Farmer Jason Gives Kids a Rural Christmas Story

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Jason Ringenberg‘s Christmas on the Farm with … Farmer Jason backs holiday classics (“Away in a Manger”) with buoyant originals (“Santa Drove a Big John Deere”). It’s the fourth album from the Emmy-winning entertainer, who will deliver a holiday-themed show at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville on Saturday (Dec. 13).

Better known as the leader of seminal Nashville rock band Jason and the Scorchers, Ringenberg spoke with CMT Edge about his new Christmas collection for children.

“I wanted a 50/50 split between the classics and good, new Christmas music,” he explains. “I went in thinking that way and I think that’s important. Plus, I don’t know that I’m talented enough to make a whole record of standards that stands up to other Christmas records.”

CMT Edge: Why were you compelled to do a Christmas album?

Ringenberg: (laughs) Well, I’ve always wanted to do one. I love Christmas. I’m a family guy with kids, too, and it seemed like a really good time to do a Christmas record. So, I went for it.

Tell the story behind writing “Christmas on the Farm.”

Right off the bat, I knew I needed an intro that was snappy and catchy and harkened to the openers on my other Farmer Jason records, and so I had the concept in mind before I started writing the song. I knew I was going to write an opener with that title.

Describe the greatest challenge in writing a children’s holiday song.

Like all kids music, you have to follow the prime directive: Be as catchy as the Beatles. (laughs) It really has to stick in kids’ heads. That’s the whole key with children’s music. Also, it has to be very repetitive. Having kids myself, I knew that any children’s song has to be catchy and repetitive. I tried to do that and hopefully I succeeded.

Explain how you approached interpreting “Away in a Manger.”

“Away in a Manger” has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs. I like the connections in the song to the rural story of Christmas. All through writing and making the record, I was struck by how farming and rural life was part of the Christmas story. I think “Away in a Manger” shows that connection and sums it up probably better than any Christmas standard there is.

Describe singing the song with your daughters on that song.

Oh, it was magic. I loved that. I knew Camille was a talented musician, but I never really knew that Addie Rose was that good of a singer. She’s never really sung much in public, but she stepped up to that mic and you could really hear it right there in the studio. It was a really moving experience. I knew Camille would nail it. She’s a really great musician, quite good.

Are they going into music for a living?

You never know, but, no, I don’t think. I think they have other plans. Watching their own father’s trials and tribulations — a lot of tribulations — they’ve seen the man behind the curtain. They know it’s not all peaches and cream.

Most importantly: How do you do “Jingle Bells” without going, “Oh, man, there’s no way I can I do this better …”?

(laughs) That is the truth. It’s the most famous Christmas song there is, but that one was included purely for the children. I had to look at it like, “What is my 4- and 5-year-old audience going to like?” To them, “Jingle Bells” is not a song that’s been done over and over again. It’s a new song to those kids. So, they want to hear it and they want to hear Farmer Jason doing it. Also, there are farming connections from “Jingle Bells” to what I’m doing as Farmer Jason.

Explain how important all the between-song storytelling is throughout the album.

For Farmer Jason, it’s fundamentally important. I’ve always done that on all my records. It really annoys some people, but kids really dig that. They actually even memorize the little stories I tell. So, I knew I had to do that with the Christmas story and make the farming connection on a Christmas record.

Is educating a job requirement as a children’s songwriter, or do you just enjoy telling stories?

Both. I enjoy talking to kids. I’m also proud that they learn something from my music. It’s not just entertainment. I do think there’s some educational value to it.

Describe your favorite thing about the holidays in Nashville.

Entertainment is in our DNA, part of our genes. So, to be around Nashville around the holidays does bump up the spirit, I think. You drive out to Opryland and see the beautiful decorations and see all the parades and stuff going on in town. It enriches the Christmas experience.

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