The KLOVE Fan Awards
are in their third year as of 2015, boasting the premise of a primarily fan voted awards show featuring artists most frequently played on KLOVE radio. The awards show has grown into a full weekend experience, drawing attendees from all over the country to enjoy three days of concerts, activities and opportunities to connect with the music they love on a deeper level than ever before.
As a Nashville resident, I had the opportunity to attend the full weekend for my second time this year in order to observe all of the celebrating and memorable performances and events.
Friday: The Kick Off
Events: Check in, kick off concert featuring Sidewalk Prophets, Matt Maher, Matthew West, Newsboys and TobyMac
Friday afternoon the Opryland Hotel in Nashville flooded with guests from all over the country, ready for a weekend jam packed with favorite artists and songs. From the first afternoon, there was an atmosphere of refreshing camaraderie. Artists could be seen walking the hallways alongside guests, often stopping for conversations and pictures.
The kick off concert was scheduled for 7:00. Seating that evening proved a challenge since the doors didn't open until 6:45, resulting in a mad scramble for spots in the full-to-capacity ballroom. But once everyone was seated, the evening was sheer musical excellence.
kicked off the night with well-loved radio favorites that had fans singing along from the first notes of hits like "You Love Me Anyway." The band has a rare transparency and humility that marks everything they do, which served to make a crowd of a few thousand people feel like welcomed close friends.
followed with his ecclesiastically-focused worship songs. A major advantage to the setting was that not a single person in the room was apathetic about Christian music; all of them were sold out fans, enough so to travel, in many cases, all the way across the country to be there. As a result, with songs like Matt's powerful recent single "Because He Lives," the surge of voices singing along was like a roar of worship.
Seemingly unable to stay still for long, Matthew West
brought a relentless energy to his performance of songs like "Day One" and "Do Something." The artist ran back and forth across the stage with infectious enthusiasm. The crowd responded in kind, with energy levels seeming to only increase as the evening went one.
was the first of what felt like a dual-headlining format. Their set was shorter than is normal for the group due to time constraints, but as always they gave it their all, from frontman Michael Tait's boundless attitude to drummer Duncan Phillips' impossible vigor at the back of the stage. Songs like "That's How You Change The World" kicked the energy levels up musically, and by the time they led into monster hits "We Believe" and "God's Not Dead," the entire audience was so completely captured in the moment that the roof was practically shaking with the sound of their voices.
It was late by the time TobyMac
and his Diverse City Band took the stage, but no one seemed to mind as he launched into a mix of newer hits like "Eye On It" and older staples like "Lose My Soul." Although Toby is still a stellar performer in his own right, he allowed the band around him to fill out the massive sound of his songs. For "Speak Life" he even brought cowriter and friend Ryan Stevenson
out on stage to sing with him.
Overall, each of the musical acts of the evening was phenomenal, but perhaps the star of the show was simply the audience's anticipation and participation.
(View a full photo gallery from the evening here.)
Saturday: Getting into Gear
Events: Run for Love 5k, fan zone performances and activities, artist basketball game, songwriter's showcase
The day began with a 5k aimed at raising funds for Hands and Feet
, the organization who also received fundraising benefits from the awards fan voting process. Artists like Jon Steingard from Hawk Nelson
, Joel Smallbone from for KING & COUNTRY
and Mike Donehey from Tenth Avenue North
were at the start line by 7:30 a.m. to sign autographs before pounding the pavement.
During the race itself, some artists like Matthew West and Joel Smallbone hung back and talked to fans as they ran in the hot Tennessee morning, while others like Ben Macdonald (Sidewalk Prophets) and Will McGuinniss (founder of Audio Adrenaline
) sped ahead to claim some of the best times of the day. The overall fastest time went to Matt Butler of NewSong
At the end of the race Mike Donehey passed out the trophies, ending with a special award that had been allocated for the most "positive and encouraging" runner. That award went to Terri, one of the fastest runners of the day, who also happens to be undergoing chemotherapy to combat stage 4 breast cancer. When Mike announced her name, no one could find her-- and it turned out that this was because she'd run back down the course to encourage some friends finishing towards the back of the crowd. Mike had everyone line the road and cheer her name as she crossed the finish line for the second time. There were more than a few teary eyes watching the event unfold, and even more when Terri took the stage and simply said that she wanted to thank Jesus-- "because of Him, I finally have peace."
As the race wrapped up the fan zone opened, complete with non-stop autograph sessions, game stations, merch stores, a Christian music museum, a small performance stage, and Sidewalk Prophets' bus open and ready for fans to tour.
The only hitch in the events was similar to that of the night before: the fan zone felt overfull at times and slightly underprepared for the sheer volume of Christian music fans passing through. However, each element itself was well executed, providing hours of entertainment and engagement opportunities for fans.
Fans enjoyed standing room only performances by Lauren Daigle
, I Am They
and Chris August
right before The Digital Age
unveiled their brand new drumming robot, assembled by drummer "Bwack." Shortly thereafter artists like Mike Donehey (Tenth Avenue North), Ryan Stevenson and TobyMac participated in a basketball game (with enthusiastic support and suggestions non-stop from the audience watching on bleachers).
The evening's event was a less traditional concert built around showcasing strong songwriters and the heart of their lyrics. The lineup was not announced until the very beginning of the show, at which point host Steven Curtis Chapman
pulled out a ukulele and sang a song listing all of the performers' names.
