‘Holiday Wishes’ CD benefits Make-A-WishWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Pat Dailey’s “River of Stars” is not a Christmas song, yet it lends its title to this year’s collection of local holiday music benefiting Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The “star” connection is obvious. Make-A-Wish uses a bright blue star as its logo. Toledo Free Press uses a star in its masthead (a tribute to the owner’s connections to Texas). With two CDs containing 44 tracks, the river of local music stars is well represented. And the star is a shining symbol for the wish kids and families that benefit from the organization’s great work.
The song’s connection to Christmas is not as obvious.
This is the second year for the “Holiday Wishes” project and the second year Dailey and his manager Tom Brady have generously contributed a track. Last year’s Dailey song, “Here Comes The Cold,” was a natural fit. Another of his few winter-themed tracks, “Here In The North,” is one I hope to include next year. When I heard “River of Stars,” from Dailey’s “Squeaky Clean” collection, it immediately struck me as a perfect choice to set the tone for this year’s collection.
It begins with a light, sparkling twinkle of sounds that segue into gentle guitar. The first words Dailey sings may not have been written to evoke Christmas, but they certainly serve as a grand place to begin this year’s musical journey through the holidays: “I remember a night, so long ago/under a river of stars,” Dailey sings, with all the confidence of a master storyteller. And while Dailey may have envisioned Put-in-Bay harbor when he wrote the lyrics, they could just as easily describe a special night in the Bethlehem sky.
The song seems to be about an earthly relationship, but it culminates in imagery that clearly paints a picture of faith: “And so I row, row, row my boat once more/Until I find you waiting on a distant shore/With outstretched arms and upturned hands/You lead me into the harbor and back to the sand.”
It is a spiritual image of hope and comfort that captures the feeling of Christmas without needing a single direct word.
There are many surprises and musical treasures on this year’s CDs. Jon Hendricks contributes an original song, “The Gift,” that sounds as if it could be found on a Frank Sinatra holiday CD. Listening to the track for the first time with Dave Mariasy at Audio Matrix Recording Studio was transporting. Music is mostly listened to through tiny earbuds, computer speakers or car stereos. To listen to Hendricks and a single piano through Mariasy’s high-tech studio speakers was akin to hearing music for the first time. It was a revelation. Hendricks’ voice simultaneously weaves tensile strength with an aching fragility.
A new tradition
For Christmas 2011, Toledo Free Press produced “Holiday Wishes,” a CD of holiday songs performed by Northwest Ohio musicians. The CD was a 25-track compilation and raised more than $25,000 for Make-A-Wish. It was underwritten by Toledo Transmission and UAW Local 14, so every dollar raised, through sales at Panera Bread locations, went directly to Make-A-Wish.
Although Toledo Free Press had produced two previous CDs, one collecting historical recordings and one from a Toledo songwriting contest, neither approached the scale or complexity of “Holiday Wishes.”
The 2011 CD included contributions from such Northwest Ohio stalwarts as Dailey, Jamie Farr, Mannheim Steamroller, Sheri LaFontaine, Candice Coleman, the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, Crystal Bowersox and Alyson Stoner. It also featured new recordings from Kerry Patrick Clark, Jeff Stewart, Kyle White, Ramona Collins, TAPESTRY, Chrys Peterson and Hepcat Revival, Voodoo Libido, Mighty Wyte and Jameil Aossey, among several others.
With tremendous media support from FOX Toledo, WPOS, 101.5 The River and many of our media friends, the CD sold out and even before 2012 started, we were thinking about a second volume.
Rather than start in late July, as we did in 2011, the 2012 compilation process started in January. Lexi Staples gave us a copy of a track her father, the late radio personality Dennis Staples, recorded of Dr. Seuss’ “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” That required tracking down permission from Random House Publishing, Warner Bros. Studios and the estate of Dr. Seuss. With all those rights now granted, it is a great honor to include that track on this year’s CD.
Another late performer is remembered as the Johnny Knorr Orchestra, led by Johnny’s son, Jerry, plays “Auld Lang Syne” for the 2012 CD. Johnny died in August 2011.
LaFontaine has allowed us to include “Toledo, My Hometown” on this year’s collection. It is a contribution that raises the bar for all the participating artists. “Toledo My Hometown” is a seasonal staple on The River, and it is an honor to have it on this year’s CD. The tune has added poignancy as we wish LaFontaine well in her new city of Nashville, Tenn.
