Our community thrives on supporting one another—whether that means eating locally grown food or buying goods hand-crafted right from ILM artists. And, so, ‘tis the season to listen locally, too.
Our musically diverse city will be highlighted this holiday season at Bourgie Nights’ annual Holiday Songwriter Showcase, to take place Friday, December 14. Four-time host Sean Thomas Gerard has created a master lineup of a dozen artists who have been instructed to play one holiday song, an original tune and a cover song from a local artist.
This year’s theme, “A Local Christmas,” was derived from the need to celebrate how strong our hometown can be after a tough season. “After Hurricane Florence, I really felt like this year’s theme should be centered around our local community and our immensely talented arsenal of local songwriters,” Gerard reflects. “We’ve had a hard few months here.”
Year after year, something about the showcase gives the final push everyone needs to get into the spirit. Stripped-down versions of holiday favorites add to the merriment, such as Justin Lacy’s famed and animated cover of the Dr. Seuss-inspired “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” (monologue included). Jason Andre’s acoustic version of “Little Drummer Boy” will be heard, only with a twist of the mandolin to showcase the tune in a new way.
“It’s so much fun to see everyone’s interpretations of holiday songs,” Gerard adds, “and always great to hear their takes on the year’s theme.”
Past showcases consisted of “A Beatles Christmas” and “A Very Petty Christmas” (2017’s homage to the late, great Tom Petty). It will be local musician Tres Altman’s fourth time playing the showcase. His eclectic musical leanings move toward blues, rock and Delta sounds, but he is remaining mum on details of what he will play—including a holiday tune he’s especially penned for the showcase.
“My 6-year-old kid knows I’m a songwriter now, and he said, ‘Daddy, do you have a Christmas song?’” Altman tells. “I thought, Mmmm, you know, I don’t! So this is the debut of my very first original Christmas song!”
Altman’s bandmates from The Paper Stars will join him for his performance on Bourgie’s stage, while veteran local musician Travis Shallow will be joined by bandmate Bob Russell, who now plays guitar, pedal steel, and lap steel for Travis Shallow and the Deep End.
“Bob and I do a lot of duo shows,” Shallow tells, “and are working on a live album right now, shooting for an early 2019 release. [We’re] gonna play ‘The Great Divide’ off my latest album. It was the first song I wrote after my solo album came out and it was the inspiration to follow and write the next album.”
According to Shallow, Russell’s pedigree in music—he taught at UNCW for 20 years and has worked with numerous local musicians—allows him to add textures and layers, unique to every song he plays. “He played last year with me [at the showcase,] and we had a blast,” Shallow tells. “He even wore a Santa hat … Bob’s my brother in arms.”
Russell and Shallow have chosen to cover local blues musician Randy McQuay’s “When My Ship Comes In.” The song, which Shallow originally heard on a video series “November 1718,” resonated so deeply that even then he knew he’d eventually cover it. “The theme of [playing] another local songwriter’s song led me down the road to do just that,” Shallow notes. As for which holiday cover the duo will play, Shallow only tells they’re going all instrumental.
“The showcase is always a good time,” he praises. “Any chance to play Bourgie Nights with other local cats and have the songwriter community under one roof is hard to organize and do, but every year Sean seems to pull it off. My hat’s off to him.”
Normally a soloist, first-timer Cara Schauble will be accompanied by Jay Killman on jazz guitar. Together they chose to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” “The song [lent] itself well to [Killman’s jazz stylings] and as soon as he suggested it, my creativity sparked,” she details. “Since there wasn’t one version of the song that I was more familiar with than another, it gave us more freedom to really make it our own. One of the great things about playing with Jay is that we read each other well musically, so every time we play something it’s a little different. Our cover will definitely be in the jazz realm, but we both take a lot of creative freedoms in our performances, so we will all be in for a bit of a surprise.”
Schauble also will cover fellow songstress Rebekah Todd’s “Til The Wheels Fall Off.” The process of deciding which local artist to cover was difficult for Schauble. After ditching an effort to change an unpredictable bluegrass tune by L Shape Lot’s Eric Miller into a darker, jazzier vibe, she and Killman decided on sourcing Rebekah Todd, who Schauble has always admired musically. With Todd’s blessing, Schauble and Killman worked together to nail down their unique take on her work.
“We had a great time learning the song and hope to do Rebekah proud,” Schauble says.
Despite being relatively new to the scene, Schauble says she’s been welcomed with supportive arms. Venues like Bourgie Nights make it easier by continuing to book local artists year-round.
“Every person is willing and excited to help pursue your art,” Schauble gushes. “Every artist I’ve met jumps at the chance to share their wisdom and show their support. . . . It means a lot to the musicians themselves to know that their passion and work is appreciated. It’s empowering to know that something you created yourself, and are proud of, is really heard.”
A Local Christmas:
Holiday Songwriter Showcase
December 14, 7 p.m. – 11 p.m.
127 Princess St.
Free with a Toy or $5 suggested donation to Toys for Tots
Additional reporting from Shannon Gentry and Shea Carver.