Review: Winter Jam 2013 at Rupp Arena

Tobymac (right) and the Diverse City band formed a drumline at Rupp Arena during the Winter Jam performance. (c) Herald-Leader staff photos by Rich Copley.

Tobymac (right) and the Diverse City band formed a drumline at Rupp Arena during the Winter Jam performance. (c) Herald-Leader staff photos by Rich Copley.

See more: Winter Jam 2013 photo gallery

Tobymac is one of the unlikeliest No. 1 artists to headline a Rupp Arena concert.

The former dc talk member operates firmly inside the contemporary Christian music world, but charted a No. 1 album overall on the Billboard Top 200 list last August with the debut of his latest effort, Eye on It.

Topping the bill at Saturday night’s Winter Jam concert, Tobymac (the stage name for Kevin Michael McKeehan) showed off the secret weapon in his success: his long serving Diverse City Band.

Red's Michael Barnes checks to see what kind of lens I'm shooting with.

Red’s Michael Barnes checks to see what kind of lens I’m shooting with.

With him pretty much since he departed dc talk in 2001 for a break that turned into a solo career, Diverse City has formed into Christian music’s tightest ensemble capable of serving its frontman’s many moods: now we’re a hip-hop act, now we’re a rock band, now we’re worship, now we’re a drumline. One of the most illustrative moments was the pairing of the meditative Steal My Show and Boomin’, which sounds like its title. Falling back, a few members of the ensemble supported T-mac’s moment, and then we’re tight around him for the big number.

Steal My Show is Tobymac’s prayer to God to work through his music.

It is also something the other artists on the lineup, seen by an audience that packed 23,000-seat Rupp Arena to the rafters Saturday night, threatened to do.

Winter Jam has now made Rupp a regular stop, and this was one of its strongest, tightest presentations with even early evening artists like Royal Tailor giving arena-worthy sets and Red looking like a headliner itself with its blazing performance. When Red came to Winter Jam two years ago, it was stuck near the beginning of the lineup and missed by many who didn’t get into the arena until after the quartet played.

Saturday, they were highlighted after Nick Hall’s message and delivered a quick cathartic lineup with hits from their last two albums, Until We Have Faces (2011) and this year’s Release the Panic.

Sharing a lineup with Red and Toby, mellower acts Matthew West and Newsong, Winter Jam’s host band, also delivered surprisingly engaging sets. West, in particular, was electrified and funny, at one point joking everyone would leave with a copy of his new CD, Into the Light … if everyone went to his merchandise table and bought it. “This isn’t Oprah,” he joked. “I have to feed my kids.”

Matthew West, not Oprah,  on stage at Rupp Arena for Winter Jam.

Matthew West, not Oprah, on stage at Rupp Arena for Winter Jam.

I did not get to see every act Saturday, as I had to leave the arena for a while to report and write an item for the Herald-Leader about the resurrection of the Ichthus Festival.

Newsong’s Russ Lee announced from the stage that the 43-year-old festival, which closed late last year due to financial troubles, is being brought back by the people who bought the intellectual property of the festival, including its name and website. Ichthus had a table at Winter Jam, and former director Mark Vermilion said more detailed announcements should be coming later this week about when and where an abbreviated Ichthus will be presented this year. He said the new owners, whose identities were not disclosed Saturday, want to bring back a full-fledged Ichthus, which ended as a four day-three night event, in 2014 and after.

So, Winter Jam will not have to fill the roll of Central Kentucky’s biggest annual Christian music event. But as it has proven before, it’s great in its own right.

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