Snowflakes cascaded from the ceiling as the Oak Ridge Boys burst onto stage at Gaylord Opryland's "Christmas in Tennessee" dinner show. Though band members are in their 70s and 80s, they perform with an energy that's decades younger than their years.
"It's a fast-paced, fun show," says Oak Ridge Boy Joe Bonsall. "We've got a big Christmas show. It's a big, big deal. We've got big production, video screens everywhere, Santa Claus and every aspect of Christmas."
The Oak Ridge Boys have long been country music's road warriors of the Christmas season. Throughout the group's career, the men have released 40 albums – including eight Christmas projects. They've mounted extensive Christmas tours for years, but this holiday season, they settled down at Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center for a 31-show residency. Guests come early and dine on an elaborate, multi-course holiday meal, and the Oak Ridge Boys take the stage just as the audience finishes its decadent chocolate pudding dessert.
"The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful," they croon with bouncy enthusiasm. "And since we've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."
"Everybody's enjoying it," Bonsall says of the experience. "The band is really on top of everything. We worked really hard on this show this year. We wanted to make it different than last year, and we've got enough Christmas music out there to do a completely different show every year. It's easy for us to dip into that and pull out Christmas song after Christmas song and put together a really cool, fast-paced, fun show. And that's what we've done here."
The Oak Ridge Boys stack the top of the show with some of their biggest hits, including "Elvira" and "American Made," to satisfy their hardcore fans in the audience before they move onto the Christmas classics. Bonsall says it, so some big guy doesn't yell, "Sing Elvira" during "Silent Night."
The plan works like a charm, and the men move seamlessly from their signature songs into the timeless hits of the holiday season. "White Christmas," "Blue Christmas," "Happy Christmas Eve," and "Christmas Cookies" are all on the menu until The Oaks shift into the more spiritual portion of the show. They cover Alan Jackson's "New Kid in Town" and then spotlight their famous harmonies even more on "Jesus was Born Today."
"Joy to the World" calls for more snow on stage, and the men bring out their rocking chairs for some reminiscing and storytelling. It's a segment the men have enjoyed during the holidays for more than a decade.
"Each guy talks a little bit about growing up and what Christmas means to us and tells a little story about our childhood or two sing a few songs," Bonsall says. "It's kind of a magical time as well."
After getting to enjoy the Christmas residency at Gaylord Opryland, Bonsall explains he's not sure if the group will ever return to their previous four-week holiday tours. They enjoy driving themselves to the resort from home each night to meet their parked buses just outside the venue door. They can hop on the bus to change clothes and then stroll on stage. When they're done, they get to go back home and sleep in their beds. They play six days a week – Tuesday is their only day off. But no one is complaining.
Bonsall says the opportunity to put guests in the Christmas spirit and remind them of the true meaning of the holiday is a joy.
"It seems to me that some people are trying to move us further and further away from some of the ideas and some of the values and move us away from God instead of bringing us closer," Bonsall says. "I just think we need to be getting closer. There's a part of our show that I hope people take home with them about the real reason for the season, as well as the fun part. That's a real, meaningful part to me -- to be a little bit of a witness out there."
The Oak Ridge Boys Christmas Dinner Show is in production at Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center through Dec. 25. Tickets are $39.99-$99.99 here.