… No vittles to et, but the company sure was good, you bet!
OK, enough of that falderol …
My father was a minister (at Freedom Plains Presybterian Church, very close to Poughkeepsie, NY); pretty-much as far back as I can remember, while he was alive, I had something to do with the Christmas services or festivities at the church. I believe my first singing performance outside of our house was a rendition of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” performed for the senior citizens group that met at our church – that would have been either our first or second Christmas in Freedom Plains, so I was either 2 & 1/2 or 3 & 1/2. Starting when I was 5, I sang in choirs at the church. When I got older and moved away from the area, I would always try to be home for my mother’s birthday (12/23) and Christmas Eve. I would help out around the church however necessary, lighting candles, dimming lights for the candlelight services, moving chairs, cleaning up, whatever needed to be done to help. Christmas Eve dinner was a peanut butter & jelly sandwich eaten in the half hour or so of down time between the two early evening services (there was a third service at 11pm). The first two services on Christmas Eve were filled with singing, lots of carols and a few songs from one or more of the various choirs in the church; also, these services were filled with little kids. My mother called these services, especially the earliest (5pm) service, “the screamer services”, and would sometimes give them a miss because they got so loud, but I really loved it. For me, the hustle and bustle and helping my dad and restless kids and all that singing just got me in the mood for Christmas, no matter what the rest of the year was like.
In recent years, a new Christmas tradition has come into my life, another one which involves music and helping others.
A couple of weeks ago brought our two Christmas Cavalcades, at Johnny D’s in Somerville on Thursday night and at the Jailhouse in Orleans on Sunday night. These are annual events, where Chandler pulls out most of his Christmas music. Chandler has MANY Christmas songs; to do all of them would leave little time for any special guests, and as the Philharmonic is all about the pagentry, the Cavalcades are all about the special guests.
Oh, and helping the homeless at Christmas … yeah, we do that, too.
Quite well, as a matter of fact – this year, with the two shows, we raised around $6000 for the Somerville Homeless Coalition and the NOAH Shelter of Hyannis. I’ll tell ya, it’s good for the soul to do shows like this.
Especially when the freakin’ music is so good and so much fun!
For these Christmas Cavalcade shows, Chandler augments the Philharmonic and June Trailer Dancers (our horn section) with several female backup singers, whom collectively he refers to as the Athol Thingerth (The Athol Thingerth name comes from Chandler’s song “Chrithmath in Athol”) In Somerville, the Athol Thingerth were Jennifer Kimball, Merrie Amsterburg, Anne Heaton, and Rose Polenzani – all of whom are phenomenal singers that you should all check out ASAP. One of the highlights every year is the Athol Thingerth singing the hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” – they sound so lovely, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. This year they added another hymn to their repertoire, “On This Day, Earth Shall Reign”. Geez, I could listen to them all night long.
Another highlight was the Boston Typewriter Orchestra – yes, they play typewriters – they get some really cool rhythms going – it was pretty freakin’ cool.
Chandler always manages to get some cool Boston-area legends to show up at the Cavalcades up in Boston. A couple years back we had Jon Pousette-Dart, Robin Lane, and Frank Rowe (from the Classic Ruins). Last year we had Andy Pratt and were supposed to have Willie Alexander and T. Max, but our Boston show was rescheduled due to snow and they couldn’t make the rescheduled show. This year Chandler managed to get Livingston Taylor, comedian Jimmy Tingle, and Sal Baglio (from the Stompers). All did a fantastic job. Sal was a big highlight for me, playing “Run Run Rudolph” with Dinty, Chandler and Rikki as his band.
The big finale featured Jen D’Angora (Downbeat 5), who had already kicked ass with a fantastic version of Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” with her new band Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents, and Shaun Wolf Wortis singing the Big Dee Irwin & Little Eva song “I Wish You a Very Merry Christmas”, which Chandler segued into his Christmas-ized version of Huey Smith’s “Don’t You Just Know It”.
The more a write this, I realize that it’s coming across that practically everything in the show was a highlight for me … and I suppose it was all one big highlight … really, it’s such a fun show.
