From The Side of the Road… another dose of bluegrass Hallmark Christmas movies

It’s that time of year again: time for the annual Hallmark barrage of Christmas movies. In fact, it’s been that time of year since October. By the time we hit the fourth Sunday in Advent, Hallmark will have fixed up every handsome widower/single father/architect-turned-rustic-inn-owner with every single ambitious event planner-who-no-longer-has-time-for-Christmas in the entire world.

This year Hallmark has cranked out 42 of these heart-warming holiday tales. The only thing that held them back from getting 60 of them done was the shortage of cookie-baking materials for the obligatory kiss-while-baking-Christmas-cookies scene. This may be why there are now more of these shot in quaint European locations (see Christmas in Notting Hill, released November 25); there may still be enough butter and sugar around in these places to supply a few more cookie scene retakes.

No matter how well Billy Strings or anyone else in our industry may be doing right now, it will always remain a challenge for bluegrass music to obtain mainstream success, and it doesn’t hurt to have a hit movie or two to help us along. The Oh Brother, Where Art Thou phenomenon was now over 20 years ago. Deliverance and the resulting Dueling Banjos top-40 hit came out 50 years ago!

It’s important to remember that bluegrass music can tie in with almost any kind of movie if it’s conceived right. It isn’t necessary to have George Clooney on an Odyssey-like quest for hair pomade, or Ned Beatty being terrorized by scary hillbillies for this to work. This is why I annually propose Hallmark Christmas movie plots that stay faithful to the genre, but also incorporate bluegrass music themes which could possibly lead to a hit soundtrack.

With the recent settlement of the writer’s strike, I may have missed the golden opportunity to get one of these produced, but I will keep trying every year. I’m not sure how “Scab Hallmark Christmas Screenwriter” is going to look on the resume anyway, but that’s another story.

To give our bluegrass stars some extra work, but also comfort the Hallmark movie-watching faithful, I’ve tried to cast bluegrass artists along with some of the more familiar Hallmark regulars.

This year’s offerings:

Hark the Harold Family Sings

Mamie Harold (Irene Kelley) is the mother and lead singer of the popular family bluegrass band, The Harold Family, from the fictional town of Spruce Valley, Tennessee. Every year they host a December indoor bluegrass festival called Bluegrass At a Large Hotel. The father of the group, Harold Harold, passed away five Christmases ago due to a tragic eggnog food-poisoning incident, so Mamie has bittersweet feelings during the Christmas season but has bravely kept the spirit alive for her talented children. 

The wealthy, hard-nosed-but-dashing owner of the hotel chain, Craig Cashdollar (Jack Wagner) has come to the hotel during the festival to fulfill his mission to halt the festival permanently and build a large pool and waterslide where the ballroom currently is. At first, Mamie resents Craig’s plans to close down the festival, but late one night at the festival, while drinking mulled wine and enjoying freshly baked cookies provided by the kindly manager (Peter Rowan)—who we suspect might also be Santa Claus—Craig confesses that he was once pretty serious about the guitar, but that he had to set that dream aside to make piles of money in the hotel business, and they begin to bond. Mamie urges him to try her guitar, and soon they’re singing together on Christmas Time Back Home by the Country Gentlemen. Mamie compliments Craig’s baritone singing, and he admits he hasn’t enjoyed himself that much since his company bought out the Relax Inn chain in 2009. By the end of the weekend, the two have fallen in love, he has bonded with the kids in the band, especially the oldest boy, Tyler (Billy Strings), who ends up giving Craig flatpicking guitar lessons. He has not only agreed to keep the festival operating but to expand to five days and add workshops.

A Bluegrass Princemas

The quaint Virginia town of Kringle’s Ferry, Virginia, hosts an annual Christmas market and festival, which also boasts a well-attended bluegrass concert on the town square, featuring local talent. The entire festival is organized by sentimental event planner, Lila (Molly Tuttle) who annually wows the crowd when she jumps up on stage to join the headline act to sing Crooked Christmas Tree. This year, one of the attendees in the audience is a handsome, well-dressed young man, Bryce (Brennan Elliott), and Lila makes a big impression on him. Lila is shy and just getting over a breakup with a boyfriend who just didn’t appreciate Christmas the way she did, so she doesn’t feel ready to approach a handsome stranger. But, at the urging of the headline band’s kindly guitar player, Patch Wilkins (Dudley Connell), she braves the meeting. 

Over a peppermint hot chocolate, Lila learns that Bryce is actually a Prince from the Alpine kingdom of Weihnachtenkekseland and is in Virginia while visiting Washington, DC on a diplomatic mission. His wife, Princess Beyoncessa, perished in a terrible Christmas tree-chopping accident just a year ago, and he now feels that Christmas is “just stupid.” Now a single father, the Prince has brought his daughter Skyler along. Lila loves kids, bonds with Skyler, and helps her recapture her own Christmas spirit.

At Patch’s urging (it turns out that he’s actually an angel), they all bake cookies together that night. Lila and Bryce kiss when Skyler leaves the room. Three weeks later, Lila joins the Prince and Skyler in Weihnachtenkekseland forever, and she plans an annual three-week Christmas festival (with bluegrass music) in the kingdom.

Christmas At Foggy Ridge Inn

An ambitious young executive, Delaney Brockworth (Lacey Chabert), working for a real estate developer in the big city, is sent to the small Appalachian village of Foggy Ridge, with a plan to tear down their 150-year-old rustic inn in order to build condos with an adjoining Starbucks. While delivering the news to the hotel employees, she spots a man ruggedly dressed in a red plaid jacket, Chase Halliday (Dan Tyminski), splitting wood for the inn. She assumes he’s an employee, and she approaches to inform him that his services will soon no longer be needed unless he feels like becoming a barista. He surprises her by offering to make her a festive eggnog latte inside. She reluctantly agrees, though she says she hates all those holiday drinks. Further in their conversation, he reveals that he is in fact the owner of Foggy Ridge Inn, and he tells her he’s determined to show her what’s special about Christmas at the inn. 

Over the holiday lattes, Delaney loosens up a little and jokingly tells Chase that he has the barista job if he wants it. Chase opens up to her and even introduces her to his daughter Emma Beth. Her mother (Becky Buller—we see her in a flashback) left Chase a widower and single father when she was killed in a horrific bakery explosion two years earlier. Still, Emma Beth loves everything about Christmas and somehow she warms Delaney’s icy executive heart. Chase tells Delaney he’ll give up the inn without a fight if she first promises to stay in Foggy Ridge long enough to participate in the inn’s annual plum pudding contest. 

On a snowy moonlit walk with Delaney, Chase confides that they have more in common than she knows, as he too once had a big city job working as a successful architect, but he wanted a different kind of life and a chance to wear flannel and split more wood. He adds that if the inn were ever closed down, though, he had plans to start his own full time bluegrass band. Delaney then appears to waver on the inn-closing plan, saying it’s only “one option.” When it comes time for the plum pudding contest, Chase pulls out a guitar and begins singing a bluegrass-flavored White Christmas, accompanied by one of the cooks (Justin Moses), and Delaney is suddenly transported back to happier youthful days, before her MBA. She smiles sweetly at Chase, as he follows the song up with an original, Frosty the Snowman of Constant Sorrow.

Delaney quits her executive job, moves to Foggy Ridge, and cancels plans to level the inn, though she does build a Starbucks one block away.