With its twinkling strings of Christmas lights, the stage at Bourgie Nights looks festive any time of year. It’s poised to get even cheerier Friday night. Christmas Unplugged: A Holiday Songwriting Showcase returns with 15 singer-songwriters from the Wilmington area. Each will perform two holiday songs and one original.
Local songwriter and producer Sean Thomas Gerard has hosted the event since he began managing Bourgie Nights six years ago. The showcase spawned from Wilmington Unplugged, a series held in venues across the city, which also hosted a Christmas showcase each December. In past years, the event has had a theme: Two years ago, for example, musicians played Tom Petty songs as part of “A Very Petty Christmas.” Though Gerard acknowledges the event’s success (“It was about as good as the showcase could get,” he says), he worried themes were beginning to detract from the showcase’s original intent: to celebrate the holidays.
Gerard sought help from Catherine Hawksworth, proprietor of Front Street “lifestyle store” Modern Legend, for the 2019 lineup. Hawksworth has become one of the Port City’s biggest champions of live music, promoting shows at Modern Legend, Bourgie Nights, Palate and Satellite. Joining Gerard on the bill are longtime friends Justin Lacy, Travis Shallow and Jason Andre, as well as first-timers, such as McKay Glasgow (of Tumbleweed and new shoegaze outfit Lauds), Cara and Jay of Uncommon Ground Trio, and local indie-rock artist Kevin Earl.
The showcase offers participants a chance to share in the merrymaking that sometimes eludes touring songwriters. “I’m a self-employed musician, so I don’t have a holiday office party to look forward to,” Lacy says. It also allows them to demonstrate their talents for a packed crowd.
“[In Wilmington] you don’t always get to play for a captive audience,” Gerard says, “so I feel like it’s a good opportunity for everybody to showcase something they wrote.”
According to Gerard, musicians call dibs on holiday songs via a group Facebook message to ensure there isn’t overlap. “We make fun of each other and talk about eggnog for like two months,” he says. The group also serves a social purpose. “It’s just been a fun forum for us all to communicate for a month or two prior to the show, and for everybody to get in the holiday spirit.”
Gerard grew up in Pittsburgh, where he says snowfall marked the approaching holiday season. In southeastern NC hot days pepper December, so the holiday showcase is one of many ways to mark the season’s official arrival.
Lacy explores that dynamic in “80 Degree Yuletide High”—a song he describes as “lamenting the struggle to get into the Yuletide spirit on an unseasonably warm December day.” The songwriter’s idiosyncratic style has entertained every holiday showcase since the very first Beatles-themed one at The Whiskey in 2010. His Christmas material includes a memorable rendition of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” while his oeuvre of originals feature “Eggnog Shake” and a song he wrote based on a letter his mother wrote describing her Christmases growing up in 1960s Newport, NC. He’s also famous for inviting friends to the stage to perform with him. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play with less than eight people on stage,” Gerard jokes.
Gerard will play classics like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and his own version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” He recorded it in 2017 for the Hourglass Studios Christmas album. “I’m into the Sinatra-type style of holiday music,” he admits.
In lieu of a cover charge, attendees can bring toys or make a cash donation to Toys for Tots. “I’m making this contribution on behalf of the songwriting community so that everybody involved in the show has the feeling they’re doing something good for somebody,” Gerard says.