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Dreaming of a White (Album) Christmas

Wanderlust Circus act “Kazum” performing at the White Album Christmas

Micah Goldstein / Wanderlust Circus

Imagine the visual whimsy of a Bohemian circus — complete with acrobats, vaude-villains and lasso-twirling cowboys — set to a rocking version of the Beatles White Album — all four sides, played start to finish. It may not bring up images of Bing Crosby or Sugar Plum Fairies, but the homegrown experiment known as “White Album Christmas” is quickly becoming a Portland holiday tradition.

It started when MarchFourth Marching Band founder John Averill and Wanderlust Circus impresario Noah Mickens cooked up the idea of a circus performance set to the music of the White Album.

“It seemed like such an adventure, how could we say no?” remembers guitarist Dave Camp.

Averill and Camp joined up with local music luminaries Arthur Parker and Jason Wells (Trashcan Joe), Ryan Moore (Titans of Oblivion), and Carl Tietze (aka Solovox) to take up the melodic challenge under the ad hoc name “The Nowhere Band.”

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White Album Christmas

That was four years ago. Now every year, as the dark days descend, each of these busy working artists goes into a kind of hibernation with a copy of the original White Album. The musicians re-absorb the music while the circus artists devise acts that follow a story line of Mickens’ invention.

According to Camp, it’s a minor miracle that the show gels.

“Dress rehearsal consists of the sound guys setting up for four hours and then we practice for an hour. So, on the day of the show, we’re all seeing it for the first time and we don’t really know what’s going to happen.”

But ducking trapeze artists while cranking out searing licks is all part of the fun. “We’ve survived every performance so far… But show up, you never know.”

The event has exploded in both participation and popularity.

The Nowhere Band

David Rolin / Wanderlust Circus

The Nowhere Band — which actually exists only once a year — has absorbed members of The Stolen Sweets and Vagabond Opera as well as powerhouse vocalist Miss Sarah King, to name only a few.

“It’s not really a band,” Camp explains. “It’s an ethos with a horn section.”

“It now includes at least one person from just about all of the big Bohemian art families in town,” Mickens says, a group he refers to as the Cascadian Freak Family.

And while none of these artists comes from the mainstream, the White Album’s appeal seems universal.

John Averill first heard the White Album when he was 10 years old. “I thought the animal songs were kids songs. I could really see those greedy piggies and imagine a raccoon in a gunfight. Then as a teenager, I got how hard ‘Helter Skelter’ rocked.”

The same goes for the show. “We see college-age kids in the front rows losing their minds and behind them are older folks — who probably bought the record as soon as it came out — there with their grandkids enjoying it just as much,” Camp says. “It’s really neat to be one of the stewards of what has become the folk music of our culture.”

Last year’s two nights sold out well in advance, so this year they’ve added a third night at NE Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre: December 8th, 9th and 10th.

For John Averill and Noah Mickens, the experience is personal. “We’ve all been friends for years. Now we’re so busy that we hardly ever get to see each other. The White Album Christmas feels like a family reunion.” The Cascadian Freak Family, that is. And you’re invited.


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