As a fair and impartial journalist I don’t often tell you people what to do.
But I’m telling you now.
Go see one of The Lower Lights’ Christmas concerts next week at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City. You’ll thank me later.
Until the day that the Osmonds, David Archuleta and Imagine Dragons decide to form a band together, The Lower Lights will remain about the closest Utah comes to a supergroup. It’s made up of roughly 20-plus musicians living in — or with ties to — the Beehive State. Although the gospel/folk/bluegrass collective plays about a half-dozen concerts throughout the rest of the year, at the holidays The Lower Lights string together a collection of Christmas shows that have grown in popularity over the past nine years.
The 2018 edition of The Lower Lights Christmas concerts will be presented Monday through Saturday of next week — except Wednesday — at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall, in Salt Lake City. Shows begin at 7 p.m.
Cherie Call, a Spanish Fork-based singer-songwriter who’s released a number of albums on her own, has been a member of the collective since its 2009 inception. She said the collective started with the core musicians Scott Wiley, Ryan Tanner, Pat Campbell, Sarah Sample and Brian Hardy.
Nine years ago Wiley, who owns June Audio recording studio in Provo, sent word out to all of the musicians he’d worked with over the years.
“We all know each other from being a part of each others’ recording projects,” Call said. “What we have in common is June Audio.”
The idea, according to Call, was for the group to create their own style of folk and “vintage-y” hymns/gospel music.
“So we spent a few days recording a bunch of hymns” Call said.
And she does mean a bunch.
An artist typically might record two or three songs a day, according to Call. But with this large group of musicians, they were recording a dozen or more tunes a day — one right after the other.
“You’d have some musicians in the studio recording one song, and in the hallway would be another group arranging a song for the next recording,” Call said.
That recording session, and others, have produced half a dozen albums for the group.
No one really imagined that the project would catch on with audiences the way it has, according to Call.
“It was something we just did for fun, but it’s been really popular,” she said. “And now it’s kind of morphed into this big thing.”
Although The Lower Lights play a few other shows throughout the year, Call says it’s become increasingly difficult with collective members beginning to spread out — some now live as far away as St. George, Wyoming and Austin, Texas. The Christmas concerts remain the big draw for audiences.
Call said the holiday shows started out in 2009 in the tiny Post Theater at the University of Utah before moving to the Salt Lake Masonic Temple auditorium.
Then, three years ago, The Lower Lights outgrew the Masonic Temple and moved the annual concert to the much-bigger Kingsbury Hall, where they’ll play five shows this year.
“The fact that we’d have the guts to do Kingsbury Hall for five nights is amazing,” Call said. “None of us could do that on our own.”
While everyone in The Lower Lights collective does his or her own solo or band thing, Call says there’s nothing quite like getting together as a group. Onstage, it becomes like a family reunion of sorts.
Explains Call: “We always thought, ‘Hey, if other people like it that would be cool. But we just want to play music together.’”
Call says The Lower Lights sports some of the best, most creative musicians she’s encountered. And yet, everyone checks egos at the door.
“I don’t know how it happened this way, but it doesn’t feel like anybody tries to be the lead singer or hog the spotlight,” she said. “We’re all a team, and that’s what makes this different and special.”
In the beginning, Call was raising both a toddler and an infant, so she couldn’t attend as many of The Lower Lights events as she would have liked. But over the years, as her children have grown, she’s had more time to spend with the collective.
And today, Call says the Christmas concerts are her favorite part. Three band members’ wives have their own design company, and they transform the stage into a winter wonderland each year.
“The whole production, it’s definitely our biggest, fanciest show — not to mention the amazing music,” Call said. “If you wanted to see The Lower Lights, and you were wondering what kind of concert to see, our Christmas show is the one. We’ll have about 20 people on stage, and it’s a big, fun sound. It’s like one big Christmas party.”
And Call says the music produced by The Lower Lights is unlike what you would usually hear at this type of concert — at least, here in Utah.
“Even though we sing gospel and religious music — and that’s most of what we do — it’s not what you’d normally hear on ‘Sounds of Sunday’ on FM100,” she warns. “And I say that as one who, as a solo artist, gets a lot of airplay there.”
Call also believes the collective gives off a different vibe.
“What people feel when they come to our shows is love, and unconditional love,” she said. “I feel we are accepting and want to make everyone welcome. Even among those in our group, some do and some don’t go to church. We don’t want to be just for the Mormons, or for a particular religious group.”
And if you like what you hear with The Lower Lights? Call encourages audience members to seek out collective members’ individual projects.
“What I always like to say is if you look on our website and you hear a voice you like, or see a particular artist you think is great, check out their music,” she said. “You can support The Lower Lights, but everyone has their own projects you can support as well.”