The Watkins Family Hour always puts on a good show at Christmas time and this year was no exception. The concert was held on Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at Largo at the Coronet. In the pre-show rundown we were told that this would be the last Watkins Family Hour at Largo until possibly April.
Sara and Sean Watkins stepped onto the stage first, wishing us all a “Merry Christmas” and Sean started off the show singing, “There’s a last time for everything.” The band was then invited onstage and consisted of Sebastian Steinberg on bass, Don Heffington on drums, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, Benmont Tench on piano, and David Garza on guitar. They kicked off into a cover of Bob Dylan’s “From a Buick 6” with Sara singing lead vocals.
The band then played three of their typical songs. From Nickel Creek, the performed “Somebody More Like You,” which was refreshing to hear as a full band arrangement, especially with the addition of the pedal steel. Sara introduced the next song by saying, “This is our hit single,” and the group launched into “Steal Your Heart Away.” I borrowed the line from this song for the title of this blog post. Sean remarked, “It’s a sentimental time of year,” which opened up some banter between Sara and Sean about sentimental songs, though Sara then introduced “You and Me” by remarking, “This is about different stages in life.”
The band left the stage as special guest Kate Micucci was announced. She has a different Christmas song as part of her duo Garfunkel and Oates that she didn’t play (maybe not appropriate for the family hour). Instead, she performed an amusing song on guitar about going home for Christmas where everyone else is treated as an adult, but she is still treated as a child. “Christmas time at my house, congratulations you’re still a kid; everyone got older, I’ll just pretend I never did.” Her brother Matt Micucci joined her onstage part way through the song to accompany her on kazoo. The pair then played a piano duet that was titled, “Schlittenfahrt” (sleigh ride in German), which purportedly has been played annually at their family Christmas celebrations.
The band then returned to the stage and Sean introduced the next song by saying, “Christmas can be a wild time of year.” Not sure the title of this new one, but it has the lyrics, “We stayed up talking to 11, all alone, just you and I; I go crazy about you and there’s no telling what I’ll do; ’cause darling you bring out my wild side.” Next Sara mentioned that it was a tradition in her family to listen to a Michael Martin Murphey Christmas album, though the next song was not by him, but was a “two steppin’ song,” “Any Old Time.” Piano player Benmont Tench then sang one of his new songs which began, “Bring me your sorrows, bring me your troubles, bring me your devils that howl at the door.” Another lyric was “Let it fall away, let it fall where it may, you can walk away from it all; there’s nothing to hurt you and nothing to help you under the starlight that cradles us all.” Then drummer Don Heffington got the chance to go to the front of the stage while Sean sat in on the drums for Don’s twist on “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”
There was a break in the music as comedian/magician Derek Hughes (America’s Got Talent, Season 10) took the stage. He mentioned that he had already bought a ticket to the WFH show when he was asked to perform. He joked that performers had to buy tickets and audience members would be used as performers, then pointed at me and asked if I was ready to do a set later. I gave him a thumbs up. After a bit of funny patter, he did a trick where he guessed the colors three people had chosen out of a box of crayons. Then he brought those three people (Heidi, Samantha, and Chad) on stage, put a toy letter block in a bag, had them shake it up and then correctly guessed which letter was on top for each person.
Sean and Sara returned to the stage and Sara sang a “beautiful old song,” the hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” (James Taylor’s version at the link). It started out fairly serious and beautiful, but soon enough the Micucci siblings returned to the stage as elves and shook a lot of fake snow all over Sara and Sean as they were playing. The pair had plastic snow in their hair for the rest of the night. Sean then played another new song that I believe will be on his next album due in March. Some of the verses were: “You were born unto a king and a queen … just to turn and find your fortress was a hole in the ground.” “The power of suggestion is a mighty force indeed … Thank God you crawled out of that hole where you were living.”
Then the final special guest of the evening was announced, none other than legendary singer-songwriter, Jackson Browne. The whole band returned to the stage to support his song, “I’ll Do Anything” (linked a version of Jackson singing with Sara and Sean in the backing band). I love how Jackson introduced his song by saying, “I don’t know why I picked this song. It came to mind because the Christmas season is hard on some people.” Thankful to him for thinking of those who may not be having the merriest of Christmases this year. Then they played a touching cover of a song written by Kieran Kane, “When We’re Gone, Long Gone” (check that link for a beautiful version featuring country powerhouses Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton that is on their Trio 2 album). “When we’re gone, long gone, the only thing that will have mattered, is the love that we shared and the way that we cared.”
The Watkins Family Hour band then performed what is getting to be a regular closer for them “Brokedown Palace” (link of them performing on Conan includes a verse sung by David Garza). They surprised me that night with one more song, “Forever Young,” before concluding the set.
For the encore, David Garza came to the front of the stage and played an absolutely gorgeous rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” on his guitar (he’s on piano at the link). The next time through he sang it and was joined on stage by all the guests from the evening. Then Sara called for one more time through the song and encouraged all of the audience to singalong. That was a special moment and I felt a sense of blissful unity and connection. As the song finished, Sara announced that there would be more music after the show in The Little Room and for the audience to come along.