"It's not artist-focused, it's message-focused," said Grant during a phone interview before a tour performance in Kennewick, Wash. "There's something about these Christmas concerts that is very galvanizing as the audience connects with each other and with the people on stage."
The elaborate tour, which includes symphony orchestra, special guest singer Jordan Smith and full scale Christmas lighting, trees and other décor, comes to Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids on Dec. 10 (see details below).
WRAPPING THE CHRISTMAS PACKAGE
Both Grant and Smith have recorded numerous Christmas albums over their long careers. But there's a wider holiday catalog from which they draw.
"Classic Americana Christmas songs – some popularized way back in the 1940s and '50s – and some favorite Christmas hymns," Grant noted of their selections of mainstream standards along with more religious songs.
The tour includes Jordan Smith, winner of season nine of TV's "The Voice" competition show. The threesome was together on a similar tour last year, so the singers had a "full head of steam" entering this year's 22-city trek.
There are numerous highlights. Among them is Jordan Smith's "O Holy Night" with an arrangement that takes advantage of the symphony surrounding his tenor vocal. The orchestra (made up of contracted players in each city) also supports Grant's song "To Be Together" from last year's Christmas album.
"There's no symphony on the recorded version, but each night I'm getting to hear it in that musical setting," she said. "It's like launching a paper airplane and a huge gust of wind comes and carries it farther than you ever thought it could go."
It takes five buses and two "really long" trucks to carry the artists, road crew, equipment and Christmas stage decorations from city to city. "We get to the venue in the morning, rehearse all afternoon, and then after the show take everything down and do it all over again," said Grant.
MUSICAL BOWS AND RIBBONS
The artist said there are several "don't miss" moments during the evening. One is Jordan Smith's first stage entrance singing the "Mr. Grinch" song which she said is "fantastic."
Grant favors the audience with her own holiday gem "Tennessee Christmas." And Jordan Smith sings the Carrie Underwood part on the noteworthy duet with Michael W. Smith, "All Is Well."
"There's laughter, storytelling and there are moments when I look around and half of us on stage are wiping away tears," she added.
The veteran Grant (she just turned 57), said there is something special about the Christmas season for both artist and audience. "At holiday time you long for moments you can share together. That can happen a lot of places but sometimes it never happens because life is so scattered," she said.
"Sometimes during a concert I'll ask, 'Who has come here alone tonight?' And I love it when I hear the random applause or 'I did.' Then I say, 'Well, you're not alone now. Tonight, we're all one big family."
A LOCAL HISTORY
Since recording her first album in the late 1970s, Grant has performed numerous holiday concerts in West Michigan. She recalled a 1998 Christmas concert in Van Andel with Michael W. Smith and guest Cece Winans. The following year she returned with Smith for another Christmas show. She teamed with husband Vince Gill for a 2003 Christmas tour, performing in Van Andel yet again.
One of her earliest area concerts was not during the holiday season. It was on a tour in support of her 1982 "Age to Age" album, singing to a packed Knollcrest Fieldhouse at Calvin College. The opening artist? An upcoming, young singer-songwriter named Michael W. Smith.
Grant said this tour is a very welcoming one, appealing to long time fans as well as new ones – or to anyone looking for a Christmas celebration.
"I want the audience to be rag-tag and dissimilar," she noted. "The beautiful thing about unity is not everyone being the same, but being different and coming together."
Christmas with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, featuring Jordan Smith, with symphony orchestra conducted by David Hamilton
7:30pm Sun. Dec 10
Van Andel Arena, 130 W. Fulton St. Grand Rapids
Tickets: range from $29 to $176, available via Ticketmaster outlets, at the Arena and DeVos Place box offices, www.ticketmaster.com, 800-745-3000.