I've survived --- and even thrived during --- another Thanksgiving, avoided the brick-and-mortars on Black Friday and even postponed my Cyber Monday online shopping spree, but the start of the Christmas and winter holiday season is pretty much unavoidable.
Frankly, I don't even want to avoid it, because my favorite part of Christmas is the music.
(Yes, that was me driving up Pacific Coast Highway in July, listening to Clay Aiken singing "Mary, Did You Know?" Hey, he sings it too well to limit listening to the song to one month a year.)
I'm lining up my favorites, old and new, as the soundtrack of my season. There's Clay, of course, with his record-breaking 2004 smash, "Merry Christmas With Love" and the legendary Luther Vandross, singing "This Is Christmas". There's the instrumental brilliance of "God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen" and my childhood favorite, Vince Guaraldi's classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas".
There's my priceless EP from 2006, Clay Aiken's "All Is Well". Available only as a limited edition last year, be sure to check it out when it is available on iTunes on Tuesday, December 4.
I love live music, so I usually take in a concert or two --- a popular music artist and perhaps a Messiah sing-a-long. Clay is touring again, for the eighth time in four years. He'll be spending his Christmas in The Heartland. Apparently, the "heartland" is far away from California, so I won't be seeing Clay this year. (I won't complain: I'll be home with friends and family during the holiday season, while, when the tour ends, Clay will be far from home at Christmas, living the tenets of his faith and his commitment to children on his fourth field visit as a UNICEF Ambassador.)
Be sure to check him out if the tour stops near you. The schedule is at the end of this blog.
Last night was Clay's first tour stop in Wichita, Kansas. For a man who has done everything in the last four years to make each of his Christmas tours different from the last, I had no idea what to expect. One year, it was Clay and his three backup singers, with little children reading passages from the Nativity story. The next, Clay decided to write a play, using actors, dancers and local choirs and, instead of using any of the witty banter for which he has become known, Clay "spoke" his part entirely in song. Last year, he was a solo act with orchestra, and drew reviews that praised his comic skills just as much as his singing.
This year, his long time backup singers, Quiana Parler and Angela Fisher, have joined him again, along with Jesse Vargas, his masterful music director, on piano, and a new addition from the summer tour, Sean McDaniel, on drums.
I'm a couple of thousand miles from Wichita, so my experience of the concert was audio only at first, then through video this morning. How I love the Internet...
My reaction to Clay, singing Michael W. Smith's "Welcome to Our World":
First, I laughed out loud.
Then, the smile spread slowly across my face.
Finally, the tears started in the corners of my eyes.
What an utterly rewarding experience. I just delight in how much Clay has grown as an artist. Personally, I love that he delivers something different every year: whether or not I think his choices are wholly successful, his creativity is so very satisfying to me.
Here's a video from last night's concert, courtesy GibbGal:
It's not an original thought, but Clay has delivered something entirely different every time he has gone on tour. I can see the artistry, the work, the thoughtfulness, the inspiration and the professionalism that go into putting his shows together.
He even took time to blog to members of his official fan club after the concert, talking a bit about the change of pace he was looking for in this show, which falls between his 2007 summer tour, full of "lighthearted and silliness", and his starring role as Sir Robin in the Tony-winning musical, "Monty Python's Spamalot", starting on January 18, 2008, which he describes as "goofiness and stupidity." I guess he doesn't think that his mastery of slapstick, his quicksilver wit and his occasional, subtle (or not) use of innuendo always have to be front and center when he appears on stage.
Last year saw Snarky!Christmas!Clay! (complete with body function jokes of your own making, Blogger Man *g*) and, with a couple of brief exceptions, he delighted me with what he did on that far-away-from-me tour.
This year, instead of continuing to escalate the mood until it turned into a burlesque, Clay went with tradition, formality and simplicity.
He's relying on the music, on his voice, on Quiana and Angela's talents and on Jesse's skillful arrangements, supported by the symphonies with which he appears.
I find these choices to be quietly bold.
He has my attention --- and my appreciation --- completely.
Clay Aiken's Joyful Noise Tour 2007: Christmas in the Heartland
11/26/07 Wichita, KS, US Central Christian Church
11/27/07 St Louis, MO, US, Fox Theatre
11/28/07 South Bend, IN, US Morris Auditorium
11/29/07 Waukegan, IL, US Genessee Theatre
11/30/07 Kalamazoo, MI, US Miller Auditorium
(Happy 29th Birthday, Clay!)
12/02/07 Washington, DC, US Warner Theater
12/04/07 Wilkes Barre, PA, US FM Kirby Center
12/06/07 New Brunswick, NJ, US State Theatre
12/07/07 Albany, NY, US Palace Theatre
12/08/07 Poughkeepsie, NY, US Mid-Hudson Civic Center
12/09/07 Uncasville, CT, US Mohegan Sun
12/11/07 Red Bank, NJ, US Count Basie Theatre
12/12/07 Easton, PA, US State Theatre 8:00 PM
12/13/07 Morristown, NJ, US Community Theatre at Mayo Center for the Performing Arts
12/15/07 Williamsport, PA, US Community Arts Center
12/16/07 Erie, PA, US Erie Civic Center Complex
12/17/07 Cleveland, OH, US Playhouse Square Theater
12/19/07 Minneapolis, MN, US Orchestra Hall
12/20/07 Minneapolis, MN, US Orchestra Hall
12/21/07 Omaha, NE, US Orpheum Theatre
12/22/07 Merrillville, IN, US Star Plaza Theatre
Technorati tags: Clay Aiken, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, "Merry Christmas With Love”, Luther Vandross, "This Is Christmas”, "God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen”, Vince Guaraldi, ”A Charlie Brown Christmas”, "All Is Well”, iTunes, Christmas in the Heartland, UNICEF, Quiana Parler, Angela Fisher, Jesse Vargas ,Sean McDaniel, Michael W. Smith, "Welcome To Our World”, "Mary, Did You Know?””, Monty Python, Spamalot