There’s a simple reason why tenor John McDermott enjoys touring a holiday show year after year: it offers concertgoers a chance to sit back for a couple of hours, forget their worries, and sing along if they feel so inclined.
He’ll be at the Grand Theatre on Saturday afternoon to do just that.
“I just think it’s the ideal, people getting together, family; renewing friendships and going down memory lane,” McDermott explained.
After all, he said, things could be a lot worse. McDermott, a longtime advocate for war veterans, had just performed his annual Christmas concert at Sunnybrook Hospital’s palliative care wing — for which he has raised $3 million of its $3.6-million renovation — a few days earlier.
“We’re not so hard done by when you see what some people have to go through on a daily basis,” he said.
While McDermott played the Grand Theatre in the latter half of last year, it wasn’t with his holiday show. So some of the songs might be unfamiliar to anyone who hasn’t heard his last holiday record, 2018’s Maybe this Christmas. It is an eclectic mix, with songs by Ron Sexsmith (title track) and Jackson Browne (“The Rebel Jesus”) sprinkled among traditional carols such as “Good King Wenceslas” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
There’s even the song “Hockey Sweater,” written and performed by duo Dala, who play in McDermott’s band as well on this tour.
Also performing Saturday afternoon will be Kingston’s own Michelle Kasaboski. She is also scheduled to be his guest in Ottawa the night before the Kingston show.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’m in Ottawa, and she’s got a new Christmas song.’ I’m not a big opening act guy, so I like to have people introduced in the middle of my show, which is nice, and that’s what I’m going to do with Michelle,” he said.
McDermott, who likes to be in the lobby before the show to greet the audience as they arrive, hasn’t been a “big opening act guy” since he was one himself.
“The first show I ever did was as the opening act for the Chieftains,” recalled McDermott, who shot to fame with his version of “Danny Boy.” “And what do you think people said? ‘I’m here to see the Chieftains. Who’s this guy?’ I thought, ‘I’m never gonna put anybody through this.’”
It was that November 1994 performance as the opening act for the Chieftains, though, that was the only time his father saw him perform. He died two months later.
It’s for his father, a veteran of the Royal Air Force, that spurred McDermott’s advocacy work in the first place.
“Son, you might be good at this,” his father whispered to him after that show. “And if you are, you give back to Canada and you give back to the veterans.”
Kingston is the second-last show of this tour, and after it concludes Sunday in St. Catharines, McDermott will return home to the Georgian Bay area for the holidays. Instead of heading south to perform in the new year, as he typically does, he’ll stick around to continue his new advocacy project as well as wrap up his own.
“We’ve got a new direction going for what we want to focus on in 2020 and ’21, and that’s hospice care,” McDermott explained. “So we’re gonna try and focus on bringing awareness and support to that in the province initially, and eventually nationally.”
His advocacy work isn’t the only project he has on the go, though.
He has been busy writing his memoirs. The Accidental Tenor will span his time in Ireland, to his family’s move to and growing up in Canada, and his career, which started while singing at his staff party. As Keith Richards did in his book, Life, McDermott will tell a story, and then let people who are in the story finish it.
McDermott also has a new record of originals and covers, titled Unconditional World, that is almost finished.
“I think this,” he said, “will be the last one for a while.”
Who: John McDermott performs his Christmas show, along with special guests.
When: Saturday, Dec. 21, 3 p.m.
Where: Grand Theatre, 218 Princess St.
Cost: Tickets are $44.25 plus handling fee and HST. Go to www.kingstongrand.ca to purchase them online.
For more: johnmcdermott.com