Last night's Christmas Show, etc.

Although I've had a bit of the Holiday Season Blues for the past week or so, I'm pleased to say that my mood has received a positive boost these last two days due to the magic of Christmas carols. Despite my recent bouts of annoyance and weariness caused by the seemingly insurmountable dysfunction within the global religious climate, there's something about the simple beauty of seasonal music that reminds me of the reason we all bother with the challenges of faith in the modern world.

Last night I played perhaps my first officially-billed "Christmas Show." A Twin Cities-area congregation sponsored the gig, and set it up as a benefit for Lutheran World Hunger and a local food pantry. I gathered my trusty rhythm section (John Kerns on bass, Troy Alexander on drums) and my long-time friend and keyboard whiz Joel Setterholm (piano) for an evening of Advent and Christmas music, plus some of my own original yuletide tunes.

We met at the church to set up and soundcheck in the mid-afternoon, and once we got the band rockin' thru the church's built-in retro 3-channel PA system (whew!) I challenged my band to tackle some of the holiday genre's most obscure and twisty musical selections. I love playing with Troy, Kerns, and Joel 'cause they're all pretty fearless, and they are excellent music-theorists as well...I stick the old hymnal in front of them and they can instantly sightread the bass and treble clef. A rare and powerful skill in the rock&roll realm, indeed.

Before the gig we cruised over to the nearby retail strip, and I whipped up an evening setlist as we enjoyed a quick dinner at a locally-operated Mexican fast food place. I was planning on including many of my typical ecclesiastical-rock tunes such as "Workin' My Committee" and "Hey Hey Samuel," but when we got back to the church and I saw that my audience was 90% senior citizens, I crossed off all the loud, screamy rock tunes and filled the set list with quiet acoustic numbers instead. Even though the evening turned out mellower than I initially expected, the show went very well, the audience was glued, the band was freeflowing and tasty, and I felt like I really got to communicate...the low volume level and polite attention from the crowd created a really nice Christmassy intimacy. This was the set list we played after I edited out all the raucous songs:

Gospel Verses (one of my most favorite tunes to play off the new album...very Buddy Miller!)
Glory in the Highest
Comfort Comfort Now My People (in alternating 5/4 and 6/4 time...nice work, band!)
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (Sound Theology version, with singing)
Four Candles (one of the best versions of this one EVER, with Joel's awesome piano playing)
Cold, but I Don't Mind (a rare one that I really love to play)
Cold December Flies Away (a Catalonian Carol...I learned that Catalonia is in Spain)
Out Behind the Old Hotel
Bethlehem Tonight (Xmas song from my new album...played with a drum-loopy groove)
The Serious Kind
Librarian (John Kerns amazing harmony vocals, as usual!)
Smart Girls
Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming (solo acoustic bluegrass version)
Wake Awake for Night is Flying (solo acoustic...this is a crazy, trippy, beautiful lost Xmas gem)
Narthex (always one of my personal faves...thanks, audience, for the comments on this one!)
Canticle for Departure (from the new album, and another of my personal faves)
Go Tell it on the Mountain

So that was the gig. Around forty folks in the audience...probably 30 senior citizens, 2 boomers, 6 GenX-ers, plus a few toddlers and babies. Everybody was way into it, and I was thankful for the opportunity to play. A lovely, quiet evening, and we all felt the good vibe.

To cap off this weekend, this evening my family went over to the home of our own congregation's music director for a Christmas Carol party. Paul Andress is a brilliant musician, great party host, and cool guy, and a few dozen folks from Edina Community Lutheran Church gathered for an evening of food and songs. After we ate we all gathered in a large family room with a couple guitars, bass, and banjo (I played accordion) and the whole group sang some classic Holiday songs. We did all the big hits like "White Christmas" and "Rudolph" and it was so wonderful to hear our voices rising up. I watched my baby daughter sleeping in someone's arms during the singing and I imagined all those neurons connecting in her young brain: chords, melodies, harmonies, dynamics, rhythms, etc. And my son Paavo was especially excited to sing "Frosty the Snowman." How rare it is these days for families to gather in a private home and sing and play music was like a glimpse into community life from 100 years ago, pre-radio, pre-internet, pre-Desperate Housewives. Thanks to Paul and friends for a simple, wonderful, and simply wonderful evening of music, food, and friendship. Ahh, the Christmas spirit.


I love "Wake, Awake for Night is Flying." Of course, I love a lot of carols, too. However, that is one of my all time favorites. I think my favorite from the LBW is "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly", though.

I know, it is rare to gather together. That's one of the things I have loved about St. Paul at Christmastime. We always seem to have some type of gathering where we are together in a home or at least in the fellowship hall and we sing Christmas carols - weather planned or not.

Stein Auf!

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