On Stage: Get ‘Slammed’ to ring in the new year

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Slambovian Circus of Dreams

Music acts in all genres have special holiday shows and tours.

Smooth jazz saxman Dave Koz is known for his seamless Christmas shows. Horror hip hop duo Twiztid shine through the darkness with their Halloween shows. Country acts go all out with Independence Day Weekend shows. Laura Cheadle, a rocker from New Jersey, slams it with her Valentine’s Day shows (and her “A Very Cheadle Christmas”).

The Slambovian Circus of Dreams is on a different level. There doesn’t seem to be any holiday they can’t celebrate with a show (or series of shows).

There is the “Slambovian Circus of Dreams Halloween Show,” the “Fairport’s Copredy Convention,” “Kingston Earth Fair,” and two December Slambovian Circus of Dreams traditions. The band just finished its run of “A Very Slambovian Christmas” shows.

On December 30, the Slambovians play perhaps their most important show each year – the “Slambovian Circus of Dreams New Year’s Eve Eve” show at the World Café Live World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com).

The Slambovian Circus of Dreams, which has been making music since 1998, features a trio of founding members Joziah Longo (singer, songwriter, guitarist, leader of the band), his wife Tink Lloyd (accordion, cello, flute, ukulele, theremin, keyboards) and Sharkey McEwen (guitar, mandolin, backing vocals). The current line-up also features RJ McCarty (keys, sax, banjo, backing vocals), Bob Torsello (bass), and Matthew Abourezk (drums).

Longo is a Philly native who went to St. John Neumann High which back then was called Bishop Neumann High. Both the school and Longo’s childhood home are located in South Philadelphia – a hotbed for Mummers’ activity.

The Mummers Parade is a great Philadelphia tradition.

It dates back more than a century, has its roots in South Philadelphia and is always held on January 1.

The Slambovians holiday show dates back a decade-and-a-half.

“I’m pretty sure our first was in 2009 – after we released our second album,” said Lloyd, during a phone interview week from upstate New York where she and Longo reside.

“We played the XPonential Music Festival in 2009 and then followed up with the World Café Live show. We definitely booked it for New Year’s Eve given Joziah’s history with Philadelphia. We really wanted to play the World Café Live because of the history with Philadelphia.”

Generations of Longo’s family (including him) have danced or played with string bands in the Mummers Parade.

“We didn’t want a New Year’s Eve show,” said Lloyd. “We wanted a New Year’s Eve Eve to do a little warmup for everybody. The New Year’s Eve Eve is a gathering of tribes.

“The show at the World Café live has become an annual reunion for Joziah’s family and friends. They’re part of Mummers groups so they spend New Year’s Eve getting ready for the Mummers Parade the next day. Our New Year’s Eve Eve show extends the holiday.

“Joziah is the son of Italian and Swedish immigrants. His grandfather sold fruit on the streets. His parents met at Gloria Dei Old Swede’s Church in South Philly on New Year’s Day when his father was wearing clown make-up for the parade.

“Joziah always had costumes from back then. He’s a real ‘Two Streeter.’”

Because of the large number of Mummers clubhouses there, South 2nd Street (Two Street) often serves as a party location after the parade, with the center of activity being South 2nd Street and Mifflin Street. Local residents and others in the area for the parade crowd the local bars, clubhouses and sidewalks, sometimes joining in the unofficial parade.

With the parade they spent months preparing for finished, the Mummers let loose and celebrate. This multi-block party continues well into the night or early morning — with some Mummers not sleeping for twenty-four hours straight.

“Our New Year’s Eve Eve show is always a big tradition for Joziah,” said Lloyd. “His childhood babysitter comes to the show. His family comes to the show. His friends from kindergarten come to the show. They all come to the show to connect with everybody.”

Just as the Mummers Parade features dancers with decorated umbrellas and parasols, so does the Slambovian Circus of Dreams annual show on the year’s penultimate night. The concert features a Mummers medley with banjos and unique renditions of songs such as “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers.”

