Oak Ridge Boys in town ThursdayGroup to perform hits first hour, then Christmas music.
By: Candy DenOuden, The Daily Republic
They may not be boys anymore, but The Oak Ridge Boys still get excited about Christmas.
“I think we have become known for our Christmas music,” said bass singer Richard Sterban. Each year, the legendary country quartet performs a Christmas tour. This year’s tour, Christmas Time’s A-Changing, will hit the Corn Palace at 7 p.m. Thursday. And even though the group has played some of the biggest venues in the country, Sterban said he looks forward to visiting the Corn Palace again.
“We have been to the Corn Palace before, and the Corn Palace is a neat place,” he said. “This Christmas show that we’re doing kind of lends itself to a smaller building. It’s going to be perfect for the Corn Palace.”
Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said the Corn Palace’s capacity for the concert will be about 2,500, and there had been about 1,550 tickets sold as of Tuesday afternoon. Schilling said the initial goal was about 1,500.
“We’re very pleased with the way sales are going,” Schilling said. “It’s kind of right on target of where we thought we would be. I’m hoping we can push this another 100 (tickets) or so.”
Schilling said final sales might depend on the weather.
“People this time of year tend to wait until the day of,” Schilling said. “Thursday it looks like everything’s going to stay south of us, so I think the weather’s going to cooperate with us. We’ve got great seats still available.”
Sterban said the two-hour, family oriented show will combine some of The Oak Ridge Boys’ best-loved favorites with new holiday fare, including songs off their newest holiday album.
And, the question on everyone’s minds: Will audience members get to hear “Elvira”?
“The answer is yes, you will,” Sterban said.
For approximately the first 45 minutes, Sterban said The Oak Ridge Boys will perform their “regular” music and hits, “Elvira” included, then take an intermission. Then, the Christmas concert commences.
“It’s really a bargain,” Sterban said. “It’s two shows for the price of one.”
The bass singer said the group tries to cover “as many aspects of Christmas as we possibly can” during the show, from the romantic and heartfelt to the fun and light.
“We have a great Santa segment,” Sterban said. “It’s really a special show.”
That will include a performance of “Peterbilt Sleigh” off their sixth Christmas album, titled “Christmas Time’s A Coming,” with a specially built Peterbilt sleigh.
“Santa actually enters the show on a Peterbilt,” Sterban said. “We’re going to incorporate the whole new CD into the show.” And, it’s not just music.
For nostalgia lovers, Sterban said he and the other members of the group — lead singer Duane Allen, tenor Joe Bonsall and baritone William Lee Golden — add a personal touch.
“We have a really cool segment that we just started last year,” Sterban said. “The four of us sit in rocking chairs in front of a fireplace and we talk about childhood memories about Christmastime.”
People responded warmly to the new segment in last year’s tour, so Sterban said they decided to make it a Christmas tradition.
Then, Sterban said, the show closes with songs describing the birth of Jesus, what Sterban said the former gospel group considers “the true meaning of Christmas.”
“That’s something that’s very important to us, and very important to our fans,” he said.
It may be the 23rd annual Christmas tour for The Oak Ridge Boys, but Sterban said it will be far from stale.
“We try to change it up, and this year is a great example,” he said. “There’s only going to be a handful of songs that are going to be a repeat of songs from last year’s.”
Next year will mark the 40th the award-winning group has been performing together, and Sterban said there are no plans to slow down.
“We’re so honored that we’re still considered part of the business after all these years,” he said.
“Even after all these years, we love doing what we do. We’re still having fun.”
Sterban, who got his start singing backup to Elvis, said his distinctive bass is just one component of the group’s success and longevity: good, old-fashioned singing.
“We sing solid four-part harmony,” he said. “We have one of the best lead singers that you’ll hear anywhere, in Duane Allen, and we build our harmonies around his voice.”
And, as on the Christmas album, where Sterban’s rich bass goes solo on “Here Comes Santa Claus,” each member can go it alone.
“We’re four lead singers,” Sterban said. “Each guy can get out there and sing.”
But no matter who’s singing lead, Sterban said it doesn’t take long to figure out which group it is.
“Even if I’m singing the lead and the other guys are singing around me, you can still tell it’s the Oak Ridge Boys,” Sterban said. “It’s a recognizable sound.”
Staying true to that sound while still taking risks, Sterban said, has also contributed to one of the industry’s longest-running acts.
“Periodically we’ve re-invented ourselves a little. I think we’ve recorded music that’s relevant to the current marketplace,” Sterban said “We have traveled down some different roads, but we still stay true to who we are, with that solid four-part harmony, we’re still The Oak Ridge Boys.”
One of the first, and most drastic, re-inventions was shortly after Sterban joined the group, and it made the switch from gospel to country.
Forty years and many hits later, it seems it was a wise switch.
“That’s pretty amazing, it really is,” Sterban said. “There’s not too many groups that can even put up with each other for 40 years.”
During those years, Sterban said the group has seen country music change and evolve.
“Country music looks and sounds a lot different now than back when we were on those award shows. It’s become a lot more rock ’n’ roll,” Sterban said.
It’s funny, he said, how it comes full circle.
“I like to think that we were one of the first acts to hit the stage with a rock ’n’ roll attitude, and we were kind of criticized back in our day,” he said. “But at the same time, I like what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing.”
He credits young musicians like the Zac Brown Band, and his “friend and neighbor” Taylor Swift, for their contributions to country.
“People around the world now are hearing country music because of (Swift),” Sterban said. “Country music is in good hands with these new, young artists.”
That’s not to say The Oak Ridge Boys are ready to hand over the torch — not with a 40th anniversary tour and cruise in the works.
“We do not have any plans to retire,” Sterban said. “As long as the good Lord above keeps blessing us with good health, we’re going to keep doing it. We love every aspect of what we do.”
That, of course, includes this year’s Christmas show in South Dakota. “The people in your fine state really know how to celebrate Christmas,” Sterban said. “We encourage families to come and spend some time with The Oak Ridge Boys.”