Get your jam on at the Winter Jam Tour Spectacular


Photo: Sophie Lockhart

Lecrae takes the Winter Jam stage at The Schottenstein Center in Columbus on Jan. 18, 2014.

I met one of my best friends at Winter Jam in 2009. I was in 7th grade, we were at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., TobyMac was the headliner, and we got front row seats. Ever since that night, Winter Jam has been like an annual three-course-meal I can look forward to, always served when I’m starving for music the most.

That’s why, when Winter Jam stopped at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus on Jan. 18, 2014, I was ready to go. I had the date memorized for weeks. I had a friend to go with me (and my dad, because he’s kind of cool). It didn’t disappoint. It’s Winter Jam; it never does.

$10 a person. Ten bands total. Phenomenal music. The largest annual tour in the world.

You just can’t go wrong.

After arriving at “The Schot” and waiting in line for roughly four hours, we got inside and made a mad dash for seats. Kicking off the “Pre-Jam” was Derek Minor, a rapper. I’d never seen Minor perform, and I didn’t know his music at the time, but he impressed me. I enjoyed his show, even if it was brief.

Next up was a band called Everfound, a group of brothers from Russia who shared their family story. Their great-grandfather was put in jail for 20 years for simply owning a Bible, and now they get up on stages and play music for thousands of people, free to express themselves and sing about the God they love. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them play, and I also fell in love with their song, God of the Impossible. When you put that song in context with the persecution their family dealt with firsthand, it’s beyond powerful. My favorite line is, “I dare to believe in incredible things.”

Fast forward to a pop/rock husband-wife duo I was really excited to see, Love & The Outcome. First, that’s pretty much the coolest band name I’ve ever heard. Second, they killed it. Their self-titled album has been blasting through my car speakers for the past month because I loved their set so much. They even autographed it for me!

The fourth artist to take the stage was the all-too-popular Colton Dixon, who made it all the way to the Top 7 on the 11th season of American Idol in 2012. I must say, I’m a fan. He put on a fantastic show. His music has a pop sound with light grunge/rock undertones. He sounded great, and apparently he looked great, too, because the two girls in the row in front of me started screaming, snapping pictures, and straight up fangirling. I mean, he does have nice hair.

Next up: Newsong. I’ve seen them at Winter Jam every year (they started Winter Jam, so it makes sense). I’m pretty sure every single person in that band can sing. They always sound magnificent, with glorious harmonies and some incredible moments of true artist-audience connection. That’s what I love about them the most. They connect with their audience and create an intimate moment with them. I honestly feel like an old friend when I hear them play. Not to mention, they brought in artist Jared Emerson and had him paint a portrait along with their music, live, as a part of their set. It’s an awesome moment when they finish their song; you look up at the stage and what this guy has been jumping around doing for the last five minutes, and you see a full-fledged, professional painting. Nicely done, gentlemen.

My favorite Newsong songs (it’s always fun to say that) are The Way You Smile (featuring Francesca Battistelli), All We Need, Arise My Love and Every Victory. I recommend buying their newest album, Swallow the Ocean, because it will blow your mind.

After Newsong, Plumb (Tiffany Arbuckle Lee) got up on the platform. I really like her songs Say Your Name and Chocolate and Ice Cream, so I was anxious to see her in concert. I must say, that girl can sing! She also shared her heart, and talked about how she had been through a painful divorce, but she and her husband were able to reconcile their differences and actually remarry. She explained how the love they have now is stronger than it’s ever been. I’d never heard a story like that, and I’d never seen someone so open about her negative experiences with something as meaningful and delicate as marriage. Plumb sings about love, and how we all need it. It’s obvious that she wants that love to go beyond her music and truly change people’s lives.

Thousand Foot Krutch, a hard-rock band, played right after Plumb. Just like Love & The Outcome, the guys in TFK were kind enough to autograph my copy of their CD, Be the Change. I think that album is going to blow the speakers in my car. You just have to turn it up all the way, especially during songs like Courtesy Call and Fly on the Wall. I’ve been a TFK fan for several years, but I’d only seen them live once, and the show had been cut short. So, being able to actually see them play a full set was pretty fantastic. Plus, I’m sure this is getting repetitive, but they smashed it. They sounded flawless. Trevor McNevan, the lead singer, is a crazy talented songwriter with the perfect voice for rock music. He also has a really fancy mic stand.

