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Christian music event hits Gwinnett Center
TobyMac performs Sunday at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth.

Winter Jam

When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Gwinnett Center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth
How much: $10, cash or check only at the door
More info: 770-813-7500

Youth group leaders, if you want to pack all the ingredients of a youth retreat into one night, you can pile the kids in the van and head to Gwinnett Center this Sunday for Winter Jam.

The Christian music concert will feature TobyMac, Brandon Heath, Hawk Nelson, Francesca Battistelli, Stephanie Smith, Unspoken, pre-teen group pureNRG and speaker Tony Nolan.

NewSong, a group known for songs like "Arise, My Love" and "The Christmas Shoes," has hosted the Winter Jam Tour Spectacular since 1995.

Eddie Carswell, a Woodstock resident and co-founding member of NewSong, originated the tour, which plays in cities across the United States.

"We never really did Atlanta in a big way, so we're going to try to change that and try to start coming every year. Last year we were supposed to be at Philips, but that's the day we had a tornado come through town, and we had to cancel the concert," said Carswell.

Concertgoers need not purchase tickets for Winter Jam, which has a $10 at-the-door-only policy.

"I've told people it's kind of ‘The Impossible Tour,' and the reason is, it's not possible to go out to big arenas like Gwinnett or Philips or Bobcat Arena in Charlotte, N.C., or all these different places we go and only charge $10 to go to some event and have all these bands and all these things happen. And so it's fun. It kind of makes it so anybody can come, so that really makes it exciting," Carswell said.

For Carswell, playing at Gwinnett Center is like playing in his backyard, compared with New-Song's usual tour venues.

"It's fun to be on the road, of course, but you always feel a little more pride about being close to home, and the more close to home it gets, actually, a little more nerve-racking it is sometimes," said Carswell. "But you know, you enjoy getting to do Atlanta, and we're really hoping and praying and believing it will be an awesome night. Because we get to see such great things happen with Winter Jam in other places, we're excited to see it happen here as well."

Carswell said organizers for Winter Jam chose TobyMac, who was a member of well-known Christian group dc Talk before he began a solo career, as headliner for the show not only for his musical talent but also for his values.

"I love TobyMac. I loved TobyMac back with dc Talk and the whole thing," Carswell said.

"This is TobyMac's third time doing this with us. He's such a perfect person for this. He really loves the ministry part of what we do. He's into all that, plus he's just a consummate Christian man who has a great concert."

Carswell said the format of the concert, which will last from 6 to 9:45 p.m., works well for fans of the featured performers.

"You just get to hear the best songs from everybody. If you like their music, it's more than likely they're going to play your favorite song," he said.

And for leaders - or parents - who want their kids to learn from the experience, Carswell said speaker Tony Nolan can deliver.

"He does an awesome job of explaining what a relationship with Christ is about, and a lot of people step forward and say ‘Wow, I never really understood this until tonight.' So it's a lot - it's a great ministry focus set right in the middle of all this fun, so it's just a real enjoyable night. ... I'm just thrilled and blessed to be a part of it."

In addition to playing host, NewSong will perform at Winter Jam with Russ Lee, a previous member who rejoined the group this week.

"This is Russ Lee's first weekend back, so he's gotta play," Carswell said.

Carswell, who is also the songwriter for NewSong, said Lee will likely help him with writing songs for the band's new CD, which is expected to be released this fall.

"It's just amazing how God continues to give us wonderful things to do and keep kind of renewing us, you might say, to keep things going. So we're looking forward to getting some great music back out on Christian radio and keep on going long as God told us to," Carswell said.

"We always said we'd do it until he told us to quit, and so far he hasn't given us any indication he thinks we should stop. So we just keep getting more and more great opportunities to represent him, so we just keep going."