Cori Erwin

(Charlotte, N.C.) — Christian music fans gathered at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center Jan. 20, hours before the venue opened, hoping to get the best seats possible to the 24th annual Winter Jam Spectacular.

Winter Jam, one of the largest and most affordable events in Christian music, features a tour of 44 cities across the eastern-half of the U.S.

As soon as the doors opened, the crowd made its way inside and settled in for five hours of worship, ministry and fellowship.

“I was expecting a lot of worship songs and a bunch of very, very boring people. (I’m) not even going to lie,” said Da’Quan Berry, a junior at Winthrop University, who attended Winter Jam for the first time after a friend’s recommendation. “I thought it was just going to be a big church event, but I was wrong.”

The event was started by the band Newsong in 1995, with a goal of making attendance as affordable as possible.

There are no tickets to the event and concert goers are only asked for a $15 donation at the door, which helps fund the tour.

“Every night for us is a step of faith and obedience, because this is what God has called us to do and everybody else, who does what we do, they think we’re nuts,” Russ Lee, lead singer of Newsong, told the crowd.

Russ Lee (center, in black) and Newsong, who helped found Winter Jam in 1995, perform at the Charlotte Spectrum Center Jan. 20 (photo: Cori Erwin).

“They’re like you can’t afford it. It makes no sense on paper, but we just say what is foolish for man is a miracle because God does it.”

Organizers also collect donations during the concert, which they call a “love offering,” that also helps fund the tour.

Lee said 10 percent of the money donated at this year’s event would go to help Present Age Ministries, a Charlotte-area organization that works to combat sexual abuse and human trafficking.

“People’s lives are changing,” said Lee. “Over 30,000 people that we know of, that we know about last year, made public professions of faith at Winter Jam.”

This year, 11 bands took the stage including popular Christian music acts like Newsboys United, Danny Gokey, Mandisa and Rend Collective.

Morghan Davidson, a senior at Clemson University, said her favorite act of the night was Ledger.

Jen Ledger, appearing for the first time as a solo artist, performs at Winter Jam at the Charlotte Spectrum Center Jan. 20 (photo: Cori Erwin).

Jen Ledger is most well-known for her role as a drummer and vocalist in the Christian rock band Skillet, but she recently released her own solo work. This was her first time taking the Winter Jam stage as a lead vocalist.

“She was my favorite part,” said Davidson. “Watching her perform and also meeting her afterwards. She is very nice and British, which I did not realize until recently.”

This year, the concert also featured a new layout called Winter Jam 360, which put the performers in the center of the arena and allowed fans around the Spectrum Center a closer view of each band.

“It was weird that the stage this year was in the middle of the arena instead of on the edge like it normally is,” said Davidson, who has attended the event the last eight years.

“There are no bad seats,” said Lee, before the show began.

“I was expecting a bunch of Christian bands that were awesome and that is what I got,” said Davidson.

“It definitely isn’t just a boring church event,” said Berry. “It was pretty much one of the best experiences I’ve been to.”