This time of year, Christmas concerts abound. If you prefer a Gospel Music Christmas concert, you might have to seek out one of the popular tours, but if you want a whole weekend of Christmas and Gospel Music, then you would be in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for a Smoky Mountain Christmas. This event, in its inaugural year, features music from John Darin Rowsey, Tony Gore, Ann Downing, Billy Huddleston and Jonathan White. Last night kicked off the first evening of the event, which was a casual evening full of fun, laughter and music. And yes, by fun I mean a pajama party, snacks, music and a round of the “Not-So-Newlywed” game!
About ten minutes before the event began, Billy Huddleston, the event emcee, came on stage and welcomed everyone and encouraged folks to enjoy the snacks available in the back and mingle – they would kick off the event promptly at seven o’clock! The snacks were on a table at the entrance of the conference room. Among the goodies were small boxes of popcorn, a tray of chocolate chip cookies and personal size bows of trail mix. The table also had sweet tea, unsweet tea and coffee to enjoy with your snacks – all a part of the event!
When seven o’clock rolled around, John Darin Rowsey came on stage and opened the evening with “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” After his song, he brought Billy back to the platform and let Billy talk with the folks while he played background music on the keyboard. You would never guess what was the first thing Billy said! At a Christmas event, in front of everyone on stage, he admitted he’s kind of a scrooge! As he confessed that he doesn’t even put up a tree, the crowd let out a low boo. Though the moment was humorous, I couldn’t wait to see where Billy was going with this. He went on to talk about how he didn’t have children, and after all, Christmas is for kids, right? That all changed for him when his neighbors adopted a little girl from China, who has successfully wrapped him around her finger! He shared how once a week, he’ll have dinner with his neighbors and afterwards, he and Alyssa will sing together. During this time of year, when she’s practicing for a Christmas program at school, they’ll sing carols and through her child-like wonder and love of the season, the scrooge in him has softened. He even thought about putting up a tree this year! LOL! Billy asked the crowd, “I wonder if you’d sing some of these fun songs with us?” and then started singing, “Rudolf, The Red Nosed Reindeer.” Hearing the sound that immediately arose from the audience, I’d definitely say they were not scrooges! For the next couple of minutes, Billy led the crowd in singing songs like, “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”
When we finished that last tune, Billy introduced the next artist. “I want to you to welcome my friend from around the Canton area of Ohio,” continued Billy, “Jonathan White!” Jonathan came on stage and first thing, he explained the inspiration behind his first song choice. “When I recorded my Christmas CD,” he began, “my pastor requested that I record his favorite Christmas song…here it is!” I don’t know about most of the folks in the crowd, but I was expecting a traditional carol like “Silent Night” or “Joy To The World,” so when he started singing “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” several folks giggled. I do have to say, Jonathan’s expressions when he sang this song were priceless! Afterwards, Tony Gore called out from the back, “Encore, encore!” Without missing a beat, Ann Downing hollered back, “No! No!” (She wasn’t a big fan of that tune! LOL!) Jonathan introduced his second tune by asking a question. “Do you have that one person in your family who is the worst gift giver ever?” For him, it was an aunt who filled this role growing up. He told how one year both he and his brothers were all in their teenage years and his aunt bought one gift for the three of them to share. Jonathan said, “When you’re a teenage boy, you don’t want to share gifts!” LOL He went on, “This song is about a gift I don’t want…” This led into a very animated version of, “The Fruitcake Song.”
