Rock ‘n’ Soul Lights Up Holiday for Music Education (4.5 stars)

The 4th Annual Rock ‘n’ Soul Holiday Benefit Concert at the Regent in Arlington, Saturday, December 23rd. For other shows at the Regent Theatre, see

One of the great things about celebrating the holidays in Greater Boston is the wealth of Christmas and holiday shows that can suit nearly anyone’s taste for Yuletide fare. For the more traditional folks, there’s the Nutcracker and The Boston Pops Holiday shows, plus regional Christmas shows put on by the Reagle Music Theater in Waltham, and there are a multitude of productions of “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”. And for those who like their holiday themes slightly off-kilter, there’s the Slutcracker and the Gold Dust Orphans’ Rudolph the Red-Necked Reindeer. But for those seeking a little rock n roll in their stocking, there’s one of Boston’s newest traditions: The Rock ‘n’ Soul Holiday Benefit Concert at the Regent in Arlington. For the fourth year in a row, an all-star line-up of local legends and up-and-comers got together to give their special take on Christmas songs and rock the house with some original favorites and cover tunes of some rock classics. The concert was also a benefit, with the proceeds going to Ernie Boch Jr.’s non-profit, Music Drives Us: New England Music Charity which provides grants for music programs to effect positive changes for people in need.

Casey Desmond (daughter of Des from the Bentmen) opened the show with a ‘Kate-Bush meets Lady Gaga’ set of electronic dance music that was pretty great, especially her opening tune, “Déjà Vu”. She also delivered a tripped out version of “The Little Drummer Boy” to keep with the holiday theme and to set the tone for the cavalcade of talent to come. Desmond was followed by Greg Hawkes of the Cars, who played the band’s hit “Moving in Stereo” on ukulele to go with a Hawaiian-themed Christmas song. The Rock n Soul Holiday All Star Band, featuring Wolf Ginandes, Bill Holloman, Dr. Milton Reder, and drummer Vinny Pagano, moved into the spotlight next with a rockin’ version of “The Christmas Song” and some other killer 50’s styled rock before switching to backing bang mode for an eclectic lineup.

Shea Rose, winner of the 2012 Boston Music Award’s R&B/soul/urban contemporary artist of the year, wowed the crowd with her spacey and spiritual “Give Loves Always” before giving way to John Powhida and Amy Correia’s sweet duet, “Let’s Make Nice.” Professor Doug Bell impressed with his lovely tune, “Ships Passing in the Night” and blues guitarist Chris Fitz ripped off some mean riffs with a couple of songs including his awesome “Long Way Home.” Barrance Whitfield kicked some of his usual butt with “Why Did You Leave Me on Christmas Day?” and “The Apology” from his days with the Savages.

The second half of the show was high powered rock and roll with a bevy of 70’s and 80’s local stars including Charlie Farren (FarrenHeit) and Jon Butcher (Jon Butcher Axis) with their project, FarrenButcher, Inc., and guitar hero Gary Hoey. The three guitarists, after playing some original tunes, ripped into covers of “Rocky Mountain Way” and Clapton’s “Crossroads” with vocalist Hirsch Gardner. The show closed with Danny Klein’s Full House blistering through some J. Geils tunes, and the crowd was sent on their way with ears ringing like Silver Bells.

For other shows at the Regent Theatre, see