lit festivities came wrapped in a plethora of music as Nashville
welcomed Brenda Lee – that’s “the” Brenda Lee – Amy Grant and Vince
Gill, Martina McBride, Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams, Jr., the
Mavericks, Steel Magnolia, and dozens of superstars celebrating great
music all within days, and blocks, of each other.  The CMA and UP TV
taped holiday specials, Opryland was glowing, fans visited dozens of
tour buses for charity and Luke Bryan rocked the Bridgestone, but the
highlight was when “Mr. Christmas” landed his “57 Chevrolet” on the
Ryman Auditorium stage again this year for his tenth Christmas Rocks
Extravaganza, much to the delight of the sold out audiences.  
Setzer has earned that title for his unwavering and unconditional love
of Christmas.  With musicianship beyond belief and an equally talented
orchestra in his bag of gifts, this timeless guitarist with the blonde
pompadour magically took the historic stage in what seemed like a swirl
of colorful and festive guitar glitter.  
Like a
gift to our ears, Brian took his holiday classics a step further into a
visual extravaganza. With favorites such as “Jingle Bell Rock”, the
Brian Setzer Orchestra was fully choreographed behind colorful
individual forties‘ style music stands.  Under the maestro’s direction,
eight of the very best horns to his left and five superb saxophones to
his right, the scene was set.  The players were synchronized with head,
hand and arm movements, standing and sitting and dancing throughout the
show.  We found ourselves wishing Phil Lassiter, our fellow Nashvillian
who is now music director of Prince’s horn section, was there to see it.
 Excellence loves excellence.  Like icing on the music, his two back up
girls filled in perfect harmonies in costumes inspired by a classic
Bing Crosby film.  They completed the mood and their vocals are
outstanding, along with the drummers and upright bass players who stole
the show with acrobatics on their dueling basses while Brian was at home
standing on the bass drum rejoicing with his signature licks about fish
net stockings.
Brian told of how when he met
Michael Jackson in a rush, Michael commented to him, “I like that cat
song!“  Then holy cats, out came those cats as Brian rose the audience
to their feet with his Stray Cats hit – the “Stray Cat Strut”,
slithering into “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” as the dancing Grinch
crashed the three hour holiday party on stage.  A hush fell over the
Ryman as the entire audience whispered along with the famous lyrics – “I
got cat class and I got cat style”. 
With one
hit after another, including “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” and “Rock this Town,
this showman does the nearly impossible as he seamlessly weaves
rockabilly into big band, into Christmas, into swing and then into
classical with his arrangement of the “Nutcracker“, not to mention a
Johnny Cash gem as well.  “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” is also a
meaningful favorite as it was the “A” side of Patti Page’s “Tennessee
From his 1959 “Christmas
Custom”guitar to the Setzer Hot Rod Custom “Sparkle Red”, Fred Gretsch
is surely proud to have Brian in his Gretsch family.  This virtuoso’s
tour also stopped in Allen, Texas and the family of Bill Haley of the
Comets brought his Gibson guitar, which he played on “Rock Around the
Clock”, for Brian to play at the show.  Historic and magical moments
seem to follow this guitarists’ guitarist like stray cats all around the
towns he rocks as he jumps, jives and wails, making us all want to be
in his presence, especially fellow admiring musicians.
catching candy canes tossed by Santa and brushing snow from our hair in
the pews of the Ryman, Mr. Christmas took off for his next stop to
spread more joy and music.  Even though money may be nice, and often
necessary, we can’t help but get the impression that Brian would do it
all in a rockabilly minute just for the joy.  
by S. Parks  for Country Music News International (photo c2013 by S.Parks Creative)

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