The International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) took place in Atlanta last week. Over 4,000 retailers, publishers, authors, agents, media, and Christian bookstore buyers descended on the Georgia World Congress Center in the heart of downtown to check out the latest products for Christian bookstores. The music presence at the annual event has grown smaller each year; however, Christian music popped up in various places throughout the week, providing some artist sightings and some insight into what the rest of 2011 holds.

Oh for Joy David Crowder Band1. CHRISTMAS MUSIC. Both EMI and Word had booths on the exhibit hall floor boasting cover art of some of their upcoming albums. It looks like EMI will be filling stockings this year with lots of yuletide goodies. Holiday offerings are on the way from TobyMac & Diverse CityKutless, Matthew West and David Crowder Band (the very last album ever from DC*B).

The Story2. NICHOLE NORDEMAN & THE STORY. For the singer/songwriter diehards who wonder if Nichole Nordeman will ever return to music, you can rest a little easier. While Nordeman is not making a full return to music and touring, she and award-winning producer Bernie Herms have teamed up with pastors/authors Max Lucado and Randy Frazee to write music for the book release of The Story, a narrative retelling of the Bible. Nordeman and Herms were on hand with the authors to talk about the writing process. All 18 songs on the subsequent album, scheduled to release later this year from EMI, are written in first-person as if the specific biblical character is telling the story from their perspective. Casting CrownsMark Hall and Megan Garret, Francesca Battistelli and Herms’ wife Natalie Grant each performed a selection from the album. Other artists who contributed to the recording include Amy Grant, Chris Tomlin, Brandon Heath and Michael W. Smith, among many others. Look for a tour this December featuring a cast of these authors and artists. Check out www.thestory.com for more info on this remarkable concept album.

Courageous Movie Poster3. COURAGEOUS. Casting Crowns front man Mark Hall also made an appearance at the Courageous movie screening. Hall and his band wrote and recorded a song for the movie, which is the next installment in a long line of Christian movies from Provident Films following in the footsteps of Facing the Giants and Fireproof . This movie tells the story of five men who pledge to be better fathers and husbands after one dad experiences the unthinkable tragedy of losing his daughter in a car accident. (Speaking of Christian films…Surfer champ Bethany Hamilton was also at ICRS promoting the DVD release of Soul Surfer.)

Newsong accepting Champions of the Faith award4. CHAMPIONS OF THE FAITH AWARDS AND BENEFIT CONCERT. Tenth Avenue North‘s Mike Donehey gave a stirring acoustic performance at Sunday night’s benefit concert and awards show. Donehey sang the band’s biggest hits in a stripped down fashion while an aritst painted a moving portrait on a stretch of canvas on the stage. During the awards ceremony, Newsong‘s Eddie Carswell and Billy Goodwin were honored for their longstanding contribution to the Christian community–20 No. 1 hits, founders of Winter Jam (2010’s largest tour in the world), advocates for Compassion International. Goodwin’s daughter-in-law, Francesca Battistelli, performed hit “It’s Your Life” prior to Newsong taking the stage for several songs to round out the evening. Meanwhile, a silent auction was held in the back of the room where attendees could bid on autograhed guitars from Battistelli, Tenth Avenue North, Jeremy Camp, Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns, David Crowder Band and more.

The Well by Mark Hall5. APPEARANCES. Other artists were on hand to do interviews, perform short sets and sign autographs on the exhibit floor. Peter Furler, new artist Adam Cappa and former Jump 5 member Brittany Hargest were among the artists who performed at the “Heart of the Artist” luncheon as part of ICRS. Nicole C. Mullen performed at a Sunday night worship service. Casting’s Mark Hall signed copies of his new book, The Well: Why Are So Many Still Thirsty? (Zondervan); while Ginny Owens, John Waller and Laura Story were spotted on the exhibit hall floor.

Are you a Christian retailer who attended ICRS this year? If so, what did you learn at this year’s event?