Francesca Battistelli, Skillet, Jeremy Camp highlight parade of Christian stars playing Winter Jam 2015

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI

Since its inception in 1995, Winter Jam has redefined the Christian music tour.

Tickets are not sold, but a $10 admission charge is collected at the door.

Seats aren’t reserved, but fans happily line up hours in advance, using the time to bond with their like-minded brethren. (In the name of commerce, the tour also sells Jam Nation memberships starting at $29.99, which allows for early access to a show, among other perks).

The tour was created by contemporary Christian music group NewSong, which was born at Morningside Baptist Church in Valdosta in the ’80s, and through the years it has corralled some of the genre’s top names, including Third Day, Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, Kutless, TobyMac and Tenth Avenue North.

Financially, the tour has earned bragging rights as a continued moneymaker, despite a low ticket price. In 2014, Winter Jam sold more than 557,000 tickets over 47 dates, with an average gross of $157,371 per show, according to Billboard Boxscore.

That puts it behind such megastars as Lady Antebellum and Jeff Dunham, but ahead of acts that include John Legend and Chicago.

In Atlanta, the tour outgrew Philips Arena and moved into the Georgia Dome last year, where it will return Feb. 7. Prior to the concert, the free Jam Zone, including vendors, performances by local artists and appearances by some of the main acts, will take place 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at the neighboring Georgia World Congress Center.

In typical Winter Jam fashion, the 2015 lineup is another parade of top-drawer contemporary Christian music names — Skillet, Jeremy Camp, Francesca Battistelli, Building 429, Family Force 5, NewSong, For King & Country, Blanca, About a Mile, Veridia,  Sadie Robertson and speaker Tony Nolan.

This is the third time Battistelli has participated in Winter Jam, and the singer said it’s continually gratifying to see the generational span of the audience.

“It’s definitely a lot of young people, but also a lot of parents and youth pastors. It’s cool to see the diverse range. There’s something for everybody, and what’s really cool is that you’re going to be exposed to artists you might not have paid to go see on their own,” she said.

Battistelli, who lived in Canton for a few years before recently returning to Nashville, is a dedicated trouper. The Atlanta date is the night before the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles — and she’s nominated in a pair of categories (best contemporary Christian music album for “If We’re Honest” and best contemporary Christian music performance/song for “Write Your Story”).

Battistelli is good-natured about having to miss the awards because of her Winter Jam commitments, even though a Grammy win would be her first.

“It’s such an honor. It would be incredible to win, but I’m up against some incredible people,” she said. “But even if I don’t win, it’s still cool to be nominated. I know people say that all the time, but it’s true.”

The 29-year-old singer has another reason to stay on tour — her family.

Battistelli travels with her children, Matthew Elijah, 4, and Audrey, 2½. Her husband, Matthew Goodwin, previously served as the drummer in her band but is now managing her career.

And the Goodwin connection is furthered by the appearance of NewSong; not only are they Winter Jam’s founders but the band is fronted by Billy Goodwin, Matthew’s father, who lives in Canton.

“My kids are so spoiled that they get to see (their grandfather) every night,” Battistelli said with a laugh. “But NewSong is still out there tearing it up every night.”

WINTER JAM INFO:

Jam Zone. 10 a.m.-3 p.m Feb. 7. Free. Georgia World Congress Center, 285 Andrew Young International Boulevard N.W., Atlanta. 404-223-4000, gwcc.com.

Winter Jam. With Skillet, Jeremy Camp, Francesca Battistelli, Building 429, Family Force 5 and more. Feb. 7. Doors open 5 p.m., show at 6 p.m. No reserved seating; $10 admission at the door only. Georgia Dome, 1 Georgia Dome Drive, Atlanta. 404-223-9200, gadome.com.

ALSO ON THE BILL:

Here is a look at the other acts that will rock the Georgia Dome this weekend.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Skillet: The quartet's fusion of rock, metal and melody has helped them win Dove Awards, Billboard Music Awards and in 2013 a Loudwire Music Award that recognized Skillet's hard-rock leanings. Their most recent album, "Rise," arrived in 2013, and has sold more than 250,000 copies.

Jeremy Camp: On Feb. 26, Camp will release "I Will Follow," his 10th album since edging onto the Christian music scene with heartfelt story songs in 2000. Hits such as "Let It Fade," "Give You Glory" and "Walk By Faith" have contributed to his impressive resume, which includes six No. 1 hits on the Hot Christian Songs chart.

Building 429: It's hard to believe it's been more than 15 years since the original lineup of the band jelled in North Carolina. Although only lead singer Jason Roy remains from the core band, the anthemic rockers have released eight albums. "We Won't Be Shaken," released in 2013, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Christian Albums chart.

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Family Force 5: The Atlanta-based Christian punk-funk rockers have been around for a decade and released their fourth album, "Time Stands Still," in August. There has been some lineup shifting, but the party-vibe band still contains brothers Jacob Olds ("Crouton") on vocals and Joshua Olds ("Fatty") on bass; Nathan Currin ("Nadaddy") on keyboards and percussion; Derek Mount ("Chap Stique") on guitar; and Teddy Boldt ("Hollywood") on drums.

NewSong: The band is responsible for founding Winter Jam in 1995 and in 2013 released its 18th recording, "Swallow the Ocean." Singer-guitarist Billy Goodwin lives in Canton and is the father-in-law of Francesca Battistelli. The group's combination of gospel and rock remains a perennial draw on the Winter Jam tour.

For King & Country: Some fans might remember the Australian brothers when they were Joel & Luke. Well, they're still Joel and Luke Smallbone, but the Christian pop duo now rolls as For King & Country. Nashville residents since the early '90s, the Smallbones have some interesting industry connections: They're the younger brothers of Christian artist Rebecca St. James and the brothers-in-law of Foster the People bassist Jacob Fink. Their current album, "Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong," arrived in September.

Blanca: The former singer for hip-hoppers Group 1 Crew is trying the solo route. Her first single, the soulful pop of "Who I Am," comes from a solo debut expected this year.

About a Mile: Adam, Levi and Luke Klute, the brothers who comprise About a Mile, hail from Pennsylvania. Their self-titled debut arrived in July and received praise for its well-crafted, anthemic pop-rock.

Veridia: The alt-rock quartet from Nashville released its debut EP, "Inseparable," in February 2014. Along with scoring a hit on the Christian Rock chart with "We Are the Brave," the band has sparked on the mainstream Hot AC chart with "Disconnected" and "Furious Love."

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