Kevin Davis: "Donít miss the chance to attend this great festival and to experience some of the premier artists in the industry." (Kari Jobe Pictured)
This was the second time I’ve attended the WinterJam Tour in Reading, PA. Nobody does tours like NewSong. When the group introduced its annual "WinterJam Tour Spectacular" in 1995, NewSong started to change the public face of Christian music. The mega-event on wheels has become one of the music world's biggest annual tours, with some history-making moments along the way. To this day, NewSong's multi-artist, ticketless concerts give tens of thousands the opportunity not only to hear incredible music but, of course, to also hear the Gospel message. During 2011's Tour, more than 90,000 WinterJam attendees made either a first-time commitment to follow Christ or rededicated their lives to Him. More than 500,000 fans attended the 46 dates of the 2011 WinterJam Tour ranking it as the largest tour of any kind in the world during the year's first quarter according to Pollstar.
I had the privilege to see several artists I’ve always wanted to see in concert during Winter Jam 2012 on Thursday, January 26, 2012 starting with new artist for KING & COUNTRY, whose debut album, Crave, is available on February 28. Comprised of Australian brothers, Joel and Luke, they opened with an energetic song called “Fine, Fine Life” which really got the fast growing crowd singing along with the band. Billboard Magazine named them 1 of 17 artists to watch for in 2012 and American Songwriter raves they are “Australia’s answer to Coldplay,” which is a great description of their Brit-rock tinged worship which also reminds me of Rend Collective Experiment and The City Harmonic musically. Next they performed “Light It Up,” also from their forthcoming debut album, which is about a close friend of theirs who suffers from depression. They closed with their hit song, “Busted Heart (Hold On To Me)” which was the fastest-rising debut single for 2011 in their genre. I had the privilege to interview the brothers about this great song for an upcoming “behind the song” devotional before the show and I can’t get enough of the catchy melody and biblical message of the song. My middle daughter Cassandra attended WinterJam with me and she absolutely loved their set. Don’t miss out on this great new band. They were truly a highlight of WinterJam.
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The crowd was steadily growing and certainly ready for new artist Dara Maclean as she started her set with “Free” from her debut album You Got My Attention and is the follow-up single to her Top 20 hit debut single “Suitcases.” The album topped the chart at No. 1 on the iTunes Christian Album Chart. A singer of incredible grace, power and control as well as a gifted songwriter, she wrote or co-wrote all 12 of the tracks on the album. I interviewed Dara in-person before the concert about “Free” for an upcoming “behind the song” devotional. The song celebrates the freedom we have in Christ and is a continuation of Dara’s transparent and sincere message of gratitude for what Jesus has done in her life. Next she sang "Yours Forever" which is a standout ballad where Dara personally prays, "Thank You for finding me when You did, You changed my life, Now I believe that Love is all that I'll ever need, I promise my heart and all that I am, I'm Yours forever my Love.” Dara is clearly a grateful believer who is unashamed of her salvation and many of her songs are invitations into Dara's prayer life. If you don't know how to word your prayers of thankfulness for what Jesus has done for you, just sing along with her incredible songs of faith. Maclean was named one of the select iTunes “New Artists To Watch” and she closed with her breakthrough single “Suitcases” which has been featured as the Discovery Download of the week.
“Suitcases” is driven by an infectious beat and a vocal approach alternately intimate and soaring, and is an offer of true release from “your burdens, heavy like gravity.” I was immediately hooked right from the opening notes and the song uses the metaphor of carrying suitcases as a perfect depiction of the weight of sin that we don't need to carry with us if we've put our faith in Jesus for our salvation. Dara gorgeously sang “You can't run when you're holding suitcases, It's a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart, Lay down your guard, you don't have to be afraid.” According to Dara, “I wanted to paint a picture of God's complete restorative love and how through Christ, we have an opportunity to live free,” she says. “This song does just that.” Amen. Dara displays the strongest vocals I've heard in years, and her Brit-pop sounding vocals are similar to Adele and Natasha Bedingfield wrapped around Motown style soulful music. Don't hesitate to buy her debut album or catch her set on WinterJam 2012.
