JENNY WHITELEY AND FRIENDS CHRISTMAS PARTY featuring AMY MILLAN , JUSTIN RUTLEDGE and others, at Cadillac Lounge (1296 Queen West), Saturday (December 23), 9 pm. $15. 416-536-7717. Rating: NNNNN
'tis the season for Christmas-themed concerts, so it should be no surprise that four big roots music hoedowns are happening this weekend - all on Saturday (December 23).
While some people may be torn between checking out the final evening of Fred Eaglesmith's three-night Hugh's Room stand and John McDermott's swank soiree with Ron Sexsmith at the Royal Alexandra, the two shows that threaten to split the Toronto twang community are the Jenny Whiteley And Friends Christmas Party at the Cadillac Lounge and the Backstabbers' Lump Of Coal Christmas at the Silver Dollar.
As a long-time member of Crazy Strings, the well-loved Whiteley has considerable pull. But the Backstabbers' entertaining annual variety show may be the sentimental favourite, besides being five bucks cheaper. It's a tough call.
In the intriguing backstory here, both Whiteley and the Backstabbers' frontman Col. Tom Parker appeared as guest performers at the Foggy Hogtown Boys' A Very Foggy Christmas, held at the Silver Dollar last December. It was the fact that the Hogtowners weren't planning to reprise the event at the Dollar this year that gave Parker the idea of moving the Backstabbers yearly Yuletide show into the venue, unaware that Whiteley had a Christmastime bash of her own planned for another club.
"When I got the idea for putting on the Christmas party at the Cadillac Lounge," explains Whiteley from her home in rural Elphin, Ontario, "among the first people I called to invite were Col. Tom and his partner, Alex Pangman. But in speaking with Alex, I found out that the Backstabbers' show at the Dollar was happening the same night, which is unfortunate. But these things happen at holiday time. Really, it's difficult to find a night where one of my friends isn't playing someplace in Toronto."
Evidently the ever-popular Whiteley didn't have any trouble finding other pals to play her Christmas party, which is scheduled to feature a couple of songs apiece from each of her guests, Amy Millan, Justin Rutledge, Caitlin Hanford, Chris Brown, Melwood Cutlery, Julie Fader, Chris Whiteley and Dan Kershaw, who'll be backed by the evening's house band of Dan Whiteley, Joey Wright and Joe Phillips.
Although emcee Whiteley plans to get up for a few tunes, her main role for the evening will be acting as the party's gracious host.
"I thought that having a show around Christmas would be a good excuse for a lot of my friends to get together just for the sheer joy of playing music. It's meant to be more of a party thing than a sit-down concert. We want people to feel comfortable about going up onstage to sing old faves even though they may have forgotten some of the words. It should be lots of fun.
"So many of the folks I grew up with in Toronto have since moved away, but this is the time of year when people come home to visit their families, and they have a couple of free days. This show will be a chance to hang out and catch up the Cadillac Lounge has that great patio where you can go off and socialize without disrupting what's happening onstage and because so many people are performing, I'll be able to circulate around the room and mingle, which is something I rarely get a chance to do at my own shows."