A Final Christmas Show for Kuhns and Friends

A traditional Door County Christmas event will be performed for one final time this holiday season.

The Small Forest Christmas show, which has been a fixture in Door County for 15 years, will offer its final performance at 7 pm Dec. 16 at the Kress Pavilion in Egg Harbor. Jeanne Kuhns, the singer-songwriter who formed the group with George Sawyn, MaryBeth Mattson and Patrick Palmer, is moving to Oregon and while she plans to return to Door County for summer performances, this will be her final Christmas show.

Kuhns is moving to Oregon at the invitation of her brother and his wife who, have 10 acres. In a few years her younger sister and her wife will retire from Los Angeles and the three of them plan to build a small house together. In the meantime she will live in an apartment at her brother’s house and help the couple raise chickens and goats, which she has done in the past. She also plans to set up a studio in one of the property’s outbuildings. 

The group started performing in 2007 at Base Camp in Sister Bay, and has become a seasonal fixture since, although it moved the show to video during COVID-19 shutdowns and then to the Ephraim Town Hall after Base Camp was sold. This summer a couple came forward and offered to rent the Kress Center for the event. 

“At Base Camp, owner Joel Kersebet wanted us and provided the setting and refreshments and since then people have stepped up to sponsor the performance,” Kuhns said. 

Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

This year’s program will consist of 45-minute sets with familiar Christmas favorites and a few originals. Small Forest plays music ranging from the 1940s to the present and they challenge the audience to identify the decade the songs are from.

Marybeth Mattson, Pat Palmer, Jeanne Kuhns and George Sawyn will play their final Christmas show as Small Forest. Submitted.

“We don’t do a lot of religious stuff,” explained Kuhns. “I shy away from that because I want to have a holiday show. It’s more like, get together and be happy that Christmas is a time we can all get together. A lot of people know each other. and see each other there every year. They cry, they laugh, and it’s just really fun. There’s this feeling in the room of all these spirits coming together in creating this big Christmas ball of joy.”

The four musicians recently gathered in Kuhns’ second floor apartment in Sturgeon Bay to rehearse and decide who would do what.

Kuhns said the group had pretty much retired from the Christmas program after last year’s event.  

“But when I realized I was moving to Portland, Oregon I begged my bandmates to do one more year,” she said. 

They agreed.

“I just wanted to do this concert one more time to thank everybody and have the feel-good time when we are all together.”

They will perform two original songs composed a few years ago. 

Christmas Day is a song Kuhns and Sawyn wrote. 

“I was working at the wellness center and seeing single mothers and unmarried teens,” said Kuhns, who is an experienced RN in addition to being a musician and a skilled artist. “I imagined Mary being pregnant and Joseph not being too happy, and the song is her finding her comfort in the animals around her, finding comfort in a time that was so weird.”

She laid her baby in a manger

She knows the world is full of strangers these days.

But a simple act of kindness, gave her shelter there,

She felt a little bit lonely, and a little bit scared…

So, she, hummed a little song to the lowing of the cattle

And she learned the melodies of the doves and sheep and camels,

She told her child to dream…

I don’t need your gold and silver

Love connects us to the circle we need.

See the lion and the lamb in peaceful company,

The rhythm of the heart, the longing of the sea…

The other song came after Sawyn had written music and asked her to write the lyrics for his soon-to-be wife, Monica. 

“It was a love song to George’s wife, but I made it for everyone,” Kuhns said. 

I just want to say how much I love you on this Christmas day

The snow is falling lightly

On the lamp light on the street outside

As we sit by this evergreen tree filled with sparkling lights

It is our starry night

The mystery of how you came to me

Overwhelms my heart with joyous light…

I can’t speak it, my heart too full to say

You are my shining star, a gift a treasure.

I think I’ll say to you, you’re my forever

My celebration day!

I will stay with you as long as I have breath to say

You are my love, My Christmas Day…

“George and I have been playing together forever,” Kuhns said. “We can start in the thirties and go all the way up to present day music, although last summer we stayed in the sixties. We can sing anything and he can play it – except for bluegrass, and we don’t do rap.”

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