How Lindsey Stirling created a massive Christmas show during the pandemic
“I think it’s going to bring a lot of people joy. Whether people are sewing masks at home or getting groceries for their neighbor who can’t leave, it’s this idea that we all have our own gifts and our own ways of helping. It’s just about lifting where you stand.”
Lindsey Stirling’s South America tour was over before it started.
The second week of March, after months of preparation, the dancing violinist flew with her crew to Bogota, Colombia. During that flight, the world below her shifted dramatically. An outbreak became a pandemic, shelves were ransacked and she had a new return flight — for that very same day.
South America, this breaks my heart, but due to the worldwide health crisis of the coronavirus I have to cancel my South American tour. I found out late last night about the pandemic alert and I was given no choice but to fly home. 💔 pic.twitter.com/rZicGO4z8h— Lindsey Stirling (@LindseyStirling) March 12, 2020
“We literally landed, got our bags, turned around and flew all the way home,” Stirling recently told the Deseret News. “By the time we got back, there was no toilet paper to be found in the United States. I was like, ‘Wait, what happened in the 24 hours that we were flying back and forth from South America?’ The world had changed.”
Back at home in Los Angeles, Stirling was surrounded by violins, props and costumes. Items that no longer had anywhere to go. With the tour dates scrapped from her calendar, Stirling didn’t really have anywhere to go, either.
So she went to Missouri.
For 31⁄2 months, the violinist hunkered down at her younger sister’s horse ranch, spending more time than usual with family, playing in the mud and chasing her twin nieces around the couch. During the downtime she’s listened to Miley Cyrus. And although her own baking doesn’t extend beyond “simple cookies,” she’s come to love watching “The Great British Baking Show” at night.
It’s been a surprising and self-revelatory turn of events. Because until this year, Stirling, a self-described workaholic who considers the tour bus “a home away from home,” didn’t know she liked to be still.
“Those first few months, there was a lot of ‘I don’t know what to do with myself,’” Stirling recalled. “Sitting in that and being uncomfortable in it, and eventually realizing that I think the only reason I thought I never liked (being still) was because I always had shame around it. I felt like if I wasn’t working it meant I didn’t have value, or I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing.
“That was self-shame; that wasn’t actually my preference,” she continued. “It’s been a real awakening to sit in some silence and kind of actually learn more about how my mind works and what my triggers are. It’s been healthy for me.”
But Stirling hasn’t exactly neglected her music career, either. In part to pass time but also to help uplift others during a troubled year, the violinist has found unique ways to perform. Her virtual Christmas concert on Dec. 12 — easily her biggest show of 2020 — is the culmination of that creativity.
“I think it’s going to bring a lot of people joy,” she said. “Whether people are sewing masks at home or getting groceries for their neighbor who can’t leave, it’s this idea that we all have our own gifts and our own ways of helping. It’s just about lifting where you stand.”
After the shock of her thwarted tour wore off, Stirling got creative.
At her sister’s farm, she concocted a makeshift recording studio, placing her camera/phone atop three stacked storage bins and holding it down with scotch tape. She also formed a vocal booth, tying blankets in place with dental floss, her dog’s leash and bobby pins, among other items.
Out of this setup came the podcast “String Sessions,” where Stirling interviewed and collaborated with musicians like Jewel, Evanescence’s Amy Lee and Johnny Rzeznik of Goo Goo Dolls. She also started making music videos.
Removed from all of the equipment, technology and resources she’s gained access to over the years, Stirling ended up reverting back to the more primitive way she produced content as a BYU student nine years ago, when she was working two jobs to pay her way through school and uploaded her first video to YouTube on May 18, 2011 (the video has since been viewed 37 million times).
“This is what it was like in the beginning days, just using what I had and holding together music videos with duct tape,” Stirling said with a laugh. “It’s been a good exercise, a reminder that I can make this work, even with just my brain.”
But Stirling wanted to go bigger for Christmas. She’s done a holiday tour for the past three years, and it didn’t feel right to break that tradition — especially during a year in need of cheer. So in June, she began exploring options.
An in-person tour was off the table, but she also wasn’t interested in doing a livestream performance — “there’s no way you can really capture a live show and make it feel live and vibrant on the screen,” she said.
Instead, the violinist decided to create somewhat of an extended, glorified music video with elaborate set pieces and costumes — elements that wouldn’t work in a live show because they’d take too long to remove or load on and off a truck each night. Doing this show on a budget, Stirling clocked 16-hour days for two months as creative director, designing the sets, sourcing the costumes and helping develop the choreography (including a performance where she hangs by her hair).
By the time Stirling and her crew arrived in Las Vegas to film in October, she felt like the hardest work had been done. After everyone got tested for COVID-19, they rented out an Airbnb and spent about a week and a half together in a quarantine bubble, rehearsing and filming “Home for the Holidays Special.”
“It felt like Christmas camp, like being on tour again,” Stirling said. “My crew, dancers, they’re like family to me. Some of them have been with me for seven, eight years. For that week and a half, life felt normal and we were so grateful. Grateful to dance, to make things, to be filming. So filled with gratitude for what we get to do and the things that we so often take for granted.”
The Christmas show — which Stirling was editing and fine-tuning last week — will stream at 1 and 6 p.m. MT, and be available to watch on-demand for 72 hours after the second showing.
Once the “Home for the Holidays Special” wraps up, Stirling plans to visit her childhood home in Arizona for a couple of weeks. Then she’ll go to her sister’s farm in Missouri — the place she turned to when the pandemic brought all her plans to a crashing halt. This time, though, she’ll have a new nephew to greet.
This time of year, Stirling would typically be out on the road touring until Christmas Eve. But she’s eager for the extended family time. To bake cookies and take part in family Christmas traditions. To embrace the stillness she so often avoided before the pandemic (as of now, touring doesn’t pick up again until May).
And to shut down her computer for a little while.
“I’ve worked so hard the last couple of months,” she said with a laugh. “I’m just ready to turn it off.”