I don't know if the Masons have any sort of Christmas traditions, but they might want to consider an annual visit from The Lower Lights in the stunning Salt Lake City Masonic Temple around this time of year.
The Lower Lights -- a collective of Utah musicians including Ryan Tanner, Paul Jacobsen, Sarah Sample, Scott Wiley and seemingly dozens more -- celebrated their new Christmas album with a stirring show in the packed auditorium of one of Salt Lake City's most impressive architectural wonders. With glowing constellations in the ceiling and ornate stonework throughout, the setting only added to the impressive doings on stage.
The show included delicate, faithful renditions of some carols, ribald, foot-stomping versions of others and a mid-show sing-along that got the few hundred people on hand to add their voices to the mix.
From the opening "Three Ships" to a closing burst that included "Silver Bells" and "Silent Night," the performers on stage constantly shifted into new combos. Sometimes the gritty vocals of Tanner or Jacobsen led the way, at others it was Fictionists's Stuart Maxfield lending the tunes a modern twist. Several highlights came courtesy of Sample, Cherie Call and Debra Fotheringham, making like a roots-music version of the Andrews Sisters, delivering stunning and playful harmonies on songs like "White Christmas."
The vocals were certainly a main reason for the show's success, but there's no question the instruments backing up those vocals were in great hands, too. Dylan Schorer delivered stellar pedal-steel and electric guitar throughout, and Scott Wiley's bright red guitar stood out, as well. Ryan Shupe lent his considerable fiddle skills to the proceedings, too, and considering that every corner of the stage seemed filled with an excellent player, it's almost unfair to just point out those few players.
Taken all together, The Lower Lights simply know how to throw a show. It was an ideal mix of serious musical chops, entertaining between-song banter and good vibes all around, the musicians bending over backward to give props to the others on stage. It was impossible to leave the building without a smile on your face and a Christmas song in your head. For me, it was "The Little Drummer Boy," which The Lower Lights killed despite Tanner's pre-song warning that "this could go either way."
It went just the right way, as did the whole show.