Humbert bringing holiday variety show to the Civic

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Ryan Humbert performs his new original holiday tune Together This Christmas, with Michael Houff, (l to r) Ryan Humbert, Erin Vaughn and Matt Middleton. (Photos by Steve Pierce)

Well it’s nearly Christmas, (Happy Hanukkah, y’all!) and if you pay attention to the local music scene you know what that means: It’s time for Ryan Humbert’s Fourth Annual Holiday Extravaganza and Variety Show at the Akron Civic Theatre on Friday night.

This year’s big holiday blowout will be hosted by WQMX (94.9-FM) radio personality Chris Casale and will feature Humbert — one of the hardest workin’ tirelessly self-promotin’ men (that’s a compliment in this context) in the Akron music business — and a deluxe nine-piece version of his talented band running through many of your holiday favorites. Also performing will be pop rockers the Strange Familiar, bluesy bar boys the Juke Hounds, singer/songwriter Tracey Thomas, folkies Yankee Bravo and the Blue Ribbon Bluegrass Band (I’m pretty sure it plays bluegrass).

Humbert’s a pretty good showman and his band plays tight and the musicians clearly enjoy themselves like a bunch of friends who have been jamming together for a while, so it should be a good show.

Blast from the past

Fans of classic and/or obscure soul and R&B should clear their Saturday afternoon/evening schedules because there are a couple of events that should keep you doing the shang-a-lang from the ’60s, the bump from the ’70s and maybe even the Running Man from the ’80s.

First, beginning at 2 p.m. at Last Exit Bookstore in Kent will be Soulbirdz Presents: Dust & Digital or Cafe Culture Clash! featuring DJ Rashomon who will be spinning soul and R&B from obscure 1960s Northern Soul 45s to ’70s-’90s R&B such as the Jacksons, Alexander O’Neal and Bobby Brown’s My Prerogative, which (tangent alert!) contains some of the worst subject-verb agreement outside of a Dirty South rap tune:

“Ego trips is not my thing, All these strange relationships

Really gets me down, I see nothing wrong with spreading myself around, Hey!”

Say what, Bobby?

Anyway it should be a fun opportunity to shake your body down to the ground and afterward you can head on to downtown Akron where Musica will play host to Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites: A Northern Soul Dance Party, featuring (obviously) the local classic soul band. The retro soul group, which has been building its original repertoire rooted in the taut horn-driven late ’60s R&B sound, will be recording its debut album later this month.

Grammys on the Ceiling

Kudos and congrats to Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach, aka the Black Keys, for the six Grammy nominations (five for the band and one for Auerbach’s production skills) they received last week. The guys have worked long and hard since their presciently named 2001 debut album, The Big Come-Up, and with their (rock) star still rising they have indeed made a big-ass, decadelong, come-up.

Having been around them when they were still a scrappy indie-blues-rock duo from West Akron, packing the former Lime Spider in Akron full of friends, family and increasingly rabid fans, it’s been a bit surreal to see them become real-life rock stars who can sell out multiple nights at Madison Square Garden.

I remember a few years ago when Carney was hanging out at the Highland Square Festival, talking to friends while pockets of young fans hovered excitedly, many too scared/respectful to approach him while young ladies thirstily ogled indie rock’s Abe Lincoln (I can’t take credit for that one, but it makes me laugh) as if he was an oiled-up Channing Tatum in a Speedo and cowboy boots going Gangnam Style on West Market street.

Likewise, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which runs the Grammys, deserves some kudos for giving its nomination list a much-needed hipness injection.

As I detailed in a blog post shortly after last week’s Grammy Nominations Live Concert (see what I did there? They call that cross-platform promotion, baby), many of the major categories are populated by worthy 21st century acts. While its fans may be offended, I appreciate that a group like current teen dreams One Direction was skipped over in the Best New Band category for acts such as the Alabama Shakes, Fun. and Frank Ocean.

Not that the British boy band’s global success isn’t noteworthy or deserving of praise, but I’m glad the Grammys are leaving those kind of industry/record sales-related accolades to the Billboard Awards.

I’m also glad the voters don’t seem beholden to award their peers/fellow boomers awards simply because they are still able to release decent to darn good records. For much of the ’90s it seemed that Cheryl Crow could belch the ABCs on record and as long as it was backed by some jangly guitar and a midtempo pop groove she’d get a Grammy nod. Robert Plant and Allison Krauss’ Raising Sand was indeed a fine recording worthy of awards but Album of the Year and Record of the Year? Naw, I don’t think so.

There are still some oddities such as Bonnie Raitt’s solid comeback album Slipstream — which likely would have gotten an Album of the Year nomination just a few years ago — was nominated in the Americana category alongside (likely winners) Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers and others.

Yeah, when I think of Americana, the first thing that comes to mind is a reggae version of Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down the Line and adult contemporary blues tunes and R&B/soul ballads. I guess they had to get Raitt in there somewhere.

Good luck Pat and Dan.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at 330-996-3758 or by email at He’s also on Facebook as Malcolm X Abram. … Go figure.

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