It’s difficult to fathom, but it’s been thirty-four years since Amy Grant penned the Yuletide classic “Tennessee Christmas” with then-husband Gary Chapman. Just how many times has that song’s title rolled off of her tongue since 1983? “That’s not even fair,” Grant says with a good-natured laugh. “The crazy thing to me is that I don’t know if I had ever heard that phrase before Gary and I wrote the song – any more than you would hear ‘Alabama Christmas’ or ‘Texas Christmas,’ or anything like that.” However, since the song’s original release on A Christmas Album, that has changed many times over. “We’ve had fun with everything from Tennessee Tourism to asking if we’re on the road ‘Are there any displaced Tennesseans here?’ It’s been a great calling card, for sure.”
Grant is promoting her latest Christmas album – of the same title – and the fact that December means another month of her and husband Vince Gill taking over the Ryman Auditorium for their annual Christmas show. Though it’s become a holiday tradition in Music City, selling out multiple nights at the “Mother Church of Country Music” is something that still shocks the couple. “We’ve got ten shows this year, and every year it’s a mystery to us – we wonder ‘Do you think they’ll be back? Do you think people will come?’ But, everyone during the holidays just wants something meaningful to experience alone or with the family, and people they love. We had so much fun putting this show together. A lot of it is fly by the seat of your pants, because we never operate with a script. But, the music is well thought out, and they are wonderful evenings. Every one is different,” she tells Sounds Like Nashville.
Grant is something of a rarity in Nashville – a native. When asked what some of her memories were as a child growing up in Davidson County, she stated “I remember the decorations on the street lights. Green Hills looks totally different than it does now. I have this memory of 1970, I think. My mom and dad, one of my sisters and I had gone to a Vanderbilt basketball game. During the game, snow started falling. It was crazy. Nobody is great driving in the snow in Nashville now, and that was the case back then as well. I remember that West End was gridlocked. People were slipping and sliding, and the snow was still falling. Everyone just put their car in park and we all started throwing snowballs. It was magical…so awesome.”
In a career that has seen success in both Christian and pop music, what is it about holiday music that appeals to Grant? “Initially, I think I wanted to write Christmas music because I came to faith as a very young woman – even in high school and college. So, you’re at a frat party – not a place where people want to talk about their spiritual journey. But, at Christmas time, even the most crusty curmudgeons look at things a little differently. Early on in my writing, I decided I wanted to focus on writing Christmas songs because people are open to the possibility of the presence of God in our world.”
She also admits that there’s another reason she loves to compose songs of the season. “My family is huge,” she states. “We have every form of function and dysfunction…that comes along with being part of an extended community. Over the years, the desire to continue to write Christmas music has stayed interesting because my perspective has changed. When I wrote my first Christmas songs, I was in my early twenties, and now I’m in my late fifties. So, everything changes – except the essentials. We all want to desperately know that we’re loved, and to believe it. So, being curious on how to put all those thoughts in a song, that never gets old.”
Something else that has stayed fresh is the marriage between Grant and Gill. She says that one of the reasons for their enduring relationship is that absence does make the heart grow fonder. “I think that the secret is that we both still travel so much. We have opportunities to miss each other. I think that one thing we have discovered – not that we were the first to do so – but anytime you see someone that you care for doing something that they do well or are passionate about doing, it reminds you of how much you care about them,” she says, allowing that it doesn’t strictly have to be a romantic relationship.
“It can be watching your child give a speech, and they are great with words. When we do the things that we are wired to do, it creates a great energy. It’s fun to watch someone do something that they are good at. My sister Carol is the greatest ‘MacGyver’ in the whole world. She can fix anything. I always thought she would be an artist, but she uses her creativity and her artistry to fix things. I stopped by her house one day, and she had this oriental rug that had gotten faded out in the hallway. She had all her paint supplies, her acrylic paint spread out on the floor, and she was mixing the paint, and painting the rug. I told her ‘Oh, my God. You’re a rock star.’ It made me look at her with fresh eyes. When Vince and I do these Christmas shows, we have a chance to be reminded of how we really fell in love with each other – and it was doing these Christmas shows.”
Grant says that the setting of those concerts – The Ryman Auditorium – is one that brings its’ own special dynamic to the shows, as well. “There’s something hallowed about those halls. It began as a Church, and so many magical performances have taken place on that stage. I think a lot of it has to do with how the room feels – there’s not a seat that feels very far away from the stage. The building itself just creates community, from the moment that you walk in. It’s built for people to experience something together, and you feel it every night. We give to the audience, and they give back to us. It’s a lovely and powerful thing – hopefully for all of us.”
Tickets for Amy Grant and Vince Gill’s Christmas at the Ryman shows can be purchased HERE.