“ISN’T THERE ANYONE WHO KNOWS WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT!?!”
Sometimes the holidays can become a little stressful and depressing — even for Charlie Brown.
The titular character in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” featuring the stars of the Charles Schulz “Peanuts” comic strip, is less than thrilled about the Christmas season until his friend, Linus, reminds him what Christmas is all about.
The show is set to come alive at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown on Dec. 8. Audiences will be in for a double treat — the show starts with the viewing of the Charlie Brown Christmas special and is followed by the popular jazz band Eric Byrd Trio, who will play selections from the special mixed with some holiday classics.
“Because of the combo right between the Charlie Brown Christmas and the Eric Byrd Trio playing so much of the [Vince] Guaraldi score and other pieces, it’s a wonderful way to celebrate the season,” says Krista Bradley, executive director at BlackRock. “It’s a great way to celebrate nostalgia for those of us that grew up with the Charlie Brown Christmas and to pass it on. It’s a great way for kids and families to experience not only that beloved piece, but live music together.”
For Eric Byrd, playing the great jazz songs from the special taps into great memories from his childhood.
“I, probably like millions of others, grew up with the television show,” Byrd says. “I’m 42 and I remember when stuff came out on television and you couldn’t watch it again — there was no YouTube or videotapes. My friends would come over and we would watch every year.
“Being a kid, it was kind of my first introduction to jazz. I loved the cartoon, Charlie Brown and the soundtrack.”
Byrd is quick to point out that, although he’d love to take credit for the idea of doing a live Charlie Brown special, it actually was the brainchild of someone else.
“About 10 years ago, we started getting a lot of gigs around the holidays and I just started playing some of the songs [from the Charlie Brown special] not really thinking about it,” Byrd says. “We’d play a bunch of songs and one of them would be from the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Sandy Oxx, executive director at the Carroll County Arts Council, said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to play this video on the screen and your trio could come and play the music from the show?’
“I didn’t think audiences wanted to hear it, something so classic. Of course, I was wrong.”
The main reason for doing the show at BlackRock, according to Bradley, is to provide families with great holiday entertainment as well as great holiday memories.
“We have a history, really a niché, for programming family shows that both children and their parents and grandparents can enjoy together,” Bradley says. “So it’s not just a children’s show but it’s something a family can share together in terms of live performance.”
“It’s become this whole family thing,” Byrd adds. “We do sell out crowds pretty much everywhere we’ve gone. It’s always been enthusiastic. ... It was cool to turn kids on to it who weren’t hip to it.”
For Bradley, the simple story of the holiday is timeless, with unforgettable characters and that tiny, pathetic-looking Christmas tree.
“[I hope the audience leaves] with that heartwarming feeling of, ‘Oh goodness, the season is really here,’” Bradley says. “We’re caught up in the joy of the season and this is a great way to celebrate it and this is a great way for me to introduce my child to something that was beloved for me or I feel so good about celebrating this with kids in my life that I care about.”
For Byrd, who says the piano-playing Schroeder is, of course, his favorite character, being able to share in the moment with the audience is a great feeling.
“I hope [the audience] takes away an appreciation for the music,” Byrd says. “It’s hard to play instrumental music and expect 7, 8, 9 year olds to get what you’re playing. I think it’s important that we try to keep alive what makes us uniquely American. Not in an arrogant sense, but something that keeps us uniquely American.
“I hope people have a greater appreciation this time of year and not let it turn into something so commercialized.”