After listening to and watching hours and hours of recordings of Andy Williams, Ben Utecht finally came to a conclusion.
“You’ll have to realize you’ll never be Andy Williams,” Utecht said. “Then you can allow your own style to come through.”
Utecht, the Rochester native who went on to a career in the National Football League, is now a professional singer, will be featured in “An Andy and Bing Christmas.” The show will be presented Dec. 1 at Mayo Civic Center, with Utecht singing Andy Williams’ Christmas favorites, and Mick Sterling singing Bing Crosby’s holiday tunes. They’re backed by a 17-piece band and five background singers.
“It’s a walk down memory lane,” said Utecht. “We want to replicate that time as much as possible. You’re going to feel like you’re watching it on TV.”
By “that time” Utecht means the 1950s and 1960s, when Christmas holiday specials were regular fare on network television. Year after year, Williams hosted one of the most popular of those specials.
“I grew up listening to his songs without knowing who he was,” Utecht said. Now, he knows for sure that Williams was a great singer. “From a pure singing perspective, he sang circles around everyone,” Utecht said.
Utecht, who as a boy lived in Rochester when his father was pastor at Evangel United Methodist Church, said he’s looking forward to performing in front of a hometown audience. “I’m going to have a lot of family there,” he said. “It’s always fun to come back to Rochester.”
Utecht attended high school in Hastings, then played football at the University of Minnesota. After college, he signed with the Indianapolis Colts, and played on the team that won the Super Bowl following the 2006 season. However, a series of concussions cut short his football career. He had always planned on a career in music after his playing days, and has recorded four albums, including the Dove Award-nominated “Christmas Hope.”
Studying the easy-going singing style of Andy Williams, though, is a completely new challenge. “He just made it seem like it was nothing,” Utecht said.
Five classic songs you’ll hear at “An Andy and Bing Christmas”
1. “Happy Holiday.” One of Andy Williams’ signature Christmas songs.
2. “It’s a Marshmallow World.” The best-known version is by Dean Martin.
3. “O Holy Night.” A big solo number for Ben Utecht.
4. “Mele Kelikimaka.” A Hawaiian holiday favorite from Bing Crosby.
5. “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” performed by Twin Cities singer Cate Fierro.
An Andy and Bing Christmas
7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1
Mayo Civic Center Presentation Hall, 30 Civic Center Dr. SE, Rochester
$27 general public, $24.50 members, available at the civic center box office, at Riverside Concerts office in City Hall, and through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000.