Oaks remain focused on Christ’s birth, close Renfro Valley’s concert season Sunday
By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com
Staying fresh in the music business is never easy. Doing so after nearly a half century of performing together is almost unheard of.
But then again, The Oak Ridge Boys are anything but an ordinary group. The current lineup first sang together in 1973 and is now in the last two weeks of the legendary group’s 30th Christmas tour.
And they are still playing before packed houses during this year’s “Down Home Christmas” tour, which coincides with the release of the country and gospel Hall of Famers’ latest CD of the same name.
The project includes the Christmas classic, “Silent Night,” but also features newer material such as “The Family Piano” or “Down Home Christmas” capturing some of the warm traditional feelings of the Christmas season. Both songs were composed by Aaron Raitiere, along Mando Saenz on the title cut. Raitiere is listed as having a hand in writing six of the 10 cuts on the latest CD.
Raitiere and Saenz teamed up to write “Brand New Star,” the popular cut from the acclaimed “17th Avenue Revival” CD released last year.
We were able to catch up with Oaks’ tenor Joe Bonsall this week via email to talk about the CD and the Oaks’ near annual Christmas show at Renfro Valley coming up Sunday night.
“It seems ‘Down Home Christmas’ is hitting on all cylinders,” he said. “I don’t have the numbers but I know it is selling well and the cool thing is how much people are loving the songs. Our goal was a different down home family project that reflects down-home America feelings about Christmas. With the help of producer Dave Cobb and some incredible hit-making young songwriters, we accomplished our goal.”
Cobb, who owns several Grammy awards, worked with The Oaks on “17th Avenue Revival” and the team has worked magic again with “Down Home Christmas.”
“Dave loves us and loves to work with us,” Bonsall says. “He has been a fan since he was little and calls us his crazy uncles. He has a way of making old things sound new as he did on ‘17th Avenue Revival’ and making new things sound retro. He loves four-part harmony and is a master of making the instrumentation sparse and putting the vocals and the song out front.”
As has been the case with The Oak Ridge Boys dating back to their days as a cutting-edge gospel group, the message of the song is paramount. That’s even more apparent in the group’s Christmas shows. While the format is usually a segment of some of The Oaks’ big country hits followed by songs of the Christmas season. While there are plenty of songs about Santa, snow and reindeer, there can be little question The Oaks see the season foremost as about Christ’s birth.
“It is the reason we celebrate in the first place and as Christians, we feel a responsibility to Shine THAT Light on every album and especially on the Christmas show,” said Bonsall, obviously referring to the Shine The Light tour in recent years. “The world has a lot of dark spots and the Bible teaches us that in HIM there is only LIGHT so we like to remind our audience to reach for that light.
“The same Jesus who was born in a manger LIVES TODAY. HALLELUJAH EMMANUEL!”
One of the cuts on the latest CD is “Hallelujah Emmanuel,” written by Robert Jason and Paul Bradley, Sr.
As of early Thursday afternoon, Sunday’s concert is a near sell out. According to the Renfro Valley website, only a handful of single, upper balcony tickets were available for the show, which begins at 5 p.m. The turnout underscores the fact that despite not having a major hit in years, The Oak Ridge Boys are an American institution.
“We have become mid-America’s group over all these decades and traditional family values is what we are all about,” Bonsall said. “We love Jesus and we love America and our flag and our veterans and police and first responders and we aren’t bashful about it.”
Sunday’s concert will bring a bit of an unusual twist for both The Oak Ridge Boys and Renfro Valley. Back on April 6, the Oaks opened the Valley’s 80th season and now they will close the concert year.
“There are a few great concert venues around the country that we play once or sometimes twice in a year and historic Renfro Valley is at the top of the list,” Bonsall said.
“There is always a big crowd of folks who always seem so happy that we are there. Being this year’s show will feature a lot of new things since we last brought a Christmas show to the Entertainment Center, we think it will be an awesome night. As usual, we will do a regular set of Oaks songs for a bit, take an intermission and boom, MERRY DOWN HOME CHRISTMAS!
“We are honored to be closing the season at Renfro Valley.”