Hell, and I haven’t even yet mentioned the Greenheads playing “Santa Rolling Stone” (Steve Wood’s Christmas-ized version of “Daddy Rolling Stone”) and “Merry Christmas Baby” (based on the BellRays’ cover of the Charles Brown song, which Sarah Swain just sings the hell out of). Oh, and Chandler’s duet with Jen Kimball on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. Geez, and the three interpretive dances by Jessica Schroeder (Cabaret du Somerville) which were scattered among the other performances. Or our new annual tradition – trying to keep from laughing too hard when Shaun sings Nat King Cole’s “Toyland” with crazy background singing by the Athol Thingerth plus Chandler, Dinty, and me. Or “We Three Kings” as performed kinda country style by Merrie Amsterburg, with a whole slew of us singing on the chorus and guest “king” performances by Dinty, Chandler, and me. Heck, there was Dinty Child singing Mark Sandman’s “Snow”, too – I’m tellin’ ya, everything was a highlight in its own way, and I bet I must’ve forgotten something else cool.
Really, if you haven’t been before – be sure to try to make it next year if you live anywhere near Boston. It’s the best night of the year.
Except for maybe the Cape Cod Cavalcade, that is.
The Boston Cavalcade always has a sort of metropolitan feel, I think – although it feels more like a community event every year, as we have our own traditions and many of the same special guests. There’s a hipster element to the event, which I really love. The Cape Cod Cavalcade really feels like a small town, community production. A few years ago we outgrew Joe’s Beach Road Bar & Grille, a little bar in Orleans, MA, and moved the event to the Jailhouse Tavern, also in Orleans. The event is held in a function room that’s also used for wedding receptions, reunions, that sort of thing. In the past we’ve had folks who read Christmas stories from books, a clown from Ringling Bros Circus, and performances by local actors in addition to the various musical acts.
The general consensus is that this year Chandler may have put together the best Cape Cod Cavalcade yet. The pacing of the show was good, the performances were all sound, and it was just plain FUN with a capital “FUN”.
And that was without 3 featured performers who had to cancel due to weather or illness, Livingston Taylor, Merrie Amsterburg, and Link Montana; and with a version of the June Trailer Dancers that was put together that afternoon because none of our scheduled horn players was able to make the trip from Boston – oh, and one of the Boston guys had the horn charts, too (thank goodness for Berke MacKelvey, who knows this stuff from previous years); and without our multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Dinty Child (though Tim Dickey did a fine job filling in, of course).
Special guests Patty Larkin and Philo Rockwell King made it, though, and both were great. It was a great treat to hear Patty again, as it’s been a long time (since some big anniversary show for Passim’s that was held over two nights at the Orpheum Theater in Boston – 20 or 25 years ago, maybe?) Rock King did this really hysterical Cole Porter comedic medley, which was probably the biggest highlight for me, as I’ve always wanted to see him and had yet to have the chance (though I did once make it to the parking lot one night he played at O’Shea’s Olde Irish Inne, in Dennis, but there was no place to park!)
The last couple of years we’ve added a few very cool local groups to the regular mix. Last year it was Tripping Lily, who overwhelmed many of us with their choice harmonies and sparse arrangements. This year we were lucky enough to get both them and the Parkington Sisters, a quintet of Wellfeetian sisters who play various stringed instruments (guitar, cello, mandolin, violin) and sing beautifully. Tripping Lily plays around a single microphone, moving in closer to it when they sing a lead vocal or play a part that needs emphasis. After playing together the previous night at W.H.A.T‘s “Yule for Fuel” performance, the Parkington Sisters decided to give the single mic approach a try. It worked pretty well, I thought, especially for trying it for the first time after being used to individual mics in the past.
Another new band for this year was Toast and Jam. Though all three members of the band (Tim Dickey, Julie Wanamaker, and Laird Bowles) have played past Cavalcades. In fact, last year Tim & Julie sang together on Toini & the Tomcats’ “Christmas in July” (which they did again this year, with Chandler & Rikki augmenting on bass & drums), but they hadn’t yet formed the current group. Julie also joined forces with the three members of the Ticks to form the Cape Cod version of the Athol Thingerth.
