It's a Wonderful Life - 12/16/2014

     I was telling my friend Tommy Venne that musicians get spoiled.  You know the scene at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where Jimmy Stewart is surrounded by people with smiling faces, hugging him and patting him on the back?  He knows that he is appreciated and feels bad for ever having complained about his lot in life.  All is right with the world for that moment.  We get to experience that feeling on a semi-regular basis.  Of course, human frailty creeps in and overcomes that spirit eventually, but the charge of it kept me up until 2:30 in the morning after our hometown Gibson Family North Country Christmas on Saturday night.  I still haven’t come down from the high.
      I am so proud of how the folks in Ellenburg Depot behaved that night.  They came in from the cold and from a week of heavy snow ready for a good time.  Northern Adirondack Central School’s auditorium was packed, and people were having trouble finding seats.  Katy Daley, award-winning radio personality from Washington, D.C., was on hand.  We were lucky to have her emcee the event, and she later remarked to me, “No one was sour.  There were no raised voices.”  I looked out and saw people standing and had the idea of asking people if they wanted to sit on stage with the band like I’d seen on the Grand Ole Opry and Prairie Home Companion.  A dozen people cheerfully volunteered and things got a little less crowded out front.
     Corina had decorated the stage area beautifully.  She just has an eye for that sort of thing.  When I mentioned it to her, she jumped at the chance.  My mom, dressed in Christmas red, sat beaming beside her in the crowd.  I marvel at what a wonderful person she is.  Most people feel that way about their mother, but I know it to be true.  She has never let me down even once.  Her track record is perfect.  In this season of Peace, she is the greatest peace-maker I know.  Someone said to me just yesterday, “She makes me feel calm.”  Me, too.  She and Katy Daley had made a basket of amazing cookies and raffled them off, raising almost $500 for Ellenburg Senior Housing.  I could see Mom’s pride in the feat.  I was happy to see Delbert Hart, one of my best friends growing up and a good-hearted man, take home the cookies.
     Many Christmas songs are difficult, and the fact that we dust them off once a year can make such a show challenging.  We had a few little bumps along the way, but the audience didn’t seem to mind.  You could hear a pin drop on the slower songs and feel electricity during the more raucous numbers. Mike Barber pulled double duty on bass and as soundman.  His son Robert ran the front of house sound and did an admirable job.  Our old friend Sam Zucchini played drums beautifully.  With Leigh and me, those guys represented our core band through the night.  Leigh played guitar and I played banjo, acoustic guitar, and a little electric guitar.  Leigh calls my Fender Telecaster my “midlife crisis.”  I’m just having fun and it’s less expensive than a Corvette.   Brother and sister team Tom and Julie Venne, who usually play in a bluegrass group called Beartracks, joined us as guests.  They sing and play beautifully together and have a great energy that really added to the show.  Our sister, Erin Gibson LaClair, joined us as well (more about her later).  Finally, my son Kelley played mandolin on a few songs and sang a verse of “Silent Night” with us.  I was more than a little proud.  
     Erin is such a good singer with a pure, angelic voice.  People around home just love her.  She has had some vocal issues the past few years and had not been singing in public, but I coaxed her to do a few songs with us.  She performed like I knew she would.  We couldn’t resist a prank though.  I asked her to sing one song at the piano all by herself as a change of pace.  She chose “The First Noel.”  She texted a few hours before the show that she was having second thoughts.  “I haven’t played piano in public since 1995.”  I reassured her that she was a ham like her brothers and that she would deliver when push came to shove.  She was doing just that, playing and singing soulfully, mesmerizing the audience.  The mood was changed though when Mike, Leigh, and I walked out on stage to listen.  Mike and Leigh were wearing bizarre winter hats and I had the ugliest green Christmas sweater ever.  Erin’s performance halted as she crumbled in laughter.  The audience did as well.  Just before she resumed her performance, she said, “They are beasts!”  A lot of people would have been angry at us for disrupting a performance, but she just laughed it off.  It made me love her even more.
     We are hoping to make this a holiday tradition in the North Country.  People went home smiling and I think more in the Christmas Spirit than they did before the show started.  I know I did.  It’s a wonderful life.