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Posted: December 10, 2010 12:30 a.m.

‘O Come Y’all To Covington’

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A quarter-century of work has gone into crafting "O Come Y’all To Covington," a free holiday musical that will have its premiere next week at First United Methodist Church.

The musical combines new arrangements of Christmas classics with storytelling and comedy. It will be staged at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Dec. 17, at the church, 1113 Church St.

The production is the brainchild of local singer, songwriter, musician, and businessman Mac McKibben.

"The weather outside is frightful, but Covington, Ga., is in for a delightful treat," he said.

He has been working on the musical for 25 years, and shared his vision this summer with Dr. Doug Gilreath and administrative assistant Claudia Minge of First Methodist.

McKibben has put together a band for the musical that includes Scott Lansburg, J. J. Hardge, Dan Coy and Sam Skelton, who is professor of music at Kennesaw State University and plays first chair saxophone with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Local musicians Mark Fiddy, Gina Bryan and Andy Offutt Irwin are lending their talents to the show, and Jeff Hay will conduct a choir of more than 30.

The presentation is meant to be a gathering of friends celebrating the rich traditions of Christmas.

"Christmas music is beloved because it connects us to times past that bring us fond memories and connects us to the excitement of making new ones," said McKibben. "This time of year helps us to slow down and take count of the blessings of the year gone by and gives us a chance to look forward at the promise the future may hold."

"For this particular event, we are hoping that, by our opening our beautiful historic sanctuary for people to come to for an evening, people will be filled with the meaning of the Advent season and an evening of fellowship, joy, laughter, peace and love," said Minge.

McKibben, an accomplished songwriter, composer, and arranger, said that the creative process is special when it comes to the songs of the season.

"Playing Christmas music is a little different for me," said McKibben. "The music inspires me to be creative ‘in the moment’ and often the ‘color’ and ‘mood’ can change with how the music speaks to me. As for composing, it’s an extension of that same inspiration. It just happens."

Ultimately, the goal of an event like "O Come Y’all To Covington" is to bring local people together to share their talents and celebrate the season with an audience. Shared experience, unity, and celebration are part of what Christmas is all about.

"Hopefully folks will walk away feeling inspired and connected to each other more deeply," said McKibben. "I enjoy sharing my love of this music with the community and sharing a message of unity."

The church is accepting donations both nights for its Food Pantry and Sack Lunch Ministry. These ministries benefit the needy in the local community by providing food to those who need it in Covington. "Our food pantry services so many families throughout the year," said Minge. "During the past year and the hard economic times we are in we have seen the number of people asking for help double."

First United Methodist also will present a live nativity on its front lawn each night before the performances. The nativity features church members portraying the participants in the Christmas story along with cutouts of animals provided by the Heartland Art Guild.

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