This is the third outing the Christian pop rock group has made on the biggest touring Christian music festival. The band is used to a lot of aspects of the show, including touring and sharing the stage with other Christian artists they’ve toured with in past Winter Jams, but Tenth Avenue North guitarist Jeff Owen has noticed a change in the crowd’s response to their music and the connection they make through it.
“The first time we went on tour, we were new artists. Now, we’re not,” Owen said. “I think our songs have kind of been in the psyche of more Christian music listeners over the years.”
Tenth Avenue North’s output has allowed for more music to enter the earbuds and hearts of its fans, but the West Palm Beach, Fla., band managed to make an immediate impression. Its 2008 major-label debut, “Over and Underneath,” established the band as the year’s best-selling new Christian music artist and touted the high-charting singles “Love Is Here,” “Hold My Heart” and “By Your Side,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Christian Songs chart and led to a Gospel Music Association Dove Award for song of the year.
Subsequent studio albums — 2010’s “The Light Meets The Dark,” 2012’s “The Struggle” and 2014’s “Cathedrals” — have found the band expanding on its musical foundation of guitar-driven rock with catchy, soaring choruses. Whether it was adding a fifth member or flirting with more laid-back sounds, electronic music and other elements, the music has always been led by lead singer/songwriter Mike Donehey’s affecting vocals and his mix of simple and vulnerable lyrics that effectively chronicle the struggles he has as a follower and the praise for the God that guides his and the band’s lives.
Owen said Donehey’s approach has been one that fans can easily grasp.
“We come across more as a friend rather than a preacher,” he said. “We’re all trying to put words to music that resonates with people. I guess we are always trying to top ourselves and say more or say the same things again, but in a different way.”
Taking the band’s approach to recording and overall sound in a slightly different direction is largely what resulted in the band’s latest offering, “Followers.” A much more atmospheric and EDM-inspired effort, it mixes some of the band’s most upbeat tracks like the driving and danceable “What You Want” with ballads of personal grapplings of faith and tragedy, including “I Have This Hope,” which Donehey penned as his sister-in-law battled stage four cancer and underwent chemotherapy.
Tenth Avenue North — with its current lineup of Donehey, Owen, Ruben Juarez III (bass), Jason Jamison (drums) and Brendon Shirley (keyboards) — worked with four notable producers in contemporary Christian music, including John Fields (Switchfoot), whose Jewish heritage and musical approach pushed the band out of complacency.
“He’ll stop and say, ‘”Lord.” Why do you say “Lord” so much?’” Owens said. “We’ve never been challenged like that. Are we using the word ‘Lord’ as a throwaway? It’s just interesting how different people approach things, and the producer is like an extension of your band.”
As Tenth Avenue North continues its upward ascent in popularity, it’s performing live and interacting with fans that continually refocuses and reaffirms the members’ purpose as a band.
“It’s hard not to pay attention to the number, but I think it’s the story from people who come back and listen to our music, it’s seeing the faces of people when we perform live and seeing the song has had a personal impact on their lives,” Owen said. “That’s the measurement of the success we have.”
Blake Hannon: email@example.com.
If you go
Winter Jam 2017
What: Christian music tour featuring Crowder, Britt Nicole, Tenth Avenue North, Sadie Robertson, Thousand Foot Krutch, Andy Mineo, Colton Dixon, Newsong, Tony Dolan, OBB, Sarah Reeves and Steven Malcolm.
When: March 11
Schedule: 3:30 p.m. Jam Nation, 5 p.m. doors open and pre-Jam party, 6 p.m. show
Where: Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine St.
Tickets: $10, cash only at the door