Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
Published 3:31 pm Tuesday, December 6, 2022
By Meg Herndon
Photos by Jeremy Raines
There is nothing quite like Christmas in Helena, and it could be said that no one understands that Christmas Spirit quite like Helena resident Connie Skellie.
Connie, singer and violinist for the Birmingham-based singer-songwriter group Act of Congress, finds every year that the Holiday season can be a bit more stressful than many are used to. From playing multiple shows throughout November and December or recording new music, Connie and her bandmates know a thing or two about trying to balance work and life. Although, for them, work isn’t so traditional.
Act of Congress isn’t just a Christmas band. The group has performed all over the United States from New Hampshire to Oklahoma, playing alongside other symphonies such as Alabama Symphony Orchestra and touring alongside known stars Toby Keith and John Mayer.
However, Connie was not always playing throughout the world.
At just 3 or 4 years old, Connie began playing violin after her grandmother insisted she and her sister learn to play an instrument.
“It was quite a commitment,” she said. “My mom drove from Columbiana to Samford every week for years when we were young for our lessons. At my first recital, my mom said I hit a wrong note and ran off the stage crying. Not much has changed since then.”
Connie also said when she was in eighth grade, her math teacher asked her to play the violin at her wedding. Building up her courage, Connie agreed.
“When I went up to play the song, I totally forgot it,” Connie said. “After the pianist tried to help me, I still couldn’t recall the melody. So, I walked off the stage and sat down not playing a single note.”
Mistakes are important for growth though, Connie pointed out, giving advice to anyone who wants to take up an instrument.
“To be good at something you have to make mistakes along the way. Don’t be afraid of the process. Always be a student,” Connie said.
And this advice certainly is reflected in Connie’s own story. Despite a few bumps along the way, Connie got her first job when she was 8. Stationed outside of the Laura Ashely store in the Galleria, she played for a weekend.
At 14, she recorded her first professional vocal debut for Magic 96.5. She sang two jingles for its “Magic Movie Monday” segment, and said she thought it was cooling being able to leave school and hear herself on the radio.
Including Connie, Act of Congress is made up of Adam Wright who assists with vocals and plays the mandolin, Chris Griffin on guitar and Tim Carroll on the upright bass. Connie said although the configuration of the band has morphed since its inception, the four of them have been the same since 2009.
Before she officially joined the band, she had known Adam, Chris and Tim through their own musical endeavors. One fateful morning, the three met up at a local restaurant to discuss potentially forming a band. At that time, Connie had turned down the offer to pursue other goals but eventually, she found her way back to the group and said she hasn’t looked back since.
“These guys are my best friends, they are my brothers,” Connie said of her bandmates. “We are a close-knit group that started with a song Adam was recording called “Chance Meeting.” Isn’t that an appropriate title? It was the first project we would play on together and is still a favorite today. The humble beginnings have led to wonderful opportunities to share our music with people all around the world.”
It isn’t just the music that makes Connie love being in the band, it’s also her members and being a part of the team.
“I couldn’t have ever reached this level, or more importantly had this much fun, if I had become a solo artist,” she said.
When people think of Act of Congress, many think of Christmas music and the festivities of December. And there’s a magic in performing during this time that won’t be found anywhere else, Connie said.
“I think we would all agree there is something very special about performing with your hometown symphony at Christmas, there’s nothing like it,” Connie said. “Standing on stage with some of the finest musicians playing your music—It’s an incredible feeling to sing the classic tune “Oh Holy Night,” stomp your feet to “Sugar Plum Fairy,” experience the joy of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and participate in the awe and wonder of Christmas through the power of beautiful, technical arrangements. It’s a musical journey that pulls on your heart.”
Act of Congress’s Christmas music is unique and every note has a purpose according to Connie. She even mentioned an upcoming song they have coming out that they have been working on. Despite studio sessions being stressful at times, she said there’s nothing like hearing a finished project.
“We put our very heart and soul into the creative process of arranging these songs,” Connie said. “We just finished up our version of “We Three Kings.” It’s such an incredible process to take a song like that and make it our very own. All of the grueling hours of work seem to pay off when you walk out of the studio with a product you are proud of.”
The band has many goals, as does Connie. She said her biggest dream is to sell out the Samford Wright Center, which the band will be playing on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. The band will play alongside Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
Although Connie has been able to travel about the state and country and see cities some will never get the chance to see, Connie has found a home in Helena.
Putting down roots in 2015, Connie was actually on tour when the Skellies’ closed on their house in town, a cottage home that was moved from Bluff Park to Helena in the ‘70s. With four kids, one in college, one a junior and the other two eighth and fourth graders, the house has already been witness to many important life events.
“It’s the sweetest home with the best neighbors, and we love it here,” Connie said. “I appreciate so many things about this place. From the beauty of the area to the special people that live here. But for me, I’m mostly thankful for all the teachers and staff that love and serve all the kids in our beautiful community.”
Thanks to Connie and Act of Congress, Christmas in Helena is just a little bit more magical. The band will hit the stage in Helena at the annual Helena Lighting of the Tree on Friday, Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. and anyone is welcome to join for free.
“We are so thrilled to be performing in Helena,” Connie said. “We can’t wait to experience the joy of the Holiday season with everyone there beneath the backdrop of beautiful Old Town. Merry Christmas Helena!”
Those interested in seeing Act of Congress live can find tickets or times for shows in and around the area at Actofcongressmusic.com/shows.