On December 7th, 2019, The Upper Room presented A Warm & Cozy Family Christmas, which featured CCM artists Bob Bennett, Kelly Willard and Hadley Hockensmith.
Founder and host, Ron Strand, greeted the audience at 7:30 pm. Ron explained that due to a scheduling conflict (the Upper Room’s host church was holding a drive through nativity), the concert was moved to Ron’s living room, where it was live-streamed. In honor of the last minute change in concert venues, Bob performed a humorous, newly-minted song that ended with: “We’re glad that you have joined us, we hope it all goes right, and that the drive by nativity Jesus blesses us all tonight.
For much of the evening, Bob and Kelly took turns singing Christmas or worship songs. Bob played guitar, Kelly played keyboards and Hadley provided accompaniment for both with his electric guitar. Bob lead off with the beautiful ballad “God with Us.”
Kelly quoted a scripture and then sang a song based on it, “Psalm 139:7-14 (Where Could I Go From Your Spirit).” After the song, a teary-eyed Bob said that he was having “the official Kelly Willard reaction.” He confessed that it was going to be a struggle having to follow Kelly after every song.
Bob said that astronomers, historians and theologians have debated the official birth date of Jesus for centuries. That inquiry provided the bedrock for his thought-provoking song “It May Not Have Been December.”
Kelly performed two old hymns done fancy: “Nothing But the Blood/Washed in the Blood.” Hadley’s bluesy riffs added modern stylings to the traditional songs. Bob performed a blue grass song entitled “Everlasting Day.”
Kelly mentioned that she accepted Jesus into her heart at age 10. She quoted Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” She said that scripture gave her a picture of what she could fall to. Kelly also quoted Psalm 119:32, which laid the foundation for one of her signature songs “Willing Heart.”
Bob observed that he had to grow into some of the songs he wrote early in his career. Such was the case with his next song, “You’re Welcome Here.”
Kelly performed the worship songs “Cares Chorus” and “Make Me a Servant.” After the songs, Bob laughed with joy and amazement at Hadley’s solo work. Bob asked, “How does he make his brain make his fingers do that?” Of course, someone could ask the same question of Bob’s impeccable picking.
Keeping things light, Bob performed the witty tune “Christmas for Cynics.” Bob followed that up with a medley of Neil Young hits; he changed the lyrics to make them Christmas songs. Some of the selections were: “It’s just the Yule log burning” for “It’s only castles burning” (from “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”) and “Frankincense, Myrrh and Gold” for “Keep me searchin’ for a heart of gold” (from “Heart of Gold”).
“New Star Shining” featured a duet by Bob and Kelly. Bob led and Kelly sang background vocals on the folksy tune “Come and See.” Kelly performed one of her favorite Christmas songs, Chris Rice’s “Welcome to Our World.”
Bob and Kelly led the audience in singing a series of Christmas carols, which included: “The First Noel,” “Away in the Manger,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
Ron returned to the makeshift stage and made some announcements. He reminded the live and online audiences that The Upper Room is solely run on a donation basis (Support The Upper Room).
Ron read some comments from people who were watching the concert online. Several people from the East Coast expressed gratitude that the concert was being live-streamed. One person asked the artists which of their own albums was their favorite. Another asked the artists what Christmas song was their all-time favorite. Each of the artists graciously took a few minutes to respond to the submitted inquires.
The questions encouraged the artists to share a little about their backgrounds. Kelly said that she’s been singing in churches since she was 15 years old. Now she’s involved in full-time prison ministry.
Before playing in Neil Diamond’s band for 34 years, Hadley was a member of the CCM supergroup Koinonia. Hadley said that his secret desire had always been to play on records with Christians. In his words, Koinonia was a “great band and great Christians with respect for one another.”
The evening concluded with Bob, Kelly and Hadley performing “Silent Night.” It was an inspirational ending to A Warm & Cozy Family Christmas at The Upper Room.