Folk-rocker Dan Zanes is well aware that traditional fare like caroling and Christmas trees can be just as alienating to some as they are familiar to others. His community-conscious ditties are all about inclusion, and his upcoming Dan Zanes and Friends Holiday House Party show is no exception. The former frontman of garage-pop band Del Fuegos, Zanes has helmed eclectic block parties with collaborators like Angelique Kidjo, Lila Downs, Philip Glass, and Lou Reed. While he specializes in family-friendly music for the tween-and-under set, his down-home, rootsy aesthetic and shambolic pop songs transcend categorization. He tackles issues like immigration and gentrification, although his hearty annunciations are conveyed more in the spirit of fun than in polemic. Take, for instance, his recent Spanish-language album, ¡Nueva York!, a rich compendium that highlights the musical traditions of Latin America and includes knee-slapping yarns about fishermen and tropical islands.
The impetus behind the live show came last year, when Zanes pondered what a 21st-century end-of-year soirée could look like. Being a WASP from New England, Im already familiar with Christmas, he says. This is a celebration where Christmas is taken out completely and you have lots of people from different backgrounds having a party onstage. Its a more modern gauge of what the holiday season can be.
The basic framework of the performance is that Dan Zanes and his Friends are snowed in at an eclectically furnished Brooklyn apartment with a dozen other singers and dancers. To pass the time, they take turns performing. Its a veritable goulash of entertainment that includes Mexican fiddling by the Villa-Lobos Brothers; holiday songs in the Arabic Sufi tradition from Palestinian jazz musicians Tareq Abboushi and Zafer Tawil; Hanukah disco from Basya Schechter, founder of the psychedelic world-music band Pharaohs Daughter; and a Korean New Years ballad from violinist Elena Moon Park. Throw in some requisite caroling, a few global harvest songs, the shadow puppetry of celebrated theater designer and macabre-monger Julian Crouch (performed to a Leadbelly song), and tap dancing from world-renowned dancer Derick K. Grant, and you have all the makings of a truly nondenominational holiday show. Its the kind of high-energy, quintessential Zanes performance thatll get the audience moving while theyre introduced to unconventional instruments like the oud and bazuq, or learning about son jarocho (a percussive dance from southern Veracruz, Mexico, that Claudia Montes will perform).
Zanes hopes the show will uncover the possibilities of where music (particularly when its culled from a variety of traditions) can go. Collaboration is such an important part of what I do, he says. But while education certainly plays a role in my music, Im doing the show as an entertainer rather than an educator. Its the spirit of the moment, the spirit of inclusion.
Dan Zanes and Friends Holiday House Party happens at Noon and 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 29, and Sunday, Nov. 30, at the Herbst Theatre. $25-$35; www.performances.org
Nov. 29-30, 12 & 5 p.m., 2008