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The Once a hit with fans (again) at sold out Christmas shows in St. John’s

The Once — Andrew Dale, Geraldine Hollett and Phil Churchill.
The Once — Andrew Dale, Geraldine Hollett and Phil Churchill. - Renita Fillatre photo

T’was December 15, and all through downtown, music lovers went to church, but no priest  could be found. The Once would play around 7 p.m., ringing in the season with their local folk blend.

The pews were full at Gower Street United, the first sold-out show would soon be ignited. The stage was set, the balconies full, and a holiday cheer permeated the room.

As they entered the room, there arose such a clatter, an appreciative audience hushing their chatter. They hooted and hollered and clapped and cheered — the beloved band was finally here.

I’m on a holiday high, brought on by tonight’s spectacular show. The Once’s Christmas show has become a tradition for many locals, as evidenced by the three sold-out shows and the addition of a Sunday matinee. Though I have seen the band perform many times, I fall in love with them all over again, every time.

After a short set from local comedian Matt Wright, The Once (Geraldine Hollett, Phil Churchill, and Andrew Dale, accompanied by bassist Craig Follett) took to the stage.

The band began with “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” as featured on their 2012 holiday offering, “This Is A Christmas Album.”

The tunes presented on this album would comprise the bulk of The Once’s setlist, plus a few chosen few tracks from their three previous albums and recent EP.

“Gonna Get Good”, a selection from the 2016 EP “We Win Some We Lose,” was dedicated to “the little kid we all used to be,” as Churchill said in his hilarious song introduction. There would be plenty of laughs throughout the night, as The Once dependably deliver hilarious

 segways and stage banter.

Though I was ready to yell a request for it if I had to, an acapella cover of Wince Coles’ classic “Glow of the Kerosene Light” was next, marking the first of many crowd singalongs.

The place was buzzing as Hollett’s niece joined the band for “I Won't Do Christmas Without You,” the second last track before a short intermission, during which the audience were invited to partake in apple cider and cookies in the church basement.

The second set kicked off with Roger Miller’s “Old Toy Trains,” and Sting’s “Gabriel’s Message,” a favourite of Churchill, Dale teasing his bandmate mercilessly.

One of my favourite parts of the night came with the next track, “Oh My Rudolph,” a song telling the story of Rudolph’s future, a twisted follow up on the 1964 claymation classic film.

“I can’t believe we wrote this thing,” Churchill laughed.

 After a lengthy explanation of the song’s roots, he went on to partly blame the cheesy track on “Newfoundland’s ginger Freddie Mercury,” Jody Richardson.

Covers of Dave Matthews, Leonard Cohen, The Pogues, and Band-Aid would also make it onto the setlist, along with a gorgeous Dale original titled “The Light In Your Window.”

Returning for an encore after a standing ovation, The Once led the crowd with a “Silent Night” singalong, the band and audience echoing together.

The final track, a rousing cover of Simani’s “The Mummers Song” brought the audience to their feet, plankin’ ‘er down in the church aisles. It was the perfect ending to a beautifully uplifting night.

Good night and good Christmas, The Once, me dears. I hope I’ll see you next year.

The Once play again in St. John's Sunday night Dec. 17, before heading to Corner Brook for a Tuesday, Dec. 19 show.

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