Winter Jam tour kicks off Jan. 4
CHARLESTON -- For the second year in a row, the largest Christian music tour will start at the Charleston Civic Center on Friday, Jan. 4.
The 44-city tour includes 10 bands and is headlined by TobyMac, RED, Matthew West and tour founder NewSong.
Also taking the stage will be Jamie Grace, Sidewalk Prophets, Royal Tailor, Jason Castro, OBB and Capital Kings. Speaker Nick Hall also is back for a second year.
Tickets are $10 at the door. The show starts at 7 p.m. and doors open at 6 p.m., though lines often start forming hours before. There also is a Jam Nation pass for $49.99 that gets you in at 4:30 p.m. for a first pick of seats and question and answer sessions with some of the artists.
The tour travels all over the East Coast for three months and has reached 500,000 people two years in a row, helping it be one of the highest-attended tours in the world.
"We're just praying when we kick it off in Charleston, it will be fantastic," said NewSong's Eddie Carswell. "There's an excitement of the first night ... everyone wants to see Winter Jam be the best thing they've done."
Carswell said preparing for the 18th year has been exciting because there is no explanation other than God's blessing for how it has continued to be a success, especially in that they've kept it $10.
"It's very amazing and very humbling," he said. "It reminds you over and over again that it's God's tour. We continue to give Him credit and glory for it."
Each year, they hear stories of lives that have been changed by attending and hearing about Jesus for the first time or sometimes the 50th time.
The weight of the responsibility and just the pressure of the tour is why two road pastors travel with them. It's a big part of what is happening back stage, Carswell said of the amount of time spent praying and building one another up.
That's what excites Jamie Grace and Jason Castro, two of the singers hitting the tour at young times in their careers. Grace, 21, just graduated with a bachelor's degree in child and youth development with a focus on children's ministry. However, as the daughter of a pastor who worked in children's ministry for many years, she said God has called her to the stage at this point in her life.
"It was my junior year of college when this started to pick up," said Grace, who was singing at church before she was in kindergarten. "I knew I could try and plan my schedule around (working in children's ministry), but I felt God was calling me to music. I'm doing a little unorthodox kids' ministry now."
Castro also was raised in the church and started drumming when he was 11 and continued in a secular band through his teen years. But the "American Idol" star said it wasn't until he surrendered his musical career that God allowed him to have it again as a singer and songwriter.
"It's been a journey that I know is far from over," the Texas native said. "It all goes back to God for me. A lot my story early on was music. But it wasn't until I gave it up that it all came back."
Castro said January is shaping up to be a great month, not only with Winter Jam but also his new album "Only a Mountain" will be released Jan. 15. When he comes to Charleston, he said the audience will get a live preview.
"It's music that will inspire people and I can't wait to share it," Castro said. "I really think a life of faith is one of adventure, and I'm on it."
Some of the other artists might be familiar to West Virginians. TobyMac headlined a show in Huntington in 2010, while Royal Tailor and Matthew West opened for Casting Crowns in Charleston last April. RED and Sidewalk Prophets also were a part of past Winter Jam tours.
Winter Jam also will be in Columbus, Ohio, Jan. 19; Louisville, Ky., Feb. 2; Cincinnati, Ohio, Feb. 22; and Lexington, Ky., March 16.
For more information, visit www.jamtour.com.