Kelleigh Bannen Decks the Halls with a Special Night at the Ryman — All the Behind-the-Scenes Details
Bannen, who released two new Christmas singles this year –"O Holy Night" and "Deck the Halls" — also shared a fun and cheeky video celebrating her version of "Decking the Halls."
The evening was Bannen's first opportunity to play a full set at the Ryman and the honor of playing the famous stage was not lost on the singer.
"You've got to be worthy of the stage," she tells PEOPLE. "If I ever walk out on stage and I'm not like, 'Holy cow, this is amazing,' then it's time to go home."
Bannen is forever grateful to Little Big Town, who hand-picked her to open the last show of their Ryman residency. She received the news from LBT's Karen Fairchild while they were all playing a music festival over the summer.
"Karen is always generous and encouraging, especially to women," the musician tells PEOPLE. "I think she just knew I needed a light at the end of the tunnel, like 'Don't give up, just keep going.'"
Stepping out on stage for soundcheck, the excitement of the show came with nerves.
"I was thinking about all the other people who had been in that opening slot this year ... so many of my friends who I admire, like Lucie Silvas," the singer says. "It made me think, 'Oh my gosh, can I live up to you, to this opportunity? I had played a couple other events at the Ryman but never a real show, so I was super nervous and excited — there's a lot of pressure."
The Ryman, decked to the nines for Christmas, kept the holiday memories top of mind for the singer. "Christmas Eve is always special, it feels really holy," Bannen explains.
It should come as no surprise that she sings in her church choir every Christmas Eve before heading home with her family for their ritual cup of soup. "We have a simple dinner and cozy up with the family," Bannen says.
Bannen warms up with her band before opening the show.
Finishing touches before heading to the stage.
The setlist for the evening included a nod to one of her favorite Christmas songs, "O Holy Night." Bannen tells PEOPLE one of her fondest childhood memories included sneaking around the house early in the morning with her late brother Grant.
"We would wake each other up and sneak downstairs so we could get our stockings off the mantel. We'd sneak back up into Grant's bed and open our stockings together," she recalls. "It was like our secret time when we could hang out and wait for my parents to get up."
Bannen waits in the wing for her cue to take the stage.
"It is remarkable and amazing that people spend money to come hear you play music," Bannen tells PEOPLE. "That fact alone is amazing to me."
"It's really hard not to be a little caught up in how special a place the Ryman is — and the audience always responds like that too," Bannen says. It's like the audience knows it's special."
There were a few surprises in store for Bannen after her she finished her set. Fairchild invited the singer to join LBT and special guest Jamey Johnson on stage.
"I didn't know Karen was going to call me up but I should have known because they are so welcoming and they always bring people out," Bannen tells PEOPLE. "I was just standing sidestage and had taken my shoes off. She called me up and I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, I don't even have my shoes on now!'"
"If you don't go into show day at the Ryman thinking, 'Oh this is this hallowed ground' when you're there, you can't help but be struck by it," Bannen says. "It just feels different and special."