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Even those of us who are gleefully filled with holiday cheer can get burnt out from the oversaturation of Christmas music. When various radio stations and department stores switch over to all-holiday-music-all-the-time before Thanksgiving is even past, it’s sometimes hard not to feel some Scrooge-like sentiments bubbling up. Fortunately, there are some holiday albums that aren’t just the same smooth jazz and smarmy pop that inundate the airwaves. Here are a few that might help resuscitate your holiday cheer:


Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold (2012)

Indie rock darling Sufjan Stevens released Silver and Gold, a new collection of holiday tunes, this past November. With 58 tracks ranging from fresh takes on Christmas traditionals like “Silent Night,” “Good King Wenceslas,” and “Let it snow!” to new originals like “Lumberjack Christmas” and “Mr. Frosty Man,” there’s bound to be something for everyone in the almost five-dozen-song collection. Stevens’ characteristic folk instrumentations and mix of optimism and melancholia are sure to pull on the heartstrings and induce bittersweet nostalgia in even the most hardened of holiday hearts. Check out “The Midnight Clear” and “Auld Lang Syne” (also known as “that song they always sing at New Year’s”) and feel your heart be warmed with holiday cheer.

Click here for more of Sufjan Stevens’ Silver and Gold.


Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

If you’ve heard anything from jazzman Vince Guaraldi, it was probably the music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” He’s no one-hit-wonder – Guaraldi won a Grammy for “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and had 17 albums to his name before his untimely death – but this album has stood above the rest.

There’s a reason why “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is still a seasonal staple, and the soundtrack is as good as the TV special itself. The jazz piano solo tracks like “O Tannenbaum” and “Skating” are more than worthwhile on their own, but the songs that really shine are the endearing piano and children’s chorus songs “Christmastime Is Here” and “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.”

Click here to see Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas on Amazon.

The Sonics / The Wailers / The Galaxies – Merry Christmas (1965)

If you’re looking for something really non-traditional, look no further than Merry Christmas, a collaborative album from 1960s garage rock bands The Sonics, The Wailers, and The Galaxies. Etiquette Records brought these three groups from Tacoma, Washington together for this 1964 release, and it’s more than unfortunate that it isn’t more widely available. If your nostalgia for bygone holiday seasons is tinged with longing for the sounds of groups like The Kinks and Paul Revere & the Raiders, then this album should bring a smile to your face. And really, even if not, this is a great listen.

Unfortunately, this one seems to have never been reissued, so you’re pretty much limited to what’s on YouTube.

Sam Billen – Merry Christmas (2012) and A Light Goes On (2011)

Billen MerryChristmas2012_Cover

Sam Billen has been releasing an annual free Christmas album since 2008, and this year’s edition is no letdown. Family has always been a central feature of Billen’s music, and this mostly-acoustic album features his brother Dan and father Bill alongside Sam and his oftentimes collaborator Josh Atkinson. It’s understated and folksy, with a tinge of retro synth. It’s a pleasant 22 minutes of holiday classics, with “I Wonder as I Wander” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” particularly standing out

Click ‘play’ to take a listen to Sam Billen’s “A Light Went On,” from A Light Goes On (2011).

But while this year’s instrumental album is great, for me it can’t top last year’s Billen Christmas project, A Light Goes On. And while there are plenty of fantastic takes of holiday classics in this one (Katlyn Conroy and Austen Malone’s take of “Baby Its Cold Outside” and Timbre’s “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” are particularly charming), the original and unexpected inclusions are where this really shines. Beau Jennings’ rendition of Woodie Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre” – about the 1913 Italian Hall Disaster, where 73 people were trampled to death after someone shouted “fire” at a crowded miners’ Christmas party – is as hauntingly beautiful as it is tragic. Sam Billen’s title track, “A Light Went On,” is a story of nostalgia for the Christmastimes of childhood, all bundled up with endearing indie-pop trappings.

You can find more information or download Merry Christmas (2012) here, and you can click here for more of A Light Goes On (2011).

