It was time for Ingrid Michaelson’s 10th Annual Holiday Hop. For this year, she went back to where it began at Bowery Ballroom. I had asked Kenny (the sound guy) if he could reserve a table for me and I hadn’t heard from him before I would have to leave the house in order to secure a seat if I didn’t have a reserved table. So I was at the basement bar in the club early and checking out the crowd while I pushed my way towards the front of the line. There were a lot of young women, many of them with Christmassy hats and headgear. A few had dragged their boyfriends along. There were male gay couples. And bizarrely a few older men – I was hoping they had accompanied their younger daughters.
Kenny sent me a text that I had a table so I went over to one of the benches to wait until the doors opened. Two women (I was about to say older women but I forget how old I am) asked if they could sit next to me. Turns out they’re on the VIP list and one is a friend of the family. They had questions about where the stage was and where they would sit that I answered. When the doors opened they rushed upstairs but I took my time since I knew I had a table. I went over to the side where my table would usually be but all the tables were taken and then I went over to what is usually the VIP section and saw that it was not roped off and all the tables were taken except one that had my name on it. The women asked if they could sit with me and I said yes. It seemed that some of the younger patrons had shoved the women out of the way so that they could get to the tables first. What was unusual was that there was no roped off VIP section and no tables had been saved. Then Ingrid’s brother and his friend showed up – since they didn’t have a table we found two empty chairs from the other tables and they joined us. Someone from the Bowery Ballroom came over to ask if one of us was me and I assured him the person who the table was reserved for was at the table. The friend of the family was talking with the brother so I didn’t join the conversation but later I found out he’s a high school teacher and he enjoys it very much. He mentioned that Ingrid had just played two shows at the Beacon Theatre and they didn’t sell out so she was afraid to hold the Holiday Hop at one of the larger locations so she came back to the Bowery Ballroom and the show sold out in 20 minutes. During the show, Ingrid would tell us that she decided to come back to Bowery Ballroom for a more intimate show for the tenth anniversary. But she was thrilled that the show sold out so quickly. Slowly more VIPs (Ingrid’s family and friends including a cousin who looked a lot like Ingrid) started showing up and all were disappointed that there were no tables. They stood around us and complained. When greeting Ingrid’s brother they’d all have a surprised look and make a face like, “Who the hell is she?” I said something to the brother about that and he said they should be wondering why we’re at your table. Ingrid’s brother and friend eventually gave up their seats to an aunt and someone else. Who knew that I would rate more than the performer’s VIPs?
The people were getting restless and then Chas Montgomery (Ian Axel from A Great Big World) came out to play the keyboards (“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”) while some “older” people slowly made their way across the stage to the mics. Up front were Ethel, Edith, and Edna and behind them were their husbands. Of course, it was Ingrid and Allie Moss (guitars/vocals) up front. I wasn’t sure who the other woman was – could it be Bess Rogers, who used to play with guitar for Ingrid and is married to Chris Kuffner (standup and electric bass/vocals)? She’s pregnant now and not touring. I wasn’t sure. The women all had on wigs and were wearing track suits with sneakers and Christmas headgear and sunglasses. The men had on old man makeup and ugly Christmas sweaters and were using canes and two were wearing Santa hats. The other “husbands” were Saul Simon-MacWilliams (keyboards/accordion/vocals) and Elliot Jacobson (drums) plus one extra man, Billy Libby (guitars/vocals) using a cane. They were going to start with their hits. The group normally sings every other Saturday at a nursing home in Staten Island. There was “O Christmas Tree Lot,” “We All Went to the Mall” (sung to the tune of “We Could Have Had It All”), “Welcome to the Old Age” (didn’t recognize the tune). Then they were going to take some Christmas songs and make them more Jew-y. “Away in the Market,” “Rockin’ Around the Hanukkah Tree,” and “The Christmas Song” (“Hava Nagila”) with somewhere in there the Jewish prayer for food (Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam…). As grandparents, they complained about their grandchildren with “You Broke My Favorite Christmas Ball” (“Wrecking Ball”). More stories before “Do You Smell What I Smell?” “You Gotta Get Your Ham Early” (“I Wanna Hold Your Hand”), “I Kissed Santa and I Liked It” (“I Kissed a Girl”), and “Hello, You Should Call Me on My Home Phone” (“Hello”). All of the songs were done in very nasally New Yawk accents but “Eat Don’t Be Rude” was a song all about Christmas foods sung to the “Ring Christmas Bells (Carol of the Bells)” melody with all of them using their beautiful harmonies. Then they all shuffled off the stage to “Rudolph.”
