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The Sound

Winter Jam is coming


tan-1For Christian rock bands, you don’t often get platforms bigger than Winter Jam. Outside of a few big names, Christian artists are often touring at churches or affiliated venues. Winter Jam changes that, putting acts like Crowder, Britt Nicole and Tenth Avenue North into venues like Wells Fargo Arena, where the Christian music festival returns on Jan. 27. 

“For us, it’s the only time we’ll ever get to play in front of an arena of people unless something very strange happens to catapult us into atmospheric success,” said Mike Donehey, singer/guitarist of the Christian rock band Tenth Avenue North. “As an artist, you’re playing a commercial of yourself; it’s all super short sets. ‘Awesome, we’re in an arena,’ then it’s over. Less talk, more rock, baby.” 

But Donehey sees those short sets as a powerful tool for drawing in young fans from churches. A youth pastor can load up a van with the draw of a $10 ticket prices and a little something for everyone. There’s hip hop (Andy Mineo, Steven Malcolm), hard rock (Thousand Foot Krutch), folktronica (Crowder) and even an “American Idol” finalist (Colton Dixon).  

The unifying element is that these are all Christian artists. That’s a big selling point for many fans and probably just as big of a turnoff to others. Still, for $10, Winter Jam will attract some people who are there more for the music than the message. Donehey still hopes those people might take away a little something more. 

“Obviously, we all subscribe to a brand of truth. We all believe what we believe is correct. If you believe that, you want others to believe it, even if it’s just that you think everyone has their own truth,” Donehey said. “I believe truth is a person named Jesus. I’ve experienced love and forgiveness and joy from experiencing Jesus, and that’s what I would want them to experience.” 

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Tenth Avenue North’s fifth studio album, “Followers,” came out in October. The album features a bit more electronic sound, reflecting the current interests of the band’s members. Donehey also said that Tenth Avenue North’s albums have a thematic progression. “Followers” focuses on Christianity being a group of followers, rather than individuals. 

“Modern teachings seem to be more about ‘I’ and ‘me,’ but that’s not the way Jesus approached things,” Donehey said. “He had a group of disciples, not just one. We’re really big on community, and a large religious following ought to focus on people being accepted.” 

But enough about Jesus. How about an embarrassing mom story?  

Donehey grew up listening to popular music, with Boyz II Men’s “Cooleyhighharmony” being his first CD.  

“I wasn’t isolated in that sense; I took it all in. I still have a vivid memory of walking into the laundry room and seeing my mom dancing and blasting ‘I’ll Make Love to You.’ I said something like, ‘Mom, that’s disgusting,’ and she replied, ‘How do you think you got here?’ ” 

There you go, a sex reference to close out an interview with a Christian rock band. Probably not what you were expecting. ♦

Joe Lawler is a music writer who has probably interviewed your favorite band. And your least favorite band.


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