For one weekend each year, Orlando is Christian Music Central. This two-day period is when Disney World's Night of Joy and Universal Orlando's Rock the Universe share the spotlight with dozens of singers and thousands of concert-goers.
I chatted with two performers from this year's after-hours/extra-ticket/multiple-stage events. One is a veteran rapper; one is a late bloomer in the music business. Both TobyMac and Tim Timmons said they loved singing and the live-audience experiences.
Tim Timmons' career path has been unusual. It included 15 years as a church minister in Orange County, Calif., which he left about five years ago.
"I think Jesus kind of apprehended my heart about seven years ago," said Timmons, who will perform at Disney's Night of Joy on Saturday. "I knew all about Jesus ... I just didn't know him. I think for the first time in my life I'm getting to know Jesus," he said.
He grew up with music and playing in bands, he said, but he wasn't able to attract the attention of record labels. But then, after he left the ministry, he used a Kickstarter campaign to raise $45,000 and make a record with producer Paul Mabury. That led to a deal with Sony.
"Out of that I had interest from every label in town all of a sudden, out of nowhere. It's bizarre," Timmons said. "God keeps opening these doors and I keep walking through them."
In the background of all this was the diagnosis of an incurable cancer. He was given five years to live. That was 15 years ago.
"So I still have 13 tumors on the liver at the moment, and they say that's wearing out my heart, and that's how it will take me," Timmons said. "But ... Jesus keeps waking me up every day. I gave up trying to tell him what I'm supposed to do and started saying 'OK, wherever you want me, you put me and I will love people well. If it's in music, great. If it's in line at Disney, then I will do that. If it's on an airplane, I will do that.'"
Cancer "is a piece of credibility for me," Timmons said.
"People know with my music, I'm not just talking about my pet hamster that just died and I'm sad about it. They know I walk everyday with a sense of urgency and perspective that we all really could walk in. I get to invite people into that perspective, which is pretty great."
Rapper TobyMac, who performs at Universal's Rock the Universe on Saturday, has been on the go since the late 1980s with three-man group DC Talk. He likes it that way, but he sticks to a plan that involves touring "sensibly," he said.
"I try not to overdo it. I love doing live shows, I love recording, I love writing, I love all of it," he said. "So if you plan it out right, you can get a season of writing, a season of recording and a season of touring."
One of the payoffs arrives when audience members sing along, he said.
"It's just a special moment. If the song has been something that resonates with them, all of the sudden, these lyrics — that you were in a small room writing one day — they're singing together with you, and you were thinking of them when you wrote them," TobyMac said.
His Rock the Universe appearance will include songs from each of his solo releases, but it will be heaviest on the latest album, "This Is Not a Test." His next project will be a live-performance CD and DVD, available in November.
"I think the passion is still there, and I think that it's important to me that if this thing begins to lack passion, that's when I'll slow down," said TobyMac, who is 51. "I honestly don't ever foresee it fizzling."
He also has a passion for roller coasters and theme parks, he said. After this weekend at Universal, he'll travel in the next two weeks for gigs at Carowinds in North Carolina and Cedar Point in Ohio. That will make six parks for him this summer.
"Theme parks are the perfect atmosphere for my music. My music is festive," he said. "It's like a big party, and it meets the crowd where they are and it takes them, I think, where they want to go when they're standing in front of me in a theme park. It works for me."
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Night of Joy
WHERE: ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, off Interstate 4, southwest of Orlando
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, doors open at 5 p.m., concerts begin at 6:30 p.m.
COST: Admission on Friday is $49; Saturday admission is $99. Two-night tickets sell for $119.
Rock the Universe
WHERE: Universal Studios, intersection of Interstate 4 and Kirkman Road, Orlando.
WHEN: 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday
COST: A one-night ticket is $65.99; a two-night ticket costs $103.99.