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Review: Winter Jam Tour 2009 February 9, 2009

Posted by markgeil in Music.
Tags: , , , , ,

Here’s a first for me: attending a concert on the very night the headliner receives a Grammy Award. The award was best Rock or Rap Gospel Album, and the headliner who won that award was TobyMac. (Just how screwed up are the Grammy categories for Christian music, anyway? Rock or Rap?) The concert was Winter Jam, an eclectic mash-up of acts on a tour hosted by Newsong, for whom this Atlanta show was essentially a homecoming.

New Gotee artist Stephanie Smith opened the evening in a resplendent pink tutu. Note to new artists trying to build name recognition: pink tutus are effective, but only if one has the musical chops to back up the sartorial bravado. Fortunately Stephanie does. Here’s what had me reeling about her 4-song set: two dissonant back-to-back firsts in my concert-going career, from this diminutive opening act. Both happened at the end of the set. The first was an explosion of silly string into the first 8 rows apparently from Smith’s gloved right hand. I gotta get me one of them gloves. The second has me reevaluating what I thought I knew about concert gimmicks. Out of nowhere (to close a set during which the house lights were still up, for crying out loud!) Smith unleashed the FLAMING MIC STAND! The flames started about halfway up and ascended the stand all the way to the mic itself! Is this something all the cool kids have now? I’ve seen Robert Plant, people! I’ve seen Rush, and U2, and Yes, and plenty of bands with pyro in their sets. How is it that I’ve never seen the flaming mic stand before? And how is it that the first time I see it it’s from a girl in a pink tutu? My world has been rocked.

Smith was followed by PureNRG, who sang and danced with their usual gusto. Any readers who followed my old blog will recall my adventures with these kids around downtown Atlanta a couple of years ago. They seem to be doing well and got an enthusiastic reception from the now-full floor seat crowd. The stage seemed a bit cramped for their dancing and flipping antics, but they danced and flipped gamely nonetheless and got the crowd hoppin’.

Francesca Battistelli followed, and I had the following question. If I’m a new artist who has had one song make some serious airplay penetration in a given market, and I’m going to play four songs in a concert in that market, when do I play my one hit? The obvious choice is last, so you can build up to it and everyone will cheer loudly. Battistelli chose the other logical choice: play the song, “I’m Letting Go”, first, so that everyone in the crowd can put a face with a name, as it were, and then associate the remaining three songs with you as well. A good choice, since she followed with three excellent tunes. She has a recognizable voice that’s just different enough that methinks she’ll do well.

The hosts Newsong were next. On-screen lyrics were appreciated, as was the passionate performance of “Arise, My Love”. Yes, the guys are getting a little long in the tooth, and yes, the vocals are going the way of Audio Adrenaline, but that song made me want to fast forward straight to Easter! Then, from long in the tooth to, well, short in the tooth?, Hawk Nelson took over the stage, nay, the whole arena. The speakers were too loud, so the vocals were too muddled, but that always seems to be the case with these dudes. Nonetheless, the show was wildly entertaining, with good representation from the latest album, including the expected Bring ‘Em Out and Friend Like That, and a few treats in Ancient History,  Let’s Dance, and One Little Miracle. Hawk Nelson is still my friend.

After the HN set came another of the show’s lengthy breaks. I know that set changes had to take some time, but on the whole there were too many pauses in the action at Winter Jam. There were really loud commercials between each act, an appeal to help orphans until they are adopted through Holt International, a presentation of the Gospel and an invitation, a protracted love offering, and a couple of other mini-sermons and announcements. These were all no doubt important, but many ran just a bit too long, and the whole pace could have been tightened considerably.  

I’ve got a soft spot for singer-songwriters, and I had therefore been looking forward to the next act, Brandon Heath. Heath was nominated for a Grammy as well, but lost to Kirk Franklin, costing us a rare double-artist win that would have allowed me to call the concert “Grammy East”. I think I might call it that anyway. He was sandwiched between Hawk Nelson and TobyMac, providing a welcome musical intermezzo during which we could actually understand the words of the songs! Heath has two major hits, so he was able to open with one, I’m Not Who I Was, and close with the other, Give Me Your Eyes. In between, he played Wait and See and Love Never Fails, both from his new album. The latter was sparse and piercing and beautifully delivered, and received applause equal to any of the bombast that surrounded it.

Finally, the remarkable Diverse City band took the stage just before their patriarch and Grammy Award Winner, TobyMac. I’ve never been disappointed by a TobyMac show, and this was no exception. The energy never waned for even a moment as the band pounded out hit after hit and included the requisite trampoline jumps, freestyle raps, and beatboxing. I particularly enjoyed a sequence of tunes utterly lost on the teenagers in the house, including a disco medley with perfect placement of “Play that Funky Music” during the decidedly Caucasian lead guitarist’s solo. As Toby tore through songs like Boomin’, Made To Love, Lose My Soul, One World, The Slam, and J Train, I was a little taken aback by just how vast his repertoire has become.

There’s a lot to like about Winter Jam. Tickets are only $10, and while I don’t really like general admission, it does mean that dedicated fans at a show like this can sit way down front for a relative pittance. There’s a good sense of community among the artists, and a few familiar faces even came out to the show just to watch, including Newsong alumnus Russ Lee and Third Day’s Mac Powell.  I was entertained for hours, as were thousands of others, but more than that the message of the Good News was clear.



I have an interview with Aaron Shust tomorrow. I’ll post leftovers if I have them.



1. Maggie’s Blog » Blog Archive » Yellow Silly String | Tabbyleft.Info - February 9, 2009

[…] Review: Winter Jam Tour 2009 « A Window in the World […]

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