Want to do something helpful tonight, or just relax and enjoy the holiday spirit? Falls Church's annual Santa Jam gives you the chance to do both. The high-spirited seasonal tradition includes some of the area's favorite blues and R&B musicians and benefits homeless women and children and victims of domestic abuse.
Bassist John Perry founded the Jam in 1987 in New Jersey, when he gathered with pals to solicit toys for deprived kids while playing classic rock (by musicians such as Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie) along with Christmas tunes and originals. Speaking from a hotel outside of Boston, where he's meeting relatives for a reunion, Perry said that the Jam has grown over the years.
"It started off with me and my cousins and good friends playing all night," he said. "Every year it grows bigger and bigger. We used to try and fit a lot of bands in with, like, 20 minutes a set. But as a musician myself, [I feel] you don't get warmed up until 15, 20 minutes into it. Now, it's 40 to 45 minutes a band, and if someone wants to come and sit in, they can do that."
When Perry moved to the D.C. area in the early '90s, Santa Jam moved with him.
The musician, who plays with blues guitarist Tom Principato and his own trio Perry, Polman and Gamble, will perform tonight with Tom Polman, Tim Pruitt and two pals dubbed the Jersey Boys. They'll open the show with a tribute to the Beatles, playing the naked version (no strings or horns) of "Let It Be."
Radio Mosaic, which grew out of the popular band New Potato Caboose, will appear next, with special guest Bob Shelhouse. At about 9:40 p.m., the Tommy Lepson Band is scheduled to take the stage, with blues vocalist Mary Shaver and two members of the Nighthawks (Paul Bell and Pete Ragusa) sitting in.
Fronted by Lepson's blues vocals and trademark Hammond organ, the group mines a mother lode of originals, plus blues, soul and R&B, and has released three CDs. No strangers to good works, Lepson and company recently performed at another area benefit, the "Hell or High Water" show, to raise money for Gulf Coast hurricane victims.
At 10:30 p.m., Gwen Guion, whom Perry calls "The Santa Jam Queen," will start the charity raffle. An estimated $5,000 in goodies is up for grabs. Prizes include vacations in Costa Rica and Colorado, a Best Buy shopping spree, golf packages and dinners. Winners can choose their prizes as tickets are drawn. Raffle tickets are $5 (three for $10 and 10 for $20) and proceeds support Doorways for Women and Families and the Fairfax Women's Shelter -- safe houses for homeless women and children and victims of domestic violence.
"They use them all year 'round," Perry explained. "When a new family comes in, it helps the kids assimilate to have something they can call their own."
As the raffle winners enjoy their prizes, the Mary Ann Redmond Band, which celebrated the March release of its CD "Send the Moon" at the State Theatre, will take over. Redmond's voice has been described as a cross between Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin. She's won Washington Area Music Association WAMMIE Awards in jazz, rock-pop, roots/R&B, blues and urban contemporary categories. Whatever sound is going down, she can knock it out of the venue.
After Redmond's set, the evening will end with a jam session led by blues guitarist Linwood Taylor and featuring many of the night's performers -- "whoever's around," Perry said. "We're going to play it by ear. I'm not going to be cracking any kind of whip." He added that blues guitarist Robert Lighthouse recently announced he would be dropping by.
The jam is expected to last until about 1 a.m. "I don't like to keep the sound guys there too late," Perry said, though he admitted, "A lot of people take off the next day and hang out."
Sure, if you stay until the last notes of Santa Jam, you may be a little tired next morning, but you can tell the office manager that you were up late doing good deeds. We won't mention that you had a great time doing it.
-- MARIANNE MEYER
The State Theatre is at 220 N. Washington St. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the club serves food and alcohol. General admission, $10 donation or new, unwrapped toy. For information, call 703-237-0300 or visit www.thestatetheatre.com.
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