A Country Christmas with Susie McEntire (L) will feature guest Linda Davis (R) this year. The concert benefitting Toys For Tots is Dec. 12 in the Lakeview Middle School auditorium. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, seating will be limited to 350 in the auditorium. Photos provided.
A Country Christmas with Susie McEntire (L) will feature guest Linda Davis (R) this year. The concert benefitting Toys For Tots is Dec. 12 in the Lakeview Middle School auditorium. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, seating will be limited to 350 in the auditorium. Photos provided.
A Country Christmas with gospel and country music artist Susie McEntire will be back this year, but restrictions will be in place for the concert due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. Eric Holcomb’s latest executive order.

Benefitting Toys For Tots, the seventh annual event starts at 7 p.m. Dec. 12, with doors opening at 6 p.m. at Lakeview Middle School auditorium. It is free, but attendees are asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy for donating to Toys For Tots. The show will open with guest Linda Davis, who had the hit song “Does He Love You” with Reba McEntire, and is the mother of Hillary Scott, singer for Lady A (formerly known as Lady Antebellum).

On Wednesday, Holcomb announced Indiana was stepping back from Stage 5 and new restrictions for the state would begin Sunday. He said things are now reaching critical points, including new COVID patients being hospitalized, the seven-day positivity rate is over 10% and hospital staff shortages and illness.

The new requirements from Holcomb include social distancing and wearing a mask; businesses need to post signs saying masks are required and to encourage social distancing among customers; and gatherings are limited. For counties in “orange,” gatherings are limited at 50 people and larger events need approval of the local health department. For counties in “red,” gatherings are limited to 25 people, and gatherings with over 25 people need approval from the local health department.

The restrictions will be in place for at least the next month.

For the Country Christmas concert, Kosciusko County Health Department Administrator Bob Weaver put restrictions on it so the event wouldn’t have to be cancelled. He said Thursday, “One of the reasons I did this is because they had booked people and organized this for a long time.”

The concert will be limited to 350 people. Organizer Mike Loher said since the concert is limited to 350 in the auditorium, there will be overflow seating available with a video screen in the gym or commons area, and the same restrictions as the auditorium will apply.

Everyone must wear a mask and keep it on the entire time.

A family unit can sit together in adjoining seats, but the next family has to sit 6 feet away.

Weaver said Loher told him they’d have the emergency exit doors open at the end of the show so that everyone wouldn’t have to leave through the same door. “I know a lot of churches are doing that,” he said.

On Wednesday, before Holcomb made his announcement, Loher said the worst-case scenario, other than the event being cancelled, would be requiring masks, seating in every other row and the “normal” stuff people are used to doing when they go places now.

“One thing that I do want people to know that is different this year, other than the virus, is ServPro of Kosciusko and Noble County has offered to disinfect the entire venue before the show. So it will be fogged and disinfected before the doors open for everybody to come in,” Loher said.

For past concerts, he sent out invitations to assisted living facilities, group homes and hospice.

“That’s all changed this year, too. They’re all (high risk). Can’t go out, can’t go in. So Blue River Digital is helping me come up with a way that we can actually record the show and there will be a link that these facilities can go to and show it to their residents. And we’re also including Kosciusko County Home Care & Hospice, so hospice patients and their families can see the show also,” Loher stated.

He said the website with the concert will have a security code for the facilities to use that he will provide to them.

Loher said he didn’t want to do a Facebook Live or streaming concert because the music artists could do that from their homes in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

“Our goal is to bring toys in for Toys For Tots. But we’re going to do a special thing for these residents that can’t get out, and I’m pretty excited about that,” he said.

Davis’ appearance at the show also came about as a safety measure.

“For the last couple of years, I’ve wanted to bring another artist in to open the show for (Susie). We’ve had the Christian school kids choir, we’ve had Deb Collier’s Dance Troupe in there. They’ve all done a great job. But, this year, with the virus and everything, I don’t know how much the kids have actually gotten to practice together and do we really want to figure out how that’s all going to work in a small backstage area? And, I thought, this might be a good year to try to bring another artist in that’s not a full band. It’ll be a lot like Susie, it’ll be Linda and her husband, no big band,” Loher said.

McEntire and her husband, Mark Eaton, also will be at Leesburg United Methodist Church at 9 a.m. Dec. 13 for services.

Sponsors for this year’s concert include Leesburg United Methodist Church; Stookey Construction; Bishop Farms; Rabb Kinetico Water Systems; Everest Excavating; Bailey Moore Foundation; Kosciusko REMC Operation Round-Up Fund, a component of the Kosciusko County Community Foundation; Sandra Zartman-Johnston; Windstar Park; Robinson Construction; Lewis Salvage; Jim and Melanie Rooney; Jacob Polk Family; Rob and Amy Seewald; Stacy’s Restaurant; Horizon Bank; Grossnickle Eye Center; American Concrete Pumping; Oswego Mini Mart; Core Mechanical; State Farm agent Beth Harrison; Metzger Trucking; Stafford Solid Waste; Ramsey and Wiggins; Center Street Partners; LDP Excavating;, Eagle Outdoor Advertising; Willie 103.5; Times-Union; Allegra; Warsaw Wyndham Garden; Lakeview Middle School; ServPro of Kosciusko and Noble County; and Blue River Digital.

For more information, call 574-376-0193.