At Rockefeller Center in New York City Wednesday night, a 79-foot-tall, 12-ton Norway spruce was eventually the centerpiece of a two-hour windup that included performances from Harry Connick Jr., Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and other artists.
As usual, “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” was hosted by NBC News’ “Today” show co-anchors Hoda Kotb, Savannah Guthrie, Craig Melvin and Al Rocker, lightly bundled in the 46-degree weather.
The festive event – some of it pre-recorded – attempted to display normalcy, with unmasked fans seen crowded around various stages near the landmark building in midtown Manhattan (attendees were required to be fully vaccinated). Last year, the public could not attend the lighting ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year's 85-year-old tree was adorned with more than 50,000 multi-colored LED lights strung over five miles of wire. Hundreds of solar panels atop one of the Rockefeller Center buildings will help power the lights throughout the season.
During the NBC broadcast, celebrities including Paul Rudd offered pre-taped bits to solicit donations for Red Nose Day, which raises money to end child poverty, while the musical guests shared fond holiday memories.
In keeping with tradition, the iconic Radio City Rockettes high-kicked with dazzling poise and ushered in the switch flip of brightness.
Here are some musical moments from the annual celebration.
The gregarious country star ripped through a fiddle-flecked rendition of the 1965 Buck Owens country classic, “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy.” Paisley spiked the song with a few of his trademark electric guitar licks, including a segue into “Jingle Bells” during his solo.
The ace a capella group, which has found a solid niche in Christmas music, offered a sprightly “We Need a Little Christmas” from last year’s holiday album of the same name. Showcasing their usual vocal magic, the song was steered by Matt Sallee’s bass vocals and Kirstin Maldonado’s sweet tones. The quintet also performed Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” from their latest holiday offering, “Evergreen.”
Harry Connick Jr.
With a jaunty knit cap on his head, Connick and his big band rolled through “(It Must’ve Been Ol’) Santa Claus,” a fan favorite from his first Christmas album in 1993. Connick handled piano duties while his band – all donning Santa hats and red scarves – added brass and swing. The singer – who happens to be starring as Daddy Warbucks in NBC’s “Annie Live” on Thursday – returned later in the show for a brass-laden “Silent Night,” which also featured him playing a harpejji.
Bouncing in his red plaid jacket, Thomas debuted “Small Town Christmas” from his new Christmas album, “Something About Christmas Time.” In the innocuous pop-rock song, the Matchbox Twenty frontman opined about the pleasures of “drivin' down the long roads" where “anything is possible” and reminded that “we all need some comfort right now.”
“Be good to each other,” he told the crowd at song’s end. Returning later for a second song, Thomas was joined by Paisley for “Santa Don’t Come Here Anymore,” which was a bit more honky tonk than we’re used to hearing from the guy behind “Smooth.”
Beamed in for a pre-recorded performance from Nashville, the ever-elegant Underwood unfurled “Let There Be Peace,” her original anthem calling for unity from her 2020 Christmas album, “My Gift.” A backdrop of a crackling fireplace and a tree farm worth of lighted pines was shared by a gospel choir spread across a double-sided staircase. Their presence added heft to Underwood’s escalating vocals as she dove into the lyrics with fervor. For her second song, Underwood opted for hushed simplicity with an appropriately contemplative “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
The breakthrough country star continued her well-deserved moment — she recently paid tribute to Tina Turner at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony and is nominated for three Grammys in January — with a faithfully fun version of “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.” Knee-high red boots capped off Guyton’s festive look, while her voice soared. Her version of “O Holy Night” was equally potent and filled with impressive vocal runs.
José Feliciano and CNCO
Assuming his perch on a stool, acoustic guitar cradled on his knee, Feliciano rolled out his 51-year-old Christmas singalong. Unfortunately, the young men of CNCO looked as if they were having a hard time hearing themselves and weren’t always in sync with Feliciano — or each other, leading to a painful delivery that was at least mercifully short.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rockefeller tree lighting: Harry Connick Jr., Carrie Underwood perform