Skaggs family brings the Christmas magic

By Stina Sieg | Dec 19, 2011

I just spent Christmas with Ricky Skaggs and his family.

That’s honestly how intimate their annual holiday tour feels. At “A Skaggs Family Christmas,” which recently came to Franklin’s Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts, it was easy to forget the stage and the hundreds of others sharing the show with me. It was fun to let go of the fact that I don’t always like Christmas concerts or even country music, let alone a combination of the two. I let myself get charmed and loved it.

Skaggs and his wife, children and in-laws have been doing this show for nine years now, but they have such spontaneity and excitement about them that you would never know it. Their set list was a nice mix of powerful religious ballads and good-old Christmas favorites tweaked with mountain flavor. And of course the music was great, but what made the show was the down-home delivery. As the family played and sang, joked and told little stories, everyone on that stage looked like they were being themselves. The honesty of it bowled me over. How often do you get to watch people this well-known being real?

I can hardly recall the names or words of any of their songs, but I do remember Skaggs doing his Johnny Cash impersonation and later calling the audience his “mountain peeps.” I remember his daughter, Molly, joshing around with her brother, Luke. Soon after, she delivered a piano tune so haunting that the theater was as silent as could be. I remember the world music-inspired song the siblings later did in honor of their former percussionist, Tom Roady, who recently passed on.

I remember how often shivers went down my spine. This was so frequent that eventually I came to expect, and kind of love, those intense tingles.

I remember the immense applause Sharon White Skaggs, Ricky’s wife, received when she told the crowd of mostly older folks that Christmas isn’t about shopping, but God and family. I remember thinking that even though the bulk of the audience was probably far more religious than I, it was comforting to be surrounded by people who believed in something so strongly.

Though the show went for nearly three hours, I didn’t sense the fatigue that often hits audiences during such musical marathons. Even as the show  neared the end, after each song everyone still clapped like crazy, whistled and yelled out the occasional “amen.”

They were filled with joyful energy, and I grinned every time I felt it rubbing off on me.
After the show, as we all filed out of the packed house, a good deal of us waited to meet the Skaggses and Whites. A newly purchased photo in hand, I chatted with people in line in that giddy way you do when you’ve all just shared something great. By the time I made it up to those two families, who were still lit up with the magic of a good show, I realized I just wanted to thank them. I walked down the line, shaking hands, getting signatures and giving honest and emphatic words of gratitude. With each person, I was met with steady eye contact, a real smile and a “thank you” right back. I don’t think it’s naïve to believe they really meant it.

I felt I was in the presence of greatness then, and not because these people are famous. When anyone takes the risk to be present and real, especially with people they don’t know, I am amazed. What a gift to give and to receive.

As I started the cold walk back to my car that night, I was inspired and smiling at no one in particular. Finally, it felt like Christmas.