The cold New York November rain was coming down as thousands gathered at Rockefeller Center for the 84th annual tree lighting ceremony on Nov. 30, but just a few miles away in the Upper West Side a few thousand lucky music fans nestled in at the Beacon Theatre for an incredible lineup of music. The 12th annual Holiday Cheer for FUV show brought crowd favorites Corinne Bailey Rae, Lucinda Williams, The Record Company, and headliner Amos Lee (and some special guests) to the historic Beacon Theatre stage.
The evening started off with a musical introduction by Amos Lee performing “Holiday Song” before bringing The Record Company on stage. A high energy and powerful start to the show for sure, The Record Company quickly engaged the audience for their short three-song set which included their well-known “Off the Ground.” The trio from L.A. who commanded the massive stage at Mountain Jam 2016 brought the same energizing show to a much different setting at Holiday Cheer.
A change in pace was met as British singer/songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae graced the stage with her soulful and sincere voice, accompanied by John McCallum (guitar) and Steve Brown (keys). Her set featured songs off of her latest album, The Heart Speaks in Whispers, and included her own take on Joni Mitchell’s “River,” perfect for ringing in the holiday season. The audience cheerfully welcomed the few spare minutes at the end of her set, allowing Rae to play them one more, “Sky Will Break.”
WFUV’s Carmel Holt broke the din of the intermission with an enthusiastic introduction for Lucinda Williams, describing the singer-songwriter as an essential in the American musical landscape. After starting her set solo with the title track from her 2016 release Ghosts of Highway 20, Williams was joined on stage for a stripped-down acoustic-electric set alongside former Wallflowers guitarist Stuart Mathis who served as a perfect complement to Williams’ guitar and vocal styling.
The evening’s headliner stepped in mid-set for a song, making the already robust stage presence even greater. Lee backed Williams up on her song “Lake Charles” constructing memorable, rich vocal harmonies. Williams’ bluesy country set concluded with a striking rendition of her 2014 song “Foolishness.” At first, Mathis’ guitar work on the song’s intro teased a possible Dylan “All Along the Watchtower” but it quickly turned into the powerful thought-provoking song soliciting cheers throughout, particularly with references against some current events in politics.
Holiday Cheer for FUV’s 2016 headliner, Amos Lee, was no stranger to the event, having performed for it previously. Joined by a full band on stage, Lee treated the Beacon to many familiar songs from throughout his recording career along with a few holiday treats – sounds that tickled a few different listening appetites. Lee paused briefly before breaking out one of his new songs, “Vaporize,” to talk about how his 2016 album Spirit allowed him to explore sounds and styles outside of his typical arranging style, exemplified by that song. Helping Lee sing on “Vaporize” was a surprise guest, Rachael Price, from the band Lake Street Dive. Speaking of guests, Price wasn’t the only one to join Lee during his set. After a few moments of praise and admiration for Lucinda Williams, Lee brought her onstage to perform one of her songs, “I Envy the Wind.” Corinne Bailey Rae stepped out for “Keep It Tight,” and Philly-based soul singer Mutlu helped out on “Sara Smile.”
The evening concluded in a Holiday Cheer fashion with a Christmas-themed encore of two songs. Rachel Price and Mutlu joined Lee and his band for the penultimate, “This Christmas.” Holiday Cheer’s nightcap stepped back into tradition with a rendition of “Silent Night” will all of the evening’s performers (except Williams) helping out. Lee stretched his voice unhindered into a higher octave for a verse, and Price, Rae, and Mutlu all added beautiful harmonies to the song.
Holiday Cheer for FUV proved to be another successful live music conclusion for the year, bringing unique and venerable sounds together to resonate for the Beacon Theatre audience in a single event. The event is produced annually as a benefit concert for WFUV, a public radio station broadcasting from Fordham University in the Bronx. With 2016’s Holiday Cheer behind us, it’s time to start building anticipation for next year’s lineup.
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