Sounds Local: With holiday season comes annual Sweetback Sisters’ performances

  • The Sweetback Sisters’ annual Country Christmas Sing-Along Spectacular is coming up with three performances in Northampton and Brattleboro, Vt. Contributed photo/Anja Schütz

  • The David Wax Museum is personally recording intimate, acoustic versions of its songs by request for Christmas presents at a cost of 50 per song. Contributed photo


For the Recorder
Published: 12/12/2018 2:06:02 PM

We are in full-swing holiday mode now, and the biggest seasonal show to hit the area every year is The Sweetback Sisters’ annual Country Christmas Sing-Along Spectacular.

The show makes stops at The Stone Church in Brattleboro, Vt. on Thursday, Dec. 20, at 7 p.m., and at the Academy of Music in Northampton on Saturday, Dec. 22. A 3 p.m. show will be geared toward children, followed by an evening performance at 7 p.m.

Every December, Emily Miller, Zara Bode and their ace backing band take their popular holiday show on the road. For us in the Pioneer Valley, these shows have become an integral part of our holiday celebrations.

The Sweetback Sisters are somewhat of a local band. Singer Zara Bode grew up in Northampton and now resides in Brattleboro with her husband, the band’s drummer Stefan Amidon. Some of the band members, like guitarists Ross Bellenoit and Ryan Hommel, are also from western Massachusetts.

The band records for Signature Sounds Recordings in Northampton, and has a strong fan base here. Some of you may even remember their early holiday shows at The Rendezvous in Turners Falls.

The Country Christmas Sing-Along Spectacular is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and in honor of this milestone, The Sweetback Sisters has released a companion record of the same name on vinyl. The disc features the musicians putting their honky-tonk spin on classic holiday songs like “Silver Bells” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to more obscure fare like “The Christmas Boogie.” If you purchase a vinyl copy at one of the upcoming shows, you will receive a free download of secret holiday singles.

The Sweetback Sisters’ music harkens back to the country and rock heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, and listeners will hear a sense of modern nostalgia on the band’s interpretation of these songs. For these performances, you can expect the members to be dressed to the nines in matching holiday get-ups, and being that this is the 10th anniversary, some wonderful surprises will be in store, including new and old bandmates, new and old tunes, trivia and prizes.

Tickets for The Stone Church show are $18 to $25 and are available at or by calling 802-579-9960.

Tickets for the Academy of Music shows are available at or by calling 413-584-9032, ext. 105. The afternoon show for children costs $10, while tickets for the 7 p.m. show cost $12 to $20.

Gift ideas for music lovers

If you are a procrastinator like me, this probably means that you are just starting to think about Christmas shopping. Hopefully there are some music lovers on your list, because they are some of the easiest to please.

If you’re considering giving the gift of music, how about some holiday music such as the aforementioned Sweetback Sisters’ new vinyl release? Many of our local artists have Christmas CDs out; “American Noel” by Tracy Grammer and the late Dave Carter is an especially good one. The Nields with Ben Demerath put out a nice collection of classic Christmas songs last year called “Joy to the World,” and if you want to have a good time while Christmas shopping, head out to a show and pick up the artist’s latest CD while you’re there.

Local bluegrass and folk musician Eric Lee has a new CD out called “Heartache Town,” and he will conveniently be playing at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield Friday night. J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. fame has a new solo CD called “Elastic Days” that would make a great stocking stuffer, and you can pick up a copy at his show at the Academy of Music in Northampton Friday.

Even better than recorded music is live music, and concert tickets make an excellent gift.

The lineup for 2019 shows is already rolling out, and tickets are on sale for many of these shows including Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival from June 28 to 30 at Mass MoCA in North Adams. Weekend passes can be purchased at

Signature Sounds Present will hold its Back Porch Festival at the Academy of Music in Northampton from March 1 to 3. The two major events are bluegrass night on March 2 that will feature The Earls of Leicester and Twisted Pine, and a performance by Rosanne Cash on March 3.

Signature Sounds Presents has also announced some 2019 shows for the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turner Falls. Rachel Price, the lead singer from Lake Street Dive, will team up with her occasional singing partner Vilray for a show there on Feb. 19. Then there’s the Portland Cello Orchestra, which play everything from Bach to Radiohead, and is scheduled to perform at the Shea on March 22. Any of these shows or festivals would please a music fan, and don’t forget weekend passes for the Green River Festival are also on sale. To purchase tickets, visit, call 413-341-3317 or visit the box office at 20 Masonic St. in Northampton.

Hawks & Reed has announced shows for 2019, too, including a return visit from singer-songwriter Paula Cole on Feb. 22 and reggae legends The Wailers on March 3. Tickets for Hawks & Reed shows are available at or by calling 413-774-0150.

If you have a fan of the David Wax Museum on your list, the band has the perfect gift for him or her. The group will personally record and dedicate an intimate, acoustic version of a David Wax Museum song of your choice and email you an MP3 of it. How cool is that?

The cost is $50 per song. Email your request to Order by Dec. 20 to ensure Christmas delivery. If you are feeling really generous, you might want to toss in a pair of tickets to the band’s Dec. 28 show at The Parlor Room in Northampton.

Or, if you have a musician on your list, consider the book “50 Pro Tips for Musicians: Practical Advice for an Impractical Business” by local musician Jim Henry. Henry draws from his many years of experience to offer advice and guidance to help beginners make their way through the music business. Copies are available for $15 at

For budding musicians, you can always consider a ukulele! This string instrument, once thought of as something of a novelty, is enjoying a huge renaissance. Artists like Jake Shimabukuro sell out concerts playing songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the uke, and people of all ages have found that playing the ukulele is fun and one of the easier instruments to learn. A number of local libraries, including the Greenfield Public Library, routinely offer lessons for free. You can purchase a decent ukulele for well under $100 at music stores like Downtown Sounds in Northampton.

So get to shopping, and don’t forget to buy a present for yourself along the way!

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at

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