Locals (and Taylor Hicks) take over Mobile’s Saenger for Christmas shows

Locals (and Taylor Hicks) take over Mobile’s Saenger for Christmas shows

Note: This story first appeared in The Members. For more information, visit www.mobilelede.com.

Two seasonal concerts at the Mobile Saenger Theater promise to place listeners at the crossroads of homegrown talent and heartbreaking Christmas tradition.

This holiday treat just happens to fall on consecutive nights. First up, on Friday, December 16, is a holiday show with Roman Street and The Marlow Boys. The following night brings the 13th annual Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas Concert, with special guest Taylor Hicks.

Here’s what you can expect from each show.

A Roman Street – Marlow Boys Christmas

Headliner Roman Street is known for multicultural, acoustic-guitar-driven jazz that draws on influences as diverse as classical music, “Gypsy jazz” and flamenco.

The Marlow Boys take a similarly eclectic approach to roots rock. “Marlow Boys was a fun experiment,” said band member Joe Langley. “A lot of different variety in the music, a lot of different instrumentation in the music. We really branch out from bluegrass to country to pop-rock and maybe a little rockabilly every now and then.”

Take four accomplished artists with an encyclopedic catalog of roots and pop knowledge, a slightly off-kilter sense of humor and a willingness to jump into freewheeling musical mash-ups. Add a Christmas theme and you’re likely to get a few surprises.

“Every year we try to do something that puts each person in a little bit of a different situation,” Foster said. “Karl, we’ll feature him singing something from the drums. I think this year I’m going to be kind of a crooner, I’m going to do my Nat King Cole thing that I’ve never done before. Phil is going to do a Paul McCartney Christmas thing. Every year we choose something that our four-part harmony does a cappella.”

If the tips are to be believed, there’s a reasonable expectation to hear Tom Petty’s “Christmas All Over Again.” On a recent Wednesday night, during the standing “Phil & Foster” performance at Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, Proctor tested Harry Nilsson’s “Remember (Christmas),” a song he admitted contained no actual references to Christmas. “It’s very sad, and that’s why I love it,” he said.

And yes, the Paul McCartney song he does is that one. “The Paul McCartney song you either love or hate,” as he put it. “Wonderful Christmastime.”

“If you ever sat down and listened to it and took it apart, I think he was just making up the words as he went along,” Proctor said. “Some of the lines are the same as in previous verses, some are not, it’s a mess. So we streamlined it a little bit.”

The show starts at 19:30 December 16 at the Mobile Saenger Theatre; tickets are $29.50 and up, available via Ticketmaster.com and the Saenger and Civic Center box office.

Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas with Taylor Hicks

Over the past dozen years, this event masterminded by drummer John Milham has settled into a well-honed format.

First comes a set in which The Joe Cool Trio – Milham, along with keyboardist extraordinaire Chris Spies and bassist Chris Severin – recreate the album of music Vince Guaraldi created for the animated special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Much has been written about how Guaraldi’s music helped elevate the program from an oddity to a cultural touchstone: It’s jazz that’s at once sophisticated and accessible.

More to the point, it’s entertaining enough to keep young listeners so engaged that they may not notice their grown-up companions fighting to keep their composure as the waves of nostalgia roll over them.

After a few years of experimentation, Milham and Co. determined that setting up this setup allowed the small fry parents to leave on break and get their offspring to bed at a decent hour. Everyone else was free to stay and enjoy a second set of holiday music, usually with one or more guest stars.

This year, for the first time, it’s “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks, an Alabama native who has family ties to the Mobile area and paid a lot of dues in coastal Alabama before his rise to fame. Oddly enough, Hicks said despite his extensive history in the area, this stage will be a new one for him.

“I’ve never performed at the Saenger Theater in all my years,” Hicks said. “It will be my first time. I’ve bounced around Mobile in my career playing music and I’ve never performed at the Saenger Theater. I’ve always heard about it and it will more than likely be a special night for me.”

He will be warmed up by the time he gets there. December 9 featured a performance of Van Morrison hits and Christmas carols at Birmingham’s Lyric Theatre. It had a different backing band and a completely different program. But on Friday, Dec. 16, he would join the Joe Cool Trio for a Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas concert in Laurel, Miss.

“We should come in hot at the Saenger,” Hicks said. “We have a great set list of Christmas music. And it’s a departure from the Lyric show. This is a more Christmas-centric set list. I’m excited about it.”

“I enjoy doing Christmas music because it’s a departure from what I usually do,” he said. “I can really sink my teeth into making some Christmas classic my own … I can only be really creative at this time of year, with Christmas shows.”

Don’t expect to hear “Little Drummer Boy.” “That one, I don’t know whose idea it was, who came up with that one, but it’s definitely not one of my favorites,” Hicks said. “Please Come Home for Christmas” is more his speed, he said: “It’s an obvious choice. It’s an essay, but it’s a good one.”

The mobile show has a charitable component: A portion of the proceeds will go to the Child Advocacy Center. That suits Hicks, whose Dec. 9 show at the Lyric Theater benefited Toys For Tots.

“I hope this year is a really big year for giving,” Hicks said. “It’s been hard to give, the last few years, with COVID. … Hopefully all of these organizations and all of these charities, not just Toys for Tots, but all of these charities, will thrive more than most years.”

The “Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas” concert begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, at the Mobile Saenger Theater, 6 S. Joachim St. Tickets are $12 plus fees for children under 10, $30 plus fees General Admission. They are available at Ticketmaster outletsincluding the Saenger box office.

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