Country music stars unite for Carols by Candlelight


By Jose A. López

Staff Writer

Carols by Candlelight, a 19-year North County holiday tradition, returns Dec. 12 and 13 to the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

The annual benefit concert features popular country musicians singing their own tunes and their favorite holiday tunes.

For some, the show is synonymous with the start of the holiday season, according to event co-founder Steven Vaus.

“People walk away saying, ‘Wow, now I’m in the Christmas spirit,’” Vaus said.

This year, the two shows will feature Lee Ann Womack, John Michael Montgomery, James Otto, Jordan Pruitt and Buck Howdy. Each show begins at 8 p.m.

Proceeds will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of San Diego.

Vaus co-founded the show with Wayne Nelson, bassist and current lead singer of the Little River Band, a former resident of the area who has since moved out the county.

Nelson, who had experience with the Australian tradition of Carols by Candlelight (the Little River Band is from Australia), suggested the launch of a similar version of the event in San Diego.

From the beginning, the show has been a benefit concert, helping organizations that provide service to children. Make-A-Wish, the organization that makes the dreams of children with life-threatening conditions a reality, has benefited from the concert for several years.

The first show, and some of the ones that followed, were free street concerts held at Horton Plaza. Vaus said the concert soon outgrew that environment.

Past guests have included Billy Ray Cyrus, Kenny Loggins, Jo Dee Messina, America, Sara Evans and the Commodores.

The show, which has been held at the 1,500-seat Escondido arts center for nearly a decade, features sets by the artists and an intermission. There is usually interaction between the artists on stage and, in some years, the last song on the stage has been a collaborative effort between all of the performers.

But one of the highlights of the evening is more hands-on. At the end of the show, the performers and the members of the audience meet in the Escondido center’s outside courtyard, where they are each given a candle and invited to sing along to “Silent Night.”

“It is a goose bumps moment,” Vaus said. “It’s not unusual to see people in the crowd singing with tears glistening in their eyes.”

Carols by Candlelight

  • Dec. 12-13
  • California Center for the Arts, Escondido
  • 340 N. Escondido Blvd.
  • $30-$100
  • (800) 988-4253