No industry is leaving 2020 unscathed, but the music and restaurant industries had particularly tumultuous years. The indoor social spaces those industries produce became primary sites for viral spread, and the people who work in them had to reimagine business models. More than past years, these people want to take a breath, enjoy the holiday season. But with record-breaking case counts almost daily, the holidays are bound to be different.
Fortunately, music and food share something else in common: the capability to bring people a sense of peace. This year, Cracker Barrel CBRL +1.5% is teaming up with three country artists — Carrie Underwood, Maddie & Tae, and Runaway June — to present an online holiday special. “Cracker Barrel Sounds of the Season” will debut on Cracker Barrel’s YouTube and Facebook pages on Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. ET. The program will feature performances from three artists, conversations, and games.
In 2019, all three artists performed in Underwood’s Cry Pretty 360 Tour. Though the artists became close, it was mere coincidence that each band independently decided to record their first Christmas albums this year.
Underwood, who has been prominent in the country music mainstream since winning American Idol in 2005, reached number one on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart with her Christmas project, My Gift. It includes eleven tracks, and features both John Lennon and Underwood’ coldest son, Isaiah. She worked with producer Greg Wells, who has worked with artists like Adele and Celine Dion, and drew inspiration from Dion’s classic performance of “O Holy Night” for her own version.
Runaway June also recorded “O Holy Night” for their EP, When I Think About Christmas. They’ve tried to make the best of their options, dressing as elves and dropping goodie bags at the doorsteps of their most ardent fans. But listening to this track for the first time — dead in the Nashville summer, amidst studio strict capacity restrictions and an improvisatory recording experience — was particularly meaningful for the band’s members.
“We had heard pieces of Naomi’s vocal on ‘O Holy Night,’ but not all of it,” says Jennifer Wayne, a member of the band. “I was brought to tears. It was like God gave her, and us, this gift of music, and I heard her singing back to God with that gift.”
But the title of Maddie & Tae’s album gets to the reason why all three artists decided to record Christmas music this year: We Need Christmas. For them, Christmas couldn’t come quickly enough.
“Making We Need Christmas was such a bright spot for us this year and we hope the project brings some joy and peace to our fans during this difficult year,” the duo says.
The campaign’s primary purpose is to provide holiday tradition for fans in a year that has been anything but traditional. But a secondary mission of the campaign is to highlight the work of women in the country music industry. This is the second year in a row Cracker Barrel has featured women country artists in a campaign. Last year, the brand launched “Five Decades, One Voice,” a program which paired up-and-coming country singers with established artists. Cracker Barrel posted taped conversations between the generations on their website, facilitated a complication album of song collaborations, and played an all-woman in-store playlist for the month of the campaign.
According to Jennifer Tate, Cracker Barrel’s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, the shadow of Music Row has made music an integral part of the Cracker Barrel experience. In the 1970s, country and bluegrass musicians from Nashville would travel across the country performing shows on Cracker Barrel patios.
“We see ourselves as just the right brand to bring these artists to their guests,” Tate says. “It’s always been a safe place for female country artists to get their music out. We’ve been selling and playing their music for decades, it’s always been part of the experience.”
Though fewer indoor diners will enter Cracker Barrel locations this season, this year’s campaign similarly includes featuring the artists’ new music in stores and dining rooms. But just as performances have pivoted online, Cracker Barrel pivoted to offer more holiday family meal bundles and heat-and-serve options, so patrons still have the option of hearing these holiday albums, even in passing.
“It’s certainly been a rough year, and the whole industry has suffered,” Tate says. “It’s never been a more important time to bring good holiday content to our people.”
WATCH Cracker Barrel | Sweet Baby Jesus | Carrie Underwood | Sounds of the Season VIDEO BELOW:
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