I have been a big supporter of the St. Lou Fringe festival since its inception three years ago. This year I was out of town for most of the festival’s run (June 18-22), so I only got to six events. Rather than writing a review of each one, I have decided put them into three groups: hits, misses, and flops (a.k.a. “I want my 45 minutes back”). We’ll start with the hits.
In the great tradition of James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto," the Emotions' "Black Christmas" and Brook Benton's "Soul Santa," Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings express a soulful yuletide spirit from an urban, African-American point of view. "Ain't No Chimneys in the Project" is a contemporary Christmas classic.
Nothing quite says the holidays like Conor Oberst, Bright Eyes and a 1940s Christmas classic. OK, that's a bit of an overstatement; still, this recording of Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson's "Blue Christmas," cut by Bright Eyes in 2002 and recently reissued by Saddle Creek, rings out as charming and sincere as a silver bell.
If you love holiday music, you surely love the way tradition gets updated, refreshed and sometimes warped. On "Running With Rudolph," St. Louis' the Lucky Old Sons do just that -- in a swinging '50s rock 'n' roll style no less -- with one of the season's most venerable characters.
Los Angeles band the Blank Tapes confess that they haven't been very good this year, but they make up for it on the delightful honky-tonk pop of "No Gifts This Xmas."
It find it interesting that an IMDB listing on screenwriter and playwright William Gibson — he of “The Miracle Worker” fame — fails to mention his 1975 Christmas play, “The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut and the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree” (hereafter “Tree”). Although, once you’ve covered dramatizing the early life of Helen Keller, tackling the birth of Jesus with talking trees and animals, a psycho Herod, a confused but patient Joseph, and a Mary who could probably reconcile the parties involved in the war in the Middle East, I think we’d all focus on the success with Helen.
This year the Gateway Men’s Chorus tempted Santa with potato latkes instead of his usual milk and cookies. Blending the traditions of two great festivals of light, Christmas and Hanukkah, the GMC added new levels of meaning to both.
A Gnome for Christmas (Written by Sarah Brandt, Directed by Doug Finlayson) is a Holiday musical now being presented by the Imaginary Theatre Company, the resident, professional, touring ensemble of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
Oh ye merry music fans, do we have a compilation for you. The second volume of KDHXmas features 17 artists from St. Louis and beyond, all playing brand new and/or familiar songs to make the season bright.