The Maccabeats – “Candlelight” (2010)

Okay, this one isn’t an album like our other selections, but it’s brilliant enough that we just couldn’t leave it out. The Maccabeats, an all-male a cappella group out of Yeshiva University, became an internet sensation for their hilarious parody of Taio Cruz’s party hit “Dynamite.” The new lyrics tell the Hanukkah-appropriate tale of the mighty Maccabees, and the impressive music video and top-notch a cappella work does not disappoint. Whether you’re one of the treasured people or you don’t know the difference between Seder and cedar, you’ll enjoy this wonderful remake.

Click here for more Maccabeats.

Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland – Fireside Songs for the Soul (2010)

This list wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of local flavor, and Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland both have plenty of that. These two regionally acclaimed Texans have been significant players in the Austin music scene (as well as throughout the rest of Texas) for years, and there’s a reason why. Their country twang is charming in this cover of the wintertime classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Even though it’s never actually that cold in Austin, Texas (although I’ve heard 55 degrees described as “frigid” by some of the locals), this iconic tune is always fitting for the holiday season.

You can check out Fireside Songs for the Soul on iTunes, or find it on Carolyn’s website.

– Nick Curry, Marketing and Development Intern
The Long Center

The Long Center hosts Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland’s Holiday Roast on December 20- 22. Click here for more information and tickets.

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There’s no way around it: the Blue Man Group is a strange bunch. Intentionally and delightfully so, but nonetheless, pretty odd. Their uniqueness is part of the appeal, but it makes it slightly tricky to explain what it is they actually do. The press kits they send us, allegedly to help us tell you what exactly it is the Blue Man Group is, aren’t too much help either: they like to drop phrases like “indescribable phenomenon” and “experiences that defy categorization.” Fortunately for us, we’ve seen Arrested Development (more on that in a later blog post) and we’ve scoured the interwebs for the best clips of the Blue Man Group in action, so we’re at least slightly more familiar with the Blue Men.

1. “Blue Thousand One”

This might be the classical music nerd part of me talking here, but I’m a sucker for just about anything that uses the opening to Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra” (or, as it’s more commonly known, the music from the monolith scene of Stanley Kubrick’s classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey). Whether it’s the computer files scene in Zoolander or Blue Men tossing exploding balloons full of paint at each others’ faces, this music can make just about anything dramatic and epic. Maybe I should cue that tune up for the next time I’m washing dishes.

2. Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”

Okay, I like Lady Gaga. I’ve spent the last five and a half years studying classical music theory, but there’s still just something about cheesy, superficial pop music that I enjoy so much. This last week, my listening was split (nearly 50/50) between Maurice Ravel’s La valse and Swedish pop star Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend,” and I’m okay with that. I can love them both.

In this clip, the Blue Man Group takes a crack at Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and, as you could expect, it’s wonderfully silly. While this isn’t my favorite Gaga cover ever (that distinction goes to the staff of National Public Radio for their amazing rendition of Gaga’s Telephone) it’s still pretty cool.

3. Rods and Cones

Part science lesson and part musical performance, this video from the Blue Man Group production “Tubes” features mesmerizing rhythms, grooving percussion, and an intriguing look at how our eyes work. I definitely have a soft spot for well-done educational entertainment (my childhood was spent with Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and Bill Nye the Science Guy, after all) and this clip not only has some pretty great music but throws in a fascinating examination of the human eye.

– Nick Curry, Marketing and Development Intern
The Long Center

The Blue Man Group will be at the Long Center on December 31-January 2. Click here for more information and tickets.

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Americans love to laugh, especially when things are the most serious. And with a hotly-contested presidential election looming, political satire has never been more popular.

Serious topics have rarely been too taboo for jokes. Jonathan Swift famously suggested eating babies in his 1729 essay A Modest Proposal. Joseph Heller made a mockery of war in Catch-22. That politics would become the butt of jokes is no surprise: the often dysfunctional American political system usually seems like it would be better suited for a sitcom than for actually governing a nation.

In 2011, Jon Stewart’s news-satire The Daily Show averaged more viewers than any cable news show other than The O’Reilly Factor. And with Election Day only two weeks away, it’s prime-time for political satire. Comedy Central’s coverage of the Republican National Convention actually pulled in more viewers than any of the actual news networks, and a Facebook page mocking Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” quote from the second presidential debate has over 350,000 ‘likes.’ Even when it comes to things we care about, there apparently is just about nothing that is no laughing matter. And I have to say, this year’s election has not disappointed when it comes to humor.

