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A Lehigh Valley Christmas in Concert Review
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November 30, 2009
Posted by John J. Moser at 01:22:53 AM on November 30, 2009 , The Morning Call Blog


T. Roth of Zen For Primates with Pete Fluck in the background at Sunday's A Lehigh
Valley Christmas concert.

Contributed photo by Hub Willson.

Sunday’s annual A Lehigh Valley Christmas concert at Allentown’s Symphony Hall brought together about 1,000 people in downtown Allen town and brought a sense of community spirit.

The show brought together an impressive variety of music: choir, blues, bluesy folk, gospel, rock, Celtic, and Latin, fusion and cool jazz. And it brought out several great performances.

In all, what it brought was a wonderful concert: three dozen songs by 17 musical acts, plus an all-star finale, in a three-hour-and-20-minute show (plus a 15-minute intermission).

Perhaps the only thing it didn’t bring, with the day’s temperature above 60, was much of a sense of winter. Or, frankly, too much a sense of the holiday, even though the stage was adorned by a huge Christmas tree decoration and most of the acts sang Christmas-themed music.

There were exceptions: Two gospel songs by the Holmes Family, with former “American Idol” finalist Ian Holmes, not surprisingly captured the season’s spirit best – perhaps because its message was most explicit, or its joy the most obvious, even while it was as hot as any rock band.

And by opening his set with a simple “Merry Christmas, everyone,” James Supra of The James Supra Band also seemed to capture that spirit, as did the addition of some hot Christmas tune licks by guitarist Dana Gaynor. The crowd spontaneously clapped along and answered back to Supra’s hollerin’ voice and hot harp.

The new 15-member CommUnity Chorus, which opened the show with its first public performance – despite the illness of director Brian Jones – set the right tone, as did The Large Flowerheads’ closing of a delightful “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron (Snoopy’s Christmas)”and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

Weirdly, the quality of the music was so good, it might have distracted from the message.

Hector Rosado and Ensemble Siete Latin Jazz played hot Latin rhythm jazz, and the crowd heartily cheered them. Bluesy folk duo Steve Brosky and Jimmy Meyer were just as instinctual, but rather than using precision, they used ragged sincerity in the songs “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Blue Christmas,” with Meyer strumming the tinsel out of them.

Soloist Darlene Finelli’s voice was a wonderful surprise in a Susan Boyle/”Britain’s Got Talent Way” way, helped by sparse but sympathetic guitar by Zen For Primates’ Mike Krisukas, the show’s musical director. Celtic band Blackwater displayed great musicianship, and had the crowd clapping to its banjo, flute, guitars and fiddle.

There were other great moments:  Fusion Jazz Trio’s plucked bass version of “O Come O Come Immanuel,” Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski playing drums with Jake Kaligis and The New Constitution on “Blue Christmas,” Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham leading his band The Cabinet in a ragged “Run Run Rudolph,” Lehigh Valley institution Dave Fry’s two-tune singalong and Doug Hawk Proposition’s original cool jazz songs, including one called “Cold Christmas Day.”

The show closed with the entire musical cast on a heartfelt and surprisingly good – if also ragged – version of U.S.A.  for Africa’s “We Are the World.” It certainly captured the idea of peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

 And that’s what Christmas is all about.

The Large Flowerheads * PO Box 541 * Bethlehem, PA 18016
 *610-442-3230* or *610-428-0544* *