Tag Archives: Nick’s Restaurant and Bar

I’ll Be Homely for Christmas: Dickens’ Punch, Campy Caroling, and Naughty Santa at Nick’s, Thursday, December 13th, 2012

by Matt Robert

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go. There’s a tree in the Worcester Motel, and one on the common, as well.

And there’s a trailer park at Nick’s.

“It’s definitely a departure from the general look of Nick’s,” laughs Nicole Watson as Vincent Hemmeter toils away behind her building—a replica mobile home on the Nick’s stage, usually a demure, warmly lit home for area performers of cabaret jazz, American standards, and assorted other roots music and curiosities. The temporary remodel, which might surprise Nick’s regulars, includes “lots of plastic light-up decorations and things you would never normally see on the Nick’s stage.”

The set will provide the backdrop for Nick’s Very Merry Camped-up Christmas Show, at 9 p.m., on Thursday night, December 13, at Nick’s Bar and Restaurant, 124 Millbury Street in Worcester.

The event, what Watson calls “sort of a John Waters Christmas,” is a holiday revue done Nick’s style. “We just want it really campy and really cheesy, kind of cheap,” she says. “It’ll be a lot of fun.” Besides campy mayhem, the show will feature the usual roster of high quality talent Nick’s is known for. Watson says there will be “countless performers,” including the likes of Clayton Willoughby, Geoffrey Watson-Oehling, Aimee Kewley, Jen Antkowiak, Joan Cleary, Michael Gondeck, Monica Hamilton and Patrice Peris, along with musical directors, singers Lisa Hall and pianist Tom LaMark interspersed with short comedy sets by Shaun Connolly. Watson herself has “a few songs [she’ll] perform with Tom LaMark,” as well.

“We have an overly ambitious schedule for this,” she says of the event, which is more than just an ambitious send-up of Christmas cheer. “We also have a Santa who will be visiting – people can have their pictures taken. He’s a little irreverent. Santa will be handing out some gifts, as well.”

But that’s not all, folks! “There’s going to be some trivia, and we have prizes for the trivia,” she adds.

Prior to the party, Nick’s fixture Cocktail Bob will host a 7 p.m. presentation of a flaming punch, cherished by Charles Dickens and famous during the Victorian era.

“Cocktail Bob has done a couple different presentations for us. What he’s doing right now is a flaming Dickens punch to celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens,” says Watson. “He’s going to do a little demonstration, give the history of it, talk about Dickens for a few minutes and then have a tasting. It’s a 200-year-old – or even older – recipe for Dickens’ favorite punch. That’ll be what the sampling is.”

Once revelers get a little of this in the belly for warmth, “that leads to caroling, which will be at 8 o’clock” on the Nick’s patio.

“I’ve got some singers that I know that are going to get things started,” says Watson. “We’re going to give free cocoa and cookies to carolers out there and that’ll be probably about 45 minutes long. And that’s free to the public. Children could be involved in that, unlike the punch thing and the naughty Christmas show.”

“9 p.m. is when the Camped-up Christmas Show begins,” she says.

“Lisa will be the host” and “she’s performing,” as well, says Watson. The cabaret singer, she says, “sings on a fairly regular basis at Nick’s,” is “sort of a Nick’s favorite and…has a lot of charisma.”

“So, I went to her and asked her if she was interested in sort of organizing the performers and being the host.” The result, says Watson, is that “she’s been doing a lot of the hard work, getting the musical acts together, while I sit around wrapping the presents.”

This year’s event is a first, Watson says, though it has its roots in last year’s Christmas celebration. “Last year when we had a Christmas show, it was just remarkable to me how many people wanted to be involved and sing along. We had a variety show that was similar last year, but not to this epic proportion.”

“I was really encouraged by it, because I wasn’t really sure how well a holiday show would go over,” she says. “You know, during the holiday season people can get kind of burned out, but people seemed to really enjoy it. I think the laid-back, campy theme will be pretty hilarious. I can say this honestly as we’re building a trailer that’s going to live onstage right now.”

According to Watson, they’ve been working on the show for a couple of months. “We’ve been meeting pretty much every week, discussing ideas, what the set lists are, what the songs are.”

And what exactly can we expect to hear at a Nick’s Christmas show? “Anything from ‘Santa Baby’ to ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ to pretty much everything in between,” says Watson. “One of the performers is going to be doing ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.’ Clayton Willoughby has a fantastic set of Hawaiian Christmas songs that he’ll be doing.”