Although every artist that performed was exceptional, one of the highlights was a surprise performance from Nichole Nordeman
. The CCM legend who is just beginning to return to the stage after several years off played her new single "The Unmaking." Fittingly, Nichole also chose to play "Legacy," a song focusing everyone on what mattered more than awards that weekend: "I want to leave a legacy, how will they remember me? / Did I choose to love? Did I point to You enough to make a mark on things? / I want to leave an offering.
Another highlight was Josh Wilson
's stripped back performances of "That Was Then This is Now" and "I Refuse," the format allowing his phenomenal guitar skills to shine. Colton Dixon
's piano performance of "Through All of It" was also exceptional, and Big Daddy Weave
led the whole room in deep worship through "Overwhelmed" and "Redeemed."
The official finale was MercyMe
, who had fans dancing in the aisles on the grace-centric songs "Flawless" and "Greater." However, when the audience cried with thunderous cheers that they weren't done yet, Steven Curtis Chapman grabbed a guitar and temporarily set aside his usual cheerful demeanor to talk about how hard May still is for his family. This May marked seven years since the passing of his young daughter Maria, and Steven shared the grief he and his wife Mary Beth still experience. But he then turned it all towards redemption with his song "Glorious Unfolding," a deeply raw and unplanned moment of worship.
Saturday: The Show
Events: Morning worship, red carpet, 2015 KLOVE Fan Awards
After a morning worship session led by Third Day
, rain provided an unavoidable kink in red carpet plans. Fortunately, backup positions for the carpet were in place. The carpet was unrolled in the overhang in front of the historic Grand Ole Opry, with fans able to stand behind a barrier but under the overhang in order to witness their favorite artists walking the red carpet. Even this was largely a participatory experience for the fans, as artists like Tenth Avenue North and Sidewalk Prophets made an escape from the red carpet to thank and hug fans in the crowd.
(See photos from the red carpet here.)
The show itself this year was hosted by actor and director Kirk Cameron and Fox & Friends host Elisabeth Hasselbeck. The whole thing started with a nostalgic tribute to Kirk Cameron's Growing Pains
days before both hosts went down into the audience and selected a few lucky fans to come get selfies with their favorite artists in the front rows.
The total number of performances was in the neighborhood of 20, which automatically meant the evening was quite lengthy (perhaps a little overly so). However, the quality of the performances meant the audience was able to stay for the most part focused.
Much of the mood leaned towards the theatrical. TobyMac's performance of new track "This is Not a Test" featured a brilliant laser display and his proteges Capital Kings. When Plumb
performed "Exhale," she herself was in an ethereal white dress, and gifted aerialists joined her on stage to perform acrobatics on massive sheets of silk. for KING & COUNTRY opted for simple bright lights to create bold shadow silhouettes.
In addition to the performances, there were several other interludes, ranging from serious to absurd. Mike Donehey's "Not So Newlywed Game" fell into the latter category, and is likely to live in infamy for years to come. He had Kirk Cameron, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Steven Curtis Chapman all on stage with their spouses, and the couples had to compete in a gameshow format full of awkward questions (topped off by the fact that Mike was sporting a fantastically loud grandpa sweater). The game prompted a lot of laughter, due in part to Mike's goofball attitude and quick comebacks.
More serious moments included In Memoriam segments for legends like Billy Ray Hearn and Andrae Crouch
. Steven Curtis Chapman led the segment, playing his take on Andrae's "My Tribute." Another reflective segment was an onstage interview with Casting Crowns
lead singer Mark Hall, who underwent surgery for cancer earlier this year. The singer, who penned "Praise You in This Storm," shared "When a storm hits your life, you can't draw strength from a worldview or a place you visit once a week. It has to be the person of Jesus Christ."
Handing out the awards themselves felt almost like an afterthought in the evening, which was actually somewhat positive since it allowed for more focus on the artists celebrating each other and enjoying the sense of community. The evening's big winners were for KING & COUNTRY, who took home a total of three awards (Best Live Show, Artist of the Year, Group/Duo of the Year). Each of their acceptance speeches were deeply emotional as they acknowledged the way their success stands on the shoulders of their parents and elder sister Rebecca St. James.
Another highlight on the winner's list was Worship Song of the Year, awarded to newcomer Lauren Daigle. As a new face in the industry, Lauren has exploded onto the industry's consciousness, and for good reason. Her song "How Can it Be" has captured the hearts of worshippers nationwide, and she was glowing with joy as she accepted the award. You can see the full list of winners here
The show's finale was a performance by MercyMe, who pulled out every resource at their disposal for their presentation of "Greater." From circus performers to massive colored clouds of confetti to a dog running around in a banana costume, it was a note of pure joy to end the evening.
In my eyes, the biggest highlight of the entire weekend was the way it promoted community between both the artists and the fans. I asked many of the artists what their favorite part of the experience had been, and the answers were consistent: spending time with the fans, and spending time with each other. Whether it was artists taking selfies with fans in the hallway, autograph sessions, or Sidewalk Prophets hiding in the back lounge of their bus to surprise unsuspecting fans who were touring it, there was a sense of barriers being broken down and an unending give and take of gratitude between bands and fans. All of this pointed back to the God at the center of every song and every relationship, and it was a reminder of how the Kingdom should operate.
The only flaws in the experience were logistically; I consistently had the feeling that no one had planned for the number of attendees (a number which seemed quite a bit higher than last year). The awards show itself also might have taken on a little more than could practically be handled in one evening. I suspect some tweaks to the experience will be occurring in years to come.
However, overall the weekend was a phenomenal experience for bands and fans alike. There is nothing else quite like this happening in the music industry today, and for most of the attendees, the experience seemed to be well worth the trip.