Skaggs Family Christmas makes local stopChristmas tour continues despite loss
As Sharon White Skaggs talked about “A Skaggs Family Christmas,” her voice fluctuated from joyful to extremely sad. This season, the nine-year-old holiday tour is a bittersweet thing, and she didn’t sugar coat that. But somehow, the famed country musician never ceased to sound thankful. It was amazing.
“This whole past week has been just…,” she said, pausing for a long while during a recent phone conversation, “something we never thought we’d have to experience.”
That something is the loss of Tom Roady, the tour’s percussionist and Ricky Skaggs’ longtime band member, who died Nov. 28 after a short battle with stomach cancer. Like her grown children and husband of nearly 30 years, Sharon White Skaggs has been feeling Roady’s loss every day and at every performance of the family’s well-known Christmas tour.
“But you have shows and the whole adage, ‘The show must go on,’ and it does go on,” she said. “You’re committed and you show up and you do, even though your heart’s broken.”
She felt that dedication even the first show after Roady’s unexpected death, which occurred sometime in the night before the band and family arrived in Clemson, South Carolina. The next day’s performance, the first one of the tour, the family still went on stage, but without a percussionist. Instead of canceling, they set up Roady’s drum set in tribute and did the show in his honor.
“I would have to say that the grace of God got us through,” Skaggs said.
How else, she asked, do people face such things? It was faith that got Roady on the tour, even though he knew he was sick. He had prayed about it and had decided that, instead of undergoing surgery or chemo, he would take a holistic approach to his illness and keep doing what he loved. Skaggs takes comfort in the fact that when Roady died, he was exactly where he wanted to be.
We should all be so lucky, she said.
While this season’s tour can’t be exactly the same as previous ones, Skaggs feels that the shows’ most important aspects haven’t changed.
“It’s different, yes,” she said, “but we always pray that we bring, bring people back to center, you know, the center of what’s real in the world, what’s got value and worth.”
For her and her musical kin, the most important thing is family, she went on. It’s family and love, peace and joy.
It’s “all those things that we sing about in the Christmas carols,” she said. “That’s all that this whole season is about. That’s why we look forward to it the way we do. It truly is kind of the pinnacle of the year.”
While the family is happily, proudly Christian, Skaggs stressed that they don’t preach at their shows. They may be singing Yuletide tunes and gospel hymns, but they’re not proselytizing. They’re celebrating, and they want everyone to feel welcomed, regardless of where they spend their Sundays. In a light moment, she laughed a little when she said that the commercial aspect of Christmas “wears thin on us pretty quickly.” The real point of the holiday, however, never does.
This touring season, that’s become more clear to her and her family than perhaps ever before. In a way, this tour is dedicated to Roady, who was with the show from the very beginning. On another level, it’s bigger than Roady and Skaggs and the rest of her family. This music, this tour, this holiday season represents so much more to Skaggs than anything sitting under the Christmas tree ever could. All of this is a reminder of what really matters in this world and beyond, and though it’s intangible, Skaggs knows it is an incredible gift.
“We loved Tom, and Tom loved us like family. And that’s what’s important,” she said, making sure to emphasize it again and again. “That’s what’s important. That’s what’s important on this earth. And it’s those kind of things that are going to last and remain, not just on this earth but for eternity.”
The Skaggs Family Christmas tour will be making a stop at Franklin’s Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17. For tickets and more information on the show, visit www.greatmountainmusic.com or call (866) 273-4615. For more information on the tour, which features member of the Skaggs and White families, visit www.rickyskaggs.com. While there, also check out “A Skaggs Family Christmas Volume Two,” a new CD which features performances from previous shows and includes footage of the late Tom Roady.