Formed by NewSong in 1995, “Winter Jam is an incredible evening of live concerts by the top artists in Christian music … to encourage believers and share the good news with those who have yet to trust Christ,” according to its website, 2023.jamtour.org.
Now considered “the largest annual tour in the world,” Winter Jam came from humble beginnings.
Russ Lee, one of the lead vocalists of NewSong, recalled, “In the early ’90s, Eddie Carswell [an original NewSong member] had this crazy idea. Eddie said, ‘What if we did a concert at a neutral location, and so it wouldn’t be taxing … do it in January?’”
Eddie’s idea included no ticket sales — only a love offering and suggested donation. That first event, not yet named Winter Jam, featured only NewSong and was held at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium in South Carolina.
To cover the cost of the auditorium, they needed 1,500 people to attend the event.
Lee revealed, “That’s what they were hoping and praying for … 1,500 people. Instead, 8,000 people showed up. The building would only accommodate about 6,000, so they said, ‘We may be on to something crazy here. God may be doing something nuts.’”
As the tour added concerts yearly, the name kept changing.
“It was NewSong, then it became NewSong and Friends. Then it became January Jam and then when it outgrew January, it became Winter Jam,” Lee explained.
The NewSong and Friends event included artists such as Margaret Becker, Clay Cross, Jaci Velasquez and Russ Taff.
This evolved into Winter Jam inviting three new artists each year. Francesca Battistelli, Chris August and For King and Country are just a few artists whose careers were helped by the tour.
Lee noted, “[Though] every year the tour features several of the biggest names in Christian music, [NewSong recognizes] that part of our role is really to encourage those coming behind us.”
The main purpose of Winter Jam is to spread the gospel, so a speaker delivers a salvation message each evening.
“We share the gospel at Winter Jam. That’s what it’s about,” Lee asserted.
It’s easy as an audience member to enjoy an inexpensive evening of worship led by incredible talent, but “we have to do a year’s worth of prep,” Lee said.
Planning the details
The organizers prayerfully consider artists who would be a good fit, look for affordable venues and work on schedules. They plan routing and transportation for around 150 people in 14 to 15 buses, several semitrucks and a catering team.
The stage is set with earlier acts in the front and the headliner in the back, sharing any possible equipment. The crew practices setting up and tearing down between each act. Then the artists are included in rehearsals.
As each group finishes, the crew packs that set’s equipment directly into the trucks. Final tear down takes close to 3 hours.
“I cannot tell you how incredible our crew is and how important every aspect of what they do is. We have a video crew, sound and production crew, lighting crew [and] people that are … managing transitions so we can get artists on and off the stage. It’s a huge undertaking,” Lee revealed.
Another goal is to build Christian community for those on the road. Recognizing how much someone gives up to go on tour, the organizers pay attention to small details like making sure the catering is good and the crew has everything they need to do their jobs well.
Winter Jam also prioritizes providing spiritual support.
“We have pastors and mentors for those on the tour — to encourage them and facilitate them spiritually to help them with their life. … They have family members who pass away and [receive] bad diagnoses. You have things that happen in the lives of people every day, and Winter Jam is no exception,” Lee acknowledged.
Winter Jam’s 2023 tour began Jan. 13 and ends March 26, with a stop in Birmingham at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on March 10. General admission tickets are $15 at the door.
Winter Jam includes a student leader reception before each concert. More information can be found about this reception, the artists, tour schedule and volunteering at 2023.jamtour.com.