Sounds of the Season

Gokey, Grant bringing Christmas joy to Zorn

Luc Anthony |

Gokey lookin’ smokey ain’t no jokey.
Gokey lookin’ smokey.

One of Wisconsin’s prime musical exports of the past decade will be joining a fellow top name in Christian music on stage in Eau Claire as Milwaukee’s Danny Gokey teams with Natalie Grant on the “Celebrate Christmas Tour,” which stops at Zorn Arena on Saturday, Dec. 10. You may initially recall Gokey from his 2009 run on American Idol; since then, he has scored No. 1 albums and singles on the Billboard Christian charts, including 2015’s Christmas Is Here. Gokey and Grant toured together previously, and he notes that fellow management suggested a Christmas tour. Grant’s husband – one of Gokey’s producers – suggested the setlist you will hear. As for the show itself, Gokey offers this: “There’s a really beautiful moment near the end that I think will be AMAZING, but I can’t tell you about it or it will ruin the surprise!” Christmas Is Here won Christmas Album of the Year at October’s Dove Awards;  Gokey recorded the project during touring off-days. “We asked (fellow producer) Keith (Thomas) to give us a timeless, classic collection of songs that would transition from year to year, and I think he did that amazingly well!” Gokey also took home Breakout Single of the Year at the fourth Annual K-LOVE Fan Awards for “Tell Your Heart To Beat Again.” Up next for Gokey is plenty of additional touring as well as a new album Rise, coming this January. The title track and current single from that album draw on a depressed period in his life and the inspiration to recover that came via the scripture of Isaiah 60. With regard to the themes on the collection, “We all have real struggles and issues that we have to work through, but I think the overarching theme is that God is there in all of those moments.”

Celebrate Christmas Tour with Natalie Grant and Danny Gokey • Saturday, Dec. 10, 7pm • Zorn Arena, UW-Eau Claire • Cost: $40 VIP Artist Circle (reserved), $25 reserved floor, $20 balcony/gallery, $15 UWEC student balcony/gallery •


Danny Gokey Talks Christmas Tunes, Eau Claire Memories, and Biblical Inspirations

Volume One contributor Luc Anthony had the opportunity to conduct a Q and A with American Idol alum Danny Gokey, who will perform with fellow Christian singer Natalie Grant on Dec. 10 at Zorn Arena in Eau Claire. Here’s what the Milwaukee native had to say.

What was the impetus for working with Natalie Grant on the “Celebrate Christmas Tour”?

Natalie and I have toured together some in 2015 and 2016, and we really enjoy singing together. We are both “big voices” and have a great fan reaction when we sing collaborations on tour. So our management teams started talking about doing a Christmas tour and making it a really special night for the whole family. Natalie does an amazing version of “O, Holy Night” and I LOVE singing “Mary, Did You Know?” and we just started brainstorming about what that might look like to have two big voices singing the Christmas classics that everyone loves. So here we are: the “Celebrate Christmas Tour”!

What guided your choices for the setlist?

Natalie’s husband, Bernie Herms, is also my producer on my last two albums, so we decided to have him put together an interactive evening of music that incorporates both of us singing together and then us doing some of our favorites that we do alone. She and I both have Christmas albums, so we sat down with Bernie and talked about the ones that we loved from each of our albums and then ones we thought would be fun to do together. We gave Bernie that list and he’s come up with a beautiful blend of both our albums and our voices.

What do you anticipate to be the highlights of the show; what is planned that the fans will remember as particularly special moments?

Honestly, I think there are going to be some great moments of us singing together, but also of us just having fun! There’s a really beautiful moment near the end that I think will be AMAZING, but I can’t tell you about it or it will ruin the surprise!

Reflect on 2015’s Christmas Is Here: What made you want to do the album? How has it been received over the past year?

Christmas is my very favorite time of the year, and has been since I was young, so I couldn’t wait to do a Christmas project! Fans had been asking me for one since I came off of American Idol. Making the album was actually a tough experience – I was touring a lot and I would have to come home and record in between weekends doing shows. There were several times where my voice was just shot and my producer, Keith Thomas, would send me home and have me come back later because I was just not rested enough to sing. BUT, in the midst of all that, we ended up making an album that I am really proud of! We asked Keith to give us a timeless, classic collection of songs that would transition from year to year, and I think he did that amazingly well! Fans love it and have continued to buy it all year long, which was kinda fun to watch! AND this past October, I just won my first Dove Award for the album, so I love all that it represents!

