Awaken returns to Paintsville July 19 with Phil Wickham, Kelsie May

A couple of spontaneous baptisms at Awaken in 2018 punctuated an emotional and energetic conference. The concert and conference event returns to JCHS July 19.

PAINTSVILLE — The 11th annual Awaken conference will return to Johnson Central High School this week with one of its most electric lineups ever.

The 2019 event, set for Friday, will feature nationally touring gold record-certified artist Phil Wickham, of San Diego, California, whose most recent studio album, “Living Hope,” reached number one on Billboard’s list of top U.S. Christian music sales, as well as 7eventh Time Down of Mount Vernon Kentucky and Louisa’s own Kelsie May, who broke onto the scene on NBC’s “The Voice.”

It’s a massive lineup for an event that organizer Ben Stephens said started with a crowd of 150 attendees at the first year’s event. When first envisioned, Stephens said, the event was supported by ticket sales and held at the Mountain Homeplace.

After moving to the Paintsville Recreation Center and moving to a model funded solely by donations, the now free Awaken Conference began its run at JCHS, which will host again this year. Attendance now, Stephens estimates, approaches 2,000 people.

But the event, Stephens said, is not simply called a concert for good reason.

“We didn’t want it to just be a place people can get together and listen to music,” Stephens said. “People can do that anywhere.”

Instead, the event also features breakout sessions, including a perennial “Tough Questions” panel for those with questions of faith, and many more sessions for people and challenges from all walks of life. Daniel Lucas of Better Life Church in Morehead will also be speaking.

Stephens stresses that the event is for every member of the family, young and old, and for all denominations, with at least five denominations represented on the “Tough Questions” panel alone.

“This is for everyone,” Stephens said. “It’s going to be a night of fun, that’s also fulfilling and challenging.”

Doors open at 4 p.m. and the event runs from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. For more information or to donate, find Awaken online at,, or on Facebook.

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