Courtesy photo

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus said he remembers when his little sister was born with serious health issues. She spent her only Christmas in a children’s hospital where she was surrounded by friendly faces. 

“I can still remember how she was surrounded by angels disguised as doctors and nurses who somehow brought the joy of the season into some pretty dark days,” Vaus said. 

Years later, Vaus — in memory of his little sister — began playing music at Rady Children’s Hospital during Christmastime with the hope of bringing the same joy to other children. This year, he’ll be hosting Carols by Candlelight for the 32nd year at California Center for the Arts in Escondido to benefit the hospital. 

“Carols is my way of paying that forward and honoring my sister’s memory,” said Vaus, who is also a professional musician. “It’s a beloved San Diego tradition that is a gift of music to the community and a gift of hope to the kids served by Rady Children’s Hospital. Children’s (Hospital) offers hope to families who are in circumstances similar to what my family experienced so they have been a natural partner for the event.”

The event, which was virtual last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will take place on Friday, Dec. 10 and Saturday, Dec. 11. The two-night concert will feature country music stars singing their hits and favorite holiday songs. This year’s headliner is Mark Wills, making his Carols by Candlelight debut. Wills, a member of the Grand Ole Opry, has eight Top 10 Country Singles, three Top 10 Country Albums and has been named Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist.  

Other headliners, and Carols by Candlelight veteran performers, include Jamie O’Neal, Vaus himself, and his daughter, Anna Vaus, who was recently named one of CMT’s Next Women of Country.

In the last five years of hosting the concert live, Vaus said they raised about $275,000 for the hospital. In 2019, they raised more than $60,000. He said he’ll be happy if the concert raises just half the amount given the challenges that have risen with the economic downturn and pandemic. 

The event costs about $100,000 to host with proceeds benefiting the hospital, he said. 

Following the on-stage performances, to close the evening, the audience and stars meet in the courtyard and sing “Silent Night” by candlelight. In addition to the live entertainment, the benefit also features a live auction offering autographed guitars and other items, as well as silent auction items and raffle prizes, donated by sponsoring organizations. 

VIP Orchestra seating, first 16 rows, is $94 per ticket, while the standard orchestra is $70 per ticket. Tickets are available (starting at $18) through the Box Office at (800) 988-4253.  Active-duty military and first responders may purchase tickets at the box office at 50% off regular prices (ID required). 

California Center for the Arts requires proof of vaccination or a negative test result within 72 hours. Home tests are acceptable. The venue also requires masks.

For more information or to purchase tickets, go to