The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
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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.
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.”
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.
Mar11Filed under: Ichthus Festival, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion, Rupp Arena; Tagged as: Anthony Armstrong, Break Me Down, C.S. Lewis, Chris August, Conan, Faceless, Feed the Machine, Francesca Battistelli, Ichthus Festival, iTunes, Jason Castro, Joe Rickard, KJ-52, Kutless, Michael Barnes, Newsboys, NewSong, Randy Armstrong, reathe Into Me, Red, Rupp Arena, Sidewalk Prophets, Skillet, TBS, the David Crowder Band, Till We Have Faces, Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Until We Have Faces, Winter Jam
In 2006, the band Red released its debut album, hoping someone would listen.
The group wasn’t even on a label at the time, but slowly people tuned in to the hard-rock sounds of the disc, which spawned the hits Breathe Into Me, Break Me Down and a couple of other chart-toppers. The album ended up nominated for the Grammy Award for best rock or rap gospel record.
Five years later, Red doesn’t release albums quietly.
Quickly after the Feb. 1 release of Until We Have Faces, Red was hovering near No. 1 on iTunes’ sales charts, and the band was booked on TBS’s Conan and NBC’s Tonight Show With Jay Leno, national television debuts for the band.
“We can’t even believe the numbers that are coming in,” guitarist Anthony Armstrong said a few days after the album’s release. “Some amazing things are happening.”
For Central Kentucky fans of Red, one of those things is a slot on the Winter Jam tour, which comes to Rupp Arena on March 12. The bill is topped by the resurgent Newsboys, the David Crowder Band, Kutless, Francesca Battistelli, Jason Castro, Chris August, Sidewalk Prophets, KJ-52 and tour hosts NewSong.
But Red is easily the hottest band at the moment on the show, like many other bands successfully crossing the line between mainstream and Christian venues.
“We try to play the same way whether we are playing in a church or a bar,” Armstrong said at last summer’s Ichthus Festival. “We want people who see us to say, ‘Those guys are the same no matter where they play. They’re not putting on an act or trying to hide anything.’”
One thing Red showed very well at Ichthus, where it was the Friday evening main stage opener for Skillet, was that it could play to a huge crowd — sort of like the one it will see in Rupp Arena, where last year’s Winter Jam drew 14,756 fans.
Dec31Filed under: Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion; Tagged as: Aaron Gillespie, Anberlin, Britt Nicole, Chris August, Disciple, Family Force 5, Fireflight, For Today, Francesca Battistelli, Ichthus Festival, Jason Castro, Josh Garrels, Josh Wilson, KJ-52, Kutless, LeCrae, Living Sacrifice, MikesChair, Newsboys, NewSong, Project 86, Red, Remedy Drive, Rupp Arena, Sidewalk Prophets, Skillet, Sleeping Giant, Superchick, The Almost, the David Crowder Band, The Letter Black, Trip Lee, Winter Jam, Underoath
The new year hasn’t started, but we already can tell Christian music fans about a few things to look forward to in Central Kentucky in 2011.
Chief among them is, of course, the Ichthus Festival, which already has started releasing the lineup for the event, which will be June 15 to 18 in Wilmore.
Some of the new names coming to the main stage include longtime fan favorites Anberlin and newcomers The Letter Black, along with mainstage returns by Family Force 5 and Disciple, who weren’t there last year. There are a number of returns from last year, including Skillet, Superchick, Red and LeCrae, who brought some highly credible hip-hop to the main stage last year.
Christian music has had trouble embracing hip-hop over the years, but this year’s festival will be further evidence that hard rock is having no trouble finding its way in the genre, with heavier acts on the main stage and the growing prominence of the Deep End stage, which will feature acts including Project 86 and The Almost, Aaron Gillespie’s Underoath side project, which has grown into a substantial act in its own right.
Ichthus 2011 will again open on Wednesday night, with a community concert like last year’s Tobymac, Newsboys lineup, and it will include the acoustic Galleria stage. In years past, Ichthus had a grand lineup announcement, but now organizers trickle it out primarily on their Facebook page (Facebook.com/ichthus).
In addition to the acts mentioned above, the lineup thus far includes Jason Castro, Fireflight, Remedy Drive, Mikeschair, Chris August, Sleeping Giant, For Today, Josh Wilson, Josh Garrels, Living Sacrifice, Trip Lee and Britt Nicole.
Tickets for Ichthus 2011 are on sale at Ichthusfestival.org. (If you are reading this Dec. 31, you can still get in on bargain basement rates if you buy before the new year.)
Long before that, when the weather will be more like it is now, Winter Jam will hit Rupp Arena for the fourth straight year. And for the third straight year, it will be a Saturday night. On March 12, the set will feature Newsboys, the David Crowder Band, Red, Kutless, Francesca Battistelli, NewSong, KJ-52, Sidewalk Prophets and Chris August. Newsboys were here last year in their reconstituted lineup featuring Michael Tait, and event hosts NewSong and Francesca Battistelli have been at the Rupp event before. But the rest of the lineup is new to the event, including the Crowder Band, a onetime Ichthus staple whose last big local date was a fall 2009 show at Southland Christian Church.
As in previous years, admission for Winter Jam is $10 and only at the door. For more information, go to Hearitfirst.com/winterjam.
Third Day’s Mac Powell walked into enemy territory Saturday night.
Stepping up to the microphone in the home of the University of Kentucky Wildcats, he admitted, “I’m a big Alabama Crimson Tide fan,” to a hearty round of boos.
