BrettBrettXmas @ Grace Presbyterian Church

Arts Coverage

Businessman Brett Wilson’s 7th annual Christmas concert raised well over $100,000 for veterans’ charities Tuesday night.

Co-hosted by Wilson and Juno-winning country singer Brett Kissel, the #BrettBrettXmas show was held in Calgary’s Grace Presbyterian Church on December 19th. Attendees were encouraged to write meaningful cheques benefiting the Calgary Veterans Food Bank, Can Praxis, and the Military Family Resource Centre. By the end of the night, the event had raised well over $100,000.

The concert featured a stellar line-up of Canadian musicians, many of whom had helped build houses in Tijuana as part of Wilson and Kissel’s #BrettBrettBuild project.

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After a dinner in the church basement, the show was opened by longtime musician Trevor Panczak and thirteen-year-old powerhouse vocalist Chloe Shingoose. The duo played a selection of festive tracks before closing with the hymn How Great Thou Art, leading the audience in a hushed singalong.

Next up were Aaron Pollock and Olivia Rose, who saluted their #BrettBrettBuild experience with a duet of Lean on Me. They followed up with a pair of lively original country tracks – Rose’s Hometown Sundown and Pollock’s You’re That Feeling – before closing with You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. Olivia’s strong yet playful vocals on that whimsical tune, complemented by Pollock’s steady baritone, was one of the highlights of the night.

The third performer of the evening was actress and singer Melissa O’Neil, who’s had a solid career onstage and on television since winning Canadian Idol in 2005.

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O’Neil’s Broadway background was on full display as she treated the crowd to chill-yet-polished renditions of an eclectic mix of songs, including jazz standards Dream a Little Dream of Me and Cool Yule. Describing herself as “a bit of a hippie,” she closed with a jazz-infused performance of John Lennon’s Imagine, which earned a standing ovation.

Her performance was occasionally interrupted by children browsing the selection of teddy bears along the front of the stage, which were given out to children in the crowd during an intermission.

Following the break, up-and-coming musician Sam Lundell plugged in an electric guitar for an awesome blues version of Joy to the World. His version of the song was a hit with last year’s crowd too, and Wilson seemed excited for the reprise.

The penultimate performance singer and guitarist Lindsay Ell, who played a fantastic set of songs from her debut album.

Ell came of age playing local country music festivals alongside Brett Kissel. She first met Wilson at a FirstEnergy show featuring Randy Bachman, who insisted on bringing her onstage to perform. She’s recently toured with Brad Paisley and Luke Bryan, and her album is already gaining traction in the States.

It’s easy to see why she’s a rising star. With vulnerable lyrics, power chords, and plenty of cool guitar licks, her songs have a classic vibe that recalls other crossover acts like Fleetwood Mac and blues-rocker Colin James.

Brett Kissel’s headlining set was alternately joyous and elegiac, mixing country-and-western Christmas classics with original songs about the importance of family.

After opening with a cover of Buck Owens’ “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy,” Kissel played a pair of songs dedicated to his late grandparents – Tough Times Don’t Last (Tough People Do), and the unreleased Things. “I tried to find a creative outlet when I lost my grandparents,” he confided to the crowd.

Performing these songs in such an intimate venue was an emotional experience for Kissel; “It’s hard to sing it in settings like this because it brings back memories,” he said of Tough Times. The second track, Things, written after the loss of his grandmother, may never be heard again. “I’ve never played it before,” he said. “I don’t know if it’ll ever go on a record.”

Midway through his set, he ditched his planned setlist (“I’m not littering in the church, I swear – I will pick that up,” he stressed as the crumpled song-sheet wafted to the ground) to cover a family favourite – Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “With Bells On.”

To close the night, Kissel called all the performers back onstage for a singalong of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.

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The event was both a great showcase for the next generation of Canadian talent and an inspiring celebration of community.

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