Celebrate Christmas concert features Natalie Grant and Danny Gokey

Christian gospel stars give a spirited and spiritual performance


Photo by Deanna Kolell

Natalie Grant and Danny Gokey filled Zorn Arena with their powerful voices Saturday night.

Royal purple light illuminated a grand piano, drum set and several white Christmas trees while audience members waited in anticipation. Smoke slowly filled the room and the lights faded into total darkness.

A single voice filled Zorn Arena with the beginning measures of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and soon another joined. The lights went up, the band thrummed with energy and a single star shined in the background as the Celebrate Christmas concert began.

The concert, which took place Saturday evening, featured two headliners in Christian and gospel music: Natalie Grant and Danny Gokey. Grant has been nominated for a Grammy four times and both artists have won Dove Awards, accolades bestowed by the Gospel Music Association of the United States.

Gokey, a Wisconsin native, was the third place finalist on the eighth season of American Idol and founded Sophia’s Heart Foundation to help homeless families and inner-city arts programs. Grant has been a prominent advocate for human trafficking victims, for whom she founded Hope for Justice.

Almost instantly, Grant and Gokey fell into place with the diverse Eau Claire audience with quips about football, having just performed in Green Bay.

“Are we going to run into the same trouble here as we did over there (in Green Bay)?” Grant, a self-proclaimed Seattle Seahawks fan, asked.

“If by trouble you mean the Green Bay Packers,” Gokey returned, broken off by thunderous applause and cheering.

Grant and Gokey also pleased the crowd with fan-favorite Christmas songs such as “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” during which audience members were asked to stand up and sing along.

Freshman nursing student Natalie Feuerhelm said this was her first time hearing Gokey or Grant in concert, although she has seen many Christian artists before. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” was one of her favorite pieces, she said, because it was incredibly energizing.

The musical duo also performed a number of traditional Christmas carols, like Grant’s rendition of “O Holy Night” and Gokey’s performance of “Mary, Did You Know?”

The latter was a slow, minor keyed song which sounded like a lullaby, asking Mary if she knew who her son was and what miracles he would perform.

Grant and Gokey also shared their spiritual journeys and what Christmas meant to them. Gokey said his life has been marked by struggles from a young age and he suffered loss when his first wife passed away from complications with a heart condition.

During those times, he said he was tempted to turn away from his faith but he found comfort in the Bible, citing Isaiah 60:1 as the inspiration for his upcoming album titled “Rise.”

Grant told the audience an anecdote about a time she saw a sign on her neighbor’s front lawn with a picture of Santa Claus, saying “We Believe.”

This simple sign, Grant said, led her to ask the question: If there was a sign in the yard of her life, what would it be telling the world?

“What does my life tell the world I believe?” Grant said. “Does my life reflect the Christ I claim to serve?”

That very night, Grant said she was inspired to write the lyrics for her song “I Believe,” a ballad praising the miraculous birth of Jesus.

The Celebrate Christmas concert ended with a stirring rendition of “Your Great Name.” Once again, audience members were encouraged to stand up, raise their hands and sing along.

The music swelled and in the background the name “Jesus” was spelled out in stark, white letters as Grant and Gokey brought the concert full circle by repeating the phrase “O come let us adore him” until the music faded.

The audience immediately called for an encore and the duo returned to the stage to perform “The Prayer.” Afterward, Gokey and Grant left the stage and wished Eau Claire a merry Christmas.

Grant and Gokey’s Celebrate Christmas concert became a spiritual outpouring of goodwill and love, further expressed by a guest speaker Jeff Gilbert, who used to play for a Christian rock band called Kutless.

Gilbert summed up the purpose of this tour with few words.

“Celebrate Christmas is about not only celebrating what God is doing in our own lives,” Gilbert said, “but it’s also about the light of this world who came as a baby.”