The name John Berry has been a familiar one on the marquee at Detroit Lakes' Historic Holmes Theatre over its 17-year history: The singer-songwriter from Georgia has made six visits to the community since 2005, and performed at the venue seven times.
So it's no surprise that he will be bringing his "Christmas Songs & Stories" tour back to the Holmes for the second time in three years on Saturday, Dec. 7.
"I'd come back every year if they'd have me," Berry joked during a recent telephone interview. “I can’t wait to get back and see my friends, we always have a great time.”
Berry has often sung the praises of the Holmes as a performance venue. "It's a great room, a great facility and great people to sing for," he said prior to his most recent visit in 2017.
The feeling is mutual, according to Holmes Theatre Director Amy Stoller Stearns. "John and his band are genuinely great individuals — easy to work with, supremely talented musicians and the crowd loves him," she says.
Though Berry has brought his "Christmas Stories & Songs" tour to Detroit Lakes before, fans may notice a few differences this time around.
"We've got a new Christmas album, so we've got a few new songs in there," he said. "I also had a new country CD come out last year, 'Thomas Road,' so we're doing several songs off of that as well.
"This year we’ve got two songs at the beginning of the show that we’ve never done before," he said, noting that while they are familiar tunes, with a lot of different versions recorded by various artists, "We worked at coming up with an arrangement (for both songs) that suited me. Hopefully people will dig it."
But that's not to say Berry's loyal fans won't be hearing the hits that made him famous, like "Your Love Amazes Me," "Kiss Me in the Car" and "Standing on the Edge of Goodbye" — not to mention his Christmas showstopper, "O Holy Night," which Stearns touts as "one of the most beautiful takes on that song I've ever heard."
As has been a successful tradition for several years now, Berry's performances consist of two parts, separated by a brief intermission. The first half consists of a combination of fan favorites and new material from his 35-years of writing, recording and performing country music, while the second half is a traditional Christmas concert, highlighted by his stunning a cappella version of "O Holy Night."
Berry says it's important to him to remember the true meaning of Christmas, because his faith has seen him through a lot of difficult times — from a 1981 motorcycle accident that left him with two broken legs and a broken hip, to a 1994 cyst in his brain that required surgery to remove and, most recently, a 2018 battle with throat cancer that led to a dramatic weight loss.
"They found two tumors, so they got really aggressive (with treatment)," he said.
Berry went through seven weeks of having radiation treatment five days a week, and chemotherapy treatment once a week.
At first he thought getting through the treatments would be "no big deal," Berry said, because he got through the first couple of weeks without feeling any truly debilitating effects.
But in week three, he started feeling "a little strange," and by the end of week four, it was "a whole new ballgame — I was completely drained," Berry added.
After starting his fifth week of treatments, he said, "I thought I was dying."
"We were at the pharmacy, pulling out of the parking lot, and all of a sudden I’ve got to throw up," he recalled. "All of a sudden it was these violent convulsions, but nothing was coming out — and then I threw up this green, foul, most disgusting tasting fluid from the bowels of hell. It was unbelievable."
Berry later found out he was vomiting up gall bladder fluid. The treatments didn't get any better from that point, and by the end of his ordeal, he was 65 pounds lighter.
"It was by nothing but the grace of God that I got through it," he said.
Today, he is free from signs of cancer, according to his most recent checkup.
"I'm feeling good and singing good, though I have to drink a lot of water," he said. "The radiation had a pretty severe effect on my saliva glands, which is especially apparent during performances."
Fortunately, Berry added, the quality of his voice was left virtually unaffected, though he joked that he now sings "just like Tony Bennett."
If you go
What: "Christmas Songs & Stories with John Berry"
Where: Historic Holmes Theatre, 806 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7
Tickets: $32 for adults, $16 for students. To reserve your seats, call 218-844-7469, visit www.dlccc.org/holmes.html, or stop by the box office in person, between 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday (the box office will also be open for two hours prior to the Dec. 7 concert).
More info: www.johnberry.com