It's 'Appalachian Christmas' time

Lake J event to feature David Holt
By Stina Sieg | Dec 08, 2011
Photo by: Donated photo David Holt and the Lightning Bolts will be the centerpiece to Lake Junaluska's upcoming Appalachian Christmas Celebration, which runs Friday through Sunday.

This Saturday night, an audience at Lake Junaluska will get an early Christmas gift in the form of mountain music star David Holt. Hopefully, the crowd will give him something special, too. That’s the way all his best shows go — like a conversation.

“There’s a circle of sharing with each other,” said the four-time Grammy Award winner. “That’s something I always try to make sure happens in a concert with me.”

Those moments, when a precious and spontaneous community is created, have defined Holt’s music for decades and will undoutedly shine through at this weekend’s Appalachian Christmas Celebration. Though Holt and his band, the Lightning Bolts, will only be performing on Saturday, the 11th annual event begins Friday night and stretches through Sunday morning, with performances by the Lake Junaluska Singers, a craft bazaar and an advent service.

While Holt’s show will have its fair share of holiday cheer, he explained that, oddly enough, there aren’t many Christmas-centric mountain songs to go around. Historically, well-known religious songs have filled that void. So, he plans to do the few holiday mountain ones he knows and some traditional Yuletide songs, and then add his usual mix of old-time and gospel tunes, backed up by his cohorts. The Lake Junaluska Singers will even pitch in a few times. In lieu of an all-holiday show, Holt will be harkening back to a simpler Christmas, closer to the way it was originally celebrated in Appalachia: straight-forward and with a great soundtrack.

“I think we just hope to entertain the people and give them a fun time, as Christmas should be,” he said.

Thanks to the more than 40 years he has spent learning and preserving traditional music, Holt knows why a night such as this matters so much. Even in the heart of mountain music country, this tradition is a fragile thing, one that has to be protected in order to keep going. The more time marches on, and the farther people get from the farms and hollers of their ancestors, the more vulnerable these simple, satisfying songs are.

At least Holt knows he’s not the only who sees their precarious value. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, when the Texas native began to immerse himself in traditional songs and instruments, there was a curiosity about this music. Now, he sees a wistful longing for it.

“And the longing is a good thing, you know? It’s certainly something worth longing for,” he said.

In this digital world, when voices can be modulated to the nth degree and pop songs can be manipulated to any end, what Holt creates can be seen as a palate cleanser. When he, Josh Goforth, Laura Boosinger, Byron Hedgepath and Jeff Hersk step on stage, what you see is what you get. It’s old-time music, with a touch of new life added, and no fancy modification needed.

“It’s people actually playing and singing the music you’re hearing, which is actually kind of rare today,” Holt said. “I think there’s still a real interest in people just hearing what five people can do together in real time.”

What they do ends up being more than just music, but instead a spontaneity-tinged mixture of songs and stories, all guided by the energy of the crowd. It’s not just the band that is creating something. These players and their audience are making something together.

“I think there’s a power in that,” Holt said.

On his favorite nights, everyone can feel it.

For more information on the Appalachian Christmas Celebration, visit or call 452-2881.

A weekend of Christmas

The Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center’s 11th Annual Christmas Celebration is open to the public, with events Friday, Saturday and Sunday


7:30 p.m. — Lake Junaluska Singers (Stuart Auditorium)


9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Christmas Craft Show (Harrell Center)

2:30 p.m. — Lake Junaluska Singers with Voices in the Laurel.

8 p.m. — David Holt and the Lightning Bolts with Lake Junaluska Singers (Stuart Auditorium)


9 a.m. — Advent Worship Service (Terrace Hotel Auditorium)

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