The normal suspects like Stewart and Colbert have had plenty of fun with things. But there have been some new kids on the block, like Soul Pancake’s ‘Kid President’.

The Gregory Brothers, who produced Auto-Tune the News, have been on fire with their ‘songified’ debate highlights (warning, some strong language in this one):

And The Gregory Bros and the New York Times collaborated for another one: in “Patriot Games,” Romney and Obama square off to see who can drop the most buzzwords in this mash-up of their nomination acceptance speeches:

Maybe we’re gluttons for suffering: unsatisfied with the news being depressing enough, even our humor has to have that tinge of black comedy. Maybe there’s something cathartic about making light about the same national issues that we’re intensely stressed about.

Whatever the reason, the Long Center’s presentation of political satirists Capitol Steps this Thursday couldn’t be more timely. If anyone in the political satire business knows just how tragically funny the American political system can be, it would be them – most of the group started out as congressional staffers, and they’ve been making fun of their old jobs and former bosses professionally since 1981.

Capitol Steps have done their share of bipartisan bashing this election season. Here’s their take on the first presidential debate:

So as we bring in a bunch of political satirists less than two weeks before this heated election, it’s not that we’re not taking the election seriously – it’s just that sometimes things are so serious, there isn’t anything to do but laugh.

– Nick Curry, Development Intern
The Long Center

Capitol Steps will be at the Long Center on October 25. Click here for more information and tickets.

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I remember the first time I saw Amalia Hernandez’s Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. I was nine years old and nestled quite comfortably between my aunt and uncle during a particularly cool summer evening in Mexico. Although I am the first in my family to be born and raised in the United States, I have been fortunate enough to spend almost every summer since I can remember with my family basking in the Mexican sun and attempting to learn how to cook my grandmother’s recipes.

Photo by Robert Shomler

Amalia Hernandez’s Ballet Folklorico holds a special place in Mexico’s heart as it presents its viewer with the richness and vigor found within our culture. Each dance celebrates the different regions and their respective traditions with a beautiful display of gracefully choreographed movements and stunning costumes. Here, Mexico’s rich heritage is displayed right before your eyes.

Photo by Robert Shomler

That evening, I particularly remember being struck by “La Danza del Venado” (Deer Dance) which is native to the Yaqui tribe from the northern Mexican state of Sonora. The dancers reenact a dramatic deer hunt, honoring the cycle of life as well as the white-tailed deer which provided for most of the Yaqui’s needs. This tradition is particularly poignant because it has little to no European influence as the Yaqui fiercely resisted Spanish conquest. Moving to the sound of the reed flute, percussion, rasp and rattle, “La Danza del Venado” invites you to enter the Mexico that is wild and untamed – it is a journey to the authentic Mexico. I gasped with awe at each leap the mighty deer took and was honestly horrified at its fate as the two hunters slowly conquered the beast. To say it was mesmerizing would be an understatement. It taps into the primitive, the wild. It captures the essence of Mexico.

Photo by Joan Shomler

This dance was so memorable for me because it was a part of my heritage that I had yet to experience. Stripped of its oppressive and bloody history, I saw a Mexico that was free and un-inhibited. The sense of pride that I felt that evening was an experience that I will never forget, because somewhere deep down in my nine-year-old subconscious I knew that this was what the real Mexico was all about. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good round of mariachi just as much as the next gal. But what is more meaningful to me is the celebration of the multi-dimensional Mexico, from white-tailed deer to Jarocho.

– Bryana Marrero, Programming Intern
The Long Center

Ballet Folklorico De Mexico will be at the Long Center on October 23. Click here for more information and tickets.

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Four of the five Brown siblings wait in the green room at KUT’s studios before their on-air interview with Eklektikos host John Aielli.

Two of the most important lessons to learn in life seem to be to do what you love and to put family first. The Five Browns can check the boxes for both.

We sat with the group in the Green Room at KUT studios this morning before their interview with Eklektikos host John Aielli. They talked about everything from the program tonight (Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to Saint Saen’s Dance Macabre to Star Wars) to what they wish Juilliard would have taught them (the practical stuff, like how to build a website, instead of just how to practice more hours than you sleep), from music theory love/hate to how if they had known that the Austin City Limits Festival were this weekend, they would have found an excuse to stay an extra few days. When music majors get together, they generally lapse into shop talk within about thirty seconds. Being musician siblings seems to shave even a few more seconds off that average time.