“The parasols combine the Mummers tradition with that of New Orleans and its Second Line,” said Lloyd. “The umbrellas celebrate rebirth.

“We play the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival every summer. Our audiences there use umbrellas with lights — ‘Immortal Jellyfish.’ They live in the Hudson Valley and many of them come down to Philly for the New Year’s Eve Eve show. Our fans want to be part of the show. They want to show their respect and their love for the band.”

The band always approaches its New Year’s Eve Eve show in Philly as something special.

According to Longo, “I’m a South Philly boy and all my South Philly people bring umbrellas and dance like jellyfish. Coming back to Philly means a lot to me because it’s the place where I was born. It’s a great way to end the year. We’re all trying to find our best self.

“New Year’s is an analysis of what we want to be – where are we going to go this year. Let’s unravel everything we know and get back to feeling for each other. Let’s get in a room and escape what other people call reality – even though it’s not real reality. Real reality is love, unity and friendship.

“Philly is our hometown. It’s like we come back and bring it to the elders. Being in Philly at this time of year just feels right.”

“A Very Unusual Head,” which is the band’s sixth studio album, was released January 21, 2022, on their new label, Storm King Records. During the summer, the Slambovian Circus of Dreams played the Fairport Convention’s Copredy Convention in Banbury and was named the ‘fans favorites,’ and the Wickham Festival in Wickham with the Waterboys headlining.

“A Very Unusual Head” was recorded over four years in five studios and two countries. The album is a step away from the guitar-based Americana vibe heard on their previous albums.

“A Very Unusual Head” is a real Slambovian tribal project with contributions from many friends and a few “special guests” such as Dar Williams, Anthony Thistlethwaite (The Waterboys), Kolson Pickard (Tall Heights, Pico Romanesque), drummer Felipe Torres (protege of Carmine Appice and sideman for Davey Jones), drummer Matt Abourezk (Thin White Rope) and Tristan Tadin (keyboards).

Canadian engineer Dio Tadin (Tristan’s father) recorded the bulk of the album on a former reindeer farm near Peterborough, Ontario and at Big Blue in Cornwall, New York. Tadin’s resume includes work at Daniel Lanois’ studio in Hamilton, Ontario.

“We recorded two-thirds of the album in 2018,” said Lloyd. “We got half of it mixed and then COVID hit. We released ‘Beez’ as a single and made an EP that was only sold at our U.K. tour.

“Then, we pulled together all the tracks recorded over the last five years. We did a lot of work with Dio Tadin in Peterborough, Ontario. Then, the Tadins moved their studio (Big Blue) to Cornwall, New York – which is near us. We finished making the album there.”
Inspired by the Surrealists and early British Psychedelia and the paths they pioneered, the songs on the album deal with topics ranging from the pseudo-scientific to the pseudo-religious realms and other forms of hob-nobbery for fun and profit.

The diverse album has a song about Steven Hawking (“Force of Nature”), the planets (“Pluto”) and an inspirational song about the importance of bees in the ecosystem (“Beez (I Know Where the Beez Have Gone”).”

As always, the Slambovians’ songs feature great instrumentals accompanied by lyrics that are intelligent, socially aware, witty and mindful. Longo is a modern-day troubadour bringing a message to the people of 2023.

The new album displays many of the band’s influences — Beatles, Bowie, Incredible String Band, Syd Barrett, Brahms and The Waterboys…along with a good measure of Woodstock-era psychedelia.

Video link for the Slambovian Circus of Dreams – https://youtu.be/V4Qy2YZ_uwo.

The show at the World Café Live will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $24.

McEwen, Longo and Lloyd live in New York’s Hudson Valley – an area that naturally lured many singers, songwriters and musicians away from New York City to the idyllic banks of the Hudson River (upstream).

One of these is Dar Williams, a highly acclaimed singer-songwriter.

