Amy Grant has long been one of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s best friends. As a young Christian-pop singer, Grant came to the NSO’s rescue 20 years ago, staging an important benefit concert to help steer the orchestra out of bankruptcy. This weekend, Grant is helping the symphony yet again.
On Thursday night, Grant and her famous husband Vince Gill presented their popular Christmas program with the Nashville Symphony at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. The two agreed to move their show to the Schermerhorn this year to assist the symphony, which spent much of last season struggling with debt over its concert hall. The move seems to have had the desired result.
The Schermerhorn was filled to capacity on Thursday night, and Friday night’s repeat concert is already sold out. At last check, there were a few seats left for repeat concerts on Saturday afternoon and evening, but fans without tickets will need to act fast if they want to attend.
Grant and Gill joined conductor Kelly Corcoran and the Nashville Symphony for two full sets on Thursday night. As expected, many of their selections were Christmas standards – “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Sleigh Ride” and “Winter Wonderland,” among others.
For both Grant and Gill, though, Christmas is primarily about family. Therefore, some of their most memorable performances were not of standards but of songs written about loved ones. During the first set, Gill sang a loving tribute to an older brother (who died in 1993) called “It Won’t Be the Same This Year.” Later, he sang an equally affecting song to his father called “Key to Life,” which he accompanied beautifully on solo guitar.
Grant clearly loves Christmas songs, and she brought a lifetime of experience singing these tunes with her on Thursday night. Gill, for his part, brought his amazing voice.
He has a magical instrument, a creamy tenor that can send notes soaring weightlessly into the rafters. His voice is flexible enough to sound like Johnny Mathis one moment (he channeled the crooner in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”) and like Louis Armstrong the next (he did a pretty convincing Satchmo in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”).
Gill can also rock with the best of them, which he proved in his rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming on a Boogie Woogie Cho-Cho Train” – the energy from that song alone elicited a mock snowball fight in the orchestra.
Grant had her standout moments as well. She sang her signature holiday song “Tennessee Christmas” with heartfelt immediacy, and she delivered the Brenda Lee standard “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” with energy and joy.
Grant and Gill’s strong backup band included drummer Greg Morrow, keyboard player Tony Harrell (who did a mean rendition of Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy”), guitarists Pat Buchanan and Gene Miller, and bassist Mike Brignardello. Kim Keyes and Jenny Gill provided background vocals. As always, Corcoran led the NSO in sparkling performances.
In all, it was a joyous evening of Christmas music at the Schermerhorn. Let’s hope Grant and Gill’s Christmas show becomes the symphony’s version of the Nutcracker, the annual event that make the rest of the year possible.
IF YOU GO
Amy Grant and Vince Gill perform their Christmas show with the Nashville Symphony. The show on Friday, Dec. 20 is sold out, but some tickets may still be available for Saturday’s 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. shows. Call 615-687-6400 or click here.