BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
A peril of performing on the Winter Jam tour means traveling – in winter. Which also means plenty of snow when the contemporary Christian music caravan heads to the North and Midwest.
On this day, David Crowder’s bus – shared by all seven members of his band -- is navigating the treacherous icy grounds in Omaha as he calls to talk about this year’s Jam, the 21-year-old compilation tour of a rotating cast of some of the Christian music industry’s biggest names.
Conceived by Valdosta’s Billy Goodwin and NewSong, the 48-city outing is an annual behemoth, drawing tens of thousands of Christian music fans on the strength of interesting lineups and a meager $10 entry fee.
In Atlanta, the tour returns to the Georgia Dome on Saturday -- the only stadium date among a sea of arenas – with the roster of For King & Country, Matthew West, Lauren Daigle, Red, NewSong, Sidewalk Prophets, Stars Go Dim, We Are Messengers, Clark Beckham and Trip Lee joining Crowder.
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For the sweet-natured, hirsute Crowder, the Dome show will represent a brief homecoming.
A native of Texas, Crowder moved to Atlanta – Cabbagetown, specifically – about four years ago, after the dissolution of the Waco-based David Crowder Band. It’s just as well he’s on the road for a few months; he and his wife are currently apartment-dwellers while the house they purchased last year near Chastain Park undergoes renovations.
“Hopefully we’ll be in there by May or June,” he said with a chuckle.
Crowder is tight with fellow Christian figures Louie Giglio and Chris Tomlin – he signed his first record deal with Giglio’s Sixsteps Records in 2000 – and is an active member of Giglio’s Passion City Church in Buckhead.
But on Saturday, Crowder and his band will squeeze as much music – a blissful mixture of rock, folk and electronica -- and ministry as they can into their 30-minute set and, he hopes, adopt some new converts.
“The whole spectrum of America is in that room,” Crowder said of the audiences the Winter Jam players perform for at every concert. “I like the underdog, the struggle, the I-have-to-win-you-over type thing. For a room to be that full and 75 percent or more of the people there don’t know anything about what I’m spending my life doing, to get to have their ear for a second or two and bring them into what I care about – there’s no opportunity like that anywhere else. And on the other side of it, when you have this many bands, you’re on the road with people who understand how your life looks. They live a similar life. You already have a foundation for a special relationship. I just love people. I love the diversity. I like being confused. Everything about this (tour) is confusing, but at the same time, you have a rudder.”
Crowder speaks enthusiastically about watching the other artists’ sets each night and adds that his favorite thing about the tour is “Jam Church” on Sundays, where song and scripture unite under the direction of evangelist Tony Nolan or “Pastor Bobby” Joiner, whom Crowder calls, “my favorite human ever made.”
Crowder’s fans might bathe him in similar praise judging by their effusiveness on display in the new concert video to accompany his “Neon Steeple Extravaganza” album featuring six live tracks (the concert footage can be viewed at www.kennyrodgersthearcticfox.com).
Atlantans might notice a familiar sight at the end of the concert – a drone shot of a MARTA train and downtown Atlanta. Crowder, wanting to “get the people on the porch with me,” threw a barbecue party in the back lot of Passion City Church and filmed the concert in the loading dock area.
“I came to Atlanta because Louie and the gang had started the church,” Crowder said, “but I knew I found a new home.”
In a few weeks, Crowder will try to jet to Los Angeles during a day off from the tour to attend the Grammy Awards, where he’s nominated for his second in as many years (last year, Crowder lost to fellow Atlantan Lecrae).
“Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains)” is a contender for best contemporary Christian music performance/song and Crowder admitted that hearing the news of the nomination was mind-boggling.
But, more important to him is that one of his best friends, Seth Philpott, co-wrote the song and would also share in Grammy glory.
“To watch Seth when (the nominations) were announced that day, he was flipping out like a 4-year-old girl,” Crowder recalled with a laugh. “He’s just one of those dudes. His voice is just incredible. He’s way more gifted than me. To see that he’s up for a Grammy, too…I don’t know if there’s anything in my career that I’ve been more excited about.”
With For King & Country, Matthew West, Crowder, Lauren Daigle, Red, NewSong, Sidewalk Prophets, Stars Go Dim, We Are Messengers, Clark Beckham and Trip Lee. 5:45 p.m. Feb 6. $10 at the door only. Georgia Dome, 1 Georgia Dome Drive N.W., Atlanta.