When Amy Grant engaged in her inaugural “Amy Grant and Friends” weekend at the Ritz-Carlton at Lake Oconee last fall, she had no idea what to expect.
The three-day event was more than sitting around listening to Grant perform and hearing from pals including author Tricia Rose Burt, but an opportunity for the more than 50 attendees to explore their creative leanings.
“A lot of the people left that weekend and launched into their own creative work. One woman has started a video blog, one person self-published a book. All I know is that life should be an abundant experience. We all have equal access to sunshine, air, possibilities, the potential of relationships, the potential of infusing whatever life we’re in the middle of with creativity,” Grant said last week from her Nashville home.
Grant will return to the lavish property Oct. 27-30 for a second “Friends” weekend. Burt will be back as well as attendees participate in sessions about songwriting, photography, fine arts, journaling and other artistic endeavors.
Joining the team this year is Wayne Kirkpatrick, a songwriter who has worked with Grant since her 1985 pop breakthrough album “Unguarded,” and is currently renowned as the co-writer of Broadway’s ‘Something Rotten,” which garnered nine Tony Awards nominations last year (Christian Borle scored one for best featured actor in a musical).
The Ritz weekend isn’t the only current Grant project.
On Friday, she released “Tennessee Christmas,” her first full holiday album since 1999’s “Christmas to Remember” (2008 brought “The Christmas Collection,” a compilation of previously released Christmas songs and four new tunes). The new album shares a name with one of the most beloved tracks from her inaugural Christmas album, released in 1983.
“I am SO excited about this project, mostly because I had a different approach to making this record,” she said. “I knew from the beginning that it was going to be a very interesting project. My marching orders were simple — I want a record that feels like it’s being written and played for an audience of one and I think that changed the way we wrote.”
Grant worked with a trio of renowned country and Christian music producers — Mac McAnally, Ed Cash and Marshall Altman — and recorded the 13-track album in her home studio.
Part of creating an intimate record meant acknowledging the bluer shades that shadow the holidays for many, which inspired the song “Melancholy Christmas.”
Another offering, “To Be Together,” crafted by Grant and her longtime co-writer Chris Eaton, also resonated deeply with the singer for a reason she couldn’t have anticipated.
“Sometimes if I’ve just finished a song, it will be stuck in my head for a while. I think we had just finished it and my daughter, Sarah, had a really bad car accident and that crazy chorus kept cycling through my head,” Grant said, recalling how Sarah’s boyfriend was placed in a medically induced coma while her daughter was having bones set (both have recovered). “It was traumatic. But just the tail end of the song’s chorus is knowing that this is all that really matters, to be together. That just kept going through my head, and just hearing it would make my blood pressure go down. However life might be changed, what matters is being together.”
Grant will take her new material — as well as the dozens of past holiday favorites — on the road again this season as she usually does with devoted musical pal Michael W. Smith.
They will play Infinite Energy Center in Duluth on Dec. 16 with the Georgia Symphony Orchestra and a new recruit — Jordan Smith, the 2015 victor on “The Voice.”
Upon hearing Jordan Smith for the first time, she immediately determined, “He has some killer pipes … and he’s such a wonderful person.”
The new kid on the tour will be integrated into the show with Grant and Michael W. Smith.
“I think it’s a welcome dynamic, musically,” Grant said.
While roaming the country between Nov. 11 and Dec. 22, Grant will also return to Nashville, Tenn., for a series of dates at the Ryman Auditorium, part of the Christmas residency that she and husband Vince Gill commit to each year.
So of course, she’ll wind up having a Tennessee Christmas.