The Christmas spirit came to life on Sunday night in this small mid-Michigan city as they received a taste of American Idol.

For the town folks of Ionia, this Sunday night in December was filled with Christmas joy and music as they spent their early evening at the Ionia Theatre. On this evening, the Ionia County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 157 presented a Country Music Christmas Spectacular.

Waiting for the show to begin, the smells of fresh popcorn filled the air as the crowd loaded up their buckets. And for some, even a selection of chocolate was the choice.

As the show started and introductions were being made, the first to open the stage was the acoustic duo of Dave & Julia. This husband and wife team had met in the bars and clubs of the Nashville music scene. For the 10 years they have been together (being married for five), they have enjoyed writing songs and performing as a duo.

With a mixture of ballads along with soft up-tempos, the crowd approved Dave and Julia’s performance of original music. Songs such as “Fish More,” “Lost In You,” and “Good At Being Young” talked about relationships and spending time together with the one you love. Others included “Promise Breaker” and “Kiss Me When You’re Sober” that were written after seeing the experiences of spending too much time in bars and clubs.

They received crowd participation as they couldn’t help but to add a favorite of theirs from Bryan Adams with “Summer of ’69.” They ended their part of the show as they also included one from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “Fishing In The Dark,” as it intermingled with another original of theirs, “What We Got.”

Dave & Julia won the hearts of many on this evening with their humbled performance, as the crowd felt the pair connect with their small town attitude.

The show was now to continue on with the headliner for the evening, Bucky Covington, taking the stage. This former (2006) American Idol contestant from Rockingham, North Carolina brought the crowd to their feet with his current single, “I Feel Ya” from his EP Happy Man. A song with a dance club beat, Bucky shows off a hint of dance sway as he plays his guitar trying to stand in place behind his mic stand. Continuing with his dancing in place, he moves right into another song from the EP called “Girl You Get To Me.”

As Bucky was getting ready to introduce his next song “A Different World” from his 2007 self-titled debut album, Bucky Covington, he called up a female from the front row to the stage to help with the singing of the song. To his surprise, as the woman (Janna Rowan) joined Bucky on stage, he learned that she taught sign language to the deaf and also worked at music events using sign language to include the deaf at events. Instead of singing into the mic with Bucky, she used her sign language to sing along to the song.

He next played a favorite of his from Elvis Presley, “Suspicious Minds,” which showed more of his dance moves along with his guitar playing talents as he and his band broke into a jam session. This song flowed into “I Wanna Be That Feeling,” from his 2012 released Good Guys album.

Taking a moment to talk about his experiences with American Idol and the processes that are involved before ever being seen on television, Bucky explained how his inaugural audition went and the songs he chose. He jokingly talked how he started a song and was gladly interrupted before starting the second verse and the fact that he didn’t know the second verse. Laughing, Bucky thought that it would be in his best interest if, in the near future, he finally learns the whole song so that he is able to finish it on stage before always having to stop before the second verse. The song is “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The show to this point had been upbeat and fun with the band on stage and crowd of all ages dancing in and out of their seats. However, that all changed as Bucky became emotional in the singing of his 2008 hit song, “I’ll Walk.” Standing at his mic stand and playing his guitar, there was no dancing or having fun as this song appeared to have a serious effect on him. Halfway through the singing of the song, he slung his guitar around his back, grabbed his microphone and slowly walked to the front of the stage to kneel down to hold the hand of a young lady (Tara Leeanne) who had her own walking challenges. When the song ended, the crowd erupted into the biggest applause of the evening for both Bucky and Tara.

After the everyone wiped a tear from their eye, it was time to bring the mood back up as Bucky and the band kicked into “Momma Must Be Prayin'” and “Drinking Side of Country” where the band could show off more of their musical and singing abilities.

One of the band’s favorites, Pink Floyd’s “Another Break In The Wall,” brought the children to their feet as they sang along to this classic hit before one more of Bucky’s top hits, “It’s Good To Be Us.”

Being less than a month away from Christmas, you can’t have a show without Christmas songs. Bucky didn’t let the crowd down as he and his band ended his set with the playing of “Run Run Rudolph” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” in typical Bucky fashion as he and his two guitarists once again showed their gift of play.

Although Bucky had already left the stage, it was obvious by the chants from the crowd, that they were not ready to end this evening yet. As Bucky returned to the stage for an encore, he joked about how scary this part of the show is. He leaves the stage for a quick break, not knowing what he is going to return to when he reenters the stage. The fear of returning to an empty room scares him. But not on this evening, as the crowd roared with applause to his return.

Bucky thanked the crowd once again as he started a slow ballad of “I’m Saying Something” from his Happy Man EP.

To conclude the evening, Bucky called Dave & Julia back to the stage to help in the singing of “Please Come Home For Christmas” and ending with “God Bless The USA.”

The show on Sunday evening was not in a big honky-tonk bar or a large theatre in a major city. It was located in a small mid-Michigan town at least 30 minutes away from a large city. But this community along with these artists came together in this town to bring Nashville to this theatre and put on a show more intimate than anyone could imagine in a larger venue.

A thank you goes out to Dave & Julia, Bucky Covington, and the community of Ionia for keeping it small and intimate, allowing all people to enjoy the music that might not be able to experience it in the big city.

Bucky Covington
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Dave & Julia
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Ionia Theatre
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