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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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Editor’s note: we are once again proud to feature the perspective of an organization that makes the Long Center its performance home. This time from Ann Ciccolella, Artistic Director at Austin Shakespeare, one of our new Resident Companies. Austin Shakespeare is staging Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice in our Rollins Studio Theatre November 7-25.

Bit by bit we are putting our new ‘Pride and Prejudice’ together. Actors, designers and crew love working on this new adaptation but it is challenging. Like a carousel, the show goes round every few minutes to a new situation and a new group of characters… including dances and music. Our chorographer Toni Bravo, who can be elegant even in her high-heeled boots, takes the actors step by elegant step.

I love the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, so I am hearing his song in my head “Bit by bit, putting it together.”

Actors know their lines but that is only the beginning of their work as they begin to work on the Rollins stage. I ask the perennial directorial question: “What do you want from him or her?” and “What if you wanted to tease him so he would smile?”

That “what if” is the key to most of our creative action. What if that wall were bluer? What if that hat had a feather? That is the nature of our work: to try. Jane Austen brings out the best in us. We stretch to do great writers justice, and they lift our work with their great imagination.

This week we added more music cues that we have acquired from the original production by Joe Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan. But our actors are from Austin – even if one came last year from Los Angeles and another came six months ago from NYC. This production is original to Austin. We are so fortunate to have our resident lighting designer, Jason Amato turn down other more lucrative projects to work on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with us. His light design will be as delightfully rhythmic as Austen’s language.

Also this week we shot a short trailer for You Tube with Michael Dalmon, and our Elizabeth and Darcy had their first media outing with KOOP Radio “Off Stage and On the Air,” plus we talked with John Aielli on KUT. KXAN-TV for Friday…. Money, time and people. The three elements of any project. In theater, we are always tight on all three. But the people are the best part. They give their all. Actors, designers, technicians and crew. We have a fabulous resident Equity stage manager, Shannon Richey who keeps me in check on not over taxing anyone and everyone.

All in all, we are lucky to have this amazing collection of talent and inspiration…YOU are the final element we need as we ‘put it all together!’

–Ann Ciccolella, Artistic Director
Austin Shakespeare

Austin Shakespeare’s “Pride & Prejudice’ is playing at the Long Center’s Riollins Studio Theatre November 7-25. Visit the Austin Shakespeare site for tickets.

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Editor’s note: the organizations that make the Long Center their performance home aren’t just our patrons, they’re our family. We’ve already included several guest blog posts from the directors of some of the organizations we work with, and we expect to feature many more. This one comes from Olivia Chacón of Flamencura Dance, director and choreographer for A’lante Flamenco Dance Ensemble.

Flying fringe, swinging earrings, pounding heels, and yards of ruffles: one of flamenco dance’s most striking characteristics is the costuming of the female performer. While male dancers may get to don flashy suits, women in flamenco get to be the real peacocks. However, the surface frills on a dancer’s costume mask the steely interior—physical and emotional – required to perform flamenco.

A'lante Flamenco Dance Ensemble - at the Long Center on October 26 and 27

Both as a dancer and as an aficionado of flamenco, I have always loved the dichotomy inherent in flamenco performances—dressed to the nines in costumes inspired by modest 18th and 19th century fashions, flamenco bailaoras often personify dignity and repose one moment, seconds later exploding into a torrent of powerful footwork, savage turns, and movements alternating between playful and sensual. The swathes of fabric may look spectacular onstage, but underneath is where the sweaty, muscular reality of flamenco technique takes place. Any dancer worth her salt knows that a core of iron is required to maintain the proud carriage of the flamenca, not to mention execute the arched-back turns known as quebradas. Rapid-fire footwork demands hundreds of sweat-soaked hours in the studio to perfect, and it takes deltoids like rocks to maintain arms gracefully swaying overhead. At showtime, though, the physical workout of flamenco dance is often overshadowed by the lace and ruffles. The steel nails covering the heels of our shoes are never seen by the audience.

This juxtaposition of hard and soft is also evident in flamenco music. Many people know flamenco for its delicate guitar melodies and upbeat rhythms, but listen closely to the Spanish lyrics and flamenco’s origins as the music of the poor and oppressed in Andalucia  become evident. Even as singers describe heartrending moments like the death of a child or loss of a lover, dancers and guitarists elaborate the gentlest phrases of movement and melody. At other times, as in the seemingly lighthearted buleria, dancers and musicians work in perfect tandem in what is actually a rhythmically complex tour de force.

One of my favorite tasks as Artistic Director of A’lante Flamenco Dance Ensemble is choosing wardrobe for the company. I love deciding on the character of each piece and developing it through costume and staging. For A’lante’s show at the Rollins Theatre on October 26 and 27, Act One and Act Two are strikingly different in their costume requirements. The first act, “Dark Sounds/Sonidos Negros” consists of six dances, each distinct from the rest in music, look, and attitude, ranging from strictly traditional to totally contemporary in style.