Speaking of the Ticks … well, if you’ve never seen them, you’re missing out. I’ll admit it, I have had crushes on all three of them since I first saw them at their 2nd ever gig, 7 or 8 years ago. All three of them write songs and sing, and I think they have a great sense of arrangement and harmonies. They don’t play quite as much as they used to, what with two of them having had two babies each in the last couple of years, but when they do play, it’s such a treat. I think they just keep getting better. This year, they wrote a little play, a 5 minute or so version of the Grinch, which opened & closed with the “fahoo foray’s” of the TV special, included a Grinch rap, and featured the Ticks as various Whos from Whoville, me as Max the dog, and Chandler as narrator and Grinch. Not to crow too very much, but I was told by several people that it was one of the big highlights of the show. Special thanks to Ticks drummer Julia Randall for the costume:
Brown oven mitts, a do-rag, and a little brown makeup … the smirk is all me!
A couple of years ago, the highlight for me was a performance by Stephen Russell (of W.H.A.T.), who did a monologue as one of Santa’s elves filling Christmas wishes for then Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. I thought it was a very Robert Benchley type of performance. Unfortunately, Stephen couldn’t make it last year, but he did this year, and did not disappoint. This year his performance was an oil company representative’s side of a telephone conversation with Barack Obama. Very reminiscent of some of Bob Newhart’s one-sided conversations and very funny.
And the comedy continued with the Shook Fambly Singers (Liz Shook, accompanied on guitar by her father Steve) and their rendition of Robert Earl Keen’s “Christmas From the Family”. This has become an annual tradition at the Cape Cod Cavalcade, and I think this year’s performace might have been their best yet. Really, you haven’t heard this song if you haven’t heard Liz sing it.
At the end of the evening, the chairs in front of the stage were moved off to the side and the dancing music got started. The Ticks, augmented by Julie Wanamaker, Chandler, and me on vocals and Philharmonic keyboardist Phil Clements, backed “Ticky” (a/k/a Rikki) Bates for Elvis’ “Blue Christmas”. The Greenheads rocked the house as they always do, playing Steve’s song “Smokin’ Euphoria”, “Santa Rolling Stone”, and “Merry Christmas Baby” (local contractor and Johnny Cash sound-a-like Randy McDonald and I helped out on the “Jingle Bells” sections). The Rip it Ups brought their big sound and Jody’s big growlin’ voice to the stage and tried to warm us all up with the Hawaiian “Mele Kalikimaka”, Elvis’ “Santa Claus is Back in Town”, and “Sleigh Bell Rock”. The Incredible Casuals, slipping briefly out of their winter hibernation, played their surf instrumental version of “Sleigh Ride” and played a Christmas song new for them, the Del Lords’ “Merry Christmas Baby” (Aaron sang it). Ruth Condon sang a mariachi version of “O Come All Ye Faithful”, sung in Spanish and made complete for me by having NRBQ’s Joey Spampinato wearing a very touristy sombrero:
(potential blackmail material, perhaps?)
For the finale, the Philharmonic took to the stage once more, augmented by the June Trailer Dancers and the Athol Thingerth. Kami Lyle and Chandler sang a delightful “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, the band played “Wanna Rock Christmas”, and Julie Wanamaker sang a duet with Chandler on the Big Dee Irwin & Little Eva barn burner “I Wish You a Very Merry Christmas” which, as in Boston, morphed into “Don’t You Just Christmas/Silent Night”, and just for the fun of it, back into “I Wish You a Very Merry Christmas”.
We play most of these songs two or three times a year, we have maybe one rehearsal per show, we get people to sing songs they’ve never heard before. Then it all goes into the back of the songbook until next year. It really is insanity, but it sure is fun, and I know I wouldn’t miss it. It’s the party of the year, it fills my personal desire/need for Christmas music and service to others, and we make some pretty darn good money for a couple of deserving charities, too.
Thanks to Chandler for putting these together every year. I sure hope this tradition continues for a long time.