By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - Grammy winning country singer Kenny Rogers says he feels like he gets to celebrate Christmas for more than a month, as opposed to just a day or two for most everyone else.
This year superstar Rogers launched his 30th annual Christmas & Hits Tour, which began on November 25 and runs through December 23 with stops across the country. In more than three decades of performing the show, the Georgia native has honed his long celebration to perfection.
"We've done some pretty extravagant stuff over the years," the singer told Reuters. "The Christmas audiences come in to be entertained, much more so than the audience the rest of the year. They come in with a different mind-set; they are there for the purpose of being lifted up."
Rogers performs some of his hits, such as "The Gambler," "Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town" and "She Believes in Me." But the heart of the show are his renditions of holiday favorites such as "White Christmas," "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let it Snow!," "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)" and "O Holy Night."
Thirty years ago, Rogers did not see himself doing a Christmas show, much less one he puts on year after year.
The singer recalled a performance decades ago in Branson, Missouri, and someone in the back yelling out, "Hey, it's December. Aren't you going to do some Christmas music?"
Rogers directed the band to play "O Holy Night." The next year he added two Christmas songs to his show, and slowly he added more and more until he had a lineup of holiday music.
"After about two or three years, I thought we should just do a big presentation, so I did an hour and twenty minutes of Christmas music.
"Then it kind of reversed itself where some guy yelled out for me to sing 'Ruby.' So we ended up putting together what we do now, which is half a show where we sing our hits and the other half where we sing Christmas songs."
The show features several set changes, a choir, and some children selected from local schools and choruses to sing Christmas carols, as well as Rogers' pal singer-songwriter Billy Dean.
TALKING ABOUT THE SONGS
Rogers also talks to audiences about the songs: who wrote them, and where they originated. He'll change the song list and stage events that engage the audience in the holiday spirit.
"It's a sweet little show, very family oriented, which is what it's all about," Rogers said.
"The first half of the show has the more happy Christmas songs, then the second half is more religious. Once we get into the story of the Christ child and 'O Holy Night' or 'Away in a Manger,' it becomes pretty spectacular. We end it with 'Til the Season Comes 'Round Again,' which is this wonderful song about what the Christmas spirit means to everyone."
Among his favorite memories of performing the show over three decades, he said, was sitting on stage singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with country singer Suzy Bogguss, who was pregnant at the time.
"I used to do 'The 12 Days of Christmas,' and I would invite 11 people up (on stage) and give them cards with 11 of the 12 days and go down the line and make them sing their part. It was one of the highlights of the show."
One year, he worked with local animal welfare groups and got some 50 dogs adopted on a single evening.
"Things like that are the little things you can do when you're out for the Christmas show that you can't do on a hits show," Rogers said.
After the current Christmas series wraps in Westbury, New York, Rogers said he will return home and share the holiday with his family.
"Normally we have a really nice tree in our house that we bought when the boys were born, but this year will be different. We just sold our big house so we'll be spending Christmas with (his wife) Wanda's sister and her family.
"No matter where we are it's a sweet time, and a very special time of the year for me."
(Editing by Andrew Stern and Bob Tourtellotte)