A Christmas concert to remember with Vince Gill, Amy Grant
The Compaq Center, Houston,., Nov. 30, 2001
By Brian Wahlert
HOUSTON - It's always tough to get into the Christmas spirit in Houston. Oh sure, the department stores start selling Christmas trees and playing Christmas music earlier every year, it seems, just like in the rest of the country, but when you can wear a T-shirt and shorts on Thanksgiving, you just can't picture Frosty the Snowman as anything but a corncob pipe floating in a puddle.
Fortunately, the weather cooperated for Vince Gill and Amy Grant's "A Christmas to Remember" show when the temperature dropped into the forties.
Husband and wife Gill and Grant have both headlined their own holiday tours, but this was to be their first together, and upon entering the auditorium, it became clear that they were doing it in style. The stage was set up with about a hundred musicians comprising the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. When the lights finally fell, it was the orchestra that opened the show, putting the crowd in a festive mood with a medley of rapid-fire Christmas classics.
Next, Gill and Grant came onto the stage to sing "Happy Holidays" together and reveled in their love and the crowd's love for them. They were clearly enjoying this opportunity to share the stage and even danced together during "The Christmas Waltz."
If you think about it, there's really no one better to put on a holiday tour than Grant and Gill. They're recently married, but neither is a newcomer to the holiday music scene. Grant has three Christmas albums to her credit, and Gill has two, and between the two of them, they've both written and recorded some great Christmas songs.
Gill, in particular, was in fabulous voice this evening, and nowhere did he demonstrate it more than on "The Christmas Song." When he belted out the line, "And so I'm offering this simple phrase," for the last time, his voice nearing the range where only dogs can hear, the crowd went wild.
Gill introduced Nickel Creek, the fabulous young bluegrass band, by comparing them to other child prodigies that he'd had the fortune to hear in their youth: Mark O'Connor, Ricky Skaggs and Marty Stuart. They took Gill's heady comparisons in stride, opening with a fabulous rendition of mandolin player Chris Thile's own "In the House of Tom Bombadil." Next they played "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella."
As if Nickel Creek wasn't an impressive enough bunch of youngsters, Grant introduced 16-year-old Christian artist Rachel Lampa next, and she showed off an unbelievable voice.
The entire evening was amazing. To start with, the stage was wonderful, set up with three large stars above it and a backdrop behind, which displayed projected colors and images. The Nashville Symphony was fabulous, showcasing great flute and violin solos. And the featured artists all performed as well as or better than anyone could have expected.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was the lesser-known (at least in country circles) Lampa, who sang the heck out of every song they gave her, particularly "What Child Is This." Nickel Creek also did an outstanding job.
But no one ever forgot that Gill and Grant were running the show. The crowd applauded wildly when Gill sang a beautiful, understated rendition of "Do You Hear What I Hear," and then Grant showed him up by wrapping herself in a sheet of green cloth to sing "Breath of Heaven," her own song about the birth of Christ written from Mary's point of view.
Gill and Grant had a great time together on stage. Sometimes they'd sing duets, and other times Gill would accompany Grant on guitar. They kept a sense of humor about their relationship, too, though. At one point, Gill ,gave Grant a kiss that smacked loudly into the microphone and then said with a grin, "Did I overmarry!"
Grant poked at Gill with the comment, "It is such a relief to have Vince with me.... I struggle with the high notes," and then at herself by saying, "I love a song with a guitar cuz it's a whole three minutes I don't have to suck my stomach in." Grant had just given birth two months earlier to her first child with Gill - at age 40.
While Grant delivered the best lines, Gill had the most musical highlights. His jazzy version of "Sleigh Ride" was great, despite his ill-advised attempt at dancing, and his acoustic guitar intro to "Blue Christmas" would have made his hero Chet Atkins proud.
When everyone got together on the stage for "O Come All Ye Faithful," no one in the crowd was ready for the show to end. So Grant and Gill sang one more song, "Til the Season Comes Round Again" and then for an encore, Gill sang "It Won't Be the Same This Year," his own Christmas song about his departed brother.
In the end, no one wanted to leave. It was only the last day of November, but the audience went home ready to decorate their Christmas trees and build snowmen. The temperature only needed to drop another 15 degrees or so in Houston.