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I had never been to Winter Jam before, though for many years it has made a stop here in Chattanooga. People would give me mixed reviews about the experience; some said Winter Jam was always a wonderful show, while others complained that bands played for only 20 minutes, at most. What convinced me to go this year was Red. I knew I would have to sit through bands that weren’t my genre of preference, but the high possibility of hearing new songs from Red’s upcoming album, Until We Have Faces, was all the enticement I needed.

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I underestimated Winter Jam’s popularity. Traffic was a mess getting downtown to McKenzie Arena, the line to get in was long, and seats were filling up fast—sort of. Winter Jam prides itself in keeping ticket prices low; because of this, all seating is general admission and they politely say that saving seats is not permitted. But every time I found an empty seat it was being saved for someone standing in line to get in. Deciding not to be a jerk (though I really wanted to), I ended up sitting much further back than I expected.

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Red took the stage and opened Winter Jam 2011 with “Death of Me” from Innocence & Instinct, a high-energy, heavy rock song that the smattering of Redheads sang along to. Plus they used pyrotechnics. Next came what I was hoping for. “This one’s called ‘Faceless’,” said lead singer Michael Barnes. Slightly heavier than their previous songs, “Faceless” proves that Until We Have Faces will be Red’s best album yet. They played another new song, “Not Alone.” This one had a softer, mellow sound, but still rocked. Red ended their set with hit song “Breathe into Me” from End of Silence. Sadly, they only played four songs.

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NewSong played next, followed by Dove Award nominated singer Francesca Battistelli. Comparable to pop singer Colbie Caillat, Battistelli’s musical talent sets her apart as she blends pop, jazz, and a bit of folk. The crowd sang along to the feel-good song “Free to be Me” that reminds us that with God we’re free.

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After that, David Crowder Band performed. With brilliant, moving music, and meaningful lyrics, David Crowder Band is arguably the best worship band out there. The crowd of nearly 10,000 joyfully sang along to lyrics flashing across two screens. There was something beautiful about hearing all those voices sing “How He Loves,” “No One Like You,” and others. And then David Crowder asked, “Would it be all right if I broke into a hoedown?” And a hoedown it was, complete with banjo, clapping, knee slapping, and dancing. It ended with the old gospel tune, “I’ll Fly Away.”

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This was followed by a 15 minute sermon from speaker Tony Nolan. Sometimes, at events like this, I wish they’d just let the music do the preaching. Then there was a plea to support Holt International adoption agency with volunteers walking around with pledge cards. After that collection buckets got passed around, and I’m really not sure where that money was going to. Before they were passed, a speaker rambled about giving money to love without elaborating on what that means.

The music got started again with Sidewalk Prophets. However, I didn’t hear much from them because I was trying to weave through busy merchandise tables to find the restroom. What I did hear was just average worship music.

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The night ended with an entertaining performance by the Newsboys. I didn’t know much about them, except they’ve been around forever, have had numerous members, and wrote the song “Shine”—which they played. But with a mixture of pop, rock, and even funk, the Newsboys impressed me. And they know how to put on a show! The stage included a light-up catwalk—that current lead singer Michael Tait danced up and down on, lifts that sent the guitarist Jody Davis and keyboardist Jeff Frankenstein soaring out and over the crowd, and fog machines. But the coolest part was when the drummer, Duncan Phillips, rose into the air (along with drum set) on a platform that tilted him perpendicular to the stage—and then it spun in a circle! He somehow kept playing the song that ended the night, the Christian music anthem, “Jesus Freak.”

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Overall I enjoyed my first Winter Jam concert, but my favorite part of the night was rocking out to Red! I eagerly anticipate Until We Have Faces.

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