By Laura Ann Tipps/Staff Writer
Some of Etowah County’s most talented musicians and storytellers will put on the annual “Last Minute Christmas Show” at First United Methodist Church of Hokes Bluff at 6 p.m. Dec. 16. No admission will be charged.
For the show’s attendees, it is an opportunity to witness high caliber performances for free and to get in the Christmas spirit.
For Sammye Hill, the show’s organizer, it is a chance to spend time with friends during the busy holiday season.
“At Christmas time, we don’t get to see each other because of family and church responsibilities, so we decided at the ‘last minute’ one year to just get together and do what we love,” said Hill.
The Last Minute performers meet only hours before the show to go over a few musical numbers that they will perform as a group.
“It can be a little crazy, trying to throw it all together, but it always ends up being a lot of fun,” said Kali Berry, a Shorter University Piano Pedagogy graduate who has participated in the show for several years.
“We’re not after anything complicated like Handel’s Messiah here—we’re just having a good time singing together,” said Hill, a locally renowned singer and storyteller who is proud of the friends who will join her as onstage.
“These are talented people who are ready to perform at the drop of a hat—they don’t need to practice in front of me for hours to prepare.
“I would never want to brag on myself, but if I had to, I would just say that I sure can pick some good friends,” said Hill.
Over the past 10 years, Hill’s friendly gathering has turned into a major part of Christmas tradition for many families, who travel from all parts of Etowah County and beyond to see the show, filling the Hokes Bluff sanctuary.
A standing joke among the show’s regular attendees is that if you arrive at the Last Minute Christmas Show at the last minute, you will be stuck standing in the back of the sanctuary.
The show’s exact list of performers is somewhat of a mystery, even to Hill, often until the day of the performance.
“It’s just a, ‘Whoever can come, come’ situation, and people tease me that it’s actually the ‘Sammye Hill Invitational,’ but that’s not true—I just invite my friends,” said Hill.
Hill was able to confirm that Paul Harbison and the Damascus Road Band, a group of men who are frequent entertainers at Gadsden’s First Fridays, will be performing Monday night.
Jennie Thomas, a first grade teacher at Walnut Park Elementary School, and her daughter Caitlyn, a Gadsden State Community College student on a voice scholarship, will also be performing.
“We can’t let Jennie by without singing ‘O Holy Night,’ because it is absolutely exquisite,” said Hill.
Hill, also a singer, added that although she is fairly confident in her vocal abilities, she is hesitant to perform after Thomas’ rendition of the Christmas classic.
Traci Howard and her son A.D., a medical student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will be in attendance. A.D. is a talented performer of original music as well as classic soft rock.
Hill will be telling some of her well-loved Christmas stories, as well as some personal stories unique to Etowah County that she believes residents will identify with and appreciate.
Despite its name, the Last Minute Christmas Show comes across as anything but last minute, and those who make the trip to Hokes Bluff will not be disappointed.
Because it is a variety show, it will feature a wide range of acts to please all ages and types: Religious and secular, instrumental and vocal, solo and group, music and storytelling.
High caliber of performances aside, Hill is simply excited to see friends in the audience and on the stage.
“It’s just a really pleasant thing to be with lifelong friends who are so talented and so willing to share that talent with others, just for the joy of doing it.”