The annual Winter Jam Tour Spectacular continues to befuddle the touring industry’s insiders with its continued success each year.
The Winter Jam shows continue to pack out venues in the largest markets in the country with talent that may be largely unknown to anyone not tapped into the Contemporary Christian music genre.
If drawing arena-sized crowds with a niche product wasn’t enough, those behind the Jam concept do so with ticket prices left up to the public — a $15 admission is suggested, but not enforced — with general admission seating for all.
The Winter Jam 2019 Spectacular, which takes over the PNC Arena March 22, will follow the same gameplan laid down by its predecessors, albeit with new talents appearing on the ever-changing lineup, as well as a 360-degree “in the round” center stage. The lineup of Christian superstars includes such luminaries as former “American Idol” finalists Danny Gokey and Mandisa, but there is no question that many will be filing through the turnstile in order to catch Newsboys United.
Nearly 35 years after the Christian super band first formed, drummer Duncan Phillips, a member of Newsboys since 1993, realizes that there is something special occurring within his band at the moment.
“There’s not really another [music] festival like this in all of music, where you tour 40-some cities, and you’ve got so much talent sharing the same stage,” Phillips tells The News & Observer over the phone, during a break in the tour.
The ever-changing lineup now features the return of founding member and vocalist Peter Furler and bassist Phil Joel actively touring with their longtime collaborators.
“We don’t take a second of what we do for granted,” Phillips said. “You’ve got powerhouses of talent that most people have heard of, like Danny Gokey and Mandisa, and then newer acts like Ledger, who is awesome. She’s the drummer for the [rock] band Skillet, and she’s kind of got a side solo project that’s awesome. When I asked if we wanted to come headline it, of course we said yes, because it’s an absolute honor.”
We spoke to Phillips for a few minutes to discuss this year’s run of Winter Fest performances, as well as if the Newsboys United reunion is here to stay, and if the group adding a modifier to the old Newsboys name is cause for any concern to longtime fans.
Q: What is different between getting onstage today, as opposed to when you first joined the band in 1993?
A: I think I’m having more fun today than I ever have before, because I realize what a gift it is.
I think when you are younger, you know, you have a young man’s disease. What I mean by that is you just think that what is happening right then — getting a bit famous, making lots of money, playing big rooms — that’s just how it goes. As I’ve lived a little bit of life, I realized that it doesn’t work that way most times. The fact is that we’re still here, that we’ve been doing this for a minute after coming here from the other side of the world [the band originated in Australia], that there were just so many things that shouldn’t have worked; we shouldn’t be here. If you look at the odds of success of some little surfer band that came from the other side of the world back in the late ‘80s, gosh, who would have put money on that ever [being successful]? I think a part of it is just sheer tenacity. We’ve been just too stubborn to go home.
Q: Phil Joel left the band in 2006, while Peter Furler left in 2009. With so much time passing since their departures, was there any trepidation on the current band members’ part when it came to touring with them again?
A: We weren’t sure about it, I’ve got to say. I was probably a little nervous when we started throwing around this idea...but then all of the fans know this version. When Peter left it was amazing how people acted like we weren’t the Newsboys anymore. Peter left, and promoters that had already booked us used the opportunity to [reduce our pay] and all that kind of thing, so it was a really tough time. I was just talking to him yesterday, we were talking about how what a different person he was at that point in time, not realizing how actually burned out he was.
A lot of water goes under the bridge after 10 years apart, and I think what happens is it’s almost like like inviting your old girlfriend back to live in your house with your new wife. I mean, that sounds weird, but there’s a little bit of that. I remember some of our first rehearsals [after 10 years apart] where I just thought, “Oh my God, what are we doing? What are we doing?” But the cool thing I think is that everyone is in such a great place [in their lives] now, and it’s just been an absolute blast. I mean, I met Pete at a high school; we have lived so much of our lives together, and we know each other so well that even to this day I can look across the stage to see him giving a wink or a small nod, and I’ll know exactly what he’s thinking. I feel like we have that deep connection that only comes with people that have known each other for a long time. It’s been awesome, because I get my buddy back.
We’re all older and a little wiser now, and I think we’re realizing that [success] doesn’t matter, and the stuff that’s important is friendships. You get a little older, and you maybe start to feel your age. You look at life differently, because maybe you don’t have as much left of it as you did in your twenties, so you start to look at what is really important. I don’t think there’s any man on his deathbed saying, “Oh man, I wish I had a bigger car.” Men on their deathbeds wish they had spent more time with their friends, to have loved their family better. Ultimately it’s all about the people we live with, and the relationships we’ve had, because they’re the ones that I believe are going to live with me for eternity.
Q: Is there any significance to performing under the Newsboys United name, instead of just the original Newsboys?
A: Newsboys United music is still within the canopy of the original Newsboys. It is us, just a Version 3.0. It’s the same guys that have been in the band the last 10 years, we’re just adding some old friends that were in the band back in the day. So yes, it’s still very much Newsboys.
Who: Winter Jam 2019 featuring Newsboys United, Danny Gokey, Mandisa, Rend Collective, Ledger, Newsong and Hollyn
When: 7 p.m., March 22
Where: PNC Arena, 1400 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh
Cost: $15 suggested donation at the door, general admission
Info: ThePNCArena.com or 919-861-2300