Friday morning, I was up bright and early for the morning Bible Study at Smoky Mountain Christmas. The devotion was led by Billy Huddleston and started at 9:30 AM. After opening in prayer, Billy asked when was the last time you read or heard a sermon preached from the book of Habakkuk. “That’s right!” said Billy, after no one raised their hand. But he went on to say that the words from that prophet really speak to our day. Why? Because Habakkuk, in his small book, confronted God in that he believed in the promise of a coming Messiah…and as of that time, none had come. Instead, Habakkuk says he only saw trouble when he looked at the world around him. Kind of sounds familiar, eh? Billy then read the fifth verse of Habakkuk chapter one, which says, “I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe though it be told you.” Billy asked, “Do you realize we can use that as a Christmas verse?” He went on to share how God works behind the scenes when we don’t see a way – aren’t you thankful we have a God that doesn’t sleep or slumber? When we don’t know what is going on, we can be sure that our God is at work! Billy went on to tie in that thought with the Christmas story in Luke chapter two and encouraged the folks in the audience that, “When we come together like this, we’ll never be the same again.” Then, Billy closed in prayer and we were ready to start our day in Pigeon Forge!
At five o’clock, we all gathered back in the conference room at the MainStay Suites for a catered meal by Tony Gore. From the aroma wafting through the doors separating the kitchen from the dining area, I was 100% sure we would be having barbecue. And I was right! Once everyone settled into their tables with sweet tea or coffee, Billy blessed the food and then the artists served everyone by bringing the plates from the kitchen to the tables. Pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw filled our plates. Now, folks have said that you’ve never truly lived until you eat Tony’s barbecue – and I’m delighted to say that now I’m truly in the land of the living! LOL! The meat melted in your mouth and the sides were delicious. Never in my life have I tasted barbecue that good! A true southern meal!
After the wonderful meal, we visited with the folks at our table and just hung out until the concert started at seven o’clock. I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. We didn’t have to rush in or out, and we could visit with both the artists and other folks attending as we pleased.
At 7 PM, John Darin walked on stage and asked how everyone enjoyed the meal. “The only thing we ask is that you don’t go to sleep on us!” LOL “This is a song I wrote about the Christmas story,” he went on, “and how I saw it happening.” Then John Darin sang “Down In Bethlehem,” a good upbeat tune about how Jesus’ birth changed the world. When he finished, he introduced Ann Downing, who stepped forward and sang “The Spirit of Christmas.” On the turn around, she quickly reminded us that the Spirit of God was with us that night and she could see Him on the faces in the audience. Afterwards, she said, “I can’t think of any place I’d rather be than right here. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of something so beautiful.” She gestured to the trees and lights. Folks gave a brief applause, but Tony kept clapping and Ann said, “And Tony…I know you like beautiful things.” She went on to share how she grew up in Mississippi and as a kid, all she wanted was for it to snow. As a kid, she dreamed of sleigh rides. Then she asked how many had been on a sleigh ride and several raised their hands. “You lucky people!” said Ann. This led into her next song, “Sleigh Ride,” followed by “Joy To The World.” Her final song was special to her because it was her mother’s favorite. Ann introduced it by sharing memories from her mother’s last Christmas on earth and how that time was so special to her. “So why wouldn’t I sing Mom’s song?” Ann asked. That song was, “Silent Night.”