There are several artists returning from last year. Stewart and White perform a revelatory version of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” The great Chip Davis allowed us to use Mannheim Steamroller’s “Fum Fum Fum.” Coleman did double duty, singing “Santa Baby” with Chris Brown’s band and “Merry Christmas Baby” with Buck69. Peterson and our friends in Hepcat Revival cover Harry Connick Jr.’s “Pray On Christmas.” Voodoo Libido, Skoobie Snaks and The Wanna Bees all contribute rocking tracks. The Polka Floyd Show took “Run Like Hell” from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and created a mashup that has already attracted regional attention.
VH1 favorite Tatiana Owens wrote and recorded a stunning new song, “Winter Holidays,” that could be played alongside any modern classic.
Local media veterans Jerry Anderson, Fred LeFebvre, Mary Beth Zolik and Rick Woodell recorded dynamic readings on par with Farr’s interpretation of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” from last year. We wish Zolik a speedy recovery as she undergoes treatment for cancer.
This year’s CD will include a number of exciting new artists, from young country singers such as Connor Rose to emerging rockers like The Sanderlings.
Not that every wish comes true; a few notable Toledo entertainers did not bother to respond to requests, even with a “no.” The Danny Thomas estate declined permission for a track, and Sony Legacy would not provide gratis rights to a Teresa Brewer track we were hoping to include.
But even with those very few disappointments, we still had so many quality submissions we had to start saving them for 2013. Great tracks by Arctic Clam, Krystal Monique, Mitch Kahl, Tim Ellis, Andrew Z’s Morning Crew and a few others are waiting in the wings.
The best news for the project was the return of three people who are behind the scenes, but integral to the process; indeed, without them it would not have happened last year and would not happen this year. Christopher Stoll, engineer at Audioflare Productions at Zeta Recording Studios, donated studio time and his finely attuned ears to the project. He earned MVP status this year, recording tracks ranging from Irish folk to German choirs. Matt Feher engineered the CDs, ensuring the discs are produced to the highest standards. Larry Meyer navigates the legal and publishing issues to make sure every “T” is crossed and every “I” is dotted.
Special thank-yous this year go to GM Powertrain Toledo, UAW Local 14, WNWO, 101.5 The River, A&D Glass & Mirror, Levis Commons and Panera Bread. All proceeds will go directly to Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky & Indiana to benefit children in the 21-county Northwest Ohio region.
Make-A-Wish development officer Ellie McManus is a dream to work with and is a constant inspiration and reminder of Make-A-Wish’s mission. Toledo Free Press Sales Manager BJ Rahn has also been an invaluable help.
I am personally grateful to have strengthened some friendships and made new ones. I may never have met McManus, Clark or E.J. Wells without this project, and my life would be a bit dimmer without their creativity.
The project has also inspired an offshoot. For summer 2013, Toledo Free Press will produce a CD of upbeat summer party songs for the American Red Cross of Northwest Ohio to use as a vehicle for summer safety information. If you are a local musician interested in getting your Beach Boys vibe on disc, contact me before we get too far into January.
Thank you again to every musician and person who donated their time and talent to this project. If you would like to see the recipients of your labor, join us at 6 p.m. Dec. 5 at The Blarney Event Center for our second annual “Holiday Wishes” benefit concert. There will be food, friends and a lot of smiling faces at the public event.
In the meantime, I am going to start working on convincing Ramona Collins to record “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” for the 2013 collection …
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at mmiller@
Tags: 101.5 The River, A&D Glass & Mirror, Alyson Stoner, Audio Matrix Recording Studio, Audioflare Productions, Candice Coleman, Chip Davis, Christopher Stoll, Chrys Peterson, Crystal Bowersox, Danny Thomas, Dave Mariasy, Dennis Staples, Dr. Seuss, E.J. Wells, Ellie McManus, FOX Toledo, Fred LeFebvre, Hepcat Revival, Jameil Aossey, Jamie Farr, Jeff Stewart, Jerry Anderson, John Lennon, Jon Hendricks, Kerry Patrick Clark, Kyle White, Levis Commons, Lexi Staples, Lighting The Fuse, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Mannheim Steamroller, Mary Beth Zolik, Michael S. Miller, Mighty Wyte, Panera Bread, Pat Dailey, Pink Floyd, Polka Floyd Show, Ramona Collins, Rick Woodell, Sheri LaFontaine, Skoobie Snaks, Tapestry, Teresa Brewer, The Grinch, the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, The Wanna Bees, Toledo Transmission, Tom Brady, UAW Local 14, Voodoo Libido, WPOS