Winter Jam 2016: 10 Things You Need to Know About the Best Night in CCM
NRT's J.J. Francesco shares the highlights of Christian music's biggest tour.

With the start of a new year Winter Jam is rolling across the country yet again, drawing massive crowds to its stellar line-up through 40+ dates. If you're thinking of hitting up the biggest tour in Christian music, here are some things you should know.

1. It's a Sampler of the Best
Rock (RED), pop (Sidewalk Prophets, for KING & COUNTRY), worship (Lauren Daigle, Crowder), rap (KB/Tedashii): they have it all. Crowder and NewSong even gave us a dose of country charm. 

2. Merch Deals
Like what you hear? Odds are the artist has a jaw dropping good deal going on to help convince you to take their music home with you. I know this year in particular I didn't walk away empty-handed.

3. Fresh Faces
The pre-jam party is always home to some fresh new faces on the music scene. Often, some of the night's most enjoyable music is featured here (the night's headliners started as an opening act here just 4 short years ago). We Are Messengers has an accessible pop/worship sound and lots of musical charm. Stars Go Dim oozed pop/rock goodness that will likely earn them lots of radio success.

4. Commercials with Purpose  
A night like Winter Jam doesn't come to pass without lots of sponsors, but even these help add to the feel of the night. Holt International is always a great cause. There were some sneak peeks of coming Christian films like Joel Smallbone's Priceless and the sure-to-make waves God's Not Dead 2. Promotions for Liberty University and Camp Electric offer the potential to introduce concertgoers to some life-changing experiences down the road.

5. Top Notch Special Effects 
A good number of artists added some pizzazz to their sets with creative visual aids. Matthew West shot some confetti. Red brought out the pyro and creepy trees that sparked. Crowder sang from a country front porch backdrop. And the brothers Smallbone performed the intro to their set via silhouette on a large curtain, complete with laser projections. It's little things like that which help to make a show really feel special and engaging.

6. Testimonies to Rock Your World 
Winter Jam is also great for hearing stories of lives changed through Christ. A woman named Stephanie shared a heart-wrenching story of abandonment and ultimate rescue. We learned some history of the Winter Jam tour. Matthew West shared stories of some of the people who had inspired his songs. Several of the artists shared stories of God's work in their lives. As always, hearing and seeing how God worked in the lives of others is almost as much a highlight of the night as the music. 

7. There Will Be Mingling 
WJ always features the artists mixing things up by popping up in each other's sets. This year, KB and Tedashii both appeared in later sets to drop some rap bars, making the night feel even more unified though varied.

8. The Music is Just Plain Good 
It was great hearing some terrific radio songs live again, or for the first time. "Prodigal," "Take Me Over," "Messengers," "Arise My Love," "Shoulders," a slow-building "Proof of Your Love" finale-- these are simply a taste of the great musical moments awaiting at Winter Jam this year.

9. Rise of the Smallbones 
Those who've read some of my previous reviews of for King & Country concerts (such as Winter Jam 2015 and their You Matter Tour) know that I've touted them as an act certain to be headlining nights like these one day. Little did I know that day would come so soon. The brothers Smallbone stepped up into the role of headliner like seasoned pros, putting on an engaging set that would make any industry veteran proud. The cheers and excitement they generated rivals any of the past headliners. It's quite the success story, and quite a testament to what God can do through us lowly instruments.

10. Still 10 Bucks a Pop 
It's the best deal anywhere around. 10 dollars, 10 artists, 1 incredible night of music, worship and an overall enthralling experience.

The Bottom Line: For any of its corporate trappings or predictable inclusions, WinterJam is still by far the best night of the year in CCM. So get there! 

Follow @winterjamtour on instagram for more pictures and snapshots from behind the scenes.


J.J. Francesco is an aspiring fiction writer who enjoys Christian rock, good movies and TV, good food, and good company.

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