For more than 15 years, well-respected worship leader Kari Jobe has been using her gifts to lead people into the presence of God. When she began leading worship at age 13, she never imagined she would be nominated for a GRAMMY, win multiple Dove Awards or be praised by the New York Times. After being established as a well-respected worship leader with her Dove Award-winning, self-titled debut, Kari Jobe released her follow-up album, Where I Find You, which earned Jobe her first GRAMMY nomination. She released her first live recorded album – Majestic – in 2014 that debuted at No. 1 on three Billboard charts including the Christian Contemporary Album, Praise & Worship and Christian Digital Album charts. Her latest release, The Garden , came in February 2017 and earned 5-star reviews. She has sold more than 1 million albums (TEA) in her career and has 173 million career streams. You can currently see Kari featured on Winter Jam’s 46-city Eastern U.S. tour. We caught up with her at the Pittsburgh stop where we talked about being on the road with family, her biggest musical inspirations and an inspiring story of a miracle for a concertgoer who attended The Garden Tour.
Your latest release, The Garden , dropped a year ago this month. It made an impressive debut on the Billboard charts and was called “one of the best worship albums of 2017.” Looking back over the last 12 months, what do you think it was about that project that drew in such a strong positive reaction?
I was in the middle of the most tragic experience with my sister losing a baby and then being pregnant myself. I think a lot of people connected because we can all connect in some way, sadly enough, to something difficult and traumatic. And so I think people connected to that. And also I think over time, I’ve built a trust with people so that they know when we go through something difficult, worship music is so powerful. So when they’ve connected with me in that, I think doing a worship album, songs over people during that difficult thing, really resonated. We noticed a lot of that on the tour last year that we did – a lot of really hard stories of what people were going through. It was very difficult stuff, but I felt such an honor for those nights that they could come and just connect with the Lord.
After the album’s release, you spent some time on the road on The Garden Tour which even made a stop here in Pittsburgh. What were those intimate nights like?
It was very powerful! I think when you have people that come together and there’s an expectation to come and meet with God, it’s always powerful. And I think when people know at this point that when they come to something of mine, they aren’t just coming to be entertained; they are coming to a night of worship. So when there is that expectancy, people experience something. So, those nights were very strong. My favorite night was in Chicago. A guy came who was scheduled to have heart surgery the following Monday. And during one of the songs, I got this picture of someone’s heart and the valves that had been blocked. Blood was flowing through the heart again. And it felt too special to not share, so I shared it. We didn’t know who it was for, but we prayed for whoever’s heart that was. Then we got an email the following week that when he went in to have surgery, the doctor didn’t have to perform anything. His heart was 100% clear. Some of the incredible miracles were just unreal.
Also looking back over the last year, you hosted the GMA Dove Awards with Tasha Cobbs Leonard. You did a fantastic job! What was that experience like?
That was really fun! Tasha was awesome and it was fun to be out of my comfort zone in a way. But I just love people, so I just love bringing that element of getting to honor my friends. It was like getting to host someone else’s party – getting to honor them and love on them and encourage them. I told them I would do it again!
You were featured in the track “Til The End Of Time” on your husband’s solo debut album that came out this past fall. What can you share about your interpretation of the story behind that song?
Cody and I were best friends for five years before we got married, so I’ve watched him grow as an artist and grow in his music. So anything he’s ever had me be a part of I’ve loved. And it’s cool because it was the first project for him to do since we were married. It felt like a love song, as well as a worship song to God. We’ve had a lot of fun with his music. It allows me to be more artsy, I don’t know if that’s the right word for it though. But on the worship side, I want to stay where I’m congregational and leading worship, but on his artist side of stuff, I can just do the artsy voice thing and sing in a way that I don’t always sing on my projects.
Speaking of Cody Carnes, he is here today as a featured performer during this year’s Winter Jam Tour. Thinking even more broadly than just this tour, you guys spend a ton of time on the road. How do you stay grounded and connected as a married couple concert after concert?
We have an amazing church. We usually miss Sundays, so they have a Tuesday night service. It’s actually one of the main services we have, since they noticed that not a lot of artists were able to attend church on Sundays because artists are traveling on the weekends. So they just saw this really big need, so our church has been so life-giving for us, real refueling. And if we have to miss, they have an email just for the touring artists. There are about 1,000 touring artists that go to our church. So that’s a church in and of itself. [Laughs.] But they send emails consistently about devotionals and how they’re praying for us each week. So they just help you feel connected and not like you’re doing ministry by yourself. And then, this weekend we have my parents out. So we bring our friends or family out just to make it feel more normal and not so distant. Because everyone’s lives keep going while you’re gone. You kind of want everyone to pause, so to come and have them do fun things helps.
Your son Canyon turns two this weekend! Happy early birthday to him. How do you plan to celebrate?
I don’t think I would travel like I do if I didn’t have him and Cody out with me. I love being a mom and love the aspect that every day I have him to focus on. Actually, I used to get really bored when I traveled before I was married. There’s a certain element of having to stay backstage or somewhere where there are not a million people. And that gets really old and boring, so having him and our bus is just for our little family – us three and then the girl that helps us – so we’ve got cars and minions and are stepping on legos. [Laughs.] So we just make the best of it! Right now there is a four-foot tall minion, actually, it might be five-foot tall, in the bus, and then a Cars McQueen balloon and another minion balloon, and a big massive 2. [Laughs.] So we are overtaken by birthday stuff this weekend.
Do you have a favorite song to perform live on Winter Jam?
I think “Forever” is my favorite. Also, we go into a little bit of “What A Beautiful Name” with not much music to just let the room sing. And that’s so strong for me. As a worship leader, my favorite thing is to hear people singing. So that’s a really cool moment too!
Do you have a moment of the night, not part of your set, that is most special for you this year?
Gosh, there are so many. I get to hear most of KB’s set, and it’s just so good. People are so into it. He does a really good job. He’s super anointed to do what he does.
After this tour wraps up in March, what else might be in the works for 2018?
Resting. [Laughs.] I’m actually not doing a ton of touring after this tour. I think I’ll start writing for a new project. I think it’s time. So I’ll gear up for that, and we’re getting a piano once tour is over as well. I’ve actually never owned my own, nice piano. So we’re going to get one after tour because I really feel like I’m just supposed to sit by myself for quite a while and just really focus on this next project.
Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations right now?
Hmm, well there is a new worship band out of England called Bright City. It’s actually where Martin Smith’s family goes to church, and I grew up listening to Delirious, and his kids are in the worship band, and this is the new project they’ve just put out. I’m just super inspired by it. And then, of course, Bethel. Anything from Bethel, I’m always very moved by. And Hillsong – those are probably my top three right now.
The interesting thing about Christian music is that there is a practical aspect with album selling, and also so much more with nights like this. How do you keep the focus where it should be?
To me, it’s actually pretty easy because I’m such a feeler. And so, I actually feel a lot of the spiritual weight in a room. It’s a great spiritual gift to have, but it can be very tiresome too. I can get off stage and feel more burdened than before I got on stage. So the clapping I don’t actually pay attention to. I have to work on surrendering the burden of what God just did back to the Lord, and not carry it back to the bus. Because there are some nights where I feel really burdened for people, or I’ll see certain things and just feel broken. So I’m actually way more sensitive than just the happy stuff that’s in the room, so I actually feel the hard stuff. So for me, I just have to have really good friends in my life that I will say, ‘today I just feel really heavy’. And they send back that ‘you’ve got this and God’s got you’, just speaking life over me. I hope that makes sense. I’m Sensitive Sally, as my mom always called me. [Laughs.]