On November 30, Williams, McEwen, Longo and Lloyd will be alongside another river – the Schuylkill River

While the Slambovians are playing at the World Café Live, Williams will be performing at a venue across the Schuylkill and 14 blocks east — City Winery (990 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, www.citywinery.com).

Dar Williams

Not co-incidentally, Williams’ latest album features a song, “Sullivan Lane,” a retro-poppy tune about finding kindred vulnerable spirits which was written by Longo.

On Saturday evening, The City Winery will present “Dar Williams Almost New Year’s Show” at 8 p.m.

Williams has toured in support of her most recent book, “How To Write A Song That Matters,” which was released in September 2022 via Hachette Books.

But she also has been out on the road playing her music at venues around the East Coast.

“Mostly just touring,” said Williams, during a phone interview from her home in New York’s Hudson Valley.

“I’ve been home a lot. I’ve been involved in community issues because of a book I wrote – trying to harmonize things in the community.

“I had a really busy fall last year. I was all over the country. I put out my latest book in September and then did a book tour all fall. I did concerts because it’s a book about songwriting. A big theme of the book is that we all have a song we could write. I did three-hour workshops in four or five cities.”

Williams’ normal schedule was thrown off by the pandemic.

“A lot of musicians had a very different time during COVID because we’re travellers,” said Williams. “I’m a traveller by trade.

“The last time I was in the studio was 2020 and I put the album out in 2021. I don’t think I’ll be going back in the studio for a while. I don’t have an album yet. But I’m always courting inspiration.”

Williams, who has recorded more than 20 albums, released her most recent album, “I’ll Meet You Here,” in October 2021 on BMG’s recently launched Renew label. Her most recent album prior to this was “Emerald,” which came out in 2015.

“There was a gap between albums because I did a book,” said Williams, a well-respected speaker/author/singer-songwriter.

“After I released ‘Emerald’ in 2015, I stopped writing songs for a while. I didn’t start writing songs again until 2017. Then, I recorded ‘I’ll Meet You Here’ in 2019.

“I was going to release it in 2020. But because of the pandemic, I moved the entire release up a year. It was just a year off and now it’s really full out.

“I recorded the album in North Jersey at a studio near Weehawken with producer Stewart Lerman. The core of the recording was done in a couple weeks in November 2019. Then, I did an intensive week in January 2020 with Stuart Smith, who plays with the Eagles.

“I sent a scratch track of the title song to Larry Campbell in Woodstock. I wanted to do it as a duet with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and Larry Campbell.”

Campbell produced the track and played guitars, pedal steel and twangy baritone guitar. Later, they had to postpone a mid-March mixing date because Campbell said he wasn’t feeling well anyway which turned into a serious case of COVID-19.

“I had a schedule conflict, so we had to postpone the mixing date with Larry for day,” said Williams. “He was getting really sick and then found out he had COVID. He got very sick with COVID. We were very lucky because if we had done the mixing session, a lot of people could have contracted the disease.”

Despite encountering some speed bumps along the way, Williams was finally able to put the album out.

“We had a few singles that came out prior to the album release and that helped,” said Williams.

The album has 10 songs including nine originals.

Even when Williams isn’t focusing on music, she still stays very busy.

“I’m working on a novel,” said Williams, who also handles the duty of being a mother to a young child. “I’ve also been writing songs. They’re not all written. I try to be disciplined and not go into the studio until I reach 80 per cent.

“I just taught a college course at Wesleyan University. Teaching at a university was great. I’ve also done some songwriting retreats and that’s been great too. I like to have different avenues rather than just recording and touring.”

One of those avenues has been writing books. Williams published two young-adult novels with Scholastic in the mid-2000s, along with a green blog for Huffpost, before she tackled her urban-planning study, published in 2017 – “What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities — One Coffee Shop, Dog Run & Open-Mike Night at a Time.”

In that book, Williams muses on why some towns flourish while others fail, examining elements from the significance of history and nature to the uniting power of public spaces and food. Drawing on her own travels and the work of urban theorists, Williams offers real solutions to rebuild declining communities.

“What I Found in a Thousand Towns” is more than a love letter to America’s small towns, it’s a deeply personal and hopeful message about the potential of America’s lively and resilient communities.

“It’s not a memoir,” said Williams. “It’s what I had seen from tours in my travels at towns that had found a way to be resilient – hometown pride and a world welcome. I followed that thread and tried to figure out what it was.

“I call it ‘positive proximity’ – a state of being in a town where people know that living side-by-side is beneficial…that the more they follow that proximity, the better life can be.

“I wrote about how to build positive proximity, how to maintain the benefits of positive proximity and how to sustain positive proximity.”

In her book, Williams looks at two area towns – Phoenixville and Wilmington.

“The Phoenixville chapter is about what happens when a town digs into its history and builds on that,” said Williams. “It is a town that has become a vibrant place because of that. The Wilmington chapter is about waterfronts – about how towns can come back to life by developing their waterfront areas with parks, restaurants and public spaces.”

Video link for Dar Williams – https://youtu.be/4-0tPKPbypk.

The show at City Winery on December 30 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets start at $40.

People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, peopleslight.org) is presenting “A Christmas Carol” Adapted from Charles Dickens by Zak Berkman now through December 31.

Audiences are invited to witness the miraculous redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge in this fresh approach to Charles Dickens’ classic. Infused with original music and traditional English carols performed by a stellar ensemble—featuring Ian Merrill Peakes as Scrooge—accompanied by a 5-piece band, this jubilant retelling of the beloved Yuletide ghost story is the perfect way to celebrate the holidays.

The production also features  Kennedy Caughell (Emily Cratchit & Kind Chorus), Akeem Davis (Bob Cratchit & Kind Chorus), Max Gallagher (Martha Cratchit & Kind Chorus), Jahi Kearse (Jacob Marley & Kind Chorus), Maya Lagerstam (Ghost of Christmas Present & Kind Chorus), Anna Faye Lieberman (Ghost of Christmas Past & Kind Chorus), Tom Teti (Mr. Fezziwig & Kind Chorus), Owen Ahlmer (Tiny Tim – Ivy Cast) and Prince Peay (Tiny Tim – Holly Cast).

The production, which was adapted by Zak Berkman from Charles Dickens, features original music by Berkman, arrangements by Mitch Chakour. It is directed by Nell Bang-Jensen.

The show at People’s Light will run through December 31. Ticket prices start at $55.

Chester County will be in the house – and on the stage — when the Kimmel Cultural Campus and The Shubert Organization present “Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” a brilliant and whimsical holiday spectacular at the Campus’ Miller Theater (230 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, www.kimmelculturalcampus.org) now through December 31.

As a highly acclaimed family holiday tradition, “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” conveys the magic of the season with a Broadway-style production infused with contemporary circus arts, storybook characters, and holiday music favorites.

The talented company will feature two artists from the Delaware Valley including one from Chester County, aerialist/dancer Ashley Zimmerman. The other is Tiago Raul, a native of Puerto Rico who was raised in Philadelphia.

Zimmerman, a native of Berwyn, started her career as a professional dancer, but switched her focus from dance to circus arts. She began teaching herself trapeze and other aerial disciplines during the pandemic, and now specializes in dance trapeze and aerial hoop. She has been performing as an aerialist now for more than one year.

Zimmerman is a Conestoga High School alumna who started ballet lessons when she was four. After high school, she attended Point Park University under the direction of Ruben Graciani and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in dance, having studied jazz, modern, tap and contemporary.

In this production, she goes up to the highest heights and performs a different kind of dance while holding on to a single bar.

As lights dim and the music swells, a fantastical cast of holiday storybook characters come to life. Imaginative and fun for children, seniors, and everyone in between, “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” features a world-renowned cast of performers accompanied by an ensemble of aerial circus acts, sleight-of-hand jugglers, fun-loving skippers, breath-catching acrobatics, and much more.

