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13h ago

This year has been a year. It’s been the kind of year that just won’t go away. So this holiday season may not be all that merry and bright. But still, somebody’s got to Hallelujah Anyway. Leave it to Jennifer Nettles to find a way to lift our spirits just in time for Christmas.

She’s doing it via a virtual show from a studio in NYC on Wednesday night (Dec. 23). Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.

In a call from her home in New York, Nettles filled me in on her 2020 holiday special and what’s so special about her own holiday plans.

CMT.com: What made you want to do this kind of special in a not-so-special year?

Nettles: First of all, I love the holiday season. For several years, I hosted the CMA Country Christmas special, which I loved doing. Then a few years ago I put out a Christmas album, To Celebrate Christmas. So this is in the spirit of trying to make some sort of approximation for live music. I wanted to do a virtual concert, see what it’s like, and just get some music to the people.

And this year has been so different for artists like you and fans like us, so why not try something different?

Right. When I was doing the CMA shows, I loved that. But this year is not those years, and this show is not those shows. It is definitely a show for 2020. It is one that is in the spirit of not only the holidays, but in the spirit of resilience. We have all had such an opportunity to practice resilience in such a challenging year. And so I wanted to celebrate the holiday season in music, I wanted to laugh in spite of everything, and be hopeful that this show can connect people to each other. You can just click — you don’t even have to go out — and you can celebrate something virtually and safely.

Please tell me you’ll be getting the full hair/make-up/wardrobe glam we’ve all been missing this year.

I’ll be doing my own glam, but that is kind of the theme of it, right? This is the whole point. Like this is a lean, scrappy, intimate kind of hallelujah.

Will you be alone or with your band?

I love that you asked. Because originally, we were all supposed to be together with me and an acoustic version of my band. And now, because Covid numbers have continued to increase, it hasn’t been smart or responsible or safe to travel, so they will be together, but I will be very separate. So that is the spirit of the season. The true spirit of 2020.

I hate that you can’t be together with your band.

I know. But I will be doing it from a studio here in New York, so it will be shot there with me alone. And look, I want to be safe but I also I want to encourage safe behavior by example.

I’m sure it would be nice to go into this without any plan and just see where the night takes you, but you probably did have to do a little planning, right? Even though the year has been unpredictable, you need some kind of predictable set list. Right?

You know, it wasn’t super methodical in that sense. I have my Christmas album, so I’m going to be singing all the songs off of that. I’m also going to be offering a sneak peek of a new solo project. But really it is more about celebrating the songs from the holiday that I love. But I had to consider all of these songs I love through the lens of 2020 and people being away from their families, so for example, I’m not going to be singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

That’s so thoughtful of you, and so mindful of what this year has meant to so many of your fans. What do you hope they’ll feel like after watching this special?

I mean, you hit the nail on the head. It’s hope. What I hope is that they will feel hopeful. I hope that they feel more connected to themselves and possibly virtually to each other over this holiday season because of listening to this music. Music can be powerful in that way. I hope that everyone feels hopeful and proud of themselves for what we have been able to do this year in the face of extreme challenge, pain, loss, resistance, and uncertainty. The uncertainty of people not knowing where their next paycheck is coming from and the social unrest and the racial injustice and the list just goes on and on and on. So I want us all to be hopeful for so much change next year, and in all the positive and healing directions.

How are you going to spend your own Christmas? Is it business as usual, or have you completely rearranged how you’re going to celebrate?

The major difference is that we won’t get to see my parents, my son’s grandparents. We’re not able to all gather together and that’s hard, but that’s hard for so many people this year. It is the safe, responsible, and right choice as we continue to see these numbers climb. But still, the magic is absolutely there! We are baking the Christmas cookies like we like to do, and my son has made his Christmas list (even though he doesn’t understand that Santa cannot be super last minute, especially this year).

When you start to think beyond Christmas, you said a little something about a new album coming out in 2021. What can you share about that silver lining?

I’ve had several music projects that I have put on the shelf that I was hoping to be able to release in 2020. So there will definitely be more music to come in the new year. I think we have all found an even deeper gear for gratitude this year. This year has shown us so much about what we value on so many different levels. For me, I definitely have learned the places where I think I take the most joy that now I’ve missed. And at the same time, we’re so focused on having to do more and be more — and even though I don’t like the complete stop that we had had to make as a culture — I hope that I can take some of the valuable lessons of what it has been like to slow down and to prioritize.

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Alison makes her living loving country music. She’s based in Chicago, but she’s always leaving her heart in Nashville.

@alisonbonaguro