Francesca Battistelli Interview for Winter Jam 2009

This originally appeared in the Columbia Free Times, I’m reposting it here to include a clip I found of Francesca filmed at the actual concert here in Columbia.

Winter Jam 2009
Colonial Life Arena: Friday, Feb. 20
BY KEVIN OLIVER
Something of an institution in the Contemporary Christian music world, the yearly Winter Jam tour has become not just a vehicle for established acts such as NewSong and tobyMac to reach large audiences, but an opportunity for newer artists to connect with receptive crowds and increase their own outreach.

This year’s fresh face on the Winter Jam roster is Francesca Battistelli, whose major-label debut My Paper Heart notched a couple of Christian radio hits in 2008. No newcomer to performing, Battistelli spent her youth on stage in musicals such as Annie and toured briefly with the dance-pop girl group Bella. But it wasn’t until she picked up a guitar and started writing about her faith that things really started happening.

“It’s been so much bigger than I would have guessed, but it’s not as glamorous as people think,” Battistelli says. “It’s a lot of work, but I thank God every day that I get to do what I love for a living. It has been a rollercoaster — I’m getting to know so many new people at radio stations, churches and all of the fans who come out to the shows.”

Battistelli is more than just a fresh, pretty new face in Christian music; she has managed to bring the sometimes staid and generic genre a hip, contemporary sound that’s drawing comparisons to mainstream pop-rockers like Sarah Bareilles.

“I have some great writers that I co-wrote with, but I have to credit my producer [Ian Eskelin],” Battistelli says. “He made the tracks sound really fresh and gave me a lot of freedom. My label trusts me as a new artist, letting me fight for what I believe in.”

“Free To Be Me,” one of the album’s hit songs, is typical of the kind of empowerment message in Battistelli’s songs, which she says are meant to be an encouragement to her listeners.

“I grew up in a Christian family,” she says. “It’s easy when you’re young to start thinking that God will only love me when I do things perfectly, and it’s easy to think he’s mad when we do things wrong. He knows our hearts better than we do, though, and if we can just accept his grace the way we are, it’s very freeing.”

For Battistelli, it has been listener reaction to her music that has meant the most to her as an artist.

“It has been cool to hear the responses to songs from fans who say how much a particular one has meant to their lives,” she says. “It’s why I do what I do — to see people be affected in a good way.”

As a part of Winter Jam, Battistelli says she’s just happy to be along for the ride with such good company.

“It has been better than I expected,” she says. “I’m used to being that brand new artist that nobody knows; it’s cool now because people are getting up and singing along to my songs, too. It’s fun for me, too — I watch tobyMac’s set every night and get an education.”

It’s that interaction with her peers that Battistelli says will be one of the lasting memories of being on a big package tour such as Winter Jam.

“Everyone is gracious and down-to-earth; there are no divas in this show,” she says. “I have had some great conversations with some of the other people on the tour; it’s cool for me to see people who have been doing it this long and are still relevant and have a passion for it. I want to be doing this for years and years to come, so I feel blessed to be here.”

Battistelli is indeed blessed with some good company at WinterJam this year: Hosted as always by CCM vocal group NewSong, the tour’s lineup also features tobyMac, Hawk Nelson and Brandon Heath with speaker Tony Nolan and an early set from another newcomer, Stephanie Smith.

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