Winter Jam 2014: My Experience
I consider myself a music lover and a major fan of Christian music. I have all the CD's and downloads of my favorite bands and artists and believe myself a number one fan of quite a few of them. Which is why it seems crazy to me that, until recently, I'd never attended an actual concert. Those who had were constantly explaining to me how much more powerful the experience of hearing your favorite songs in person could be. Still it just never seemed like the right artist was in the right area at the right time and for the right price. Until I was offered the opportunity to attend 2014's Winterjam Tour. This was it. The perfect combination of the exciting performers and local venue all for the ridiculously low entrance fee of .....ten dollars. We couldn't even get a babysitter for that price. Luckily grandparents provide free childcare so I had a handsome date( also known as my husband) along for the experience.
Venue and Atmosphere
Upon pulling up (an hour early!) to the civic center where the concert was being held, I was immediately struck by the amount of concertgoers already lining up outside the doors. As we searched for a parking space I surveyed the crowd and the wide range of ages waiting patiently told me this was more than just a concert. It was worship. I couldn't wait to get inside.
Following a short wait, we made it into the arena. It took some time to locate our seats due simply to the enormity of the crowd attending the show. Fans were already clamoring to buy t-shirts and purchase concert merchandise from their favorite artists. I wasn't sure I was ready for that, this being my first concert and all, as I still wasn't sure quite what to expect and decided to bypass the merchandise in favor of locating the perfect seat.
After settling in to the spot we picked out near the stage entrance, I turned to my left and was lucky enough to see former American Idol finalist, Colton Dixon warming up and preparing to take the stage. He glanced up at me (and the 40 other people staring at him in starstruck reverence) and gave a friendly wave and I decided my concert experience was already complete. He performed beautifully and seems destined for the kind of career worthy of such a young talent.
It only got better from there. It was a music lovers dream as, one after another, Christian music's top performers took to the stage. From the hard rock & electronic sound of Thousand Foot Crutch and Plumb to the uplifting melodies of husband and wife duo, Love & the Outcome ( a new favorite), there was truly something for everyone. The teenagers seated next to us went absolutely crazy when the four brothers who make up the pop/rock band, Everfound took the stage. After watching the high energy performance the group put on, it wasn't hard to understand why they inspired such fandom in my seatmates.
While each and every performer featured that night was nothing short of inspirational, I was particularly struck by the performance of Tenth Avenue North and it's frontman, Mike Donehey. When walking onto the stage, he made sure to wave at concertgoers and his crowd interaction didn't end there While singing hits from their new album, The Struggle, Donehey made his way though the audience and remained there throughout most of the band's songset. He leaned over listeners and seemed to sing right to them. He touched hands and shoulders and sang praise directly to those in front of him. I'd never seen someone perform that way and was touched by the way he seemed to be living out the words he was singing. The band's music is amazing but it was the way they seemed to be worshipping with us, rather than performing for us, that made me want to buy every CD they'd ever released immediately.
One of the things that I was most struck by while attending Winterjam 2014 was that it felt as if I was seated right in the middle of the world's best/biggest worship service. Pastor Nick Hall spoke to the audience about their ability to spread the word of Jesus far and wide, regardless of age or circumstance. As I looked around me, taking in the faces of these young people who seemed so eager for the word of God, I couldn't help but feel as if Pastor Hall was a vehicle for the Lord's presence that night. The hugely successful group Newsong, the founding father's of the Winterjam tour, also contributed hugely to the spreading of the gospel throughout the Civic Center arena that evening. Frontman Russ Lee, a worship pastor, who founded Winterjam in 1995, spoke to the audience as well, urging them to carry forth the concert's message out into the world.
Though the sermons were uplifting and motivational, Winterjam is still a concert and a concert is meant to get you on your feet. Which is exactly what the second to last performer of the night did immediately upon his entrance. Lecrae took to the stage and, at once, the mood was absolutely electric. With him on stage were fans he'd invited prior to the show to join him in the opening number. Watching this young rapper perform, and interact with the onstage fans, removed all questions as to why he is the best in the game. The music, the lyrics, and the dancing all wowed, but it was Lecrae's testimony that put his performance on another level. He spoke of where he'd been and where he'd been taken by Jesus. He encouraged the audience to believe in what God could do based on what the Lord has worked in his own life. The crowd responded by staying on it's feet throughout the entirety of Lecrae's set and were rewarded with a collaboration between Lecrae and Colton Dixon on Lecrae's single, Background.
As if Lecrae's performance wasn't enough to make Winterjam the complete experience, the final act of the night, the headliner's, were about to perform. Fans were screaming before the Newsboy's introduction had even begun, and the band hit the arena like a firework exploding. The stage itself was awe inspiring, with spinning drums and upside down drummers, a jumbo screen and 3D words and a forklift that launched lead singer, Michael Tait, into and above the audience. For the performance of the monster hit, "God's Not Dead", Tait dipped and swirled through the crowd as audience members leapt, arms overhead, to touch his hands and join him in singing the lyrics. The Newsboys showed their love to the fans by putting on the type of show that leaves you breathless from enjoying yourself. They perform as if it's their first time singing each song and one cannot help but be caught up in the energy. At the conclusion of their set, Tait announced to the audience that they would be signing copies of their newest CD, Restart, in the lobby following the show. He also let the fans know that they would not be leaving until they had signed every copy. Audience members made a bolt for the door.
The Newsboys were not the only act to meet with fans after the concert. The lobby was at a standstill as virtually every band and artist set up to meet and greet with concertgoers. It was quickly apparent from their interactions with those in line that these performers truly care about those who listen to their music. One by one, I watched as they took pictures, hugged, listened, and prayed with those waiting. Upon speaking with them myself I was in awe of how real and well, kind, they all were. It would be one thing to sing about Jesus, but to do so, while also treating others in such a way that they see him in you? That is the kind of thing that makes them a lifelong fan of both.
So I did it. I'm no longer a concert newbie. I got all the things everyone was telling me about. The live experience, the community of fans, the excitement of seeing musical idols in person...that was all as neat as they said it would be. But no one told me that I could leave a huge show feeling closer to my Savior. Nothing prepared me for the rush of emotion and joy that comes from singing for and about our God with an arena full of fellow seekers. Sure you could of just came for the show and you would not have left disappointed. Yeah, you could of come for some worship and you would have accomplished that too. What Winterjam does so brilliantly though is to merge the two into an experience that leaves you feeling as if you were the only one in the room. I already can't wait for next year. This time I may even buy the t-shirt.:)