A crowd estimated by organizers at 40,000 came to Cal Expo on Saturday for a day of Christian rock, extreme sports and preaching at the Luis Palau Sacramento Festival.
Many among Sacramento's faithful had been waiting eagerly for Palau, the Argentinian preacher and celebrity who has held revivals in 74 countries.
"Everywhere they're talking about it," said Kokayi Eldridge of Natomas, as her 5-year-old daughter Alissa and a few other children danced in a sprinkler surrounded by festival tents.
Palau took the stage at 7:45 p.m. and preached for about 40 minutes.
Eldridge, who first heard of Palau when he spoke at Capital Christian Center for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, said the festival was an opportunity for Christians to bring their message to a larger audience.
"Some people may never set foot in a church, but as long as they have an opportunity to receive and as long as they have an opportunity to hear the word of God, then we've done our job," Eldridge said.
"I'm so excited. Seven years it's been coming to fruition," said the Rev. Henry Wells, former pastor of Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church. Wells first asked Palau's organization to come to Sacramento in 2005.
"I was looking around to see who could pull the community together like Billy Graham," he said, remembering when the evangelical preacher's crusade came to Arco Arena in 1995. "Billy Graham was pretty well off the scene by then, and the only other person I knew of was Luis Palau."
Since then, Wells and other local church leaders have met regularly with representatives of Palau's organization, and recruited the support of additional churches.
Ray Johnston, pastor at Bayside Church in Roseville, worked with Wells and others to publicize the festival. Johnston and Palau are friends, and the two clergymen's families spend time together.
"He's hysterical," Johnston said of Palau. "The fact that he's 78, and an absolute riot he can say whatever he wants and get away with it."
About 200 churches sent a formal invitation to Palau in June 2011.
By the time the festival arrived, leaders from about 470 local churches had agreed to add their names to the list of those supporting the festival.
"There are at any given time a whole bunch of people that are trying to bring something into the community, and pretty much all it does is make really busy people busier," Johnston said.
Nonetheless, local clergy responded positively to Palau.
"He's perfect for this whole community, for Sacramento, for the region," said Alex Vaiz, the senior pastor of the Spanish-speaking congregation at Center of Praise in midtown Sacramento.
Palau, who is bilingual, also appealed to Sacramento's large community of Spanish-speaking faithful. Palau preached in Spanish on Friday night at Capital Christian Center.
The extreme cyclists and the music at the festival are intended to include younger Christians as well.
Wells, unfortunately, was not able to enjoy the festival he had worked so long to organize. The intense heat at the fairgrounds Saturday afternoon proved too much for him.
"This is a bummer," he said as a paramedic listened to his chest with a stethoscope. Paramedics later transported him to Mercy General Hospital as a precaution.
Battalion Chief Ed Bassett of the Sacramento Fire Department said that eight people were transported to area hospitals from the festival to be treated for heat-related illnesses.
The festival continues at 3:30 p.m. today, with Palau scheduled to speak at about 7:30 p.m.