Christmas comes early for Daniel O'Donnell and his fans
“In Ireland, they’d never let us do Christmas shows this early. I think they’d lock us up," the singer said before he brings his "Christmas and More" tour to the Fargo Theatre.
FARGO — Ever since he was a little boy growing up in rural Ireland, Daniel O’Donnell loved Christmas, particularly singing in the church choir.
While he loves the holiday, he’s surprised it starts being celebrated in November.
“In Ireland, they’d never let us do Christmas shows this early. I think they’d lock us up,” he says. “Here, people seem to love it. It’s amazing how popular is this time of year.”
O’Donnell is talking from the Welk Resort in Branson, Mo., where he’s playing the first stateside dates in nearly two years.
“We’re grateful for the small steps we’re able to take just to be playing again,” he says, in his signature calm, kind voice. “COVID has caused a great disruption in people’s lives, including concerts. A concert can be redone, but life can never be brought back.”
COVID hasn’t changed his stage shows, but it’s meant that he’s had to scrap his meet-and-greets with fans.
O’Donnell knows the fans make it possible for him to do what he loves. He gets little to no press from critics and scant airplay on the radio. However, he’s found an American audience thanks to his specials on PBS.
O’Donnell is staying and playing in a resort that bears the name of another great PBS entertainer, Strasburg, N.D.’s Lawrence Welk . While “The Lawrence Welk Show” wasn’t aired in Ireland when he grew up, O’Donnell recognizes the late bandleader’s legacy.
“His memory is very alive in that theater,” he says. “He was such a charismatic character.”
While some of his previous holiday shows have used elaborate seasonal sets, the current "Christmas and More" tour uses a screen to help get audiences in the spirit.
That, and of course, the music.
The show is split in two halves, with the first part being some of his greatest hits, like George Strait’s “I Just Want to Dance with You” and his latest, the Jimmy Buffet-inspired “Down at the Lah De Dah.”
The second half will be the Christmas part, with a mix of universal classics and a handful of Irish holiday tunes, like "Christmas in Innisfree” and “Christmas 1915,” about the Christmas truce during World War I.
One Christmas classic he’ll be sure to sing is “Silent Night.”
“It’s always been my favorite carol,” he says. “Every year I attend Christmas Mass and sing the song and sing the second verse in Irish.”
Last year, as the pandemic kept parishioners from going to church, O’Donnell was asked by his priest to accompany the organist in a streamed Christmas mass.
“I felt very privileged to take part in that,” he says.
Besides singing in the church, his favorite memory of Christmas in rural Ireland as a child was visiting family and neighbors on Christmas Day to show what Santa had brought him.
This year he’s looking forward to celebrating with his three grandchildren, the youngest of which is only a couple of months old.
“It’ll be Santa all over again,” he says.
His planned Christmas shows in Ireland were canceled due to the pandemic, but on Dec. 10 fans can help him celebrate his 60th birthday on Ireland’s “The Late Late Show.”
“Not everyone gets a chance to celebrate on TV,” he says.
O’Donnell knows that he leads a charmed life.
“I feel very lucky,” he says. “I would have never guessed that I’d be able to travel all around and come to places like Fargo and Minot and play Hostfest. There’s talk that we’ll be back next year. I feel blessed.”
If you go
What: Daniel O’Donnell
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21
Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway
Info: Tickets range from $55 to $80; https://jadepresents.com