Here’s some fun trivia.
In the first quarter of 2010 and 2011, what was the number one tour in the country?
Tell you what—we’ll make it multiple choice.
a. Justin Bieber
b. Lady Gaga
c. Taylor Swift
d. None of the above
Now, don’t go look on your phone. And don’t arbitrarily pick c (because we all know from time to time, we’ve arbitrarily picked c.
Here’s a hint. It’s not a, b or c…
Because the number one tour in the country during the first quarter of 2010 and 2011 was Winter Jam. Outpacing the biggest names in the music industry, Christian or secular, Winter Jam has proven what the faith of a few can do in the hands of the Father.
“It’s God’s tour,” says Eddie Carswell, member of NewSong who created Winter Jam all those years ago.
“This isn’t Newsong’s tour. This makes no sense.”
Well, it makes some sense. With arguably the best lineup of artists year after year, a ridiculously low ticket price, meticulous attention to detail and quality control to be reckoned with, it actually is quite conceivable that such an event would produce such fruit.
Even other tours with a similar set-up—ten artists for $10—aren’t bringing out the crowds that Winter Jam continues to draw year after year.
So what’s the magic behind this?
“I think it’s God honoring and it’s always been about the ministry,” Russ Lee, also of NewSong adds. “We never had an intention to get rich. We’ve always tried to keep it economical. In his economy, people are struggling financially. We’ve always struggled with charging a lot of money to gospel music to people. It’s always been about including as many as people as we can.”
And from its very humble beginnings, it has done just that.
“The first year, it was just us [NewSong],” shares Eddie. “We were looking for a neutral venue and were working with Premiere Productions, which was just a little promoter in Greenville, South Carolina. They couldn’t find anything available until January. We decided we weren’t going to sell tickets, just charge at the door and we ended up having to turn 2000 people away.”
At first called January Jam, the tour quickly grew in popularity with dates spilling over into February…
“And here we are still playing Winter Jam,” Eddie says.
Over the years, the heart of the tour hasn’t changed much. Still evangelical in purpose, it’s clear that there have been very intentional decisions and commitments to ensure that the message of Christ is never diluted or diminished. Part of that begins backstage.
From the beginning, the artists have gathered with the tour speaker for a little church of their own. Nick Hall, founder of the Pulse movement and returning for his second year as Winter Jam speaker shares that those moments are some of the most amazing.
“Things happen in life,” he shares. “People get sick, people lose loved ones. It can turn into an all out prayer service. It’s not uncommon for people to be weeping. It’s a family.”
The family seems to grow more and more every night as some members of the audience will be allowed to talk one on one with the artists about real life, real struggles and real pain.
“Some girls are getting counseling from Dara Maclean, Kari Jobe, Blanca,” Nick continues. “It’s some profound stuff. Some of these kids are carrying things that are so deep.”
From depression to parents divorcing to eating disorders and cutting and any number of other issues, the kids they are seeing night after night are hurting…as are the adults. The Winter Jam tour knows it and has oriented the entire tour around reaching those hurting hearts where they are.
One such method is with a text. There are teams of people in every city or every stop along the tour ready and waiting to text back and forth with teens and others who are making decisions for Christ, struggling with life and need someone to talk to them in their language on their level.
In addition to the texting, the Winter Jam team has reached out into every community it lands in to network with local churches and other resources in order to help those decisions that are made in a moment at a concert be truly life-lasting, life-changing decisions.
As Nick shares, several social media outlets have pooled
their resources in order to accomplish real change and leave people with real
support and love.
“We wanted to pull together the best of what all of us have to go from a live experience to getting them connected with God’s word and God’s people,” he says.
“In fact, kids who responded last January are still being encouraged through texts and other ways now.”
Suffice it to say, Winter Jam isn’t just a shallow altar call experience. It is through and through a commitment to share all of God with all who can hear.
Between the music, the ministry, the follow-up and the potential for even more exponential growth in the coming years, Eddie says it the best: “Without a doubt, we know God’s the one who has energized this.”
And with an ever-growing round of tour dates, ever-increasing audiences and ever-God honoring, it’s clear to see God’s hand supporting, protecting and sustaining what has become one of the most influential and life-changing experiences this country has ever seen.
For tour dates and more information, visit jamtour.com.
Swallow the Ocean: NewSong takes on the impossible
In between planning for Winter Jam, conducting student conferences and being dads and husbands, NewSong has accomplished yet another seemingly impossible thing. They’re releasing a new album.
That means that between shows and buses and car pools, etc…they not only made time to write and write and write…but they recorded quite possibly one of their finest studio albums yet.
“We worked with some amazing producers,” shares Russ Lee. “Seth Mosley, Chris Stevens, who has worked with TobyMac and others.”
In addition to stellar production, the players for this album outdid themselves as well.
“Our bands don’t always play on everything,” Russ continues. “But rather than taking some time off, they did all the playing on the record. For a lot of reasons, to me, it’s the best thing we’ve done in many years.”
The concept behind the title track is not only catchy, but quite compelling.
“You’re more likely to drain the ocean dry than to really understand the love of God,” says Russ. “It was such an intriguing idea. Really understanding out relationship with God is like trying to swallow the ocean.”
Releasing February 12, soon enough the world will hear just how relevant, profound and current NewSong still is after over two decades of ministry.
For more on NewSong, visit newsongonline.com.
Caroline Lusk was the editor of CCM Magazine between 2008-2014.