Group 1 Crew re-launched Outta Space Love: Bigger Love Edition on January 24 and includes the original 12 tracks of Outta Space Love as well as 8 additional tracks/remixes. The album includes brand new track “He Said” which features multi-award winning artist, Chris August. I interviewed the band about the new song for an upcoming “behind the song” devotional. The duo opened with Dove Award winning song “Movin’” which lives up to its namesake as you can’t help but ‘move’ with the beat of the song and Manwell and Blanca displayed flawless vocals while also showing off some great choreographed dance moves. They performed a brief “old school” medley of “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by The Supremes before launching into their fan-favorite song “Live It Up” which had the crowd singing the celebratory anthem in unison.
Outta Space Love is Group 1 Crew’s third Fervent Records release and originally debuted at No. 1 on the Soundscan Christian Digital Chart and No. 4 on the overall Christian Album Chart. The album delivered the Dove Award winning Top 5 hit “Walking On The Stars” which was next. Blanca Callahan really displayed her strong lead vocals on the song and I love the vertical and prayerful message in the lyrics—“take me away, You save me from myself and all I do, Cause life just ain’t the same when I'm with You, I can climb the sky, You got me walking on the stars.” Amen to that! The biblical message was even bolder with the next song, “Keys To The Kingdom.” Manwell strongly delivered the Gospel message with the chorus: “You got the keys inside this kingdom, lift up your head is only begun, keep holding on and you'll see the Son, everybody sing it now!” After the arena went dark, they lit up the green light stripes on their clothing and closed with their dance tempo song “Manipulation.” The crowd was definitely in a mood to celebrate the freedom we have in Christ after their set which led to another high energy set from Building 429.
Next up was Dove Award winning band Building 429. Blessed with one of the most distinctive voices in any genre of music, lead singer Jason Roy, wrote or co-wrote nine of the ten tracks on the new album, which in my opinion is their newest "best" album. Right from the opening choral-backed “Made For You,” I knew I was in for a treat with their set which is straight up rock worship. The song kicked off their set with a Hillsong UNITED-type rock anthem with the awesome bridge, “You are God there is no other, I won't bow before another, I was made for You.” This band has consistently made albums that are worthy of the band name's theme verse, Ephesians 4:29.
“One Foot” is another great track, and was next which was followed by the title track “Listen To The Sound” which has become a personal worship anthem for me. The song has very inspiring lyrics, “You'll never know what faith is, till you don't understand, sometimes it takes the silence to finally hear HIS plan, So listen to the sound of Hope that's rising.” The band's "sound" has evolved from the prior albums' grunge rock and Brit-rock tendencies to this album which has the most CHR-radio friendly pop/rock accessibility to date. Recent #1 song “Where I Belong,” was truly the highlight of the evening and I can't get enough of the hook of the inspiring chorus, "Take this world and give me Jesus, this is not where I belong.” I interviewed Jason Roy in person about the song for an upcoming “behind the song” devotional and I love how bold the statements of faith are throughout this incredible album. This is truly a band worthy of being named after Ephesians 4:29 as their excellent album is “helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Sometimes a band has an uncanny ability to connect with a listener and I truly had that experience listening to their worship-filled set.
Host band NewSong performed a worshipful three song set starting with “Arise My Love,” and then current hit song “The Same God,” which features Matt Butler’s lead vocals. I interviewed Matt in person about the song before the show for an upcoming “behind the song” devotional and the message is timeless and scripturally based. Butler softly yet powerfully sang: "the same God with you then is with you now, the same God who led you in, will lead you out, take all the fear and doubt, go and lay them down, the same God with you then is with you now, He's with you now." Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. No matter your circumstances, you can rest that God never changes and He is for us. If God is for us, who can be against us? Amen to that! Matt Butler and fellow NewSong singer Russ Lee each shared about God’s faithfulness which led to their closing song “Rescue.”
Kari Jobe filled the arena with her anointed voice and it was truly a privilege to be led by her in passionate worship to our King and Savior, Jesus. Her current album Where I Find Youreleased this past week and has been # 1 on the Christian iTunes chart since it released. She opened with her hit song, “We Are,” and then she led us in passionate worship with “Love Came Down,” “You Are For Me,” and closed with her powerful and reverent leading of “Revelation Song.” It was a treat to sing this song for the Church in a filled arena with over 8,000 people lifting their hands in unison to God.
