead of their time in the sustainability scene, would better fit the bill of today’s average UK festival goer: hard-working singles, with comfortable jobs and expendable income, seeking music, adventure and friendly new faces (possibly with drug and alcohol-fuelled enhancements). The festival scene is a spring/summer staple second only to holidays abroad.  

I’ve written here of my ‘come to Jesus’ transformation late in my 20s. Four children, a new continent and a decade on, I was invited to Edinburgh Festival by an excited non-Christian friend, post pandemic. After the lockdowns, two nights away (sans kids, husband or housework), a comfy place to crash (only a hop, skip and jump from the grounds) and VIP tickets sounded superb! With encouragement from my husband, the UK festival bug had bitten.

So how does a once teen “controlled-substance Queen”, now “Mom who has her kids memorise a Psalm a week”, carry on during festival season, and might I have any learning experience to share with Woman Alive readers finding themselves at a festival or two this year? Here’s my top tips:

1. You can be in the world and not of it, even at a festival

So you’re not at the Big Church Festival. The music is blaring, libations are flowing and you’re just not 100 per cent comfortable. Will Jesus be disappointed if you dance too hard? One particular artist I saw emoted songs about her lady parts, gyrating around like Madonna…I swayed to the music, but in my heart, there was a whole dialogue going on! One of my friends said in my ear over the music: “I’m so sorry! I know this isn’t your style!” Instead of feeling called out, I felt seen. I hadn’t expressed any dislike to my friend, but from what she knew of me and my faith, I stood out enough for her to recognise it. I was in the world but not of it, as we are called to be. I felt comforted knowing that my faith is living and active. The Holy Spirit doesn’t flee the minute we step out of a church pew. He’s with us wherever we go. Jesus spent plenty of time among crowds of people like these, whom he saw as sheep without a shepherd. Trying not to judge or condemn the festival-goers around me, I was able to be salt and light, a testimony, even when I didn’t consciously try to be.

2. The Holy Spirit can still work through you at a festival 

An avid music lover, these days I listen to Cece Winans, Josh Garrels or Christian hip-hop, but the music at this festival was very loud, with many of the acts screaming profanities or sexually suggestive lyrics. Despite this, at one show, among the thousands of adult concert goers, there was a family with young children placed precariously in front of me. The mother and father were three sheets to the wind, professional festivalees, enjoying the music, maybe with some chemical enhancements on the side. Of their three children, the middle stuck out most to me. She didn’t seem to want to be there – no surprise. The discomfort, sadness and lack of protection she seemed to feel tugged at my heartstrings. I felt very led to pray for her, which I spent most of the set silently doing. Even at a festival, the Holy Spirit can make us aware of the needs of others whom we can bring to the throne of grace. Maybe you were placed there to do just that thing.

3. There may not be an Olivet discourse, but you can still share the gospel 

One of the biggest reasons we attend festivals is the people. Being in a massive crowd after years off and on in lockdown felt great! Crowds are a common aspect of humanity. In the Bible, thousands of people flocked, not to cool music but to their saviour. The friend who hosted us for the festival had just come from the wake of her brother. Jesus said it’s better to be a guest at a funeral than a party. It reminds us of the important things in life – like death’s inevitability. Seated comfortably in VIP, away from the noise of the main stage, I shared with my new friend my own need for salvation, transformation and new life in Jesus. It wasn’t an earth-shattering moment. We were two women with nearly nothing in common, but God had opened the door and I was able to plant a seed. 

The Holy Spirit doesn’t flee the minute we step out of a church pew

I enjoyed wandering a bit aimlessly with no minors’ safety to oversee, hearing music in the outdoors, having a sociable margarita and getting to know new friends. My husband, on the other hand, wouldn’t be caught dead at any sort of festival. He abhors crowds, cigarette smoke and loud music. The mention of David’s Tent makes him shake his head furiously as if being offered mealworms to eat. Maybe, like him, festival season isn’t your thing. Maybe, like me, it’s more of a once-in-a-blue-moon endeavour. Know yourself and your boundaries. Jesus said in the Great Commission [Matthew 28:18-20] that we are to go out into the world, preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations – and he promised to be with us always. As long as we don’t put off the Holy Spirit to take on festival season, he is with us – even in the midst of worldly brokenness. 

Hope Bonarcher is a native New Yorker, living with her Scottish husband and their four children in Glasgow. You can find her writing and songs on

@hopebonarcher @beautyfaithlife