The third edition of the Christmas Revels at Lisner Auditorium is the best yet. Centered on seasonal traditions from Appalachia and New England, it is a swirl of contrasts: brass septets and string bands, cloggers and modern dancers, jovial mummers' plays and serene poems, stark yet rousing Shaker hymns and exuberantly free jazz saxophone. There are sing-alongs and dance-alongs, and the whole affair simply envelops the audience with good cheer.
Jean Ritchie, the renowned Kentucky folk figure, is the focus of this Revels, and her gentle, genial spirit informs its progress. She gathers children round for stories drawn from her Cumberland roots; leads them in the game "Old Grandma Hobble-Gobble"; essays the shape-note hymn "Wondrous Love" solo before cushioning it in haunting harmonies from the three dozen voices of the Cumberland Chorus; trades verses on the traditional black carol "Mary Had a Baby" with Ruby Ellis; and generally provides an encompassing warmth that makes the Lisner stage seem lived in rather than just performed on.
That's possible because of Charles DePuy's stunning set, based on Ritchie's Viper, Ky., home. Settled under trees, steadied by the warmth of many wooden things, it manages several dualities: indoors and outdoors, night and day, now and many thens. It doesn't hurt that the production boasts the largest collection of colorfully dressed just-folks this side of Viper.
It's a gift to be entertained by such a program, which is repeated twice today and again tomorrow.