News Column

Trace Adkins' Christmas CD album, tour is a gift to himself

November 28, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 28--Trace Adkins has sold more than 10 million copies of his 17 albums. He has had 11 Top 10 singles, four of which went to No. 1.

He's won many awards since being chosen the Academy of Country Music's Top New Male Vocalist in 1996, and has had more than 15 years of successful tours. He's even acted in nearly a dozen films.

But in a telephone interview from Nashville as he is finishing rehearsals for his new Christmas-themed tour, which stops Nov. 29 at Sands Bethlehem Event Center, Adkins says he's nervous.

"It's unlike anything I've ever done, so there's a little anxiety about it for me," Adkins says. "I mean, you come up with an idea like this and then you watch it grow and become what you hoped it would become, and then you have to actually go out and put it in front of people and prepare yourself for what may come."

If the description of the show is accurate, audiences should be charmed.

Based on his new Celtic-themed Christmas album "The King's Gift" -- Adkins' first holiday disc -- the stage show does not feature Adkins singing the hits "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk," "Ladies Love Country Boys" or "You're Gonna Miss This," but yuletide favorites such as "Away in a Manger" and "We Three Kings."

In addition, it features Adkins in spoken-word fireside chats that are sometimes historical and sometimes humorous.

That, Adkins says, is inspired by his work with Disney World's Candlelight Processional, which he has performed several years and will again this year. The annual event at Disney World combines a retelling of the Christmas story with live performances of holiday music by a massed choir, 50-piece orchestra and a dozen celebrity participants

To perform the delicate instrumentation of the songs' Celtic arrangements, there's a 12-piece orchestra that includes pipe, penny whistle, violin, viola, cello and harp.

"You have to have some specialized musicians to do this Celtic stuff," he says. "These are incredibly talented musicians, and there's a whole herd of 'em on the stage.

"I want this, musically, to be as close as I can possibly get to reproducing this album live, and it just takes that many musicians to do it. I wasn't going to shortchange people, man. I wasn't going to phone this in. Forget about my singing. If you're a fan of music, you're going to enjoy this evening, I promise you."

"The King's Gift" album was 15 years in the making, Adkins says.

Back then, he was in the studio with guitarist Michael Spriggs, an accomplished guitarist who's a native of Ireland. In addition to playing on several of Adkins' records, Spriggs has done instrumental Celtic records.

Adkins says he told Spriggs, "Man, I love those records you make, and I'd like to do a Christmas record with that feel. And he said, 'Well, let's do it, man!' And so he and I, being both the procrastinators that we are, we jumped right on it and 15 years later we got it finished."

He says the fire was rekindled last year when his band leader, Jon Coleman, again asked why he hadn't done a Christmas album. Adkins says he told him, "I always intend to, I just haven't gotten around to it.' And he said, 'Alright, well I'm going to make you do it. Let's do it.' "

Adkins says he connected Coleman with Spriggs, and recorded the disc last winter.

"I wanted to do it in the season. I didn't want to do it in the summer. It just didn't seem right to me. I said, 'Look, I have to wear a jacket to the studio.' If it's not cold enough for me to wear an overcoat, I don't feel like singing Christmas songs," he says with a laugh.

The recording sessions included some musical luminaries. Adkins says renowned Irish band The Chieftains happened to be playing in Nashville -- "just a happy accident" -- and "came in the studio and spent the whole day with us. It was just one of those surreal days. Being in the studio with that iconic group was just an amazing, amazing day."

Adkins also tapped Nashville-based singer Lily Costner, whom he says he admired but didn't know was actor Kevin Costner's daughter until Coleman told him while suggesting her for background vocals. "And he said, 'I bet Kevin would sing on this record.' And I said, 'Naah.' And so she asked him and, yeah, he said yes."

The Costners both sing on "Silent Night," and Lily Costner is on the tour. Drummer Kenny Aaronoff plays on "Little Drummer Boy." U.K. singer Emma Stevens also appears, as does Scottish vocalist Alyth McCormack, whose Gaelic performance on "I Saw Three Ships" is played during the show.

That sounds sort of like a gathering akin to Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" television show, on which Adkins has appeared twice -- finally winning this past March.

As for the show, Adkins says winning "was kind of redemption" after he lost to Piers Morgan in the show's first season in 2008.

"I wasn't champing at the bit to do it, and I did wrestle with the decision as to whether or not I wanted to put myself in that meat grinder again," Adkins says. "But when I decided to do it, I went with the clear intention of winning it. I wasn't going to go up there and just piddle around. I was going to go win the thing. And I'm glad I worked out."

This year, in an "All-Star" edition of the show, in one week alone Adkins won $670,072 for his charity, the American Red Cross.

"I had some really philanthropic people that came through for me, and, you know, it's good to have friends with money," he says with a laugh.

"I tried to show people that you can play that game straight. You can play that game with integrity and actually succeed. You don't have to resort to the game and all that kind of stuff. Just be straight and honest and just play the game."

Despite his apprehension about the new stage show and returning to "Celebrity Apprentice," Adkins, 51, says he has been choosing projects these days that challenge him. He'll also again host FOX-TV's American Country Awards on Dec. 10, with race car driver Danica Patrick.

"There again, it's something that gets me outside my comfort zone," he says. "I just need that in my life. I like doing things that challenge me and so they're giving me an opportunity to do this again.

"I keep doing what I enjoy doing. And I'll tell you where I am in my career: I am at a beautiful place .. in a beautiful place in my life, in my career, where I can do the things that I want to do and just do things because I enjoy doing them.

"I don't have to worry about the money. That's not what motivates me anymore. I'm going to keep making records as long as I want to make records and do the acting thing whenever I get a chance to, because I enjoy that, too. You know, I'm just at a good spot, man."

john.moser@mcall.com

610-820-6722

TRACE ADKINS

THE CHRISTMAS SHOW TOUR

-- What: A theatrical holiday experience that includes "fireside" spoken interludes and songs from his new Celtic Christmas album, "The King's Gift," including "Away in a Manger," "Oh Holy Night," "What Child is This" and "Silent Night."

-- When: 8 p.m. Nov. 29

-- Where: Sands Bethlehem Event Center, Sands Casino Resort

-- How much: $45-$79.50

-- Info: 800-745-3000, http://www.sandseventcenter.com.

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