“I think a lot of them will be pretty familiar, but there will be some interesting stuff thrown in there as well,” she says. “For example, the Hawaiian songs and some other stuff out of the American songbook – more winter songs are being performed as well,” Watson says, to assure that it won’t, as she says, “necessarily all [be] Christmas songs,” adding, “we’re not [going to] drive everyone crazy with a constant barrage of Christmas music.”

“It’s definitely more of a party atmosphere. It’s not scripted. Obviously the musical numbers are all worked out, but people can sing along.”

“We’re looking forward to it,” says Watson. “Tom LaMark is such a great pianist, and some of the silly and more suggestive numbers – it definitely won’t be like a walk in the mall.”

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Cinder Conk: Eastern European Gypsy Music via Portland, Maine

This article ran originally in the online edition of Worcester Magazine during the week of June 5, 2012.

Cinder Conk

by Matt Robert

Band seeking audience looking for something energetic, new (or at least new-to-them), wholehearted, accessible, and authentic. We hope to offer an experience that is not only inviting to the ear, but transportational – the kind of show that you wake up the next morning still pondering.

So says Xar Adelberg of Portland, Maine’s Cinder Conk, an esoteric accordion and upright bass duo that specializes in Balkan music. The group plays Friday, July 6, at Nick’s Bar and Restaurant, perhaps the only drinking establishment in town that could accommodate such an act.

Cinder Conk, which has performed together for nearly two years, is the union of two musicians’ passion for arcane forms of music. “Living in Maine, there are not a lot of people interested in delving into Balkan music,” points out Adelberg, who “was playing with a Manouche (gypsy jazz) trio,” while “Matt [Schreiber – accordionist] was studying Serbian accordion and getting acquainted with various Eastern European accordion styles.”

The two, she says, were “looking to find collaborators to play and perform with and we hit it off.” The pair met when Adelberg posted a note on Craigslist seeking fellow riders to a Balkan music show in Boston. Adelberg, only recently introduced to Balkan music at that time, but developing an insatiable appetite for it, “was playing modern/original jazz with her quintet, Loki, and also performing with Ameranouche, a gypsy jazz trio based in the Northeast.”

Schreiber, meanwhile, was living in Berlin, Germany, working as a language teacher and getting acquainted with the Balkan immigrant music scene. He was also playing North African music with an oud and percussion player.

The two began playing together with the “interest in connecting with people who see the same depth and excitement that is inherent in this music.” Adelberg says. “This can be with people who have no idea where the Balkans are, or Bulgarian seasonal workers that happen to catch a gig of ours.”

“What a lot of people don’t know about this music is that, like the architecture and art of Eastern Europe, these songs have been vetted over hundreds of years. There is a message in the music that we hear when we listen to it, and do our best to convey when we perform it.”

Hearing the accordion isn’t surprising in today’s indie-rich scene. In fact, the accordion has long had widespread appeal in the music of a number of prominent musical regions of America, and has even enjoyed popular success in rock acts for decades. Cinder Conk, however, might require a bit more refined ear. Like the mossy growth for which the band is named, the appeal of this group rests in the eye of the beholder. To some, the odd, rigid rhythms and carnivalesque melodies might grate on the ears like a cankerous mushroom consuming its host tree. To others, of course, the deep traditional strains and commitment to the evolution and context of live performance might be medicinal, like the healing properties of the cinder conk.

The music of Cinder Conk isn’t merely an attempt to lull listeners to darker corners of music via contextualization amid popular forms – say, dub step with accordion. This music is hardcore and totally instrumental. The melodies challenge the ear with eastern European cadences. Still, Adelberg, a veteran of modern, original and gypsy jazz outfits, brings a fondness for experimentation. “In the instance of music from this part of the world, innovation and experimentation are essential parts of the tradition,” she says. And this, when bridged with Schreiber’s deep immersion in Baltic heritage, makes for electrifying music.

Cinder Conk relishes the live environment. Adelberg reminds me that the 20th century brought to human ears, for the first time, the repeatable performance of recordings. “We are used to listening to recordings, which are, by definition, static records of a single performance,” she says. “While we can hear these same recordings over and over again, it’s important to remember that it is a moment captured in time that may come across in a completely different way in its next iteration. What we do try to be reverent of is the inflection, flavor and spirit of the music.”

And being first and foremost a live act – albeit an uncommon live act – their goal, it’s no surprise, is “connecting musically with listeners and with each other…sharing those moments with open ears” and “creating a vibrant counterpoint between the two instruments,” which she says “can create a sound that is almost orchestral in scope.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear this old/new music played with a vigorous and serious spirit in what might be the perfect setting for it: Nick’s German-themed music room.

Listen to tracks by Cinder Conk at reverbnation.com/cinderconk or friend them on Facebook.

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