For the second act, “The Red Shoes,” I chose costumes to highlight an idea in Hans Christian Andersen’s story that I find is a perfect match for flamenco: the fine line between an innocent passion and a dangerous obsession. In Andersen’s tale, the young protagonist flouts grim social convention by wearing red shoes to church and dancing frivolously while her mother lies dying. Unbeknownst to her, the red shoes are bewitched by a magician, forcing her to dance without stopping and endangering her life. Far from a simple children’s story, “The Red Shoes” delves deep into psychological territory and nightmarish suffering. I can’t help but be reminded of flamenco’s typically dual nature: combining joy and suffering, rhythm and melody, soft and hard… lace and steel.

– Olivia Chacón

Director and choreographer of A’lante Flamenco Dance Ensemble.

The A’lante Flamenco Dance Ensemble will be performing at the Long Center on October 26 and 27. Visit for more information and tickets. You can also visit the website of the A’lante Flamenco Dance Ensemble here.

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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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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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When it comes to music, everyone has their guilty pleasures. I finished up a degree in classical music in May but somehow still spent all summer shamefully listening to the new singles from Nicki Minaj and Carly Rae Jepsen (okay, to be honest, I don’t feel that guilty about it). But whether you actually lived through the ‘80s or, like me, just found out about it later and still can’t figure out how anything in that decade could have possibly happened, there isn’t much better guilty pleasure listening than ‘80s rock.

Broadway hit Rock of Ages comes to the Long Center on their national tour today, and from what we can tell, they brought their hairspray. The Tony Award-nominated musical features almost everything that made the 1980s so retrospectively hilarious. Especially mullets, hair bands, and a complete disregard for what should be socially acceptable.

Like just about every musical, it’s silly yet sentimental, filled with love-triangles (I think even a love-square at one point), melodrama, and catchy show tunes. But unlike most musicals, this one has characters with names like “Stacee Jaxx” and the catchy show tunes are all ‘80s hits. If there were ever a time to pull out the signed t-shirt from Bon Jovi’s 1987 tour that you’ve been hiding from your wife for the last two decades, this would be it.

To celebrate, we’re counting down our top five guilty-pleasure hits from Rock of Ages. And every one of them is so hilariously bad, but oh-so-good.

5. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – “I Hate Myself For Loving You”

While we mostly picked this one because the title pretty much describes how we feel about every song on this list, that’s not the only reason. “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” which reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1988, features Jett growling away about her love-hate relationship with her man. The music video is prototypical ‘80s – it depicts Jett performing live, surrounded by frenzied fans and with lighting just dark enough to make sure you know she’s edgy. We’re not sure what’s with the complete non sequitur 3-second long dreamy bike scene at 1:28, but we dig it.

4. Whitesnake – “Here I Go Again”

Coming in at #17 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of the ‘80s” is Whitesnake’s glorious car ballad “Here I Go Again.” It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1987, probably at least partially thanks to nearly drowning the listener with synthesizers and reverb. If there’s anyone who should represent the big hair era, it’s Whitesnake – those rockers don the leather pants and hairspray-soaked locks oh so well.

3. Bon Jovi – “Wanted Dead or Alive”

It’s no “Livin’ on a Prayer,” but Jon Bon Jovi’s 1986 hit “Wanted Dead or Alive” is pretty great. It’s shot in black and white, interspersing concert clips with some sort of story about American dreams and the hard life of the rock star. And I mean, who couldn’t love a song with lines like “I’m a cowboy / on a steel horse I ride / I’m wanted dead or alive”? That’s Shakespeare-caliber brilliance right there. Once the obligatory gratuitous guitar solo comes in around 2:27, it’s almost impossible to not air guitar along.

2. Europe – “The Final Countdown”

The Swedish band Europe had another top 10 hit in “Carrie,” but they’re almost exclusively known these days for the monolithic “Final Countdown.” ‘Epic’ hardly does the song justice – unlike Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, who sing about hard times on the road, Europe’s idea of a road trip involves outer space. Like all the others, the video does include gratuitous live concert clips, but the real story of the video is about the human race fleeing to Venus. With lyrics inspired by David Bowie’s “A Space Oddity,” a wicked harmonized guitar solo, and the iconic synth melody that even Europe’s own guitarist John Norum thought was too much, “The Final Countdown” is about as epic as it gets.

1. Journey – “Don’t Stop Believing”

While only reaching #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1981, “Don’t Stop Believing” has found life after the ‘80s in a way that few of the decade’s top hits have. It’s the top-selling song in iTunes history out of all songs not released in the 21st century, and it’s remained so popular that the song actually re-entered the UK charts in 2009, almost 30 years after its original release. From Glee to The Wedding Singer to Detroit Red Wings games, “Don’t Stop Believing” is still a fan favorite. From the instantly recognizable keyboard intro to the soaring guitar solo to the heartwarming-if-more-than-slightly-cheesy lyrics about midnight trains and small town girls, this one is a perfect rock anthem and a perfect song to close Rock of Ages.

-Nick Curry, Development Intern
The Long Center


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