On Wednesday night, Kurt Bestor will deliver the first of five Christmas concerts this week in Salt Lake City.
It will feature Bestor and the latest cast of musical guests he rounded up, this time including a man who makes sandwiches at Caputo's and a theater student who won Bestor's version of "American Idol."
That Bestor is still producing such concerts is probably close to a Christmas miracle. Who knew when he delivered his first Christmas concert 19 years ago that it would become a staple of the Salt Lake Christmas scene, like the lights on Temple Square and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?
Bestor was just trying to promote his first Christmas album when he held his first Christmas concert. He had tried everything else already. He and his staff called radio stations and disguised their voices Hey, I sure like that song by Kurt Bestor. Could you play it again?
Bestor sat in the ZCMI mall and signed CDs while his Christmas music played in the background.
"Who's that?" passersby would ask.
Experts in the music biz told him that the last thing the world needed was another Christmas album, especially a new-age Christmas album. Wasn't that Mannheim Steamroller's gig? Bestor, an Orem High graduate and BYU music student, thought they were wrong. To promote the album further, he produced a Christmas concert in Abravanel Hall, but privately he worried no one would show up.
"Concert to feature local boy," the Deseret News headline read. Four days later, on Dec. 4, 1989, Bestor debuted his Christmas concert. He didn't even have enough material for a two-hour concert so he "did banter," as he calls it, to kill time, telling stories about each song before it was performed.
"Casual banter enhances lovely Christmas concert," the headline read in the Deseret News the next day. Not only was the concert a success, but so was the banter, and even now, long after Bestor has collected enough material to fill several hours, he continues to make warm, witty banter part of the act.
Although he has written and performed music for the Olympics and TV shows and movies and Monday Night Football and "Good Morning America" and commercials and dozens of albums, Bestor now is largely known as Mister Christmas in Utah.
"I never thought the Christmas concert would go this long," says Bestor, who proved to be ahead of his time, judging by the long list of musicians who have rushed onto the Christmas scene since then.
At some point every summer Bestor wakes up one morning in a panic. Oh, no, I've got to start getting a Christmas concert ready. About one-third of each concert is new material, writing his own arrangements and culling guest talent anywhere he can find it.
This year's concert will include a performance by his 19-year-old daughter Erika, who, like her sister Kristin, has spina bifida. "She's a better songwriter than I was at her age," says Bestor.
Bestor held a talent search to find guest soloist Erica Richardson, a University of Utah student, and also arranged an appearance by fiddler Sam Bigney, who serves up sandwiches at Caputo's restaurant. But mostly the concert will feature Bestor and his lush arrangements of Christmas favorites, with banter.
He is a grandfather now, although he doesn't look the part he's still fit as a tight end, just two months short of his 50th birthday, with a single earring stud and his trademark sweep of long hair.
His concerts have withstood the test of time and his own personal challenges. In a lengthy Deseret Morning News story a few years ago, he revealed the considerable upheaval in his life, including his struggles with his Mormon faith and a couple of divorces that were blamed on his obsessive pursuit of his musical muse. Long embraced as a Mormon performer, he says the story cost him part of his audience.
"Some people said they wouldn't come to the concert again," he says. "People are coming to the show, but my demographics are probably different. In some ways, I feel liberated by it; I don't have to wear that Superman cape anymore."
He remarried again in 2003 and lives in Salt Lake City with wife Petrina, a safari consultant who was born and raised in Kenya. "I'm happy where I am now, so I don't regret where I've been," he says. "I'm just glad to get through it."
Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. Please e-mail [email protected].