I had the good fortune to begin my Christmas early on Friday December 7th with “A Gospel Blues Christmas” at the Evergreen Cultural Center in Coquitlam, and from start to finish I was blown away by the outstanding performance of John Lee Sanders and his band; it was the perfect way to start the holidays.
I know many of us out there, myself included, can get a little tired of the same old “Christmas Music” that plays in every mall and every holiday party, and is constantly being sung off key by people we know. So if you’re anything like me and you want to get in the holiday spirit without losing your mind this is probably an event you should check out for next year. Through John Lee Sanders and his band, as well some great performances from Gary Comeau and Sibel Thrasher, the holidays went from annoying and cheesy to smooth and sexy.
I’ll admit I was put off at first, not having heard of John Lee Sanders prior to this event I didn’t know exactly what I was in for, I arrived at Evergreen Cultural Center (a very beautiful building especially all decorated for Christmas) only to find that the venue wasn’t overly large. This initial worry I felt was forgotten quickly as John came on stage and started playing.
John instantly brought all the smooth smoky feelings of a Memphis jazz bar to the stage and turned classic Christmas music into something completely new. The start with his version of “Oh Come all Ye Faithful” was so full of blues energy it was like listening to a completely new song, with John’s smooth Elvis-like vocals and jazz piano, amazing guitar and the vocal and fiddle accompaniment from Sibel and Gary; it blew me away. It brought such a strong amount of energy and style that I was hooked in completely for the rest of the show.
All the things you need to make a great concert were there: a group of true professional musicians who play their instrument and sing as casually as breathing, good sound quality (which was surprisingly good for a smallish event), good music, and (possibly the most important) a good front man.
From start to finish, John Sanders lead this show and you couldn’t help but love the guy. This is a true music lover’s musician; a man who has played with everyone, can play any instrument, and leads the night so casually and without arrogance that you feel like you’re listening to an old friend.
As John continued with “Jesus What a Wonderful Child” and “Christmas in New Orleans” you began to see more and more of just how much talent there was on this small stage. For me “Christmas in New Orleans” was one of my favorite moments of the night, for the vocal delivery alone from John who actually sounded like Louis Armstrong. This song was so fun to listen to and it included an awesome sax solo from John.
This was followed with another perfect impersonation, this time of Willie Nelson, with “Pretty Paper”. This was a great song delivered well and as with many of the songs throughout the night, came with an accompanied story form John. Almost every time before playing a song he had a story to go with it (usually involving one of the many great musicians he’s performed with) and these stories were always told in such a natural unrehearsed way that as I stated before, it was like hanging out with an old friend. Before the intermission even came around, I felt like I knew this guy.
I could gush on about how cool I thought John was for a while, but it wasn’t just him up on stage and each member of the band was just as talented.
I was blown away by Tim Porter on guitar in almost every song with his smooth solos which were just the right amount. So many great guitarists fall into the terrible habit of trying to steal the show and impress everyone at every chance and it often takes away from the song; this wasn’t the case with Tim. Everything he did was always subtle enough that it never felt overpowering or showy but at the same time if you focused in on him for a couple of seconds you became hooked.
Chris Nordquist on drums and Dennis Macenko on bass were just as gifted, and again performed with the skilled subtlety of true musicians who are there for the music not the attention.
As the night moved on the mood and tone would change with each song from very gospel blues in “Sweet Blue Jesus Boy”, to blue grass country with Gary doing a fiddle instrumental of “God Rest Ye Mary Gentlemen”, each song was its own little separate micro-performance.
I found Sibel’s strong vocals helped bring a good energetic contrast to John’s smooth lounge style of singing and really helped bring home the gospel feel. Her and John singing “Holy Night” and “What are you doing New Year’s Eve” was flawless, with both their tones complimenting each other and showing great musical chemistry.
As the night wore on I found myself, as well as many others in the audience, moving and swaying to the beat and this is where my only criticism of the night comes. If there was one flaw in this otherwise perfect show it was the fact that there was nowhere to move. One thought that repeated throughout the night in my head was “I wish this was at a jazz lounge so I could dance”, and I’m no dancer either, but the energy and delivery of these Christmas classics just made you want to move. It was like being at the best Christmas party of your life but you weren’t able to party. I can only say I hope this event gets more support and bigger press for next year so that way it can be at a venue that allows the audience to really cut loose. I did still enjoy Evergreen’s set up and as I said the sound was flawless, but this event could have been bigger and louder and hopefully it will be for next year.
I could go on about every performance of the night from John’s awesome Elvis tribute “Christmas with The King” to the folksy rendition of “Glory to the Newborn King”, where Gary added some banjo, but each song was so great I would be here forever. It was an amazing show that I was glad to see and will hopefully be held again next year so if you’re looking for the perfect way to start the holidays check out “A Gospel Blues Christmas” next year. Be ready to be blown away.