“How can you boo me when you destroyed my team?” he asked, referring to Friday’s 73-67 UK victory over ‘Bama in the SEC Tournament. “You gotta admit we drained y’all. You barely beat Tennessee,” he added, to laughs from a crowd well aware the Cats pasted the Vols by 29 points Saturday afternoon.
Powell moved toward common ground saying, “Can we all agree that Tennessee orange is just nasty? Well tonight, everybody’s on the same team. We all love Jesus, right?”
With that, the Christian Southern rockers launched into Born Again from Revelation, the Georgia band’s latest chart topper. And Third Day topped the bill at Winter Jam 2010 which rolled into Rupp Arena Saturday night for the third straight year.
This year’s edition attracted 14,756 fans to Rupp for a show that featured Central Kentucky’s first chance to see Newsboys with Michael Tait as the lead singer. The band’s set featured Tait working all sides of the stage and a catwalk that took him to the center of the arena, where he briefly took flight on Jesus Freak, a monster hit for his old band, dc talk. The new Newsboys’ set included the hit Something Beautiful, new material from the band’s forthcoming album Born Again and classics like Shine.
Both Tait and Newsboys, now nearly a year into their partnership, seemed to be invigorated by the new act. At the end of their set, Tait introduced his bandmates ending by saying somewhat emphatically, “My name is Michael, and we are the Newsboys.”
Rounding out the lineup were Fireflight, delivering their smash, Unbreakable, and stuff from their new album, For Those Who Wait; Tenth Avenue North setting the stage for Third Day with a set from their debut album Over and Underneath, and Newsong once again playing host to the event.
Winter Jam has one more Kentucky stop in Louisville March 28, which will close the tour.
We’ve seen a lot of dream tours lately.
Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman went out for a show that hit Rupp Arena earlier this year. Another heavenly lineup was Third Day, Switchfoot and Jars of Clay – who didn’t get to Kentucky.
Thanksgiving weekend will close out with another great headlining duo, playing in Louisville, that offers a compelling look at the current state of Christian rock.
Winter Wonder Slam blows into Broadbent Arena with TobyMac and Relient K topping the bill.
With its growing mainstream cred, it seems a little surprising Relient is still taking part in faith-based tours. But as targeted at general-market listeners as its latest album, “Forget and Not Slow Down,” is, it’s also a reaffirmation of the band’s faith base. And by teaming with Toby, Matt Thiessen and company help present a microcosm of the best of Christian rock that is both reaching out and playing to the choir.
TobyMac has yet to score a mainstream hit, though that is certainly not due to a lack of quality, as Toby and his Diverse City Band offer a blend of hip-hop and rock that is second to none. And Relient K has moved out into the marketplace by being another crack ensemble that has shown a faith-based band can write songs with mainstream appeal, and secular audiences don’t mind.
So here it is, a tour that shows you where Christian rock is going: in several different directions.
Coming next year
One big marquee tour making a return to Rupp Arena for the third straight year is Winter Jam, the Newsong-presented tour on which the venerable band willingly plays second fiddle to current chart-toppers.
Headliners for the 2010 edition, which will be at Rupp on March 13, are Third Day, Newsboys, Tenth Avenue North, Fireflight, Sidewalk Prophets, Robert Pierre, and Revive. This will be the area’s first chance to hear Newsboys with former dc talk member Michael Tait on lead vocals.
Tickets are $10, and they are available only at the door.
- If you are looking for the David Crowder Band concert review that appeared with the print version of this column, click here.
Enjoy our Winter Jam slide show. Mouse over the bottom to get controls. Click on the little comment cloud to the left to activate captions. If you click on a photo, it will take you to a larger version of it at Picasa, and you can click the link at the bottom left for a larger version of the whole show.
It is a safe bet that the vast majority of the 12,396 people who turned out for Winter Jam 2009 at Rupp Arena will be in church Sunday morning. But Saturday night, they were at the biggest party in Christian rock.
Tobymac and the Diverse City Band were in the house and left little doubt as to why with Grammy Awards, Dove Awards and chart topping album sales they are the top act in contemporary Christian music. No one spins praising God and having a good time together the way these guys do, and fortunately, it can’t rain in Rupp.
Toby made reference to the fact that he was rained out at Ichthus last year and promised to give the Bluegrass Winter Jam audience a little extra. The band flipped through some of the hottest hits off Tobymac’s three solo efforts and the Grammy-winning Alive and Transported album including revved up renditions of Boomin’ and Slam that left the band and the audience breathless, needing the break of Lose My Soul.
Winter Jam, which made its second visit to Rupp in as many years is presented by New Song, who opened the evening after Dove Award nominee Francesca Battistelli, with a few of their hits, including Arise My Love. Hawk Nelson made an early appearance with a hyped up set that topped the first half of music.
Then evangelist Tony Nolan took the stage to deliver a message and a high-tech take on the invitation for people to commit to the Christian faith. No walking forward to Just As I Am, Without One Plea here. Winter Jam goers were told to text “Tony” to 38714, and they would receive a text with more information about where to go for information. Winter Jam organizers estimated 2,500 people responded to that invitation Saturday night.
Then, it was back to music, with The Afters burning through several of their hits, including Beautiful Love and MySpace Girl. Finally, Toby came on for a quick exausting set that, after a shower of confetti, sent everyone home in plenty of time to get some sleep before church — even with this being spring forward weekend.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich