December features loads of holiday-themed events for the tykes in footie pajamas and the adults who ply them with seasonal sweets. But beyond drunken games of Dirty Santa, what's an indie rocker to do to get into that seasonal spirit? That's what the members of Chapel Hill's Trekky Records crew used to ask. Then they started making their own Christmas fun.
"The beginning of Trekky's flirtations with Christmas music," explains label co-founder Martin Anderson, "were the Christmas parties we've been throwing since the inception of the label. They were just an excuse to get together, exchange a gift or two, and drink some eggnog."
But during one Christmas party past, says Anderson, "a bunch of us learned some Christmas songs for the fun of it, passing the guitar around and having a great time." They were attracted by the simplicity of the songs. With a few chords, most anyone could lead a sing-along. The topics were rich and wide, too. "One of the major reasons we were drawn to Christmas music is that there's so much of it—from old hymns that are overtly about the nativity to little love songs set in front of red and green lights like 'Baby, It's Cold Outside.'"
So, like the members of the Trekky Records roster are wont to do, they formed a band, the 24-member Trekky Yuletide Orchestra. They're now a fully functioning holiday outfit with an album in the can, last year's A New Old Fashioned Christmas, and a proclivity for big shows. This year, they host their second Christmas at the Cradle, inspired by an Elliott Smith memorial show with a similar format.
The event begins with an acoustic set by the Orchestra, who've penned three original Christmas songs this year: the starry ballad "Christmas Like No Other," the nostalgically glowing "We Could Only See the Star at Night" and the folksy, string-laden "The Best Christmas Ever." Ten local acts—Portastatic, Annuals, Ivan Rosebud, The Moaners, Midtown Dickens, I Was Totally Destroying It, Hammer No More the Fingers, Schooner, Robo Sapien and Sweater Weather—will play two to five Christmas songs of their choosing, followed by a full-band electric set from the TYO.
No cross-collaboration is explicitly planned, but if last year's show is any indication, expect some surprises. "We had everything from David Karsten Daniels playing a shoegaze hymn to the Torch Marauder/Erie Choir mash-up of a Spinal Tap Christmas jam," says Anderson. "There were also surprise guests, like Superchunk's Jon Wurster backing The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle." Local fixture Billy Sugarfix will host, warming up the crowd between sets and hopefully playing his theremin.
While the Trekky Yuletide Orchestra's goal is to celebrate the holiday season's values of generosity and fellowship, it's hard to have a Christmas-themed event without getting tangled up in its more prominent values of religion and consumption.
"Within the TYO itself, we have atheists, Christians, agnostics, members that practice other religions and people that don't have any specific beliefs as far as religion goes," says Anderson. "For us, Christmas is about brotherhood, giving and spending time with loved ones. We try to make this an event that celebrates Christmas apart from the religion or the consumerism."
Nevertheless, the event features some overtly religious songs and a mall-style Santa prowling the audience. It even has "Christmas" in its name (although Trekky Yuletide Orchestra chose to name itself after the pagan holiday on which Christmas is based). "Once you blur the lines between all these different aspects of the holiday, you come to something really beautiful and fun," Anderson explains. "And you know," he adds jokingly, "Secular Holiday Jam Festivity at the Cradle just didn't sound as good as Christmas at the Cradle!"
The 24-member super-group, culled from the Trekky Records roster, will host its second annual Christmas at the Cradle Wednesday, Dec. 19. Music starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $7-$10. Proceeds benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.