Attending Winter Jam has become a January tradition for me. It is sort of like God's little present to me for dealing with the harsh Pittsburgh winter weather. This year boasted a beautiful lineup in typical Winter Jam fashion.
I've become accustomed to the Winter Jam format; many artists giving the audience a wide variety, and a huge bang-for-their-ten-bucks, with the downfall being shorter set times to accommodate the inflated roster of performers. But this year marked a change, and it's not necessarily a change I can quite put my finger on. In comparison to the two prior years, all of the acts (excluding the Pre-Jam artists) seemed to have a more even allotment of time, all the way to the headliner. Typically, the last act to go on (this year, Crowder), would get 30-40 minutes to perform as opposed to the lessened set times or prior acts. This year seemed more rounded out, with Crowder only performing for 20-25 minutes. Both ways have their pros and cons; I'm not sure what side of the fence I fall on. One welcome change, however, seemed to be an extremely scaled back allotment of time for various advertisements and commercials. This, of course, is necessary to the tour's success and ongoing health, but I can hardly remember sitting through many. The result was a brisk barrage of artist after artist taking the stage.
In the Pre-Jam party, we were treated to solo artist Sarah Reeves and brother band OBB and newcomer Steven Malcom. Winter Jam has a legacy of showcasing some talented folks as Pre-Jammers right before they blow up in a big way. I feel this year's crop is no different. Each performer was diverse, offering something totally different, but each featured something special that will inevitably (hopefully!) convert to long-term success.
Thousand Foot Krutch kicked off Winter Jam this year with their heavy rock flair, followed by tour founders NewSong with some really impressive light displays. This one-two punch of contrasting styles worked out well, with Trevor McNevan even joining Newsong in a pseudo-hip hop verse. It was odd, yet fascinating and definitely enjoyable. The highlight for me was the ever-present "Arise My Love," this year accompanied by a massive cross formed in vertical and horizontal light, changing colors as the song progressed, eventually accompanied with the visage of our savior illuminating the background in the climax of the song.
Colton Dixon and Andy Mineo were the next subsequent performers, both playing through 4 or 5 of their most well-known songs. Dixon brought one of the most worshipful moments of the concert with one spotlight and his piano for a performance of "Through All of It." Mineo, on the other hand, tore the roof off of PPG with a blistering performance of "You Can't Stop Me!"
Sprinkled in between the performances were talks given by Winter Jam stalwart Tony Nolan (sadly, in his last year as Winter Jam speaker) and Duck Dynasty's Sadie Robertson. Both were effective in bringing forth a message that was challenging and accessible, appealing to both believers and non-believers alike. I do want to share one thing that Tony Nolan said that has stuck with me: "Satan seeking whom he may devour is no match for Jesus seeking whom He may deliver."
Tenth Avenue North, Britt Nicole, and Crowder finished off the night as the three headliners. One of the things I love most about Winter Jam is how diverse the artists can range, and this is a prime example. Sure, you can find all three artists on your local K-LOVE station, but the comparison really stops there. Each is a master of what they do, and those are three distinctly different things, while each is effectively proclaiming the gospel. It's a beautiful thing.
All three artists were on point, receiving some of the loudest reactions from the crowd of the night. Tenth Avenue North's frontman Mike Donehey is a madman, with an apparent insane amount of cardio. Throughout his set list, he would break out into full on sprints across the length of the PPG Paints Arena, from crowd, to stage, back to crowd again. As is tradition with the headliner, Crowder featured some of the night's performers to assist with various songs. Andy Mineo took over the Tedashii section of "Life Your Head Weary Sinner," with Britt Nicole providing some powerful female vocals on the tail end of the song. Colton Dixon, Sarah Reeves, Mike Donehey, and Russ Lee helped with Crowder"s "All My Hope," a song that immediately feels like church on a crisp autumn Sunday morning in the south.
To go into detail on all the happenings of the show would have you scrolling for a good part of your day, but as always, Winter Jam is a must-see event. For the ridiculously cheap bargain of ten dollars, WJ continues to provide the best value in Christian music. Each artist brings something new and different to the table in these shows. While some audience members may not like every genre represented, for ten dollars, and the top-notch production, it's a no-brainer to check out this show when it stops near your hometown. It's my January tradition for a reason.-- B.J. Smith, 1/27/17
Thousand Foot Krutch
Tenth Avenue North
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