After TFK, Nick Hall got up on a smaller stage in the middle of The Schot, and shared a message that hopefully planted some seeds in some people’s hearts. He talked about his Reset Movement, and how we all have the chance to start over, hit the reset button, and put the terrible things we’ve done behind us. Because, let’s face it. We’ve all done terrible things. Hall always speaks truth, whether it’s about forgiveness, faith or just life in general. And I never get tired of listening to him, letting the words sink in.

Hall, as well as Russ Lee from Newsong, also mentioned Holt International, something Winter Jam heavily supports and advertises. Holt International is a child sponsorship program that allows individuals, families, church groups, and others to be a part of giving adequate food, education, clothing and more to children in other countries who desperately need it. Plus, the cool thing about Holt is that you get to write back and forth with your sponsor child and create a bond with them. I love it when I see little kids ask their parents if they can sponsor a child, or when a group of friends agrees to sponsor a child together. (Personally, my family sponsors a little boy named Estuardo, who lives in Guatemala. Although we sponsor him through a different organization, Compassion International, the impact is similar. He’s touched our lives just as much as we’ve touched his.)

Hall’s message offers a smooth transition into a show by Tenth Avenue North. Tenth Avenue North is probably one of my all-time favorite bands, especially live. Their songs have stories behind them that literally everyone can relate to. It’s also really awesome when Mike Donohey, lead singer and primary songwriter, goes out into the audience, legitimately climbing over chairs and bodies, to sing up close and personal. These guys know how it’s done, and they always deliver.

Finally, the man, the myth, the legend: Lecrae. Lecrae is a rapper, and his album, Gravity, was No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 2012. It sold 70,490 units within the first week of its release, and was well-received by popular radio stations all over the country. I think my all-time favorite Lecrae song is Fakin’, so I was pumped when I heard that song in his set. I also loved hearing, I’m Turnt live. For real, the place went nuts.

Lecrae is not only an incredible artist and skilled rapper, he is a man who seeks to bring love and truth into every line, every verse and every situation. He’s breaking into the hip-hop culture in a way that no one else ever has. I’m glad he’s been recognized as a role model for kids, teens and adults everywhere, because I’m not sure you could find a better one.

Last but not least, Newsboys. If you’ve followed radio stations like Air 1 and K-Love even a little bit over the past 25 years, there’s pretty much no way you haven’t heard of Newsboys. Songs like Breakfast, Shine, Wherever We Go, He Reigns and Amazing Love were all a huge part of my childhood, but I promise you, they’re still my jams. Even though the band went through some member changes in 2010 and replaced lead singer Peter Furler with former DC Talk member Michael Tait, they’re still going strong, and they’re still just as phenomenal in concert.

One of the most powerful moments of the whole evening was when Tait talked about his mom’s recent passing, and sang a song, dedicated to her, titled, That Home. I’ve never seen someone so emotionally invested in what they’re singing still be able to sing flawlessly. Props to your breath support, Mr. Tait. Even more props to you for singing so honestly about something so painful. The best lines in that song are, “Mama always had the music on, sometimes loud and sometimes soft. And when you asked about her favorite song, she opened the Bible to the book of Psalms. She always found a way to talk about grace.”

What amazes me is how Newsboys always cover both ends of the spectrum when it comes to their music. They have raw, heartfelt moments with songs like That Home and We Believe, but then they pull out songs like Fishers of Men and Born Again, or even old DC Talk songs like Jesus Freak and go nuts with a drum set that rises about 10 feet in the air, turns sideways, and legitimately rotates in a circle WHILE the drummer, Duncan Phillips, is playing a drum solo. I’m not kidding. You can watch a video of it here. It’s something you will never regret seeing live, so see it while you have the chance.

The reason this incredible tour exists is because the guys in Newsong had a vision to spread a positive message through music, and make it affordable and easily accessible. Every stop on the Winter Jam Tour is a huge leap of faith, because, honestly, they never know what’s going to happen. This year Winter Jam took an especially big risk and tried to fill the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, equaling about 70,000 people total. They even brought in guests like Reed Robertson, David Crowder and Nick Wallenda in order to reach as many people as possible.

That’s why I encourage you to go to a Winter Jam concert. You can view tour dates here. Bring some friends. Take pictures, make memories, have the time of your life, and tell everyone you know. You won’t regret it.