A Christmas time tradition is here at the EARL

Jeffrey Butzer and friends will perform the music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas' for the 14th year.

Credit: info@atlantaeventphotography.com

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Jeffrey Butzer and friends will perform the music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas' for the 14th year.

Credit: info@atlantaeventphotography.com

2021 marks the 14th year of local performances of the music of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas.’

Combine some top local musicians, the best 60′s holiday pop albums and East Atlanta Village institution the EARL. Add in the spirit of Charlie Brown and a candy cane or two.

The result? Nothing less than an Atlanta tradition.

For the 14th year and on three consecutive nights at the EARL, Jeffrey Bützer, TT Mahony and friends will perform the venerable Vince Guaraldi Trio score to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and most of the cult classic “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.” Opening the shows will be Chad Shivers & The Frigidaires, who will deck the halls with reverb as they cover favorites from the 60′s Ventures and Beach Boys Christmas albums.

The fun happens each night from Dec. 10 through 12.

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TT Mahony (left) and Jeffrey Butzer will bring " A Charlie Brown Christmas" back for a 14th year in 2021.

Credit: Samantha Shal

TT Mahony (left) and Jeffrey Butzer will bring " A Charlie Brown Christmas" back for a 14th year in 2021.

Credit: Samantha Shal

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TT Mahony (left) and Jeffrey Butzer will bring " A Charlie Brown Christmas" back for a 14th year in 2021.

Credit: Samantha Shal

Credit: Samantha Shal

Joining drummer Bützer and pianist Mahony onstage will be bassist Mike Beshara and vocalists Audrey Gámez and Kelly Winn, marking at least five years with that lineup.

The Guaraldi score, which features classics such as “Linus and Lucy” and “Christmas Time Is Here,” has dazzled generations of children and adults alike since its broadcast debut and soundtrack release in December 1965. With a gentle touch, it captures the range of emotions many feel over the December holidays, from joy to melancholy and everything in between. Sadly, both of the drummers who performed on the soundtrack, Jerry Granelli and Colin Bailey, died this year.

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The music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" by the Vince Guaraldi trio.

Credit: Handout

The music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" by the Vince Guaraldi trio.

Credit: Handout

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The music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" by the Vince Guaraldi trio.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“It’s my #1, my go to” Christmas album, notes Bützer. “We’re treating it like the way Vince Guaraldi would have played it. We play it different every night, the solos are different every night.”

Given the brevity of that soundtrack, songs from another 60′s album were also in order. “A cherry on top at the end” is how Bützer describes their performances of songs from the Spector Christmas record. Though not wildly successful on release in 1963, its stature has grown significantly over the years, not least because of the magical moments in The Ronettes’ version of “Sleigh Ride” and Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

The local show’s origins lie in a different theme performance (featuring covers of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Nick Cave songs) that included Mahony and Bützer. The two enjoyed playing together and settled on a Christmas show, with the Charlie Brown score a no-brainer selection. “It’s bossa nova drumming, it’s not crazy hard,” acknowledges Bützer. “[Mahony’s] a really good pianist so I knew he could do it.”

Word of mouth created buzz about the performances that ensured their return. “We delivered once people showed up the first year,” says the drummer. “It’s like a good restaurant — if the food’s good, people will come back and bring their friends.”

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Jeffrey Butzer and friends will perform the music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas' for the 14th year.

Credit: info@atlantaeventphotography.com

Jeffrey Butzer and friends will perform the music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas' for the 14th year.

Credit: info@atlantaeventphotography.com

caption arrowCaption
Jeffrey Butzer and friends will perform the music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas' for the 14th year.

Credit: info@atlantaeventphotography.com

Credit: info@atlantaeventphotography.com

Adding to the charm is the fact that the musicians aim for fun rather than precision. “I don’t think we play it better than anybody else,” Bützer readily admits. “We’re not replicating the record … it’s really loose and fun. There’s the nostalgia of Charlie Brown in general, which people love.” And witty onstage banter is a highlight, with some jokes in the rotation every year.

The setting is also a factor for Mahony and Bützer. “We’ve had offers to move it to bigger venues and do fewer nights. Moving it to a big stage feels kinda silly to us. It’s Charlie Brown, you know?”

“We have the string lights up, and homemade decorations — we try to maintain the spirit of ‘Peanuts’ and Vince Guaraldi,” Bützer emphasizes. “If we made it too slick and took it to a bigger venue, the charm would be gone and I don’t know that it would be what it is.” And the EARL is a place they often play other music in other configurations.

Last year’s version was a surreal experience, with a live online broadcast performed at an empty EARL. It did benefit from having the Adult Swim crew filming and producing it, though the performers are clearly looking forward to playing in front of a crowd again.

Although the shows are very much an Atlanta tradition, Bützer and Mahony do bring the “Peanuts” with them to other cities. They’ve played the score as far away as Savannah, and this year will perform in both Athens (at the 40 Watt) and Woodstock. Both shows are seated and all ages, which will make for a different, less raucous experience than concertgoers can expect here.

The group is so familiar with the material that they don’t have to rehearse much; Bützer and Mahony have performed it dozens of times now, given the multiple shows each year. “We only do two now,” says Bützer. “We do one just to catch up, and then at the end of the practice we add whatever new songs we’re doing, whatever surprises we’re working on.” And why over-rehearse something based on exuberance and looseness rather than note for note technicality?

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Jeffrey Butzer and friends will perform the music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas' for the 14th year.

Credit: Ken Lackner

Jeffrey Butzer and friends will perform the music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas' for the 14th year.

Credit: Ken Lackner

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Jeffrey Butzer and friends will perform the music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas' for the 14th year.

Credit: Ken Lackner

Credit: Ken Lackner

The artists continue to have a number of musical projects on the go. Bützer, for instance, has released three albums over the last four months: the pretty, toy piano-driven “The Peripatetic,” the avant-garde “The Singing Bird’s Soft Trap” and the spaghetti western-esque “Soldaderas.” You can find those at at jeffreybutzer.bandcamp.com.

He has a few other releases almost ready, but this month is focused on the 2021 installment of entertaining Atlantans with Mahony and their group as they interpret the best of ‘60′s holiday and winter themed-pop and jazz.

“It’s like a packed rock show, but playing bossa nova jazz,” Bützer concludes. “It’s a highlight for us to get to play it every year.” Likewise it’s a December highlight for city dwellers to attend and bask in the holiday spirit, as its longevity continues to prove.


MUSIC PREVIEW

‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ with TT Mahony, Jeffrey Bützer and friends

9 p.m. Dec. 10-12. $22; $20 in advance. Proof of COVID-19 vaccine or negative test within 72 hours required. Ages 21 and up. The EARL, 488 Flat Shoals Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-522-3950, badearl.com.

7:30 p.m. Dec. 14. $19.50-$22.50. MadLife Stage & Studios, 8722 Main St., Woodstock. 678-384-2363, madlifestageandstudios.com.

8 p.m. Dec. 16. $10; $5 children. Proof of COVID-19 vaccine or negative test required. 40 Watt Club, 285 W. Washington St., Athens. 706-549-7871, 40watt.com.