WILMINGTON – When ILM Unplugged started a decade ago at Bourgie Nights, it welcomed numerous local musicians and singer-songwriters each month to take the mic and test-drive their original tunes in front of an audience. Then, each December, the unplugged series got the tinsel treatment. Performers would sing their fave holiday carols and one original song, while spiked eggnog and general camaraderie fueled the most celebratory concert of the season.
“I consider this the ‘Office Holiday Party’ for singer/songwriters in the area,” Bourgie Nights manager Sean Thomas Gerard said.
After a Covid-19 hiatus, Christmas Unplugged returns. The tradition takes place Friday night, featuring 12 local musicians, each performing two holiday songs and one original tune as part of their set.
“I leave the holiday aspect of the show open to interpretation,” Gerard said. “Singers are allowed to play anything that reminds them of the holidays, and obviously it is open to the celebration of all faiths.”
A local musician and founder of rock outfit Onward, Soldiers, Gerard said he went back to a group chat he started in 2019 to cull this year’s holiday lineup. He reached out to performers who take the stage annually, including Justin Lacy, Tres Altman, and Jason Andre. Gerard also folded in newer faces to the lineup.
It will be Tracy Shedd’s first time joining the shindig. Though Shedd moved to Wilmington a few short years ago, she has had ties to the area since the ‘90s, as her songs were featured on “One Tree Hill” and “Dawson’s Creek,” both filmed locally.
She and her husband, James Tritten, have recorded with local artists as well on their label, Fort Lowell Records, which started in 2009 in their then-hometown of Tucson, Arizona. The couple now lives in downtown Wilmington.
Shedd has chosen to play the holiday song “I’d Like You for Christmas” by Julie London, of whom she has been a lifelong fan. She also will pay homage to her favorite decade of sounds in “Just Like Christmas” by Low.
“James and I both adore the band,” Shedd said. “They are the definition of ‘90s music for us, and we were very fortunate to perform with them in the late ‘90s when we lived in Boston, MA.”
Joining the alt-rock musician onstage will be James Sardone (Brickbat) and Brian Weeks (De La Noche, Summer Set), who will back her as well during her original song “Holding Space.” Shedd recorded it for the “GROW” compilation released by Fort Lowell in 2020, as a fundraiser and awareness campaign for Black Lives Matter.
“The lyrics mean a lot to me,” Shedd said. “It’s about being present, listening, and holding space for others.”
The song felt apropos for the return of Bourgie’s holiday concert. The last Christmas Unplugged was held December 13, 2019 and the downtown’s venue final show took place held Feb. 28, 2019 before the Covid-19 shutdown.
“Our first show back was August 1, 2021,” Gerard confirmed.
For artists, performing live music throughout the health crisis was heavily altered. Many deferred to livestreams and other creative ways to reach audiences. Gerard utilized his downtime to create the LP “Finally Found a Paradise” in his home studio. He will perform the song “Sail off in the Sunset” at Christmas Unplugged, as well as “The Christmas Song” and “Have Yourself A Merry Christmas.”
“As musicians, it’s always hard to catch each other playing live throughout the year,” Gerard said. “We’re always gigging or working, and rarely find the time to see our peers play. This is the one gig each year where a lot of us are in one room and can experience a show together.”
Justin Lacy has been a part of every Bourgie holiday soiree since its inception. Last year, upon the concert’s cancelation, he turned his attention to creating a lo-fi Covid Christmas album, “The Clampamp Parade,” with his favorite local indie bands all recording a track from home. 2021’s return to the stage is a touch more special, as there is a greater need to embrace a face-to-face reunion among colleagues.
“This is my very first time performing my songs in public since the pandemic,” Lacy said. “In fact, the last time I performed was the 2019 holiday showcase at Bourgie. I miss it, and I’m looking forward to getting back up there.”
Having to play only three songs instead of a full set, Lacy said, presented a feasible way to ease back into the swing of things. He also called it the most “heart-warming show of the year,” filled with vibrancy and palpable support.
“It’s kinda like all the musician egos are (somewhat) stripped away, and everyone opens up for this playful, holly jolly, sometimes corny extravaganza,” he said. “Or maybe it’s just the eggnog.”
First performed over a decade ago at the Soapbox, Lacy’s holiday standard, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” has become an expected treat any time he takes a stage in December. “I am obligated to perform it every single year. Some kind of Faustian bargain with the late Dr. Seuss, I think,” he said.
Lacy also recorded an original holiday tune in 2017, “Christmas on TV,” which he looks forward to dusting off the jingle bells for, even if it means he has to relearn it each holiday season. “Every year I’m like, ‘What the hell are these chords again and how did I come up with this?’” he quipped.
The musician will debut a new track, “Honest Honey,” to appear on his solo album, slated for release in 2022. Lacy also just released the 11-track LP “Hands” with his band Library Baby a few weeks ago; however, come Friday he only will perform solo — well, until he manages to pull friends onstage to join him, something he said he does every holiday showcase.
“[I’m] usually trying to incorporate some kind of odd Christmastime instrumentation,” he said. “This year it’s handbells.”
The sounds reverberating throughout the venue usually culminate in a community singalong of some sort, though Gerard won’t “confirm or deny” such is the case for 2021.
“[B]ecause it’s the holidays, there is a whole lot of cheer going around,” Lacy promised. “Of all the shows I play and work every year, this one is the most fun to be part of. … The first year I attended, I prepared a solo set and some Christmas banter. When I got there, it was clear … it was more of an eggnog’s-a-flowin’ party atmosphere, not an audience sitting down ready for a story. So now I bring the Christmas party.”
Doors to Bourgie Nights (127 Princess St.) open at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 3. The concert is also a Toys for Tots fundraiser, with a $10 suggested donation or an unwrapped, new toy. Christmas Unplugged, presented in collaboration with Modern Legend, will feature performances by: Justin Lacy, Mike Blair, Tracy Shedd, Kicking Bird, Julia Rothenberger, Sean Thomas Gerard, Billy Heathen, Travis Shallow, Mark Jackson, Tres Altman, Kyle Lindley, and Jason Andre.
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