Cheney Free Press -

Staff Reporter 

Getting an early dose of holiday cheer

Write to the Point


November 23, 2017

Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is a most wonderful time of the year.

It’s just that I find it hard to easily embrace as the colors of the season shift from the orange of Halloween to the reds and greens.

Normally in our house the endless loop of holiday music on the radio that my wife loves officially becomes legal on Black Friday, or the first snow, whichever comes first.

Oh wait, silly me, I don’t make those rules do I?

But last Saturday night I found myself fully engaged, as were it appears, with another 2,500 others who visited the INB Bank Opera House for some pre-Christmas musical cheer. How many joined my toe-tapping approval, who knows?

It was only Nov. 18, but Mannheim Steamroller was making its annual one-night barnstorming tour through the area. No week’s worth of Garth, but if the six main wheels of the Steamroller had booked other gigs I’d surely have considered an encore myself.

The difference it appears between an opera house concert, and one at the Spokane Veterans’ Memorial Arena, is the standing comes only for ovations.

Now I’m not even close to anyone who could write traditional reviews of musical performances, the ones that dissect all the fine points, because like the many varietals of wine, I love and can enjoy almost any musical genre.

The best I can do, however, is tell the difference between the sober and drunk version of an old favorite, Gordon Lightfoot.

Mannheim Steamroller in the creation of Chip Davis. He had his start in an odd manner collaborating on the work of country music flash-in-the-pan C.W. McCall, famous for his song, ”Convoy.”

But the New Age sounds that have made the unique Davis’ compositions so popular — primarily during the holidays — were a passion of his even before McCall when the CB radio-craze in the mid1970s sent his song to the top of the charts.

Davis found no takers in the recording business so he started his own label, American Gramaphone. Without getting needlessly nerdy, the group’s name comes from an 18th-century German musical technique.

And despite warnings that jumping into the massively crowded, but limited length Christmas music market would spell disaster, Davis took the plunge in 1984 with his group’s first holiday album, “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas.” According to some recent figures the group has sold 28 million albums in the U.S. alone.

Saturday’s performance featured the Green Tour with six regular “Steamrollers” as conductor, piano and synthesizer player Chuck Pennington referred to his stagemates. Backed up with local talent, the dozen of them produced an insanely powerful sound.

Mark Agnor was one of the few musicians who pretty much stuck with just one instrument, the violin. Joey Gulizia played a wide array of percussion instruments, especially the Caribbean steel drums that gave “Feliz Navidad” its unique sound.

The use of a mix of new age sound of the synthesizer and the centuries-old harpsichord seems like an odd collection, but Anna Lackaff mastered both. Tom Sharpe was pounding on drums and equally delicate with chimes, and Glen Cecil Smith’s chest-length beard was as impressive as his guitar work.

Geez, am I starting to sound like a reviewer?

Steamroller concerts are supposed to be purely instrumental, and they are for the most part, but they draw the lyrics of Christmas favorites right out of you, if only to hum them in your head.

As the two-hour show progressed, punctuated by periodic video visits from Davis who materialized in Star Trek fashion in his University of Michigan hoodie, we wondered, would a concert like this offer the traditional rock-concert encore? You know the clapping, stomping and cheering that brings performers back?

We got that without the typical full retreat backstage tease.

Last question: Is there Irish music to rival that of Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas collection?

Paul Delaney can be reached at


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