Rock shows becoming a holiday tradition

Posted Dec. 02, 2010, at 6:55 p.m.

Nate Oldham has a special box in his attic that only comes out once a year. Inside it are hundreds of feet of Christmas lights and garlands, as well as lots of other assorted holiday decorations.

All that stuff isn’t for personal use, however: it’s for creating a candy-colored electrified indie rock holiday wonderland, for the Christmas Rock Spectacular shows that Oldham plans each year.

“There’s a lot of stuff. I’ve been collecting it for years,” said Oldham, a lifelong musician originally from Isleboro, who now lives in Lincolnville. “It adds another hour or so to the setup before the show starts. We’ve got some ridiculously cheesy garlands. We wrap lights around everything. I’ve got stuff from Ames, when it still existed. It’s Christmas overload.”

Oldham, who performs in the electro-pop duo Rotundo Sealeg, is busy putting together three Christmas Rock Spectacular shows this year, each featuring an array of Maine indie rock bands, holiday humor, vegan cookies and soy nog, and, as Oldham says, approximately 1 billion Christmas lights (give or take). The shows are set for 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5, at Roots & Tendrils in Belfast, 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, at the Keith Anderson Community Center in Orono, and 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12, at Slainte in Portland.

Now in its fourth year, the Christmas Rock Spectacular is well on its way to becoming a holiday tradition among music fans in eastern Maine. The first show was held in Orono in December 2007, with Rotundo Sealeg playing with Wood Burning Cat, the Rattlesnakes and the 500s. Another Orono show was held the next year, followed by an expansion in 2009 to include performances in Belfast and Portland.

The original idea was to combine local rock with the holiday spirit, and that’s something Oldham has kept up over the years. Special covers of classic Christmas songs, funny skits in between songs and choreographed dance moves from everyone involved are par for the course. Oldham and his wife, Jenn, are vegan, so an as-sortment of vegan-friendly holiday goodies will be available at the show.

“I wanted to do something that brought back the old childhood feelings of Christmas, but for people who are adults now,” he said. “It’s a little bit ‘Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,’ a little bit Mr. Rogers — just with awesome indie rock and punk bands.”

Three bands will perform at each show. Rotundo Sealeg features Oldham on lead vocals and keyboard, and Maine songwriter Jason Unterreiner on guitar, with a pre-programmed drum machine in the background. Oldham has been very busy over the past year, writing two albums’ worth of his trademark high-energy electro-pop songs.

“For National Album Writing Month last February, I wrote a concept album about a girl who gets magical powers on her 17th birthday and has to join a band to amplify them,” said Oldham. “I’m working on another album as well. We’ve got tons of new things that we’re trying to do.”

The other two core bands are the Strawberry All-Stars and Good Kids Sprouting Horns. The Portland-based Strawberry All-Stars is the indie pop solo project of Jonathan Merrifeld, former drummer for the 500s and current drummer for the Flannery Brothers. Good Kids Sprouting Horns is a three-piece indie rock band from Orono that has been seen on stages ranging from the KahBang Festival in Bangor to the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City.

In Orono, the show also features Orono alt-country band the Hampden Mountain Boys and up-and-coming Bangor folk rock band Houses in Trees. In Belfast, it’s just the three core bands, and in Portland they’ll be joined by Wood Burning Cat, an indie rock duo featuring Jason Unterreiner on guitar and Joel Glidden on key-boards.

There are two important new elements to this year’s show. Firstly, proceeds from the $5 donation suggested at all three performances will go to hunger relief. Orono’s show will benefit Manna Inc., Belfast’s show will benefit the Belfast Soup Kitchen, and the Portland performance benefits Wayside Food Services.

The other thing? Nate and Jenn Oldham welcomed a baby boy, Ezra, into their family eight months ago. The Christmas Rock Spectacular always has been a kid-friendly event — but now it definitely is. Especially at the Belfast show, which will be held earlier in the day to accommodate families.

“Kids will love it, but adults will think it’s really fun and funny and cool, too,” he said. “That’s one of the things I like to do with my music. I want to make something everyone can enjoy. A lot of adults don’t do things that are interactive with music, so this is their chance. And I love the idea of little kids at a G-rated punk rock show.”

Little Ezra has been helping his dad in the studio. He’s especially fond of Oldham’s Casio keyboards.

“He loves to literally jam out on the Casio PT-1, a little while keyboard. He’ll slam his hands down on it, but it’s on mono-play, so only one sound comes out, so it still sounds good to him,” said Oldham. “He starts up my drum machine and will change the patterns on it. He’s really into it. He’s so much fun.”

For information on all three shows, go to Rotundo Sealeg on Facebook.

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