- credit ListenIowa.com
The world’s largest and most heralded Christian music tour — Winter Jam — is off and running once again, this time on a 3-month, 44-city tour that began Jan. 11 in Jacksonville, Florida, and will include a pair of stops in Iowa, the first on Jan. 24 in Council Bluffs, followed by a return visit to Des Moines at Wells Fargo Arena on Jan. 25.
Winter Jam has been wildly popular since its inception in 1995 with its quick hitting, short-set format. The 2019 version stays the course but will also feature new, in-the-round staging, allowing the audience to see the acts in an even more up-close-and-personal way from the center of the auditorium. The lineup is a veritable “Who’s Who in Christian Music” once again and includes the platinum-selling Newsboys United, Grammy Award winner Mandisa, 2016 Dove Award winner Danny Gokey, Newsong, Rend Collective, Hollyn, Dan Bremnes, Manic Drive, Ty Brasel, and Winter Jam veteran Jen Ledger, who will step out from behind her drum kit with Skillet to front her own band, Ledger.
The spunky 29-year-old Ledger, who has entertained audiences for more than a decade with her hair-whipping brand of drumming raucousness for Skillet, won’t be seated behind her kit this time, though. Ledger stepped out on her own this this year, releasing an EP simply titled “Ledger” on Atlantic Records last spring, featuring the ballad “Ruins,” a song Ledger penned with Skillet band mate Korey Cooper; “Warrior,” featuring Skillet front man John Cooper; “I’m Not Dead Yet,” the album’s first video; as well as “Bold” and “Foreigner.”
Soon after the release, Ledger pulled double-duty by taking her band on the road as the opening act on the Skillet and for King And Country tour, giving the diminutive Ledger an entirely new perspective of performing from beyond the usual comfort zone of her drum throne.
“It was quite challenging in ways I didn’t expect,” she admitted in a phone interview. “I’ve been singing with Skillet and have stepped out front before, but actually leading a show, and not having John (Cooper) in front of me …. he’s just an incredible front man. He gets the crowd laughing, and is completely comfortable. Not many people can do it. Now I’m in charge of making banter between songs and making those transitions, which is more daunting than what I thought it would be, to be honest.”
ListenIowa caught up with Ledger just prior to the start of the tour where she spoke of the challenges of playing in the round, her love of Winter Jam, and her busy year ahead.
You’ve been involved with Winter Jam for a number of years now, but this time you’re on your own.
Yeah, I’ve been touring Winter Jam with Skillet for several years now, and actually my first tour, I’d just turned 18 and had just gotten into Skillet, and we played Winter Jam 2008. I went from having only played in a church and being nervous for 200 people, to playing for 16,000 people with pyro and fire. (laughs) Winter Jam has a super soft spot in my heart. It’s a massive part of my journey. Now, I’m back here, on my own, 11 years later, with music from my own heart. It’s incredibly surreal. I just hope that people love it.
What was it like for you as a teenager to be thrust into the huge spotlight of playing for thousands of people every night?
Tremendously nerve-wracking. I was just so sure I was going to be a hairdresser that I just thought I couldn’t do the “rock star” thing. When you play at church and your knees knock, you tend to think, “Well, this is just not for me.” I had just come to America and had just gotten really serious about my faith when I was 16. I got radically born again, and then 13 months later, I was in a massive, touring rock band. The Coopers had taken a massive chance in choosing me with my zero experience. I felt incredibly humbled. It was a big shift and a massive whirlwind — massive, but beautiful. I can’t take any credit for it; it was Him.
This year’s Winter Jam will be a little different, with the show being held in the round as far as staging. That’s not a big deal when you’re the drummer, but when you’re the front person….
(laughs) I’ve played in the round a bunch of times, but I’ve always been sitting, so I’ve never had to worry about it. When there are no other options, there’s a lot less to worry about. But this time around will be the first time I’ve ever fronted. It’s a really interestingly-shaped stage, with a bunch of catwalks coming off of it, so I’m probably going to spend most of the set out of breath. I’d better get my cardio in before I get there so I’m not the old, fat, sweaty girl on the stage. (laughs)
Not to mention that people will be looking at you from all angles at all times.
Yeah, you’re always only performing for half the crowd at once. It’s challenging in that sense. It’s a bit awkward, because a ton of people will be looking at my back. (laughs) I make sure my hair is done in the back. Normally I don’t really care. (laughs)