An original music score includes new twists on seasonal favorites such as “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Carol of the Bells.” Singers, dancers, penguins, toy soldiers, and reindeer invoke the dreams behind a child’s eye on the most magical of nights.

Cirque Dreams is part of the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group.

Video link for “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” – https://youtu.be/0ca-cYxZkVY.

“Cirque Dreams Holidaze” will run from December 26-31 at the Miller Theater.

Ticket prices start at $45.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) is a place to go if you’re looking for tasty music along with tasty food.

On December 29, Jamey’s will present The BC Combo.

The BC Combo, featuring MoMojo Records artist Bev Conklin, has been bringing their signature style and passion to blues, jazz, swing, folk, R&B and soul for more than 30 years. Their interpretation of Americana is expressed through their self-penned songs about relationships, joy, disappointment, soul-searching, peace and harmony.

This band’s journey began as BC and The Blues Crew in the Lehigh Valley. The band features world-class, international touring artists from New Orleans, Chicago, Bethlehem and North Jersey. They are among the Lehigh Valley’s top groups and have been recognized since 1999 by the Lehigh Valley Music Awards as individuals, a band, veterans and life-time achievers.

Video link for The BC Combo — https://youtu.be/G_G40A5LWCM.

The BC Combo show on December 29 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20 advance online and $25 at the door.

On December 30, Jamey’s will host The Empty Belly Blues Band featuring Alabama Sam.

The Empty Belly Blues Band is a group of serious gentlemen steeped in the feel of old juke joints, muddy fields and back porches.

Led by veteran bluesman Alabama Sam with Greg, Doug, Roy, Gary, and Alex driving the train, they take a trip through the old country where the real blues is alive and well.

Video link for The Empty Belly Blues Band — https://youtu.be/agHbfXCvvJw.

The Empty Belly Blues Band show on December 30 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20 advance online and $25 at the door.

Every Sunday, Jamey’s presents “SUNDAY BLUES BRUNCH & JAM” featuring the Philly Blues Kings. Another weekly event at the venue is the “THURSDAY NIGHT JAZZ JAM” featuring the Dave Reiter Trio with guest vocalist Khadijah Renee on December 28.

Khadijah “Renee” is a jazz songstress in the vein of the Great Ladies of Jazz. Her resonant tones remind you of the ladies who paved their way through the male dominated syncopated instrumental ingenious sounds of Be-Bop and Classical Jazz from as early as the 1950′s. If you close your eyes while listening to her, you may hear reminiscent echoes of Sarah, Ella, Billie, Nancy, Dinah and Gloria.

Renee is a contralto whose range is deep and sweet at the same time. She has been performing jazz since the late 80’s in and around the Tri-State area. Khadijah is always accompanied by the best musicians the area has to offer. She has been recorded live at the East Coast Jazz Festival now called the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in Maryland and heard on WRTI 90.1 Jazz Radio.
Born and raised in Chester, Renee currently lives and works in Philadelphia, where the jazz audiences there accepted and adopted her as their own. A former member of the Delaware Council of Jazz Advocates, she recently graced the stage of their tribute to Clifford Brown at the Delaware School of Music with a rendition of Sassy’s “September Song.”

Video link for Khadijah Renee — https://youtu.be/c74l3jLvyNQ.

Tickets are $10.

The Philadelphia Ballet’s annual production of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” is one of the most cherished—and longest running—family holiday traditions for families in the region.

For many, a visit to Philadelphia to enjoy the lavish presentation by the world-famous Philadelphia Ballet is an integral part of the holiday season.

This year’s production, which is running now through December 30 at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-893-1999, www.philadelphiaballet.org), is in the fifth decade of staging of the classic ballet.

The ballet is based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale “The Nutcracker and The Mouse King” and set to a score by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky.

