Going into The Lower Lights’ Christmas show, expectations high based on past years’ concerts by the collective of Utah musicians, I wondered what the group might do to keep the show fresh in its fourth year.
One could argue that the group has no reason to change much in their holiday shows. With 20-plus musicians and singers on stage, a packed, beautiful room at the Salt Lake Masonic Temple, and a catalog of Christmas classics at their disposal, The Lower Lights could really do the same show, year after year, and it would remain a treat to hear the folks on stage sharing stories and voices at the height of the holiday season.
Even so, it’s not too far a slide into overly sentimental, by-the-numbers seasonal pabulum if you’re not careful. Thankfully, the thoughtful folks involved with The Lower Lights know that keeping things interesting for themselves equates to better shows for the fans, and that came through Thursday night when I caught the third of four sold-out Lower Lights shows this December.
The band came armed with a new album of holiday songs, The Lower Lights Sing Noel, as well as guests like Jay William Henderson and members of The Hollering Pines. With non-stop changes to the combinations of musicians on stage happening throughout the show, the proceedings always felt fresh, even for those of us who have gone to the Lower Lights holiday shows for four straight years.
Ryan Tanner and Sarah Sample started the show with a singalong that immediately helped the kids in the audience get involved and focus on songs like “Maybe This Christmas,” “Jingle Bells” and “Joy to the World.”
The staged filled musicians after that short few songs, blossoming into full arrangements of “I Saw Three Ships,” “Once in Royal David’s City,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and the annual highlight of “Silver Bells,” on which a tasty Dylan Schorer guitar solo offered perfect accompaniment to the harmonies of Tanner, Sample and Debra Fotheringham.
Gospel came through on songs like “River of Jordan” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” but the holiday fare offered the most highlights. Among them: Cherie Call’s take on “Mary’s Lullaby,” the version of “Still, Still, Still” featuring Marie Bradshaw, Kiki Jane Buehner and Corinne Gentry, and Tanner’s passionate introduction of “I Heard the Bells.”
The Lower Lights’ Christmas concert has gone from one night, to two night, to—this year—four nights, and there’s no reason to think the appeal of this show, by these musicians, will slow any time soon. Consider this your first warning for 2014—get your tickets early.