While attending last week's Cord & Pedal Christmas concert at the Charleston Music Hall, I had to wonder if a tourist or two had possibly wandered into the show, thinking they were going to be getting a more traditional Christmas program. It certainly wasn't outside the realm of possibility, what with the CMH decorated to the nines for the annual Moranz Entertainment Christmas show. Even for those in the know though, this year's C&P throwdown—nicknamed "The Ball in The Hall"—represented a whole new level to an annual celebration that got its start at Cumberland's and had moved around to other local clubs and taverns, including The Music Farm, The Map Room, The Pour House, and Tin Roof. Now organizer Kevin Hanley had decided to kick things up a notch, and the assembled crowd of hipsters, local music fans, and curiosity seekers seemed eager to see what surprises this year's installment held.
The theme of this year's show revolved around a fake telethon sponsored by a fictional pharmaceutical company calling itself "Joyalot." As a who's-who of local musicians manned the phone banks located on one side of the stage, local comedians Jeremy McLellan and Tim Hoeckel played the hosts; introducing the acts, popping Joyalot tablets like the pieces of candy they likely were, and keeping the crowd entertained between acts. The pair were sometimes joined by actress Camille Lowman, who played the unfiltered and ambitious wife of one of the hosts.
The first musical act up was The Silver Bells, which frontman Nicholas Doyle described as "Charleston's favorite Christmas band." Among the original songs the band performed, the best was "Letter to Mrs. Claus," a sad country song about how Santa's better half ends up alone every Christmas Eve.
Next up were the Early Birds, consisting of singer Rachel Kate Gillon and some of her cohorts from the Early Bird Diner where she works as a waitress. The Early Birds turned in a cover of Bob Rivers' "I Am Santa Clause" (which was itself a parody of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man"), as a giant portrait of Santa himself, complete with glowing red eyes, served as a backdrop.
The band Magic Camp played an interesting take on the traditional "The Little Drummer Boy," as well as a medley about elves, while the Tin Rooftop Prancers blew the roof off the Hall thanks to singers Lindsay Holler and Lesley Carroll, a kickass brass section, and renditions of Lindsay Buckingham's "Holiday Road" as well as "Merry Christmas, Baby."
The Dumb Doctors performed a spot-on version of the Kinks' "Father Christmas," as well as "Christmas Bop" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
Lovable ukulele goofballs The V-Tones turned in a delightful set that consisted of "Mele Kalikimaka," the Pink Floyd-flavored "Porcelain Penguin" (with Lee Barbour on guitar), and a very amusing pro-marijuana original called "Teeny Tiny Colorado Christmas Tree."
Hearts & Plugs, which consisted of members of Brave Baby, Run Dan Run, and Elim Bolt among others, gave a great, high-energy set that featured an eclectic assortment of songs, including "Blue Christmas," "Christmas Time is Here," "I'll Be Home For Christmas," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," and even a spoken word version of "The Little Drummer Boy."
Finally, for the finale, the Shrimp Records Family Band pulled out all the stops. First husband and wife Vikki Matsis and Lee Barbour performed a gorgeous version of Tim Minchin's "White Wine in the Sun," which is easily one of the more beautifully off-beat holiday songs I've ever heard. Next a band that included another husband and wife team, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent (a.k.a. Shovels & Rope), as well as Jack Burg, Bill Carson, and Joel Hamilton, played a mix of classics and originals. The rowdy "Merry Christmas (What's the Difference?)" got folks up and dancing, while Hamilton's "It's Christmas and I Can't Find My Mom" kept the momentum going. Burg emerged from behind his drum kit to sing a slightly altered cover of Modern English's "Melt With You," sung from a snowman's point of view, while Hearst ended things on a high note by inviting all of the evening's participants up to the stage for a communal jam on "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."
While some of the more casual aspects that make the C&P Christmas Show what it normally is were noticeably absent (the traditional drunken Michael Saliba Santa was particularly missed), this year's show nonetheless accomplished its task of getting local music fans into the spirit of the season. Here's hoping that Hanley and his crew continue to make this an annual event. Much like the Festival of Lights and the local Christmas parades, the Cord and Pedal Christmas Show has become a holiday tradition here in the Lowcountry.