With thoughts of regifting five pound fruitcakes swirling in our minds, Billy came back on stage, looked at Jonathan and said, “Fruitcake, huh?” Then Billy turned to the crowd and announced, “Well, I think we should play a game!” This game was a spin-off of one you know well, they called it the “Not-So-Newlywed” game. Billy called up three couples from the audience and had all the men sit down in chairs with the ladies standing behind them. Each couple introduced themselves and told us how long they had been married. Then, Billy had Jonathan take the ladies out of the room so he could ask the men three questions, which were written down on cards and would be compared with their wife’s answers when they came back in the room later on. The first question Billy asked was, “Where was your first kiss?” Contestant #1 confidently answered, “Well, it wasn’t the first date!” Immediately, everyone in the room burst out laughing. Billy tried to nudge a definitive answer out of him. Contestant #1 replied, “It was the third date.” Billy asked where it was and the man said, “I don’t know! I’m a spontaneous person!” Again, the crowd roared in laughter. And from that moment on, laughter would be the best way to describe how the game continued. The guys also had to answer “Which one of your wife’s family members was hit hardest by the ugly stick?” And, “What candy would your wife says best described your first date?” That one was a multiple choice answer: we had two men say “Milk Duds” and one say “Good and Plenty.” You could only imagine their faces when the ladies were brought back in and all three answered, “Hot Tamales!”
Next, it was the men’s turn to leave the room while the ladies were questioned. The men had a lot of fun, or shall I say, we had a lot of fun listening to their answers! But the ladies were equally as entertaining! The ladies had three questions but by far, the best one was the last. It simply asked, “If your husband won the Clearing House Sweepstakes, what would he buy?” Contestant #1 said golf clubs, Contestant #2 said an expensive computer, but when it came to Contestant #3, she thought a good long while before giving her answer. With great anticipation we waited to hear what would be her husband’s biggest wish. Finally, she announced, “A tank.” Billy exclaimed, “What! Is that your real answer?” John Darin, who had been seated at the keyboard for the whole game, held up his hands and said, “Okay, we need to clear this up! What kind of a tank? Like an army tank?” Contestant #3 nodded her head, laughing the whole while, “Yeah, an army tank.” Billy looked speechless but then he said, “Okay, her answer is ‘a tank’ – write it down!” Soon, the men came back in and the answers were revealed. When they came to the last question, Billy asked the scorekeeper how many points each contestant had. Unexpected, couple #3 only needed one more point to get 25 points and win the game. Naturally, knowing that “a tank” was her answer to the question, Billy said, “We’re going to start with Contestant #3 on this round.” Then he posed the question, “What did your wife say you would buy if you won the Clearing House Sweepstakes?” Contestant #3 sighed and thought for a moment. “Oh, I don’t know,” he mumbled. Then, no joke, after another moment of thoughtful contemplation he came back and said, “Probably a weapon of some kind. A tank.” The crowd went nuts and the looks on Billy and John Darin’s faces was priceless. The couple that had been married for the least amount of time (nine years) won with the oddest answer there was all night! What fun!
After the game, Tony Gore came on and sang “Heaven’s Jubilee” and encored it. Then he introduced Ann Downing, who sang two songs in front of the stage in the center aisle where she was able to interact with the audience.. She started by saying, “I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced this is the most wonderful time of the year!” The song by the same title, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” followed and then she sang her favorite, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.” When Ann finished, all the artists returned to the stage to close the evening in a few carols. While the artists made their way to the stage, John Darin sat at the keyboard and said, “Isn’t it amazing how a song like that with that kind of delivery can instantly put you in the Christmas spirit?” Then he invited the audience to sing, “Away In A Manger,” with them. Afterwards, he added, “We can’t have Christmas with this song!” It was “Silent Night” and we closed with “O Come All Ye Faithful.” With God’s faithfulness at the forefront of our minds, it wasn’t long before hands were raised and folks were standing in worship of the One who is Christmas.
Conclusion: What a fun night! I gotta admit, I love all things Christmas, so an event like this is right up my alley. I enjoyed all the music and really liked how the artists incorporated both fun, silly songs and serious, more faith-focused songs. We just had fun and none of it felt like it was pre-planned or gimmicky. And the “Not-So-Newlywed” game was hilarious! They couldn’t have picked better couples! And I know you’re curious, so I’ll just admit it – I didn’t wear pajamas. (I know, I know!) But truth be told, I went in the store to buy some and instead, fell in love with a llama Christmas sweater. Next year, I’ll join the fun! All in all, the kick-off to a Smoky Mountain Christmas was an exceptionally great night and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the weekend has in store.