The next opener was Nashville’s Sugar + The Hi-Lows, which is Trent Dabbs (vocals/acoustic guitar) and Amy Stroup (vocals/tambourine/silver glitter confetti). They opened with their original Christmas song from their holiday album “Home for the Holiday,” which has a lyric “You’re my home for the holiday.” I’m a sucker for a “you’re my home” lyric. “Shake That Gift” started with two tambourines banged together with the one filled with silver glitter spraying it up and over the stage. “Snow Angel” is their song that “went to number one in the North Pole.” The songs were slow with a folky/country sound. They played “I’ve Got You Covered,” “Sugar Cookie,” “Show and Tell,” and they ended with a rockabilly “Bees Left the Trees.” They were pleasant enough but didn’t blow me away.
At this point, the friend of the family asked if I was a reporter (because I had been taking notes). I assured her that I wasn’t but I think I remained suspect for the rest of the evening.
There were Christmas songs over the sound system and when Mariah Carey came on, just about the entire room was singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” There were many missed high notes.
The band entered the stage and Ingrid took the center mic. She was wearing a green dress with full skirt, red sash with a big bow in the back, red buttons up the back, red and white striped socks with green bows on the front, red platform shoes, and gold tiara with a white fur headband. She started with her ukulele and “Home” and “Maybe.” Then she did a seasonal song since it mentions snow, “Snowfall,” which started with just vocals and keyboards and then the full band and then ended with just vocals. That was followed by “Still the One” and “Be OK.” She said that “Be OK” is so sad lyrically but the music is so upbeat. “This is how I bought a house. Music for commercials.” For “You and I” the band and the audience were doing the foot stomps and claps for the a cappella part.
There was a trivia contest with Christmas (and one Hanukkah) related questions. The prizes were sweatshirts and hoodies from Ingrid’s merch. Axel came out and played keyboards while Ingrid sang “Sally’s Song” from Nightmare Before Christmas and Kuffner played upright bass. Ingrid did a solo “The Way I Am” performed the way she wrote it – as a very slow song – on ukulele. She said that Old Navy approached her via her MySpace page (only the people over 30 remember what that was) and for years she didn’t like playing the happy song because, even though it was platinum, she didn’t connect with the song. Her beau, Will Chase, came out to huge applause and he sang “Can’t Help Falling in Love” with Ingrid on keyboards, which was a beautiful duet. She mentioned that in the last few years she’s lost her mother and gotten divorced (amicably) so her new album reflects that.
Allie, Bess, and Hannah Winkler came out to do a simply lovely reworked version of “Winter Song.” It was all gorgeous harmonies by the four women with Bess on acoustic guitar and Winkler on keyboards. There were also three women with glasses on stage. When Ingrid was bringing the women out she also jokingly announced Sara Bareilles (co-writer of the song). Ingrid was taking advantage of Bess being on stage so along with Allie (and without Winkler) they sang “Mele Kalikimaka” and Kuffner provided ukulele accompaniment.
The rest of the band came back and did a song that Ingrid said they haven’t done for a year. Which is a shame because the song was “The Chain” and it’s a wonderful showcase for the band, their harmonies, and Ingrid’s songwriting. Ingrid was on the keyboards and she mentioned how nice it was to play on a smaller stage because it was so intimate. During the tour all the musicians were further apart. Bess left and next was “Girls Chase Boys” and then her throwback song “Celebrate” (“miss those old school songs”) where she mentions playing Truth or Dare in the basement with Jimmy Clark and she shouts out during the song that it’s a true story. “Hell No” ended with confetti cannons shooting out paper and streamers all over the Bowery Ballroom.
Bess, Winkler, and Sugar + The Hi-Lows came back out for the rock montage – a sped up at punk speed medley of “Jingle Bells,” “White Christmas,” “I Have a Little Dreidel,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “The Christmas Song.”
Ingrid did her usual Holiday Hop encore. She came out with Kuffner, who played electric bass and even got a solo, for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” She was wearing a floor length hooded white fur coat that lit up. A lot of people like her version of this song but I think she can get too too with the emotions. But not so much that I can’t enjoy it.
I’d never been to a Holiday Hop before and I’m sorry to have missed them before because number ten was a lot of fun, a lot of the old Ingrid, and a lot of beautiful voices.
By Carene Lydia Lopez