The joy, inspiration and healing powers of music will be center stage at the Arron Neville Christmas concert Dec. 3 at the Park Theatre.
“Music is medicine,” Neville noted while preparing for the first show in his Christmas tour in Gainesville, Fla. last week. “With the recession and all the unemployment and worry about what’s ahead, there are a lot of people struggling right now. But we’re making them forget about their problems. They can go home and think back about better times.”
Just back from a tour through Germany, Switzerland and Poland, Neville will travel with his five-member troupe, which includes his saxophonist brother Charles, from Gainesville, to Gulfport, Miss., Mobile, Ala. and Baton Rouge, La. to Cranston. Their third Christmas tour in four years, the program includes a smorgasbord of music, including pop rock, R&B, country and gospel, with plenty of Christmas music as well. His classic “Don’t Take Away My Heaven” will follow “Oh Holy Night.”
So while the title of the show, “Christmas with Aaron Neville,” gives some idea what to expect, it doesn’t actually rule anything out. Neville’s biggest hit, “Tell It Like It Is,” has identified him as a soul or R&B star. But he’s done funk, gospel, jazz and country as well, earning one of his Grammies for a duet with Trisha Yearwood.
“I really like to do the seasonal Christmas music,” he says, “and I also have a new gospel CD out now, so I can do some of that and some of the older stuff and just give the people a mixture.”
There’s another reason he expects the gospel album’s songs to fit right in: Neville has a serious concept of Christmas and of what the core message of a Christmas concert should be.
“Christmas is about the season,” he notes. “A lot of people think it’s about going out and spending money you don’t have. It’s good to be good to people, but be good to yourself, too, and celebrate Jesus’ birthday.”
“I’ve always said I wish it could be like that all year long,” he says. “Don’t just stop caring about your fellow man after the season is over. Just keep on caring.”
Charles Neville justifies his co-star billing with brilliant saxophone work. In past appearances he’s impressed audiences with calm command of his instrument, rather than trying to overwhelm with aggressive playing. Aaron described his brother’s approach as an attitude that says, “Look at me, I’ve got something to say.”
So, if the actual program remains more of a suggestion than a firm plan, a few points are clear. The first is that the Christmas message won’t get lost in the holiday shuffle. The second is that Neville will roam around the immense repertoire he’s accumulated over the decades. And the third is that Aaron Neville is not just coming to make a delivery, he’s coming to share.
“I just hope they enjoy it with me and the band and my brother Charles,” he said.
“My Momma, Amelia Landry Neville, always taught the golden rule to us: to treat others as we would like to be treated. One of her favorite sayings was: ‘I’ll only pass this way once. Any goodness or kindness I can show, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.’”
That perspective served the Neville brothers well in the months after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “Right after the storm we’d go places to perform and run into displaced people from New Orleans everywhere,” Aaron recalls. “So, when we sing, we’re singing for them and letting them know they’re not by themselves. There’s hope.”
Tickets may be purchased at the Park Theatre box office via phone (467-7275) or online at www.ParkTheatreRI.com.