Winterjam 2013, or 'Wow, that Bass is loud.'

"Are these your kids?!" the 50-ish man leaned over and asked me.  Despite the din of 100+ decibel music, he seemed calm and his voice was clear.  We were second row back on the center stage, and Jamie Grace just got done strumming her guitar in a duet with Toby Mac.  My son Joey was star struck, and Caleb looked like he'd just wet his pants when TobyMac strolled casually in on his part of the song, Hold Me.

"Yup!  Well, this one is and the one in the green is a kid from our church."

"Want to come backstage with me?"

At that point, my mind went TILT.  Seriously?  Backstage...I told the boys to follow on and I passed my dumbstruck wife and mouthed the words.

"We're"
"Going"
"Backstage"

* * *

How did we get here?  Remarkable coincidences abounded.

Once my wife saw on Facebook that Winterjam was coming to Rupp, she posed-up to get a group from our church together to go.  There are two ways to get in:  You can line up outside and pay $10 a head to get a first-come-first-served,  general admission seat, or you can pay $30 to get priority seating, but again, it's first come first served.  We weighed the pros and cons: Weather was dodgy and people literally camped out for the GA seats, and the line gets alittle, uh...long


So we went with the $30 tickets as part of a group buy from our church.

Lexington was hosting ComicCon, a Gun Show, a St. Patrick's Day parade, and Winterjam on 16 March, so it did a reasonable impersonation of a city instead of the overgrown town it is.  Therefore: Traffic was terrible trying to get to Rupp.  Thankfully, we left around 1:30pm and had to arrive before the doors opened at 3:30 to let us in.  We got to plan 'C' on parking before we found a spot, observing the line wound around rupp and down to the Cox street lot below (see above).  We got into position and found our cohorts (Christine, Kyle, Kelsey, and Caleb) like 3 people back (they'd been standing in line awhile).

So we got ready for about an hour's wait, and I read the fine print on the voucher--we had tickets at will call but we all had to be together at the same time to get them.  So we line jumped^H^H^H^H^H...uh...joined our compatriots at the head of the line.  Then, the next drama:  Two of our group were foreign exchange students who were getting dropped off and trying to find us.  They had roughly 20 minutes to do so, and they weren't going to make it, so I volunteered to remain behind and look for them--Zoey and Martha.  One was a 5'9" Dutch Blonde, the other was a 6' Norwegian blonde.  I figured they wouldn't be hard to find.

They weren't.

So, we go through the line again and joined our group, then found our seats, which were on the floor.  On the second row.  Facing a 6' tall subwoofer bank that was 15' wide.   Where we sat, I could've folded a paper football and flicked it to hit the artists on the catwalk--we were that close, with Joey and Caleb taking the two seats closest to the stage and catwalk.  Mysteriously, there were two seats right beside the catwalk saying 'Reserved for tour Pastor'....

...and that was the dude who was now leading me and the two kids backstage.

* * *

I was in shock, probably the most since the time I won 9th in the state in science competition when I was in 8th grade.  I was dumbly following these folks, while Caleb's mom, Christine, hurried to give me her camera.  Her camera was a black Nikon, and I'd never used it before.  Honestly, I hadn't used *any* camera other than a smartphone camera in a very long time.

So we get about halfway there, and a 300lb bouncer collars me and asks what I'm doing, asking to see my pass badge. "Uh, I'm following that guy," I said, pointing at the pastor dude.  He sort of rolled his eyes (guess the guy does this sort of thing alot?) and waved me on.  Ten paces later, I found myself in a small group surrounding Jamie Grace herself, resplendent in her stage garb of a coat, pants and cowgirl boots.

She was very gracious as a fumbled with the camera and got a shot of her hugging Caleb and Joey, even offering me tips on how to work the camera.  I was all thumbs, but I held down my panic of not getting a shot and finally squeezed one off.  Thanks to the miracles of autofocus, autoflash, and auto everything else it came out.

Pastor dude: "Come one...let's see if Toby's backstage."  Shock level 12.

So, we open the door to 'backstage' which was the area under the E-Rupption-Zone in Rupp, and it was a stark, flourescent lit area with ping-pong tables and people generally hanging out and having fun.  The members of OBB were playing ping-pong and laughing with megawatt smiles, and sitting cross-legged on a folding riser amid two others was....TobyMac.

Pastor dude calls Toby over.  "Toe-buh, I just wanted to bring these little fellers back;  this little man here (Caleb) looked like he was gonna wet himself when you came out with Jamie just now."  

Toby was very low-key and greeted the boys with a big smile and took a picture with them, signing Caleb's shirt and Joey's TM-logo'd cap we'd purchased just an hour before.  I got the pic and stumbled out a "Thanks alot! See you later." and shook his hand.

By way of explanation, Toby Mac and his cohorts--Jamie Grace, Mandissa, etc.--are basically the ongoing soundtrack of Chez Combs.  We like to rock pretty hard, and Whitney's been a TobyMac fan since the DC Talk days.  So, walking away I realized something.

I'm a dead man.  Whitney's never going to forgive me--an interloper--for getting back here and meeting TobyMac. 

"Joe," I croaked as we walked towards the exit of backstage.

"Yeah,"  his eyes shone.  He was loving this.

"I'm a dead man.  You're mom's gonna kill me."

"Yes.  Yes, she is," Ah, Phineas and Ferb phrasology--how to know we Combs's are paying attention.

::sigh::

So, we get back, and I show the pictures and everyone that could hear us or understand our wild gesticulations over the Sidewalk Prophets set going on was hugely congratulatory.  I saw a wash of emotions on Whitney's face--excitement, gladness, and disappointment--but honestly I was still in shock.  I sat out the whole Sidewalk Prophet's set and just processed what had happened.

* * *

As the evening wore on, the bands got bigger and louder--Red had enough pyrotechnics to bring down the place, and Matthew West was the consummate showman.

Then TobyMac came on.

Understand, when he took the stage, there'd been music for nearly 5 hours.  We'd seen loud, we'd seen hip-hop, we'd seen glam-scream-punk.    By about 2 songs in, I'd forgotten this was anything but a TobyMac concert.  That's no dig on the other bands; in particular, Royal Tailor was great with a super showman frontman, a rocking rhythm section, and a lead guitarist with Van Halen-esque chops.  It's just Toby and his 'Diverse City' band was that good.

I mean, they were all over the place, and we were about 3 feet away:  Full Drumline treatment, choreography, and a great DJ holding court in a 40 foot tower above the stage.  Toby walked out in the crowd, did some slow stuff, and he made sure everyone knew this was about Christ and our Lord, not him.  There were perfect tempo changes from frenetic and loud to soft.  

I hadn't really noticed, but Pastor Dude had rejoined his seats adjacent to the catwalk, and he tapped me on the shoulder,  "Would your boys and your wife like to join Toby onstage for the last song?"

"YES!!!!"

Two thoughts: "I wish I had a real camera."  "I'm so glad Whitney's getting to do this."

So, they move out and head to the wings of the stage, and Kelsey and I prepare to take pictures, me with Whitney's iPhone 4S.  My Galaxy Rugby pro hadn't gotten a full charge the night before, and it hadn't made it past the photo I took above.

They last song rolled, and people swarmed the stage, jumping in rhythm to the music, Whitney throwing goats from her upraised right hand as she headbanged through the number, and Joey looking as joyful as I've ever seen.

Then Joey got to ride home in the backseat of our Fusion, between the Dutch girl and the Norwegian girl.

Cue the Wonder Years theme.

Fricking awesome.


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