Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Beams Sing and My Music Shine*

Who would have expected Balliceaux to deliver the merriest of Christmas evenings?

To start, Secretly Y'All, Tell Me a Story mixed things up this month. Instead of the usual array of storytellers, we got a reader in front of a video fireplace.

Writer Mark Mobley did an anti-war poem, Allen Ginsberg's "Wichita Vortex Sutra," and surely I wasn't the only one thrilled to be hearing the Beat's poetry read aloud. The thrill didn't stop there because he also did some John Donne and Ben Johnson before I was introduced to George Herbert* via his poem, "Christmas."

Be still my heart.

Mobley continued with some original material, including "Refresher Course," inspired by a friend who told him he hadn't cried in twenty years and "I, Claus" about his time as a Santa at Greenbriar Mall.

But he set the tone for the rest of the evening reading "A Visit from St. Nicholas," including the 1912 edition introduction. Just as I thought it couldn't get any better, he pulled out one of my favorite Christmas poems. And for possibly the first time in my life, "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" was read aloud to me.

I can't begin to describe what a singular pleasure it was to hear words that I had only read before.

Mobley, a fine reader, got squeaky and high for Cindy Lou Who and deep and menacing for the grinch. Once the grinch (he, himself) had carved the roast beast, it was music time.

Chairs were brought in, musicians arrived and the RVA Big Band began their usual Monday night gig, but this time devoted to the holidays.

"Let It Snow!" came out swinging before vocalist Terra Allen came out in a seasonal green dress, impossibly high heels and belted out "Santa Baby" like nobody's business. The keyboard player got props on a jazzy "Jingle Bells" when the bandleader told us he'd only gotten the music two days ago.

Terra came back to do B.B. King's classic "Merry Christmas, Baby," which had the cocktail dress set behind us dancing in their banquette. It also found dimunitive Terra bent over, challenging the drummer, "Come on!"

"Blue Christmas" gave us some nice solo work on the horns. But it was when she took on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" that time stood still.

I have been to Balliceaux for many shows and heard many kinds of music, but I have never felt a moment as magical as during that song. The multi-colored light-strewn branch that always hangs over the stage had never twinkled so brightly. The lighting had never been so softly dim. The crowd had never been so raptly silent.

And, oh, the band was note-perfect. And certainly no one since 1944-era Judy Garland had ever bent the notes quite so expressively.

I only wish the song could have gone on 'till Christmas.

Instead, they wrapped up the set with "O Tannenbaum," which began by sounding very traditional and morphed into something absolutely swinging. The good-sized crowd gave the band the applause they deserved after such a set that both defined and redefined an evening of Christmas music.

But it was B.B.'s lyrics that best summed up how I felt as I clapped.

I haven't had a drink this evening, baby
But I'm all lit up like a Christmas tree

Many thanks, Balliceaux, for a positively perfect Christmas present.

Consider this my thank you note.


  1. Absolutley loved this post.Cool it is!

    Merry Christmas to everyone.

  2. You should have been there. It was transcendent!