For more than two decades, Winter Jam has consistently ranked as one of the top tours of the year.
And with a blueprint of an ultra-low ticket price at the door, general admission seating and a lineup that typically spotlights a diverse span of Christian music artists, the continued success of the annual outing isn’t shocking.
The tour was conceived in the mid-‘90s by Valdosta-based NewSong, and, while several of its members have since migrated to Nashville, the band is still at the forefront of the road show.
On Saturday, march16NewSong will pull into State Farm Arena with the rest of the Winter Jam parade — Newsboys United, Danny Gokey, Mandisa, Rend Collective, Ledger, Hollyncq and perhaps some special guests. For the first time, the show will be presented in-the-round, which NewSong member Eddie Carswell – an original member along with Billy Goodwin – says has been a fun tweak to the production.
Calling last week from his home in Franklin, Tennessee, in between dates in Nashville and Louisville, Kentucky, the gregarious Carswell chatted about the logistics of the tour and the band’s role as “traveling evangelists.”
Q: Are you still amazed at the longevity of this thing?
A: People say, “Are you serious? 23 years?” It’s a pretty crazy thing. It started out as one night, just NewSong doing a concert, because we had heard people say they couldn’t afford to come to a Christian music concert. They’d come to free things at a Christian bookstore and get your autographs. The idea was, what if we did something that everyone could afford? We started with $3 tickets at a 6,500 seat place in Greenville, South Carolina. The next year I thought, they’re gonna get sick of hearing just us, so we brought in Bryan Duncan and Bob Carlisle and that’s how it started. I remember when we started this journey thinking maybe we should go to Philips Arena (now State Farm Arena) and it was like, WHAT? That would be crazy!
Q: And this year you have a show in the round.
A: We’re trying something new – we’re calling it Winter Jam 360. It’s more good seats and it’s been fun. The good news for us is that there are several of us on stage who can leisurely go to different places on the stage. People seem to like it.
Q: Is it hard finding people to commit to the tour because so many artists have their own thing going on?
A: There’s a mix of that. Some people already have commitments, some are available that weren’t available the year before. You don’t want to have the same people right back, especially the headliners. There’s a little bit of work to be done with that. It’s not easy. You have to start talking about what they have planned. With the headliners, it’s about who is available and who is the best fit. If they’ve done this before, how long has it been? There are some great artists out there; it’s just a matter of getting around to talking to them. It’s a lot of praying, a lot of talking, a lot of friends.
Q: How involved is the band in curating the lineup and the touring production?
A: Not everybody is speaking to every little thing, but me and Billy (Goodwin) and Jake, my son, have been involved in booking the lineup. You’re already talking about next year’s tour now. Jake has taken over a lot of that. Someone has to be thinking about that stuff while we’re performing!
Q: Why do you think the model of general admission, a modest fee and paying at the door still works?
A: We want everybody to be able to come. Christian music concerts weren’t very big back in the day — the 6,500 we did in South Carolina might have been the biggest of that year. It’s a ministry and we wanted everyone to be a part of it. Even if you don’t have $15, you can come. We never turn anybody away. I wish had an unbelievably big building and it could be free. It’s always been about that. Letting everybody hear all the great music, be encouraged, hear the ministry moments. We’re kind of traveling evangelists.
With Newsboys United, Danny Gokey, Mandisa, Rend Collective, Ledger, NewSong, Hollyn and more. 6 p.m. Saturday. $15 (donation at the door; early access can be purchased at www.jamtour.com). State Farm Arena, 1 Philips Drive, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.