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Songs about life

Chicago suburban-arenative Matthew West is one featured performers coming Sears Centre Hoffman Estates Saturday Feb. 23 as part Winter Jam

Chicago suburban-area native Matthew West is one of the featured performers coming to the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates Saturday, Feb. 23, as part of Winter Jam 2013 Tour Spectacular, a multi-act contemporary Christian music concert.

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What: Winter Jam 2013 Tour Spectacular

When: Saturday, Feb. 23

Where: Sears Centre, 5333 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates

Details: Pre-show starts at 6 p.m. with main stage concert at 7 p.m.

Admission to the concert is $10 at the door. This has resulted in long lines in other towns, and according to postings on the tour’s Facebook page, people have been turned away at some arenas after standing outside for hours waiting to enter.

To avoid that, fans can go to and choose from three membership options which include the Individual Platinum for $49.99, the Group Premium for $39.99 per person, and the Group Basic membership for $29.99 per person. Group memberships require 10 or more people; and there are shipping and handling charges for the packages, all of which include free and early admission to one Winter Jam Show.

Updated: March 15, 2013 12:37PM

Singer-songwriter and Chicago-area native Matthew West takes it as a compliment when people tell him they usually don’t listen to what’s labelled as contemporary Christian music but enjoy his work.

“My songs are about life and topics that touch us all,” West said.

His fifth studio album, “Into the Light,” released last September, builds on the concept he used to great success on 2010’s “The Story of Your Life,” namely getting inspiration from fans’ stories for the lyrical content and themes of his songs.

“My idea was what if I turned the microphone around, and said to the audience, ‘It’s your turn.’ I never imagined the response would be so big,” West said.

West said he’s collected about 25,000 stories, with most coming through his website ( and some even being handed or told to him at concerts.

The latter included a teenager who was born with cerebral palsy who came to a West show in Georgia and who wants to be a hospital chaplain.

The boy’s story wound up inspiring “Wonderfully Made.”

Other fan tales on the recent collection include “Waiting on a Miracle,” inspired by a family where the father is a soldier in Afghanistan; “Do Something,” inspired by a college student who started an orphanage in Uganda; and “Forgiveness,” which was inspired by a woman and her family forgiving a drunken driver who killed her daughter and a daughter’s friend.

As for those whose tales are chosen, “It’s not a contest, but to honor them,” West said, likening what he does to the musical equivalent of CNN’s “Heroes” specials. And he’s held weekend gatherings for his muses in Nashville.

West also has a book, written with Angela Thomas, called “The Story of Your Life,” which features 52 of the fan stories, a church curriculum DVD series, and two movie projects related to those collected tales.

West is building a database of the submitted material and recently got his father, Joseph, involved in the effort, putting his 38 years as a minister — most of it tending to a congregation in Downers Grove — to find help the letter writers might need. West said his parents and his own family frequently travel with him on tour, with his father providing backstage spiritual guidance, too.

Local concert

West will be in Hoffman Estates on Saturday, Feb. 23, as part of the Winter Jam 2013 Tour Spectacular, which features 11 acts that are in the midst of visiting 40 cities in three months. The 18-year-old event was started by the band NewSong and offers up a mix of what fits under the Christian music umbrella to big crowds who pay just $10 each to attend.

In addition to West, performers in the three-hour show include rock bands RED, Sidewalk Prophets and Royal Tailor; folk hip-hopper Jamie Grace; guest speaker Nick Hall; and a one-hour warm-up from Jason Castro of “American Idol” fame, the Oswald Brothers Band (OBB) and electronic-pop duo Capital Kings.

West’s sound fits in well with the likes of secular adult contemporary artists such as Jason Mraz, Maroon 5, Train, Phillip Phillips and Kelly Clarkson. Based in Nashville, West has written numbers that have been recorded by Rascal Flatts, Michael W. Smith, Billy Ray Cyrus, Diamond Rio and Casting Crowns.

A song penned for the latter, “Jesus, Friend of Sinners,” was nominated for a Best Contemporary Christian Song Grammy as was “Into the Light,” for Best Contemporary Christian Album.

Different career

West said he was at the zoo looking at penguins with his family when those category award-winners were announced, as the Winter Jam acts were in Atlanta for a tour stop that day.

“It was a honor to be nominated in the same category as TobyMac (for Best Contemporary Christian album). I was listening to him (when he was with the pioneering Christian rap trio DC Talk) when I was a kid,” West said.

At the Winter Jam, Grammy-winner TobyMac headlines, with West performing right before him.

It’s a bit different than when West toured with the Jam early in his career and was a little-known act playing earlier on the bill.

“It’s fun to come back to Chicago with the tour and to have a longer set. It’s very cool,” he said,

As for being in (a Sun-Times) newspaper, “The last time was when a sports writer named me one of the area’s hot college baseball prospects. (He played at Downers Grove North). He was wrong. I couldn’t hit a curve ball,” West, 35, said with a laugh.

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