Longtime friends Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith are reuniting for a Christmas tour, Billboard can exclusively announce. Marc Martel will be joining them on the seven-city holiday tour, which will incorporate a full symphony orchestra at each performance.
“It’s fun to work with a wonderful dear friend like Michael,” says Grant, who last toured with Smith on their 2017 Christmas trek. “In every city we go to we get to enjoy their holiday lights and a little bit of shopping. We rush into town, have a few hours to experience the best of the best and then after the show drive to the next town. It’s a fun way to spend part of the holiday.”
Smith is equally enthused about working again with Grant. “I look forward to any opportunity to share the stage with Amy, and especially at Christmas,” he says. “We both have such a love and appreciation for Christmas music — the old, the new and everything in between. I’d like to add, too, that I’m really looking forward to Marc Martel being with us. [He’s] literally one of the great singers of our time. Can’t wait to try and figure out how to squeeze a little Queen song between Bing Crosby and Andy Williams tunes.”
Martel, formerly with the Christian rock band Downhere, has also toured with The Queen Extravaganza and contributed vocals to the film Bohemian Rhapsody. “Everybody has been talking about Marc. I’m just so proud of him,” Grant says. “When Bohemian Rhapsody, came out, anything that wasn’t Freddie Mercury [singing] was Marc.”
The idea to incorporate Martel into the Christmas tour came when his manager contacted Grant’s manager and asked if she would like to record a Christmas song with him. “It just got us talking: ‘Man wouldn’t that be fun for him to come on the road and do something from the movie?’” Grant shares.
Grant, Martel and Smith are planning to go in the studio soon to record a version of the Christmas classic “Silver Bells.” “I think that will happen at the end of this month,” Grant says of the upcoming session.
Sponsored by Balsam Hill, the Christmas tour will kick off November 30 in Cincinnati, Ohio. “We are really grateful to Balsam Hill for sponsoring the tour,” says Smith. “Can you imagine a better pairing — a Christmas Tour sponsored by the manufacturer of the most beautiful Christmas trees and Christmas décor? It’s pretty perfect.”
The Christmas tour will also include shows in Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Ohio; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Des Moines, Iowa. Following those dates, Smith and Martel will continue to tour together for an additional nine Christmas shows, while Grant will return home to Nashville where she and husband Vince Gill will perform a 12 concert residency at the Ryman Auditorium, which has become a holiday tradition.
“Last year I only did the Ryman shows with Vince and that was a blast,” Grant says. “The year before in 2017, we would do our Ryman shows in the middle of the week and then I’d leave from the Ryman to go on the road with Michael. It was so much fun going back and forth, because Michael and Vince have very different personalities. The Ryman shows are more band and vocal oriented and really just a comfortable family feel, and then I would leave that and go to full-day rehearsals with a different symphony every day. It was a lot.”
Grant says the workload won’t be quite as heavy this year. “I’m not doing as many shows this time. It’s lovely to go back and forth singing some of the same songs, but just getting to enjoy two different co-hosts, very different dynamics. Vince calls himself bad Santa. He’s a rascal and that comes out on stage, and Michael is just sweet and earnest, so it’s just fun. It keeps it fresh because I’m going back and forth between the two.”
The Ryman shows will kick off Dec. 11 and continue through Dec. 23. “Vince and I are actually going to do some matinees. There are three dates that have matinee performances,” she says of the Dec. 12, 22 and 23 shows. “Not everybody wants to be downtown at night. That was actually Vince’s idea.”
Grant and Smith are both looking forward to hitting the road together again. “Our goal is to change up just about everything in the show,” Smith says. “There are some classics that we’ll add back in, but we’ll even figure out a way to make those feel new. And the addition of Marc Martel sends it to a whole new level.”
One thing Grant says will be happening again that has become a tradition is a snowball fight. A childhood memory prompted Grant to incorporate the fun activity into her show.
“I have a great memory being a kid and coming out of a Vanderbilt basketball game,” she recalls. “Traffic was gridlocked on West End [Avenue] because of a quick, hard snowfall. People cut off their engines, got out of their cars and just had a spontaneous snowball fight in the middle of this downtown street.”
For the first snowball fight, Grant bought tube socks, cut them up and stuffed them with paper towels to make snowballs. She enlisted her backup singers to meet in her hotel room and they had fun making artificial snowballs.
“Then I found snowballs online that are so great. They look more like a snowball and when you squeeze them they actually have a little crunch feel,” she says. “With the ones we’ve been buying for years now online, you could hit the first violinist with these, and it would not hurt the instrument. It’s just lighthearted and fun.”
Smith and Grant also plan to do special meet and greets during the tour. They are both longtime supporters of Compassion International and are meeting fans who sponsor a child with the organization through the websites meetamyandmichael.com and meetmichaelwsmith.com.
Grant and Smith are multiple Grammy and Dove Award winners, and both have recorded several Christmas albums during their long careers. Christmas is a favorite time of year for both and Grant hopes to create cherished memories for their fans at the holiday shows. “I love thinking about and trying to create special experiences,” she says. “It matters to me that when somebody walks in the door and finds their seat — whether it’s in an arena or the Ryman — that they feel like somebody has thought about every moment. We never dial it in.
“I’m always thinking, ‘Oh my gosh! A woman might find her way here with her family and we are going to serve this up! This holiday you are going to know that you have experienced a magical moment.’ The best Christmas gift is the one that you would want to receive, and I would want somebody to spend a lot of time and attention creating a night that made it worth my time if I were going to buy a ticket. That’s what we’re going to try for the people who show up.”
Complete dates for the tour are below and go on sale later this month. Tickets can be purchased Grant and Smith's websites.
Nov. 30 — Cincinnati, OH
Dec. 1 — Columbus, OH
Dec. 2 — Indianapolis, IN
Dec. 5 — Grand Rapids, MI
Dec. 6 — Minneapolis, MN
Dec. 7 — Sioux Falls, SD
Dec. 8 — Des Moines, IA
Dec. 10 — Nashville, TN
Dec. 11 — Atlanta, GA
Dec. 13 — Reading, PA
Dec. 14 — Huntington, WV
Dec. 15 — Shippensburg, PA
Dec. 18 — Detroit, MI
Dec. 19 — Pittsburgh, PA
Dec. 20 — Lowell, MA
Dec. 21 — Medford, NJ