For something billed as a “Holiday Showcase,” the performances last night lacked a lot of holiday cheer. Not to say they weren’t great performances, but maybe they just should have been billed as something closer to the reality that they were – a showcase of performances benefitting the local charity, Abuse Alternatives, which helps families and children in domestic abuse situations, a very worthwhile organization, especially as this time of year, when many domestically abused partners find the courage to leave their situations and have nowhere to go. But I will leave judgment for how we got there to myself and just concentrate on the actual performances, which, overall, were quite amazing.

First up was a local praise team from a church I’m not sure I even caught the name of. To their credit, a couple of their songs were actually quite good, my favorite of the set being an incredibly rocked-out version of “Little Drummer Boy,” led by a fantastic second-alto on vocals, who then proceeded to reach up into a pretty high range of notes, as well. The rest of their set was what they would do for the praise service at their church, and, as such, really didn’t interest me. (When I do go to church, I want to hear the standard hymns, sung the standard ways, so praise teams just aren’t my bag.) I appreciate their involvement with Abuse Alternatives, though, and commend their commitment to the organization.

Next up was Noah Spencer. Let me start by saying, I don’t watch The Voice, regardless of who the judges are each season. I was excited to hear that Reba was going to be a judge this year, but it still didn’t persuade me to become a viewer. I kinda wish it had. Being from Tazewell originally, I kept hearing about this guy from Richlands who “made it through,” a young man named Noah Spencer, and his star continued to rise. Well, Reba let him go two or three weeks ago, and a whole lot of local people may never forgive her for it. I happened to be spending the night at my friend Kandy’s house the following week, and saw who Reba saved instead of Noah, and after last night, I’m really thinking, “Reba, you messed up.” This guy can sing. He can sing anything. Solid rock classics, love ballads, covers, soulful renditions of anything you throw his way. And he plays the guitar like nobody’s business. He isn’t quite comfortable with chatting up the audience, I think – he’d rather be up there singing – but I think that will come over time. Right now, he’s living out his dreams, though, and conquering his corner of the world, if nothing else. His long-time girlfriend, Morgan, was there in the audience last night, and he sang the sweetest love song to her, “The Queen of Middle Creek,” referring to the section of Richlands where she resides. Well, right now, Noah Spencer is the King of Southwestern Virginia, and I hope he reigns in this region for a good, long time. He has the talent to make it happen. And I hope he gets the chance again to break out into wider audiences. He has a whole lot of talent that I think people everywhere will enjoy, not just his hometown crowd fanbase.

Micki Guyton was supposed to headline the show. In fact, I will admit, she was the whole reason I bought the ticket. Two days before the show, I got an email that was sent to all ticketholders, saying she was sick and had had to back out. My first thought was to ask for my money back. Then I thought, “It benefits charity; you really can’t do that, especially not at Christmastime. Go, listen to some holiday music, and enjoy it, let it prepare you for the season.” Well, like I said, there wasn’t much holiday music involved, so that was a bust, too. It turns out, Mickey Guyton has covid. I wish her a quick and complete recovery. But, from the organizers’ standpoint, what a disaster! Your headliner comes down with covid on the brink of this holiday extravaganza. Fortunately, a local country radio show is one of the organizers, and they have connections in the industry. 

Enter Restless Road, three young guys who have been together for ten years, after getting their start on X Factor (which mysteriously went off the air the season after they were on, but they swear it had nothing to do with them, lol), one from Iowa, one from Alabama, and one from West Virginia. The guy from Iowa has this deep bass voice that rivals Josh Turner any day of the week. The guy from Alabama wears his FFA jacket onstage and plays guitar. And the guy from West Virginia wears a cowboy hat and plays guitar and piano. But the best part is that each of them sings. They switch off on the lead vocals; they harmonize like nobody’s business, too! They play off each other on stage and have fabulous stage presence. These guys are out there having a good time and making a name for themselves in the process. The name of their current album is Last Rodeo. I think it is worth checking out; I know I plan to. I think these guys could really go somewhere. They have all the right elements in play; now it’s a matter of the right breaks at the right times.

The final act to take the stage was Runaway June. The name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place why. Until one of the three ladies, Jennifer, asked if anyone in the house liked John Wayne. He’s her grandfather. I remember reading an interview with her somewhere a while back, maybe even as far back as covid. But the group has existed under the name for numerous years, with several personnel changes. A quick look at Wikipedia tells me that Jennifer Wayne, one of the Runaway June co-founders, is the only original member still in the band. It doesn’t matter to me who they were, though, because who they are is a sassy all-girl country trio reminiscent of the Chicks (who I loved), but with a flair that makes them something unique. “Buy My Own Drinks” made me miss being 20-something and know that I didn’t need the approval of someone else to make it through any social scene… Like I said, they are sassy! The new ballad they performed last night, the name of which I’ve now forgotten, was quite lovely, demonstrating that they have depth, too – it’s not all “screw you, we’re independent women” sorts of material. I also love the song “Wild Hearts,” which Jennifer Wayne wrote and Keith Urban recorded. The trio did a great job on their cover of that song, too.

Overall, an enthusiastically enjoyable night. A showcase, for sure, with about five holiday songs thrown in for good measure. But the spirit of the event was pure in its intent, and proceeds went to a worthy cause. I can spend $20 for 3+ hours of great entertainment under the guise of “holiday showcase” anytime for that. Thanks to all who made it happen, especially to the bands who came to Bristol and performed without seeing a penny for their performances. That alone makes me want to buy their music and follow them on social media and watch their careers take off and soar. That alone makes me want to see them succeed!