Winter Jam expands to Georgia Dome

Christian music fest brings full day of activities along with concert

Winter Jam has been big — very big — for nearly 20 years.

But the Christian music concert event that typically ranks among the highest-grossing tours of the year outgrew Atlanta its past few visits. Or, rather, outgrew the 20,000-capacity Philips Arena.

That’s what a $10 ticket price and the promise of a parade of top-name stars will get you — lines around the block and thousands being turned away.

So this year, Premier Productions, which stages the tour, is taking a literal leap of faith and moving Saturday’s event to the Georgia Dome.

“This is going to be the largest Winter Jam in the history of the tour,” said Roy Morgan, one of the founders of Premier Productions. “I believe people will want to be able to say, ‘I was there.’ When is the last time you were able to get into the Georgia Dome for 10 bucks and experience what you’re going to experience?”

This steroids version of Winter Jam will take place only in Atlanta — the tour visits 47 other cities — and will offer a full day of activities at the Georgia World Congress Center. The free “Jam Zone,” open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., will include 85 exhibitors, stages for local artists to perform, autograph signings by some of the performers, racing pigs and zip lines.

Those who attend the Jam Zone will receive a wristband allowing access to the Georgia Dome through a special entrance for the general admission concert.

Oh, right, the concert.

The tour is renowned for corralling a lineup of some of the top acts in the Christian music genre, and this year boasts Newsboys, Lecrae, Tenth Avenue North, Thousand Foot Krutch, Plumb, NewSong, Colton Dixon, Love & the Outcome, Everfound and Derek Minor, along with speaker Nick Hall and visual artist Jared Emerson.

The process of choosing the acts — which usually begins about a year in advance — is a “prayerful one,” said Billy Goodwin, singer-guitarist of Georgia-based NewSong, which founded Winter Jam in 1995.

“We trust that God will open doors to the (artists) we need to get and to us, that’s another stamp of approval that God places on this thing,” Goodwin said recently from a Winter Jam tour stop in Louisville, Ky.

Lecrae, the Grammy Award-winning Atlanta-based rapper, was an artist that Goodwin thought would be “too big” to get. “But we said, ‘Let’s see …’ and he said, ‘Let’s do it!’ We try to get the artists that have the most buzz going on and are drawing the attention to the Christian industry.”

This Atlanta date is also an anomaly because of its other special guests.

Recent Atlanta transplant and gospel great David Crowder will join NewSong on a tune; Reed Robertson from “Duck Dynasty” will perform and field a Q&A session; Mark Richt, head coach of the University of Georgia Bulldogs football team, will hit the stage with some inspirational words; and celebrated high-wire walker Nik Wallenda will bring his vertigo-inducing skills on an untethered walk across the Dome.

“By the time we get on stage, there’s no telling what might happen,” Goodwin said. “The whole night is going to be jacked up a notch.”

The Georgia Dome will be configured for about 40,000-45,000 attendees, and the cost, which started at $3 when Winter Jam launched in the ’90s, will remain at $10, its holding place for a decade.

“If we were charging $40 or $60 a ticket, a lot of families couldn’t afford it,” Morgan said. “Our whole passion is making it affordable so everyone can come. We try to keep costs down as best we can and raise funds to offset other costs.”

Sponsorships and an offering taken from the crowd usually cover the overhead, but, noted Goodwin, much faith is involved as well.

“If someone doesn’t have the $10, we let them in, anyway. We never turn anyone away. But we simply at the end of the day have to trust God to provide the need we have financially every night,” he said. “We never know until the night is over if we have enough to pay that night’s bills. When NewSong started 32 years ago, we didn’t have this kind of faith. But we expect God to meet the need when we’re doing what he wants us to do.”

With the expanded capacity and a move from its usual Sunday night slot to Saturday, the expectation is that fans will flock not only from Georgia, but northeast Alabama and parts of Tennessee as well.

If the Dome experiment is a success, the plan is to expand Winter Jam in other markets as well (and this time, the dome on the Dome worked in our favor since it is the Winter Jam).

“It’s amazing to us,” Goodwin said, “that this thing just keeps growing.”

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