Featuring lively dances, colorful costumes and elaborate sets, “The Nutcracker” is a production that appeals to audiences of all ages. The original version of the timeless classic was first presented in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1892.

The ballet is performed under the guidance of artistic director Angel Corella. The ballet is based on the choreography of George Balanchine.

The Philadelphia Ballet’s production of the ballet features more than 100 performers and has an annual audience attendance of more than 50,000. And it is staged in one of the most beautiful performance halls in the country.

The version of “The Nutcracker” performed by the Philadelphia Ballet features everything audiences associate with the timeless ballet—a cast of 19th-century families celebrating Christmas Eve, a little girl’s dream of her Nutcracker Prince, the Prince’s toy soldiers battling a fleet of mice led by the Mouse King and the crowd-pleasing second act of dances in the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“Right now, we’re still doing Balanchine’s ‘Nutcracker’ because it works,” said Corella. “Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’ is one of the best in the world.

“The whole process makes it feel like it’s Christmas. There is hot chocolate. It’s snowing outside. The whole family is there and time seems to stop. It goes back to a certain place and time that everyone seems to recognize—being able to re-connect and share.”

Video link for Philadelphia Ballet’s “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” – https://youtu.be/ypfQQ2duYS0.

Ticket prices start at $25.

The American Music Theatre (2425 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, 800-648-4102, www.AMTshows.com) has its holiday show running now through December 30.

The AMT’s 2023 show, “The First Noel,” is an all-new presentation of favorite sacred and secular holiday songs performed by professional artists from across the country. The show will feature spectacular vocal harmonies, lively musical arrangements, impressive dancing, and the music of the AMT Orchestra.

Also featured will be elaborate scenery, elegant costumes and a theater decked out with holiday decorations.

Patrons can witness the magic and splendor of the holiday celebration as AMT presents “The First Noel” featuring incredible singers, astonishing dancers, wondrous costumes, breathtaking sets, and all the endearment of a perfect fireside family moment.

Audience members will be able to bask in the beauty of the season and cherish the stories of spirit and love. Beautiful snowscapes, child-like joy, cherished stories, the spirit of love, and all your favorite things about the holiday season are cast onstage in this glorious celebration of timeless holiday classics.

The show will have both matinee and evening performances each week with the addition of 10:30 a.m. performances on Saturdays throughout December. Ticket prices start at $25.

1812 Productions (1812productions.org) is dedicated to creating theatrical works of comedy and comedic works of theater that explore and celebrate our sense of community, our history, and our humanity.

1812 Productions was founded in 1997 by Jennifer Childs and Peter Pryor, two long-time friends and artistic collaborators, with a dedication to comedy, theater, and Philadelphia artists.

1812 Productions is the only professional theater company in the country dedicated to comedy and was the recipient of an honorary citation from the City of Philadelphia for outstanding work and commitment to the Philadelphia arts community.

This weekend, 1812 Productions is presenting their popular political satire, “This Is The Week That Is.”

A celebrated part of the Philadelphia theatre season for the past 17 years, the show delivers sharp satire and content that changes with the headlines. This year’s production will run now through December 31 at Plays & Players Theatre, which is located at 1714 Delancey Place in Philadelphia.

Featuring musical parodies, improvised comedy, and a versatile cast of comedy pros, “This Is The Week That Is” is a hilarious mix of SNL, The Daily Show, and The Carol Burnett Show on a mission to tell the truth and make it funny!

Ticket prices start at $44. Select performances are mask-required.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) will present Ballets with a Twist on December 29.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is hosting Captain Dawg on December 29, Splitting Vision with Garden Station and Condor on December 30 and The Hoppin’ John Orchestra on December 31.

The Living Room and Cricket Café (104 Cricket Avenue, Ardmore, livingroomardmore.com) will have Live At The Fillmore and Antonio Andrade on December 30 and “Ring in the NEW YEAR w/ Ben Arnold & The 48-Hour Orchestra w/ special guest Jim Boggia” on December 31.
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