It may not seem much like winter now, especially after spring forward. But Winter Jam, Christian music’s largest annual tour, is here in Fort Worth. This Sunday, the roving all-ages festival offers four hours of music with a message for a cheap price — just a $15 suggested donation at the door.
NewSong, a contemporary Christian music group, created Winter Jam in 1995. The group started at a church in Georgia in the early ’80s. It's set will feature newer songs as well as its biggest hits, “Arise My Love” and “Miracles.”
You may remember NewSong’s holiday single “Christmas Shoes,” about a boy trying to get a pair of Christmas shoes for his dying mother. A video of comedian Patton Oswalt making fun of the love-it-or-hate-it song’s lyrics has been viewed millions of times online. Sadly, “Christmas Shoes” is out of season for this concert.
NewSong member Eddie Carswell has been part of Winter Jam since the very beginning. “We wanted to make it so that anyone who wanted to come could afford to hear their favorite Christian artists play,” he says. Admittance was just three dollars the first year, he says, before adding that those who can’t pay are allowed in.
Carswell sees little difference between a Christian music festival and any other fest. “We have 10 bands, and huge crowds are coming to see them,” he says. “We have big production and it’s pretty much the same thing. But it’s a Christian event, so I don’t think anybody’s going to come nude. And we don’t serve alcohol.”
An annual national festival for decades, Winter Jam has evolved much like Christian music. This year’s lineup is diverse, with a wide variety of music styles.
The March 18 event at the Fort Worth Convention Center is headlined by Skillet. In lieu of a deranged heartthrob, a husband and wife front this Grammy-nominated Christian hard rock group.
Still edgy for a Christian rock band, Skillet has fight songs, and some of the members sport tattoos. They look gritty and stylish enough to pass for Texas hipsters, especially lead singer John Cooper. Expect pyrotechnics from this platinum selling act, along with hopeful hard rock hits like “Feel Invincible,” "Stars,” and “Back From the Dead.”
“It’s amazing how things have changed,” Carswell says. “Christian music hasn’t always been so diverse. Years ago I watched Skillet and liked it, but had no idea if it would work. But now there are many Christian music listeners who like all kinds of different music.”
After existing for a few decades, "Christian rock" is no longer a paradoxical or controversial term. But there is Christian hip-hop music now, too, represented at Winter Jam by Kevin Burgess — known simply as KB. The Florida lyricist, known for his spiritual convictions, is a bit of an outlier in the hip-hop world.
But KB quickly garnered critical and commercial acclaim with early singles like “100.” Lecrae, another Christian hip-hop artist from Texas, was impressed enough to sign the young faith-based rapper to his label, Reach Records. After the release of last year’s “Today We Rebel,” KB has now topped Billboard’s Top Christian Albums chart four consecutive times.
A newer Christian artist, Jordan Feliz, is also featured at Winter Jam. The California native has a pop soul sound and is best known for his bluesy single “The River.” Named after a Bible verse, Ephesians 4:29, Building 429 is a Billboard Christian chart-topping group known for soaring pop anthems like “Where I Belong” and “We Won’t Be Shaken.”
For the first time, Winter Jam even has a Christian comedian on the bill, John Crist. Offering comic relief in between bands, Crist has toured with huge names like Jeff Foxworthy and Tim Hawkins. For his comedy channel on YouTube, he also uses sketch comedy to create videos, some of which have gone viral, including “Road Rage in the Church Parking Lot” and “Pastor Monday Morning Press Conference.”
But rest assured, Winter Jam also features traditional Christian fare, like worship and ministry. Worship leader Kari Jobe and Nick Hall, an Evangelist speaker and author, are also part of the bill.
The show officially starts at 7 p.m. Sunday. But a “Pre-Jam Party” at 6 features worship artist Dan Bremnes, singer-songwriter Mallary Hope, and new act Westover.
- 6 p.m. March 18
- Fort Worth Convention Center
- 1201 Houston St.
- Suggested donation of $15 at the door; no advance tickets for sale
- For more info, 2018.jamtour.com.