Peter Furler’s set was a blast! I had seen him ten times as the former front-man for Newsboys, and WinterJam 2012 was truly a highlight! He performed “Reach,”“I’m Alive” and “Closer” from his current solo album On Fire and then three infectious and worshipful Newsboys’ hit songs: “He Reigns,”“Entertaining Angels,” and “I Am Free.” I’ve recently interviewed Peter about “Reach” and “I’m Alive” for my “behind the song” devotional series. The message of “Reach” is very edifying and encouraging and truly reflects the message of the Bible, which is found in the great chorus: “And You reach for me, With a love that quiets all my fears.” Amen.
On Fire is a great return from one of Christian music’s all-time most prolific songwriters, having written more than 25 No. 1 songs in his time with Newsboys. What separates Christian music from secular music isn’t the musical hook, as this song demonstrates a very contemporary sound that can be heard on mainstream radio. What separates Christian music and Christians from the world is the message of the songs. Right from the beginning, Peter’s songs have had bold Christian messages in his songs “He Reigns,” “It Is You” and “In The Hands of God.” Furler’s band included Superchick guitarist David Ghazarian and former Newsboys’ bassist, Phil Joel. His set was high energy and worshipful and it was fun to see Furler and Joel reunited.
Sanctus Real is a band I’ve always enjoyed in concert, and their most recent album Pieces of a Broken Heart includes the hit ballads “Lead Me” and “The Redeemer.” They opened by performing “Take Over Me” as a medley with “Face of Love,” and then my favorite Sanctus Real song, “I’m Not Alright.” They continued with the chorus of “Whatever You’re Doing (Something Heavenly)” which led nicely into the combination of recent hit songs “The Redeemer” and “Lead Me.” They closed with a strong rendition of “Forgiven.” The crowd was ready for Skillet to come out and melt our faces.
I’ve now seen Skillet five times since the release of Awake, and each time I’ve been with someone who was seeing them for the first time. Each time, Skillet has put on such an engaging and energetic rock show, one can’t help but leave their shows as a “panhead” which is the name hardcore Skillet fans are proudly called. One man near the front of the capacity crowd was holding a sign saying “Number 1 Skillet Fan” which John Cooper took from him along with a can of Dr. Pepper from the same fan. WinterJam 2012 couldn’t have ended with a better band than Skillet. They began with their hit song "Whispers In The Dark" which had me wondering if I'd be able to hear the rest of the set since I was in the front row. Thankfully I had brought ear plugs for me and my 8 year old daughter. There were blazing fire bursts along with some serious head banging and fist pumping which was a great way to start the show. I could tell I was in for another incredible Skillet concert.
That led perfectly into “Comatose” which has an extremely cool intro with a violin and cello player and Jen Ledger jamming on the drums on my favorite song from Skillet’s last album. Lead singer John Cooper talked about how “every day there's a war for your soul, this world will tell you to live to money and power and not to live for Jesus. We are not ashamed!!” That led into the incredible title track “Awake and Alive.” This has become my personal rock anthem and is a fantastic reminder to live for Jesus everyday. Next came “Those Nights," which had the capacity crowd of about 8,000 in Reading, PA singing along, then went into a frenzy when John started recording the crowd and said “welcome to YouTube!”
They pulled out all the stops for the next song “Hero” with Jen Ledger and the drum set moving out to the platform and Seth and Korey playing their guitars on risers. I loved watching the pyrotechnics and crowd reaction to this rock anthem. The energy just kept gushing with “The Last Night” which John explained “was written for a girl who wanted to end her life, and I tell her how special she is, and that her life is not a mistake. I love her the way she is.” The song is easily the most emotional “head-banger” I've ever heard and it moves me every time I hear it. It’s an incredible song to hear in person and sing at the top of your lungs. “Lucy” slowed down the tempo for a very personal ballad and was a cell phone waving song. I had the amazing opportunity to interview John Cooper in person before the show about both “One Day Too Late” and “Lucy” for my “behind the song” devotional series and they are both incredible messages challenging listeners to “make the world a better place.”
One of the closing songs was “Monster” which is a crazy song with awesome energy, and how John keeps any voice during the show is incredible. Finally, the excellent cello introduction and then violin solo led to the rock classic “Rebirthing” which for me is without a doubt one of the all-time best album opening songs on any album and was a perfect closing song for WinterJam 2012.
Don’t miss the chance to attend this great festival and to experience some of the premier artists in the industry.
Posted February 03, 2012 | Kevin Davis is a long time fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. David Holzemer is a Christian music fan with a desire to serve God with his talents. His portfolio of work can be explored at CollidePhoto.com.