How familiar are you with western Wisconsin/Eau Claire? If it’s your first time performing, what are you looking forward to in the area? If you’ve been up here, what do you like about the area?

I used to come up to Eau Claire as a young boy every summer for about eight to 10 years to visit my mom’s side of the family that lived there. I especially have fond memories of visiting my great-grandpa Zimmerman who lived to be 102 years old. His family had occupied a farm for so long they named the road it was on Zimmerman Road. I have great memories of that area that I’ll never forget.

You just had your second-biggest hit on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart with “Tell Your Heart To Beat Again,” from an album that has been out since 2014. How did the decision come about to release this as a single, and did you expect it to perform as well as it did (especially earning “Breakout Single Of The Year” at the K-LOVE Fan Awards)?

“Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” has been so special to me and has really touched a lot of people’s lives! I get stories, letters, social media posts, and people in the signing lines constantly talking about the impact of the message of that song. I love that it’s based on a true story because it makes the message all the more impactful! Aside from the musical impact, on the business side, we heard the song when we were picking songs for my album, Hope In Front of Me. We all felt like the song was a great fit for the project, so we knew we wanted to record it. When it came down to picking singles, we actually had planned to release it as my first single off the album, but through a series of industry-related circumstances, we ended up going with the title track, “Hope In Front of Me,” instead. “Hope In Front of Me” ended up being a No. 1 song for me as well, so I’m happy with the decision we made. But we always knew that we wanted to come back to “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” and release it eventually. Timing is everything, and I believe it came out in God’s timing and He has taken it where he wanted it to go from there! The awards and chart positions are a blessing, and I’m honored, but the heart healings that have come from the song are truly the reason I do what I do!

“Rise” is your current single and the title track from your new album due in January. What are the lyrical and musical themes, directions, and inspirations for the song and the accompanying album?  

“Rise,” the single, represents a lot for me. When I got the inspiration for the song, I was going through a really deep depression and struggling with feeling like God had forgotten me and had allowed be to become a punching bag for all of life’s disappointments. I felt like they were coming one after another and I was asking Him where He was in the process. In the middle of that questioning, I felt like He gave me the scripture from Isaiah 60 in the amplified that says “ARISE [from spiritual depression to a new life], SHINE [be radiant with the glory and brilliance of the LORD]; for your light has come, And the glory and brilliance of the LORD has risen upon you.” I didn’t FEEL like rising up at that point, but as I starting taking one day at a time and one step at a time, he began the process of bringing hope and renewed enthusiasm for life and my future. At the time I was in the process of recording my album, Hope In Front of Me. The songs from that album have encouraged so many – had I shut down and stayed in the depression I was in, none of that message would have ever gotten out. You never know how your story of overcoming will make a difference in people’s lives. So my challenge to the listener of this new album is to Rise and let your full potential be realized.

Musically, I wanted to create an album that challenged me to go to another level, but that also connected with people in an honest and sincere way. The themes on this album and the inspirations for the songs came through my life experiences or those around me. We all have real struggles and issues that we have to work through, but I think the overarching theme is that God is there in all of those moments. He is our biggest cheerleader and is constantly calling us to take another step or rise to another level. The awesome thing is that he doesn’t ask those who are “perfect” to do it, he asks us to trust Him and take those steps out of our pain and struggles so that He can show us the amazing future He has for us on the other side of our circumstances. I’m hoping that it resonates with everyone that takes the time to listen.

A couple of highlight tracks for me are “Better Than I Found It” (with Kierra Sheard) and the song “Chasing” (featuring Jordin Sparks) because I got to sing with some amazing voices! Stylistically, it’s got a lot of fun, funky tracks that definitely represent the soulful side of me, musically. There’s even a “dance remix” of one of my favorites, “Stronger Than We Think.” I can’t wait for people to hear them!

What’s next on the horizon for you following the tour and the release of the new album?

Well a lot of building has gone into this year and getting ready for the release of the new album, so the first part of 2017 is going to be focused on that. I’ll be doing a 40-city tour with Casting Crowns and Unspoken in the spring, and we’re already looking at touring plans and tour mates for the fall of 2017 as well. In between, we are exploring some things internationally with my record label. I released a Spanish version of Hope In Front of Me in July and really want to do some touring in Latin America and Europe, so we’ll see what 2017 brings in that arena. I’m someone who likes to have a lot of irons in the fire at one time, so there’s more to come, but we haven’t quite gotten to point that I can talk about all of it yet! Stay tuned!