I recently caught the Jubilee gang on their Christmas tour and wanted to share some highlights of the concert with you all. I did bring a camera, though the lighting wasn’t optimal. I put some snapshots, a few with clever captions, in the slideshow below. Click on for a full review. This is the first of several juicy posts I have in the can for you this week while I recuperate from a quadruple tooth extraction. (Christmas break, don’t you know?) Comment as the spirit leads and I will reply to the best of my cognitive abilities at the moment. Beware though—the next post is a wee bit controversial, so who knows what I might come out with in the comment thread!
*The guys did two numbers from their acapella album, both fantastic. The first was “Carol of the Bells.” Gerald milked it with an elaborate setup about how the first time they tried it live, it was a disaster. After some banter with Michael Booth about “forgetting” their sheet music, they launched into the arrangement and brought the house down. The crowd gave it a standing ovation. I could feel Matt’s bass rumbling through my rib cage! The second half number, “God Rest Ye Merry,” was also warmly received.
*Legacy Five’s arrangement of “O Holy Night” was very well staged, with Trey playing a whole verse and chorus on piano, then Legacy Five singing Verse 2, then everyone coming together for the finale. The effect of the arrangement is certainly multiplied with the additional voices of Greater Vision and the Booth Brothers!
*My two favorite comedy routines were Ronnie’s “crooning” over “Chestnuts Roasting” while the Brothers lip-sync behind him, then Rodney comes out and “sax syncs,” and Howie’s redneck snow machine. I will say no more about the redneck snow machine, but there are a couple pictures in the slideshow that hint at what it involves. ;-)
*Ronnie’s Elvis impression was also pretty funny, if a bit drawn out, but the highlight for me was his “backup singers” breaking out the girl wigs! Sadly I couldn’t get a clear shot of that moment.
*During the product pitch, Scott introduced a new sweatshirt with the message “It’s still okay to say Merry Christmas.” Scott began to say “Now, I don’t mean to be politically in–…, well actually I DO mean to be politically incorrect! I’m gonna wear this sweatshirt around and see how many fights I can start.” That’s my boy Scottie! (We bought two.)
*Speaking of Scott Fowler being politically incorrect, it’s always cool to hear how well Go Fish’s “Christmas With a Capital ‘C’” works for Legacy Five.
*Gerald shared a great story about their new Christmas tune “It Will Always Be Christmas To Me.” A lady came up to Gerald after a show and said, “I drove several hundred miles to hear that song.” When he asked why that song in particular, she said, “I wrote that song.” She went on to say that it was the first cut she had ever had, and it meant so much to her as a writer. Gerald used the story to encourage all aspiring songwriters to persevere with patience in their craft, because you never know when the cut will happen!
*I appreciated the fact that they took time to slow the program down with several Scripture-focused moments. Ronnie read the Christmas story out of the old King James, Gerald shared the gospel very simply and powerfully, and Michael offered one of his signature thoughtful devotional moments before leading the crowd in “Away In a Manger.” I’m always impressed by what an articulate, compelling public speaker Michael is. It’s really quite astonishing, considering how shy he claims to have been at the beginning of his career and how self-deprecating he is about his intellectual abilities. Michael was certainly the MVP of the night, offering his unique balance of crack comic timing and spiritual insight.
*Chris Allman once again reminded everyone that he’s still far and away the best tenor in southern gospel. I loved his flawlessly smooth take on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
*Gus Gaches performed one of the best versions of “Silent Night” I’ve ever heard towards the end of the show. It took a moment for his voice to warm up, but once he got into it it was perfect. Although Allman is a more effortless singer than Gus, I love the color and expression Gus brings to his phrasing, with just a hint of pop.
Could Have Been Improved
*The balance of songs tilted, surprisingly, in the secular direction. This is probably a reflection of Gerald’s taste for nostalgic, sentimental Christmas fare, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m all for nostalgia and share Gerald’s fondness for the “age of crooners” with Bing Crosby and all the rest. My sense is that the program was assembled with the idea of giving folks a light-hearted break.
However, I wonder if perhaps a heavier emphasis on sacred carols might be more of a break for some people. The problem with light secular Christmas fare is that although it’s fun, it doesn’t really take you anywhere. But the moments that really hit home were moments like “O Holy Night,” “Away In a Manger,” and others that had a similar “transporting” effect. When the lyric focuses on the true miracle of Christmas, the whole atmosphere of the room changes. There’s a timeless quality to that music that’s simply inimitable. So, I’m no Scrooge when it comes to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and such-like, but at the same time I wouldn’t mind tossing out some of the secular standards for a little more sacred in the mix. For example, when Gerald was talking about Christmas classics, he mentioned Lowry’s “Mary Did You Know,” and the audience cheered loudly, clearly expecting the group to do it. But since they’ve never recorded it, they have no track, so it wasn’t in the program. And yet, with Trey Ivey on stage, they could easily improvise a moment like that.
*They gave Ronnie two Elvis-like moments, which struck me as redundant. Nothing against Elvis, but as the joke wore on, it just became a bit thin. I would suggest picking one of the two routines to keep and filling the other slot with another carol.
*The “O Little Town of Bethlehem” routine with Trey is very funny and works even better around Christmastime, but some of us have heard Trey do it several times now. Maybe they could keep the routine but alternate with another classical/carol medley so fans could enjoy Trey on something different. They’ve got a whole CD of his to pick from!
*The lighting show added good effect some of the time, but other times it was problematic because the lights were sometimes turned and flashed directly into the audience’s eyes. This became quite a distraction while we were trying to enjoy the music, and it probably made migraine-prone folks worry who exactly was going to drive home that night in the winter weather! I have no experience with how to arrange a lighting show, but it seems that this aspect of it should either be modified or cut altogether.
In conclusion, if you’re within a reasonable driving distance of the show, I would recommend it overall. As Gerald hinted broadly, if you have friends who love Southern Gospel you can get all your Christmas shopping done in one fell swoop. ;-) You’ll definitely laugh and be moved at the same time. Just adjust expectations slightly if you’re going in expecting a predominantly sacred carol lineup, and it will be a merry Christmas experience indeed.