PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) — A “God story,” that’s how Kanye West’s addition to the Strength to Stand conference has been described by the conference’s founder.
Scott Dawson regularly organizes youth evangelical events. In fact, the Alabama-based evangelistic organization has been bringing youth groups to East Tennessee and Sevier County for decades, according to Pigeon Forge leaders.
Known as the Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association, the group is responsible for two weekend youth-ministry events held in Pigeon Forge in December and January.
Strength to Stand is described on the event’s website as “a well-balanced, intense conference that will challenge your students to go beyond the surface of casual Christianity and bring them into a lifetime commitment to Jesus Christ.”
“We were dealt a severe blow,” Dawson explains, when one of the main headliners was removed due to a “moral failure.” Through mutual friends, Dawson explains, he contacted Kanye West with the possibility of bringing his Sunday Service to fill the opening.
Speaking to WATE 6 On Your Side, Dawson described his “shock” when Kanye West told him, “I’m not considering it — I’m coming.”
Spotlight on Pigeon Forge
The event is sold-out and 10,000 people are expected to attend from around the country.
Dawson said that when West was announced as the headliner, they received calls from 100 churches every hour, on average.
Hotels in the area are filling up, according to Leon Downey, Director of Tourism for Pigeon Forge.
Downey said Dawson is no stranger to Sevier County. When The LeConte Center opened, Dawson was the first licensee.
“His license agreements are written so that he wants those dates until now until the second coming of Christ, that’s the way the actual license agreement was written,” said Downey.
“It’s about the family destination that we are and all that there is to see and do here in Pigeon Forge, Sevier County. You have America’s most visited park seven miles down the road there,” said Downey.
“I think he’s gonna touch a lot of lives, but if he just touches one, mission accomplished, right?” said David Wear, Mayor of Pigeon Forge.
Kanye’s Sunday Service
The Sunday Service experience began with West’s famous friends, exclusive to the rich and famous, like Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, to Chance the Rapper and Diplo. They were held in a field in Calabasas, Calif. or in an undisclosed (to the public) indoor studio. West, accompanied by a full gospel choir and live band.
Now, West has taken the Sunday Service experience on the road. Performing at Coachella on Easter Sunday, and most recently, in Houston.
The stop: Lakewood Church in Houston, alongside pastor and televangelist Joel Osteen.
West told ABC13: “I think people have made the idea of giving your life to God, is an idea that you’re scared of, and being a Christian and giving your life to God is one of the most fulfilling things. It’s fun.”
The services accompany West’s newest Gospel-inspired album, “Jesus is King.”
West has been rapping about his faith and God since his debut album, The College Dropout, released in 2004. One of his first hits, “Jesus Walks,” peaked at #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
West will perform in Pigeon Forge, as part of the Strength to Stand student bible conference on the weekend of January 18, 2020.