Ranking among the biggest first quarter tours in the world, the Winter Jam Tour Spectacular is gearing up for another blockbuster 2020 U.S. run. Created and hosted by one of Christian music’s most beloved bands, NewSong, Winter Jam exploded from a single show in 1995 to become Christian music’s benchmark tour. Throughout two decades, Winter Jam has helped provide a powerful platform for the Gospel in major arenas nationwide, consistently showcasing the genre’s top artists. In this TCB Exclusive, one of NewSong's founding members Eddie Carswell talks with us about the history of Winter Jam and the exciting 2020 lineup. You can view our entire interview with Eddie below, in video or text form.
TOUR LINEUP & DATES --> Winter Jam 2020 Tour Details Announced
It's October, which means anticipation is building for some big WinterJam news. What should fans expect from WinterJam 2020?
Well the lineup is amazingly fresh and great, I think. I love that Louie Giglio is going to be out with us for half the tour, speaking, which is awesome. He pastors a church and has a lot of things going on, but he wanted to do it, so obviously Crowder and him are buddies, so that probably helped a bit. Crowder will be there, too. Passion Band will be there when Louie’s out. And when Passion Band is not there, Hillsong Young & Free will be with us. We’ve never done anything quite like that, so that’s exciting! Riley Clemmons was just added – she was the last one. And Austin French, Andy Mineo, NewSong of course, Building 429, and RED.
Looking at the night, how much do you plan for continuity among the artist’s messages versus letting each artist craft their own portion of the night?
What they do is what they do. We obviously have some things we are trying to accomplish with the night, and they know their order in the night, which helps them decide what they want to do. It may look different for them if they fell first or last in the night. But besides that, we know these artists well, and we just want them to bring their A-game and do what we know they can do. And whatever they want to bring with them that will make it bigger or better or surprising, we are all for that too.
What all preparations are left to take place between now and the first show in January?
For me, not much. [Laughs.] But, we’ve had people working for months on what it’s going to look like and how we’re going to stage it. Then you obviously have to let the artists know what’s going on, so they can know what to do with their set. A lot of work has been done to get all the contracts done and make sure this is a good year for them to do it. Some artists have done it before and have said they want to do it again in a few years, like Crowder, so we try to work that out too. It’s a lot of moving parts though, and not an easy thing.
You’ve been building a legacy on this tour over the past 20-25 years, so looking back to reflect, what moments stand out to you?
Well I always think about the first one. It wasn’t called Winter Jam – it was just a concert. We would go to Christian bookstores, which is how we advertised back then, and we would bring other artists if we could and meet up at bookstores to cross our publicity. So when you go to the Christian bookstore, you would hear people saying that we are their favorite band, and they love our music, and can’t wait to hear our songs. And so you always wonder where they may have seen us, but they would say they had never seen us perform before because they have a family of 5 or so and couldn’t afford to buy tickets to a show. And so then I wondered if people would come to a Christian concert if they weren’t that expensive. Christian concerts weren’t all that big back then. An Amy Grant concert would be pretty big; there were a few people that could do a fairly big concert. So we rented an arena and charged $3 at the door to see how many people would come. And we ended up turning away hundreds. It was mostly a NewSong concert then, and we would share the Gospel. We tried in that setting to provide counseling, which doesn’t work that well. And then the next year we did the same thing, and added another city.
And we tried to keep it so people could afford to come, and also making sure we shared the Gospel. That’s always a part of what NewSong is. And it’s exciting to see it gradually taking new steps. It was always fun when we played the Georgia Dome because it seats 60,000 people, so we never had to worry about turning away anyone.
Looking forward to the next 20 or so years, what are your continued hopes and dreams as it continues to evolve?
Well I don’t know. Obviously we want to keep it innovative and see what God is going to do. Some things are the same and a few things we’ve changed along the way. So we’ve got some fresh things we are trying to do this year, I already mentioned the change with the lineup, and some other things too. We also have to see how long He wants it to go. We love to see people, like Louie, and others speaking and God touching their hearts.
One of those innovative ideas you incorporated last year was the 360-degree stage. What was that experience like?
It was fun and different for sure. After just a few nights, it starts to feel right to you. You feel comfortable and know where to look. As a group, we had never done that, crew and everybody. So we had a learning curve at first, but it was a lot of fun. And all of a sudden, after 20 years, people were sitting where they don’t normally sit, which was different. It was a little odd, and I think people were able to get a little closer, which is fun.
With this year’s lineup, what do you think the behind the scenes interactions between artists will be like?
Hopefully good! We’ve never worked with Hillsong Young & Free before, but we’ve done something with all of the other artists before. We know each of them pretty well, so it’s not going to be a brand new, getting to know you type of thing. So I think it will be a lot of fun. We’ll play a lot of ping pong, and do a lot of things backstage to wear everyone down and become buddies after a little bit. Some people will almost miss their set if their ping pong game isn’t over and they’re being introduced. I think it will be great. Louie’s been out, not on tour, with us, but when Crowder is out, so it will be great.
So with WinterJam, some times the opening artists will end up coming back a few years later as one of the artists to perform later in the show. What is your hope to build some of the exposure for the artists this year?
I love that part of it. When you first start the show with the PreJam Party, I’ll try to give a little pep talk to the crowd. I’ll share with them that 5 years ago or so it was Francesca Battistelli as the first lights up person, and then For KING & COUNTRY another year. I remembered introducing them as Rebecca St. James’ brother. And when I introduced Francesca for the first night in Orlando that year, we weren’t quite ready, and you just think about where God took them from then to now. There’s been some awkward starts being the first thing, but it’s a big deal.
You mentioned you’ve interacted with most artists on this year’s WinterJam before. How did some of those interactions influence you wanting them to be included or partner with them?
Pretty much everyone we’ve had out, we’ve gotten along with pretty well. Some years different people are going through different things or are more preoccupied than other years. There have never been any big disagreements backstage though. Once you find out what everyone likes, you can have a good time with them. Some may be a little more recluse than others, but overall we all get along. We have Jam Church, and quite a few will get together for that every week. We all eat dinner and lunch together, so it is kind of hard not to be friendly.
You’ve certainly traveled all over with this tour and other tours with NewSong. Are there any cities this year that you are looking forward to getting back to?
There are so many. Every year or so our routing won’t let us get back to a city and I’m disappointed that we will have to skip that city because of something special. I think we are hitting most of the cities this year; there may be one or two we can’t make work with the routing. But there’s something about each city that you really like, or a great memory that you have. I’ll even be watching something on television and people will ask me why I care about that story, and it’s because I love that city and I like those people.