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Winter Jam 2012: Blessed be the rock

Courtesy photo
Christian rock veterans NewSong serve as hosts and performers on Winter Jam. The annual concert tour kicks off Friday at the Civic Center.
Courtesy photo Two-time Grammy award winners Skillet headline 2012's Winter Jam tour. The rock quartet also took home Billboard's Top Christian Album award for its 2011 release, "Awake."
Courtesy photo Toledo, Ohio-based Sanctus Real has scored seven No. 1 hits, including this year's "Forgiven," off their latest album, "Pieces of a Real Heart."

WANT TO GO?

Winter Jam 2012

With NewSong, Skillet, Sanctus Real and more

WHERE: Charleston Civic Center

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday

TICKETS: $10 at the door

INFO: jamtour.comCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Contemporary Christian music isn't particularly controversial these days, at least, not like it was back in the 1970s and '80s.

Billy Goodwin, singer and guitarist for NewSong, remembers what it was like when his band started in the genre.

"When we started, back in 1981, it was not easy to sing music [that] style-wise churches weren't used to doing," he said. "We had an uphill battle, and for years, there were churches against anything that had a beat to it."

NewSong hosts and performs Friday night at the Civic Center during Winter Jam 2012, a contemporary Christian music show that features half a dozen musical acts, speakers and even an illusionist. The band founded the tour in 1995.

In a way, Winter Jam is a very modern take on the old big tent church revival. The music is different, but the purpose is the same: for attendees to strengthen their faith through the fellowship of music and the Gospel. 

Popular music has roots in church music. Songwriter's borrowed styles and imagery and applied them in different ways. Scores of performers began their careers by singing and playing in hometown church choirs before discovering blues, country or rock n' roll.

Religious music helped shape popular music, but for years, churches resisted the influence of contemporary sounds, referred to such music as "devil music." They wanted nothing to do with it.

"Nowadays, a lot of churches have their own house bands," Goodwin said. "You can still play the drum after you become a Christian. It's pretty cool."

He doesn't know if there was a particular breaking point, but he believed that eventually church people realized that using music kids liked with "good" lyrics still honored God.

"The music was not a thing Satan had control over any more," he said.

To be sure, there's still some resistance to the idea. A few conservative churches still can't abide any rock in their religion, but most seem to tolerate it, even if they don't use contemporary music in their services.

How people receive NewSong's style of music isn't the only thing that's changed with the band in the past 30 years.

"I had hair when we started," he said and laughed.

Since he got started in music, Goodwin raised a family. He has three children and five grandchildren.

"Four little boys and one little girl," he said. "They're my downtime."

He keeps up with his kids as best he can. His daughter is a photographer. His youngest son, Matthew, followed his father into the music business and is also married to Christian singer/songwriter Francesca Battistelli. Goodwin's eldest son is the pastor of a small church in Ohio, where Goodwin and his wife attend services.

"They have a little place downtown," he said. "They've had to knock the walls down twice to let more people in."

Goodwin is pleased to attend church where his son is pastor, though he acknowledged that with being on the road so much, his wife goes more often than he does.

"When I'm home, I go," he said.

Contemporary Christian music is bigger now than it was when Goodwin first started, keeping him on the road more often. He said NewSong performs about 110 dates a year. The band tours around the world, both alone and with other artists.

As with musicians of any other genre, life on the road can present its own set of challenges and temptations for Christian artists. It would be easy to get too busy or too distracted to keep up with their faith.

Goodwin said they all have to work at that.

"All of us have to carry out our own quiet time," he said. "I like to pray and get in The Book in the morning."

The tour also tries to take care of the spiritual needs of its performers. Some tours bring chefs, personal trainers or tutors with them -- Winter Jam has two tour preachers.

"We also have Jam church," Goodwin said. "Each artist on the tour takes a turn leading praise and worship while one of the pastors shares the message."

He said that finding time to study the Bible, pray and hear the word of God is important, especially on the road.

"We have to be held accountable," he said. "We have to make an effort to keep our minds focused on spiritual matters. It's part of the walk."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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