No matter how many millions of albums they may have sold in this first millennium, country stars are no different than you or I when it comes to celebrating the holidays. Home is where the heart is, and there is no better place to be than with the ones you love most.
Dolly Parton touched on this at a recent press gathering for her critically-praised bluegrass release, The Grass Is Blue. “Christmas is always big in our family because there are so many kids, so much family. I’m very, very close to all my nieces and nephews, so I’m like a big kid when it comes to Christmas. My joy always comes from enjoying the kids.”
Dolly’s family Christmas celebration is centered around her beautifully decorated home on some choice acreage in the upscale Brentwood area, just south of Nashville. Dolly’s comfortable and inviting older home is filled with family pictures and is the hub of lively family gatherings. Dolly says, “We (Dolly and husband Carl Dean) get together with as much family as we can down here with the ones that live in and around Nashville at my house. Then, between Christmas and New Year’s, we always try to go up to East Tennessee to see some of the folks that won’t get out of East Tennessee — the ones that don’t want to travel. (Mom and Dad are not in great health right now.) We celebrate from Christmas until New Year’s, and it’s always fun.”
The new inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame laughed and continued, “We just do what everybody else does. We eat too much and gripe about this and quarrel about that, but we have a good time doing it!” [laughs]
Shania Twain can’t wait to be home for Christmas with her family.
Just like Dolly, Shania Twain is putting family first this Christmas and even moved her tour of the Far East to early 2000 so she could spend more time at home at Christmas. “I don’t want to miss my Christmas. I want to prepare my house because my family is coming. I can’t get my house ready in a week. I gotta bake. I gotta do stuff. I gotta shop. I want my home to be nice for them. I haven’t had them at my house in many years at Christmas time. My sister’s got a new baby, and I want everything to be just right for them. I want them to come a week early so we can all bake together, and I don’t want it to be rushed. We’ll have a family Christmas,” the CMA Entertainer of the Year concluded, “if all goes well.”
Alan Jackson, who served as this year’s Grand Marshal for the annual Christmas parade in historic Franklin, Tenn., rode on the colorful float with his wife, Denise, and their three daughters. Jackson feels his family’s Christmas is probably similar to most other Americans’ Christmas. The Georgia native, who became a country music hero this year when he broke into George Jones’ “Choices” during his performance slot at the star-laden CMA Awards show, takes his family to visit relatives in the Peach State during Christmas. Jackson still makes sure his three daughters get to open some presents in their own home outside of Nashville. Afterwards, Jackson reports, “We try to go away for a couple of days someplace warm.”
Family is obviously hitting close to home for country superstar Garth Brooks this Christmas after his startling announcement on December 15, during the last taping of TNN’s Crook & Chase show. Garth announced he plans to lay low — extremely low — for nine or 10 months, throw a big party at the end of 2000 and then “probably” announce his retirement in order to devote more time to his children (daughters: Taylor, 7; August, 5; and Allie, 3).
Garth’s devotion to family is vividly echoed on his first Christmas album, 1992’s Beyond The Season (Sheet music now available!). In the middle of an emotional version of “Silent Night,” Garth breaks into a fond re-telling of the now-famous tale of his most memorable Christmas. His honest and heartfelt story beautifully captures the sometimes trying experience, yet joyous expectation, of so many of us who traverse the highways at Christmas, no matter how far, to be with the ones we love so much.
Garth begins, “I remember my favorite Christmas. It was Christmas 1987. My wife Sandy and I were heading back home to Oklahoma for our first Christmas since we moved to Nashville. The problem was, all the roads were frozen with snow and ice. They’d closed them all, and just when we thought we weren’t gonna get home, the sun broke through. Well, traveling still wasn’t easy. But there came a point where we knew we were gonna make it home, and my wife looked over at me and she said, ’You’re gonna see your Momma for Christmas, aren’t you?’ And I remember when we walked through that door amidst the tears of joy and the cries of laughter, I heard this Christmas song [“Silent Night”] coming over the kitchen radio. I’ll never forget that Christmas or that Christmas song.” Garth’s story is particularly poignant as his mother is now deceased.
Christmas came early for beloved country singer and picker Marty Stuart. An invitation to sing at the White House’s annual Christmas tree lighting festivities on December 8 in Washington, D.C., was a career landmark for Stuart, as it was his first presidential performance. Stuart was thrilled at the opportunity to sing Bill Monroe’s standard, “Christmas Time’s a Comin’,” penned by Tex Logan.
Stuart marks that performance as sure to be one of his fondest Christmas memories because, “I played at the White House and met the President!” Family is a big part of the Stuart Christmas celebration. Marty says, “We all stop long enough to enjoy each other’s company.”
Mark Wills has won the Academy of Country Music’s Best New Male Vocalist honors and has seen his hits, like “Wish You Were Here,” break such records as staying No. 1 for an incredible three weeks. This success pales in comparison to the Wills’ family’s excitement over celebrating Christmas this year with their baby daughter, Mally. Wills says, “We don’t have too many traditions during Christmas. I just try to get as much of the family together as possible.”
During the holidays numerous country artists donate their time, lend their name or give money to various charities. Garth Brook’s Touch ’em All Foundation is one of the 12 charities selected for Yahoo’s “12 Days of Giving” Charity Gift Registry. Visitors went online and purchased needy children’s specifically-requested gifts that will be delivered directly to the children.
