Trace Adkins
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For close to two decades, Trace Adkins has been one of country music's most entertaining artists – both from a recording and a live standpoint. However, we at The 615 have always felt Adkins to be much more than just the man behind such high octane radio hits as "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" and "Swing." That belief is proven by his current "The Christmas Show Tour," which is in promotion of his Yuletide disc "The King's Gift."

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The singer brought the show to the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, Illinois Thursday night, and it was very much a different show than any Adkins has performed. There were no loud and raucous rockers, and none of his trademark dance moves. Rather, Adkins relied on two of his greatest instruments – his vocal range and his personality to deliver what could very well be his strongest stage production yet.

The evening began with a performance from "The Sarepta Strings" - comprised of ace Nashville musician Andrea Zonn, Erin Slaver, Emily Khovai, and Emily Nelson – which showed the deep impact that Celtic music has had on traditional American music. That's not a coincidence, as Celtic sounds are all over The King's Gift. With a resume that boasts Vince Gill and James Taylor, Zonn has few peers as a singer and fiddle player, and she lived up to her reputation once again – just a few hours north of her native Champaign. The ladies impressed the crowd with a group of songs that included "Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem" and "Children Go Where I Send Thee."

However, the star of the evening was Adkins. The singer showed his sense of humor by walking into the living room set on stage and looking through some of the records in his holiday collection. He started with Justin Bieber, then took a couple good-natured shots at "Hillbilly Bone" duet partner Blake Shelton before settling into the classics like Nat King Cole and Mel Torme, opening his set with a powerful version of the latter's "The Christmas Song."

The focus of the evening was on the music from The King's Gift, and that music is very good. Between songs, the singer shared historical anecdotes about the songs that were included on the album. Whether the stories were about songs 900-1200 years old, such as "The Wexford Carol" or "O' Come Emmanuel," respectively, or "Little Drummer Boy," a song that Adkins dubbed the "Infant of the night" because of it being the newest song on the album (clocking in at just over seventy years!), the singer made the songs come to life. Knowing the history of the heartfelt lyrics only added to their appeal. Adkins received assistance on a beautiful version of "Silent Night" by Lily Costner, who appears on the album along with her father, Kevin, and also turned in a beautiful version of "Away In A Manger," before wrapping up the night with a nod to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas."

Adkins told Billboard a couple of weeks ago that recording a Christmas project with Celtic / Irish overtones had always been one of his goals – and from the sound of the album and the music on this tour, it sounds like he achieved exactly the sound that he was looking for. With his place at the country music table long established, it will be interesting to see what the Louisiana native comes up with next. Close to twenty years into his recording career, this music shows a different side of Adkins – one not so much based on bravado or sing-a-long lyrics but rather one of the greatest voices in the format. You've got to have the hits – there's nothing wrong with that, but Adkins reminded fans that he is (and always has been) the real deal vocally. With his own label, Caliburn, look for some of his best work to be in the future!

TRACE ADKINS "The Christmas Show Tour" Dates:
12/13 Rochester, MN Mayo Civic
12/14 Onamia, MN Grand Casino Mille Lacs
12/15 Carmel, IN Palladium @ Carmel Center
12/17 Hollywood, FL Hard Rock Live at Seminole
12/18 Clearwater, FL Ruth Eckhert Hall