It’s beginning to look a lot — and I mean a lot — like Christmas at the Opryland Hotel and Resort in Nashville. Beneath dozens of shiny, enormous ornaments hanging from the ceiling, more than a thousand tourists a night are scooting their chairs up to the table for The Pam Tillis Christmas Dinner Party. During the hour-long show, Tillis spreads the cheer with a cozy blend of holiday chestnuts, new Christmas songs and even a few of her country hits. Here, she tells CMT.com about welcoming visitors to her hometown, her diverse collection of Christmas music and “clumping” with her family.
CMT: What made you say yes to doing a holiday show?
Tillis: First of all, I love Christmas music. I’ve been collecting Christmas music a long time. Quite a few years ago, my manager said, “Would you consider doing a Christmas show?” At the time, I thought, “I’ll only do a Christmas show if I can do something different with it.” I guess I had an image in my mind, because Christmas shows can be cliché and hokey. I just wanted to do my own thing with it. I said, “Let me think about it.” I went through my collection of Christmas music and came up with what I thought were some really different things and put a show together. That was 10 years ago.
Generally, we do a holiday show. And I’ve also done it with my family. For quite a few years, I would team up with my dad [singer-songwriter Mel Tillis]. This allows me to be home for the holidays. And, hey, believe me, the paycheck is not a bad thing this time of year. (laughs) To be home and working is tremendous. And to get to share the holiday feeling with all these people, the visitors from all over the world who are excited to be here, there’s just a really good feeling.
I think it’s appropriate that you acknowledged all the people from out of town during your show, because Nashville is such a big tourist destination.
Yeah! I’m telling you, they’re from everywhere. That’s one reason, in years past, I prided myself in doing what I called “an eclectic Christmas.” I would do all different kinds of music. But to tell you the truth, since we are in Nashville at Opryland, I really wanted to focus on the country sound for my show. That was really important. Me and my band, we can do just about anything you throw out at us. I don’t sing opera, but outside of that, we’ll try just about anything. I hope we succeeded in a good country type of Christmas.
You have a newly-recorded Christmas CD available at the show, too. What do you remember the most about making that?
Actually, the Christmas CD is a little bit more eclectic, maybe more so than the show. We ventured into some territory that we hadn’t done on record. It’s a little bit torchy. Some of the stuff is a little bit jazzy. There are three styles on the album. One is straight-up country, like Patsy [Cline] and “Pretty Paper.” Old school country. And then there’s a jazzy, torchy element. And there are some folky things. The band ties it all together. We had a five-piece band, some of the best players in Nashville. They tied it all together. … Working with musicians of that caliber, I think it’s a really musical project.
You mentioned that you collect Christmas songs. What are some of your favorites?
I think there’s a lot of great Christmas music out there. My tastes are very broad. I love the classic Bing Crosby and Andy Williams. Ella Fitzgerald has some wonderful Christmas music. Kenny Loggins has a great Christmas album that I’ve enjoyed over the years. Shawn Colvin has a neat Christmas album. Dan Fogelberg had a Christmas album that I’ve loved. Brian Setzer. The Tractors. I mean, I have a huge collection of Christmas music. I’m looking forward to hearing Aaron Neville’s Christmas album. I heard that’s great.
What kind of holiday traditions do you have in your family?
Eating. (laughs) Drinking. Yelling. (laughs) Fighting. (laughs) We’re all spread out now, all over the country, like many families are. We call it “clumping.” We like to do everything together. If we have an activity and there’s a bunch of us, you think we’d split up in different directions. But we all like to stay together, so we clump. We love to watch movies. Everybody tries to outdo each other and vie for attention and see who can make everybody laugh the hardest. We’re a bunch of hams and comedians, as you can well imagine. We try to see friends and family that you only get to see once a year — old school friends and cousins that you only see once in a blue moon.
What do you really want people to take away from your show?
Sometimes the holidays can be overwhelming. Everybody doesn’t just magically get into the Christmas spirit the day after Thanksgiving. So I like to think our little show can help jumpstart some Christmas engines out there. … I think Christmas is about — not to get hokey — but it’s about giving and love and sharing and all those good family times. I try to put those feelings that I feel in gratitude and put them out there to the audience. I love them and give to them what I feel in my heart. … We just try to be sincere in everything we do. Every song is there for a reason. There’s no big secret formula. We’re just trying to be real and spread love. That sounds like Big & Rich’s idea. (laughs) Maybe a little different, but still, the same principle! (laughs)
What are you looking forward to the most when the Christmas show is done?
Vacation. I’m going to need one. We’ve had a fantastic year. We’ve done about 130 shows [in 2005]. I keep thinking it’s going to slow down, but it hasn’t. I’m incredibly grateful for that. But I do need to take a vacation. (laughs) If we don’t go on a vacation next month, I’m going to go on strike!
For tickets to the Pam Tillis Christmas Dinner Party, please call (615) 883-2211. The holiday event will also take place in 2006 and 2007, from Thanksgiving to Christmas.