Next, Billy introduced Tony Gore, who came up and sang two songs. The first was a fun upbeat tune, “When All God’s Children Cross Over To The Other Side” and then the second song was “I Saw The Light.” When he finished, it was Billy’s turn to sing. As his track qued, he explained, “I have a limited amount of Christmas music…so, this is it.” A soft ballad played and Billy sang, “I’ll Give Him My Heart.” John Darin was at the keyboard ready to go into the next tune when he said, “I’ve only heard that song a few times when Billy would sing it for the Christmas program we do, ‘Rediscovering Christmas.’” He went on to talk about the lyrics and how they prompted him to lead the crowd in a song that may not be considered a Christmas song, but was appropriate for the moment – “There’s Something About That Name.” With a song like that, the moment seldomly stops at the last note, so John Darin went from one song about the name of Jesus to another as he continued to lead the crowd in singing “Jesus Is The Sweetest Name I Know” and “Oh, How I Love Jesus.” After that impromptu medley, John Darin softly said, “Why don’t we take a moment and give the One who is worthy all the praise.” The crowd applauded and then John Darin welcomed Jonathan White to the platform. Jonathan began with a medley that included “O Come All Ye Faithful” with another ballad and then he introduced a song his friend wrote for him. Jonathan began, “You know, we sing ‘Silent Night,’ but if you think about it, if there’s a host of angels singing…that’s not silent. That was probably pretty loud. And if you’ve ever been in a room when a woman’s having a baby, well, there ain’t nothing silent about that!” This led into his tune, “Anything But Silent,” which had more island sounding music to it than Christmas music, but still fit the tune nicely. About halfway through the song, Tony got up and took Ann by the hand and started waltzing on stage as Jonathan sang the second verse! With a look of confusion on his face, Jonathan, (who’s still singing by the way) looks at Billy – and Billy takes that as a cue! So, Billy jumps up and tries to waltz with Jonathan! You never know what kind of fun, spontaneous moments will happen with this group of artists! Afterwards, John Darin said, “It’s not every day a Hall of Famer and a barbecue cook dance the Cha Cha while Jonathan, a fine tenor, sings.” Then he added, “What happens in Pigeon Forge stays in Pigeon Forge…unless you put a video on Facebook, then tag me!” LOL!
When the laughter settled down from John Darin’s Facebook comment, he started picking on Billy. Thursday night, Billy admitted to being a little scrooge-like and John Darin couldn’t help but confirm it. John Darin explained, “I’ve been in Billy’s truck and heard his playlist.” Nodding his head in a conspiratorial way, he went on, “Yep, I heard this song in Billy’s truck from an old Country artist, and tonight, I’m going to sing it for you so you can see just how scroogey Billy can be…” So, with just the piano for accompaniment, John Darin launched into Loretta Lynn’s, “To Heck With Ole Santa Claus.” There were some giggles in the crowd during the song and after, each artist told about the CD’s they had for sale in the lobby.
“This is one of my Christmas favorites,” said John Darin, “If you know it, sing along!” Then he sang, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” When the song ended, he brought Ann Downing back to the stage by saying, “Now, Ann said she already sang all her songs, but don’t you want to hear Ann do one more?” So, Ann stepped forward and had Karissa sing a duet with her – “The First Noel.” Up next, was Tony Gore. Tony came on and mentioned how he hadn’t sang a Christmas tune yet, but tonight, he would! His selection was from an old movie and wanted to see if we remembered which one it was. The song was “I Count My Blessings” from White Christmas (originally sung by Bing Crosby). One moment flowed into another as Billy came to the stage and explained that he’s been blessed more than he’s deserved. “This isn’t a Christmas song,” continued Billy, “but it follows that one perfectly.” He sang “God’s Been Good.” Afterwards, everyone on stage looked at Tony, who took his mic and said, “Isn’t that good?” Tony went on to explain that though he was the one who recorded and sent “God’s Been Good” to radio, Billy was the one who recorded it first and encouraged Tony to record it too. Tony concluded his story by saying, “What a song. Thank you, Billy.”
The evening closed with a short segment from Jonathan White. In the short time I’ve heard Jonathan (from the Jubilee In The Sun cruise and Smoky Mountain Christmas) I’ve come to love his personality and vocal ability. Tonight, he shared how his son encouraged him to sing this next song, “Oh, How I Love Him,” in Opera style. I gotta say, he did an incredible job! In fact, he did such a great job, I don’t think the audience anticipated what followed… Without missing a beat, Jonathan qued his next track, pulled out some shiny gold sunglasses and flipped up the collar of his shirt. Before we knew it, “Elvis” was in the house singing “Blue Christmas!” The effect this had on Billy, Ann and John Darin was priceless. Billy turned his chair around to face the wall, Ann sat with her head in hands and John Darin kneeled in front of his chair to pray. Just when you thought it couldn’t get more entertaining than that, Karissa ran down the center aisle and pretended to “swoon at Elvis’ feet!” It was a moment that couldn’t be topped! When Jonathan finished his song, Billy reminded everyone that the morning devotion would be at 9:30 AM and wished everyone good night.
Conclusion: Well, I’m not sure what I can say about Friday night other than what’s already been said. The evening speaks for itself! Tony cooked everyone a delicious, melt in your mouth meal and then we enjoyed a fun night full of Christmas music from all genres of music. I loved how all the artists sat on stage together and let the night flow from one moment to the next. It was a great evening of music!