What they didn’t really say was just how great it was to be able to work and tour and perform with the family they grew up with: all five brothers and sisters on the road and stage together, sometimes even all five playing at once. But they didn’t have to – you could tell.

The world is full of mixed messages: family over everything, but take care of yourself first. Don’t sacrifice your dreams, but you better be practical. Do what you love, but be realistic even if that means doing something else. It’s enough to give just about everyone a pretty confused sense of priorities.

The Brown siblings somehow lucked out. I’m sure that they’ve all made plenty of sacrifices in their lives, but they get to do what they love, to play music for a living with the people they love the most. There’s a special joy to that.

They don’t have to say it – you can tell.

– Nick Curry, Development Intern
The Long Center

The Five Browns will be at the Long Center on October 11. Click here for more information and tickets.

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Ballet Folklorico De Mexico isn’t a typical ballet. It doesn’t look like ‘The Nutcracker’ and it definitely doesn’t look like ‘Black Swan.’ Now we love Tchaikovsky ballets as much as anyone, but the lack of resemblance is actually a good thing.

When dancer and choreographer Amalia Hernández founded Ballet Folklorico De Mexico in Mexico City back in 1962, she gave ballet a somewhat novel twist. As a classically trained dancer, Hernández knew all the things ballet was supposed to be – graceful, elegant, refined, and with just about as little in common with folk art as possible. She just didn’t care about what it was ‘supposed’ to be.

Hernández took the regional folk dances of Mexico and blended them with ballet. This kind of folk art infusion changed the classical music landscape through composers like Antonín Dvořák and Béla Bartók. And while Amalia Hernández might not have the worldwide recognition that Dvořák and Bartók have found, she’s no less of an innovator. Hernández and Ballet Folklorico pioneered the ‘baile folklórico‘ amalgam of Latin American folk dance and classical European dance.

Amalia Hernández’s Ballet Folklorico De Mexico combines the high art of ballet with the ethnic and regional folk dances of Mexico. The dances are often stylized – many of the choreographies are from Hernández herself – but they still retain some of the regional folk traditions that are disappearing from the modern world. But Ballet Folklorico De Mexico isn’t celebrating what their culture was, not who they as a people were; it isn’t a nostalgic nod to the past-tense but a celebration of who they are. A celebration of the idea that your roots are part of you and that ignoring those roots means ignoring a part of oneself.

And we’re looking forward to celebrating all of these things with them.

– Nick Curry, Development Intern
The Long Center

Ballet Folklorico De Mexico will be at the Long Center on October 23. Click here for more information and tickets.

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One thing leads to another.  My experience as a Tap Dog was better than I could have ever imagined.  It was one of the first Tap dance shows I saw as a teenager.  It was one of the reasons I pursued a career in Tap Dance confidently.  Years later, to be added to the infamous roster of Tap Dogs, was a dream come true.  The audiences that I was exposed to were wild.  They are tapethetical rock stars, and while on tour we lived like it.  Music, dance, sweat, applause, fans, after parties… you get the picture.  It is also one of the most physically demanding shows I’ve ever been a part of.  The alumni of the show welcomed me to the fold with a single warning, ‘party at your own risk, because tomorrow is another show.’  90 minutes of pure adrenaline filled testosterone.

Auditions have their own challenges.  I don’t remember wanting a gig quite as much as I wanted Tap Dogs, until I attended the audition for Tapestry Dance Company.  I went from one world class choreographer, Dein Perry, to another, Acia Gray.  I thought the boys played hard.  Austin’s own, Acia Gray is a pioneering woman who plays harder than anyone I’ve seen.  She is the cofounder and artistic director of Tapestry Dance Company who has sustained her company for 24 years.  I toured North America with Tap Dogs, and China with Tapestry.  I am lucky to have been a part of both rosters. Our family of Tap Dance is quite diverse, and there is so much more to come.  Tap Dogs October 9th at the Long Center.  Tapestry Dance Company’s ‘April Fools’ November 30th – December 2nd at the Long Center.

–Travis Knights formally of tap dogs and currently of Tapestry Dance Company

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