Comedian and The Simpsons voice actor Harry Shearer and his wife, singer Judith Owen, celebrate a mixed-bag holiday. Owen prefers to bask in Christmas' rosiest traditions and sentiments. Shearer, who is Jewish, hadn't celebrated the holiday before the couple started hosting Christmas get-togethers in their Los Angeles home, and he's bent on satire. But they've built the party into an annual fundraising concert tour for various charities. In November, they released an EP that reflects the marriage of their perspectives: Christmas Without Tears (Does This Tree Make Me Look Fat?).
Shearer and Owen present an all-star singalong at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre Wednesday, and it's one of a couple of annual musical holiday benefits this week.
Christmas Without Tears kicks off with new songs by Owen; subsequent humorous offerings were recorded at last year's show in California. The EP opens with Owen singing "The Best Things," whose cheery twinkling bells give way to a swelling love song, and "(I'll Sing) Silent Night for You" is a heartfelt piano ballad from start to finish.
"Too Many Notes" features the jazzy keyboards of Davell Crawford and seems to want to deliver a warm holiday message, but it quickly becomes an overwrought mess of overdone vocals and silly lyrics — the work of Shearer orchestrating holiday entertainment schmaltz.
But Christmas really gets toasted in comedian Fred Willard's contribution. It starts as a confused mashup of Santa lore and the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Willard hams it up by poaching parts of popular fairy tales and an old war veteran's account of World War II. By the end, it's the story of everything: "The Baby Jesus came out and saw his own shadow and he proclaimed there would be six more weeks of winter, and to this day that's why the baseball season doesn't start until April."
Sales of the EP benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation and concerts benefit charities including My Friend's Place, which helps homeless youth. The first time Shearer and Owen made the party a public concert was in 2005, and it was a benefit for musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina. The celebrity parties have included everyone from comedians Steve Martin and Martin Short to this year's Los Angeles musical guests Bela Fleck and Paul Shaffer. The 2015 tour features stops in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
New Orleans is an annual stop, and this year the show features guests John Goodman, John Boutte, Davell Crawford, Helen Gillet, Aurora Nealand, Tom McDermott, Evan Christopher, Topsy Chapman and others. Proceeds benefit the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, New Orleans Assistance Foundation and Le Petit Theatre.
Home for the Holidays is an annual benefit that takes advantage of the holidays as a time when both touring musicians and students are home. The show is a fundraiser for the Daniel Price Memorial Fund for Aspiring Artists, which provides scholarships to students at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). Price was an artist and NOCCA alumnus who was murdered in San Francisco in 2003. Since the first event in 2004, the organization has raised more than $250,000 for scholarships.
The lineup features Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, Herlin Riley, John Boutte, Rebirth Brass Band, Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs, Eric Lindell and many others. Irma Thomas sings at the patron party.