Sawyer Brown’s lead singer, Mark Miller, will host the Shop at Home cable channel’s “Hope for the Holiday” promotion that benefits St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. On Christmas Day proceeds from merchandise sold through the promotion will go to the charity. Throughout Christmas Day, the super-energetic Miller will be spotlighted on the channel to help drum up support and sales benefiting St. Jude’s. The segments were taped, as Miller will keep his family’s Christmas tradition of starting off the celebration at his mother’s Nashville home on Christmas Eve.
Miller says, “Every Christmas Eve we spend at my mom’s — everybody comes over! It used to be, until we all had children, we would actually open all of our gifts on Christmas Eve, and then Christmas Day there’d be the food and everything. But now that [laughs] ’Santa Claus is back in town’ we open some of our gifts on Christmas Eve and then we go home and then, of course, wake up to Santa Claus’ visit. After that, everyone comes over to my house and we have breakfast. I’m in charge of the scrambled eggs and gravy. I let my Mom do the biscuits.”
Miller fondly remembers his favorite Christmas gift. “I got an electric guitar and an amplifier when I was in the fourth grade. That was big time! That was it, because I had a little acoustic guitar, and my Mom said, ’If you learn to play that guitar by Christmas, I bet Santa might get you an electric.’ I practiced and practiced (probably just one song), but I got that electric guitar, and that still is the brightest Christmas memory.”
Australian Sherrié Austin says you get very creative “down under” at Christmas time because it’s summertime. “Being from Australia, it’s very different, but much the same. We have Christmas trees, but it’s hot! We put little cotton balls on the trees to make it look like snow and spray white stuff all over it. It’s about 100 degrees, and we’ll have a barbecue on the beach at the same time. So, it’s a little different — everything’s upside down.”
Austin’s favorite Christmas present has always been books. “I always loved getting books because I’m a bookworm, so the best present anybody can ever get me is a book.” Austin continues, “The holidays bring traditional American and Australian favorites to the family celebration . My Mum’s a really very good cook, so Christmas is a very yummy time in the Austin household.”
Sony Music/Nashville has dedicated an entire area of their website (www.sonynashville.com) to “Christmas Cheer,” with some of their artists’ most treasured Christmas memories, wishes and favorite recipes. Some artists report that their family’s tradition includes getting to open presents on Christmas Eve. Joe Diffie says, “We always open up gifts Christmas Eve. Mom always burns lots of candles, and she has Christmas carols playing on the stereo.” Mary Chapin Carpenter says, “We each open one present on Christmas Eve.”
Jennifer Kinley loves her family’s tradition of waiting until Christmas to decorate the family tree together. “We always go to the 5 p.m. Children’s Mass on Christmas Eve, then go home and eat sandwiches that Mom has put together. Then we put up the Christmas tree. It is a tradition in our family that the tree has always gone up on Christmas Eve. That is what we have done for years, and if that ever changes, we would probably be heartbroken.” Both Jennifer and Heather Kinley agree that their Aunt Grace’s famous coleslaw is the main attraction at their bountiful Christmas dinner.
Despite the recent reports of Arista Nashville’s possible closing in 2000 and being folded into the RCA label group, Brad Paisley has plenty to celebrate with his first No. 1 single and video, “He Didn’t Have To Be.” Holiday plans for this 27-year-old singer/songwriter sensation include spending Christmas Eve and Day with family and friends in his hometown of Glen Dale, W. Va. Whether his Christmas stay will be low-key or not is still somewhat questionable. Most likely, several Glen Dale citizens will be on the look-out for their local hero, due to some recent local and national publicity. The News-Register, published in nearby Wheeling, W. Va., ran an article in early December with the headline: “Brad Paisley’s No. 1 Hit Puts His Home Town on Cloud 9.”
After the hometown Christmas celebration, Paisley is stoked about a special holiday invitation. “I’m going to sing the national anthem at the Cleveland Browns game on the 26th. I’ve never done that, and I love the Browns, so it’s going to be a blast!”
Labelmate and hot newcomer — and award-winning songwriter — Phil Vassar says his family tradition is “Being with my family.” Vassar has a particular Christmas memory that will always be special to him. “The first Christmas my Dad let me help him ’be Santa,’ I helped him sneak in our new ping pong table to surprise my sisters.”
Martina McBride received an early Christmas present this year in being voted 1999’s CMA Female Vocalist of the Year. She shares many fellow artists’ sentiments that Christmas takes on new meaning when seen through the eyes of children. Martina reports that daughter Delaney is well aware of Santa Claus and had her list made out before Thanksgiving and “is adding to it daily.” Martina’s 19-month-old, Emma, recently noticed Santa Claus at a local mall. Martina says this is the year, “She’ll be discovering all that for the first time.”
While Clint and Lisa Hartman Black do not yet have children, they have recently stated they hope to hear the “pitter patter of a tiny Black” in their home as early as next year. On TNN’s Christmas special Kenny Loggins: December Clint said, “When we were growing up, the most exciting thing building up to Christmas was when Dad brought home the tree and we’d all gather and decorate it. But, we didn’t really know why we were decorating — what it all meant. If we have kids, I want to have that kind of fun and let them understand why, so that it has all this meaning behind it.”
From country superstars with multi-platinum album sales, to new artists just starting out on the fickle country radio landscape, being with family is the first Christmas wish spoken by these artists and the most cherished place to be on this sacred holiday. Family is the reason country artists and “us regular Joes” burn up the highways over the holidays as soon as our schedules allow, because at Christmas, and throughout the year, we are all the stars that light up the lives of our families. We yearn to be with the ones we love most and the ones who will always love us — whether or not we ever become a star.