It’s not always easy for me to get in the Christmas spirit. Sometimes everyone is just a little too jolly; the decorations too schmaltzy. But if I were leaning toward the Grinch-y side at all this year, that was all blasted away by The Lower Lights’ truly incredible sold-out Christmas concert on Thursday night at the Salt Lake Masonic Temple.
After the many families found their seats, vocalist Sarah Sample and guitarist Ryan Tanner entered the auditorium. They welcomed everyone and led the audience in a short singalong, and the combined voices of the huge crowd filled the room to its starry ceiling.
Next, after Sample and Tanner joined the rest of the band onstage, the show began with “I Saw Three Ships,” with numerous acoustic instruments and Paul Jacobsen’s strong voice coming together to create a rich, full sound. The list of songs for the evening was perfectly put together, with louder carols like “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Once in Royal David’s City” interspersed with quieter numbers, like the stunning “Silver Bells” and “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella.”
In fact, even though the crescendos were incredible, and seemed to take the ceiling off the place, I think those more subdued moments were my favorite, such as Debra Fotheringham’s solo “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Tanner, who acted as host for the evening, introduced the stunningly talented singer-songwriter by saying she seems to be in touch with the divine when she sings, and a more apt description of her voice can’t be found. Ethereal, pure and crystal-clear, accompanied only by her own minimal guitar playing, it sounded angelic.
Many of the guest musicians who joined The Lower Lights to create the band’s new Christmas album, The Lower Lights Sing Noel, were also in attendance, including Corinne Gentry, Kiki Buehner and Marie Bradshaw, who harmonized beautifully for “Still, Still, Still” (which is swiftly becoming my favorite Christmas song) and “Away in a Manger.” Jay William Henderson gave his only solo of the evening during Harry Belafonte’s “Mary’s Boy Child,” and his voice is so incredible, I wished for the rest of the night that he’d sing one more time. Too much talent was packed into the evening to mention it all here.
Although it was a Christmas concert, several gospel and spiritual standards—rowdy renditions of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “River Jordan” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain”—were sprinkled throughout the set list, and got everyone in the spirit as they happily clapped along.
After an encore—which included a perfect cover of the piano-centric “Christmas Time Is Here” that went over well with the many kids in the audience—the entire band came together for the final song of the evening, “Silent Night.” Tanner entreating the crowd to “take care of each other” during the holiday season brought the real focus of the evening home. The Lower Lights had gathered to sing Christmas songs, yes, but they also succeeded in reminding everyone that only together will we make it through this crazy world.
Photos taken by Justin Hackworth at the Monday, Dec. 9, performance.