Winter Jam has taken on a life of its own.
That’s Eddie Carswell’s explanation for the growth of the annual Christian music festival founded by Carswell and his band NewSong. In the first year, Winter Jam’s lineup was one band and its tour was one city. Now the lineup features several of the biggest names in Christian music, and it’s playing 48 dates. Carswell is still responsible for Winter Jam’s continued success; NewSong is one of the headliners of this year’s version of the fest, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.
During a phone conversation while on tour with Winter Jam, Carswell pieced together a timeline illustrating that growth.
Year One: “It was just an idea I had for NewSong to play in a venue in the Greenville, South Carolina, area. We had been there a good little bit doing concerts in churches around that area, and they had really good Christian radio there in Greenville. So I called the radio station (and they) directed me to a promoter in town who I didn’t know. I said, ‘Here what I was thinking.’ This was in October when I called him. And he said, ‘Well, there’s no way I can do it next year. I won’t have time to sell tickets.’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to sell tickets. I want to let people pay something at the door.’ He said, ‘I can do it with you if you want to try it, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. We’ve never sold out the arena with anything Christian,’ and he named all the famous Christian artists of the day. I said, ‘Ok, let’s try it. It will be fun to see what happens.’ We charged $ 3 at the door, and it seats 6,500. It drew 6,500 people and more.”
Year Two: “We added one more city (Chattanooga, Tennessee). We did two cities that year. It started going so well, we started adding more cities and we called it January Jam. I felt like, from what this promoter explained to me, that was going to be a time of the year we wouldn’t have to compete with all the other Christian music tours. That was going great, until (years later) we started playing January Jam in February. That was very confusing. So we changed the name to Winter Jam.”
1999: “We added some more artists. Just NewSong did it the first two or three years, and then we realized, ‘Hey, this has got to get old to these people.’ The year the Bi-Lo Center opened up we added a number of artists, and we had the largest crowd ever assembled in an indoor arena in the state of South Carolina, 15,000-something. We’ve since beat that at other places, but that was the biggest building in South Carolina at the time.”
2016: “I think we have a little bit more this year by having For King and Country and David Crowder and Matthew West. Every artist out here this year is really on their game – lots going on in their ministries. To me, it feels strong in that way. The sum total is bigger than it’s ever been. And the crowds have been amazing. Packed to the gills. Big crowds. It’s a year-round effort, putting this together every year. Even now we’re working on next year’s.”
If you go
What: Winter Jam
When: 6:45 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19
Where: U.S. Bank Arena, 100 Broadway, Downtown; 513-421-4111
Admission: $ 10