Christian music has changed a lot since the days of church hymnal sing-a-longs with piano accompaniment to the tune of “Bringing in the Sheaves.”
Today, the music has evolved by incorporating a lot of the sounds heard on mainstream radio. From pop to alternative rock and heavy metal, the music even boasts its own traveling Lollapalooza-like tour called Winter Jam, making a stop at Rabobank Arena on Nov. 17.
Headlining the massive event will be pop rock act Newsboys, one of the genre’s most enduring groups. Having released 14 studio albums over the course of their career, the quartet originally formed in Australia before relocating to Nashville. Longtime keyboardist Jeff Frankenstein, whose been a member of the group since the mid-1990s, has seen some big changes after watching pioneer acts like Petra, The Rez Band, and Undercover help usher in Christian rock almost three decades ago.
“I kind of appreciated the ’80s,” he said via telephone during a tour stop in Albuquerque. “It was like the wildest west back then. Now, it’s started following the trend the music industry has. Record companies have shrunk and sales have gotten so small but, yet, the touring part has gotten bigger than ever. There are still a lot of great artists making great music, but it’s the way it’s being heard that has changed a lot.”
Above from left: Red, KJ-52, Kutless
Making its West Coast debut this year, Winter Jam is the biggest Christian music tour of its kind. Showcasing 11 acts ranging from rock, acoustic and rap, the tightly arranged show also features: Kutless, Matthew West, Red, Fireflight, KJ-52, Dara Maclean, Newsong and others. Plus an appearance by VeggieTales’ characters Bob and Larry.
Above: Veggie Tales Bob and Larry
“It’s like a buffet and a good cross section of what’s happening in the Christian genre, which has always been weird to me, because it’s like the only genre classified by its lyrics rather than what it sounds like,” Frankenstein said. “It’s a wide mix of bands and people.”
The event ranks as one of the year’s most profitable treks, alongside U2 and Lady Gaga. Plus, with no assigned seating (the $10 tickets are available at the door only), Frankenstein said that fans should plan on lining up early.
Above from left: Fireflight, Dara Maclean, Newsong
“You show up at the door and you get in. First come, first served. It’s a killer deal. In the spring we turned away 3,000 to 5,000 people. It kind of runs like an awards shows. If you don’t like something, stick around and the acts will change.”
Newsboys’ new release, “God’s Not Dead,” hits stores on Tuesday . For Frankenstein and his bandmates — guitarist Jody Davis, drummer Duncan Phillips and vocalist Michael Tait — the record stands as a reminder of the group’s commitment to their faith. Described as a worship album for the church to sing along with rather than rock out to, the album features a mix of 12 originals and covers.
“I think if you ask most people in America if they believe in God, they would say yes. But in their lives, it’s almost like he’s dead, because they’re trying to find, ‘What place does God play in my life? Is he relevant? Is religion relevant?’ And I think at the same time we’ve become a culture that’s become self-consumed. We can’t stop entertaining ourselves. We keep feeling empty inside and wonder why that is. So the album is a message of hope.”
Above: Newsboys from left: The Newsboys, from left: Jeff Frankenstein, Jody Davis, Michael Tait, Duncan Phillips
Also recognizing that many acts may need to change up their style and image to reach more listeners, Frankenstein said there should be no middle ground when it comes to being a Christian performer.
“There’s a lot of confusion out there among bands. They call themselves a Christian band, but then you listen to them and they don’t really sound or aren’t saying anything different than any band out there. If you’re going to do Christian music, then let’s talk about it blatantly and not worry about what people think. We’ve always done that.”
As for communicating their message to young people today, Frankenstein added it can get challenging but for fans coming to Winter Jam, everyone will find a common bond.
“Of course, we can’t force it down anyone’s throat, but I feel like if we put it out there and present it through music, it becomes a powerful connection through people’s lives.”
Winter Jam 2011
When: 6 p.m. Nov. 17, 2011
Where: Rabobank Arena, 1001 Truxtun Ave.
Cost: $10 at the door only
Information: 661-852-7777 or jamtour.com
*Also printed in The Bakersfield Californian, 11-13-11