Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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24 Church Street, Box 2452, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568 | 508-696-6300
Patricia Neal Stage

Warming Up Winter With Acoustic Carols

By Louisa Hufstader, Vineyard Gazette

A holiday-themed, all-female acoustic music group that plays to sold-out mainland audiences every December is making its Island debut Saturday, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. Wintery Songs in Eleventy Part Harmony features a blend of strings, vocals and glockenspiels in an expansively eclectic program of Christmas carols, holiday standards, winter-themed originals and unexpected cover tunes like In the Cold, Cold Night by The White Stripes.

“The quality of what they do is just fabulous,” said Barbara Dacey of mvyradio, which is partnering with the playhouse to present Saturday’s concert. “There’s a real purity to the sound and to the tradition they’re following. It’s rootsy, but they take on Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi too.”

Wintery Songs in Eleventy Part Harmony is helmed by Somerville singer-songwriter Jennifer Kimball, a leader in the Boston-area folk and Americana music scene since her days performing with Jonathan Brooke in The Story two decades ago. In 2008, Ms. Kimball was booked for a December show at Club Passim, the roots-music nerve center in Harvard Square, and impulsively decided to play some holiday songs with songwriting friends including Rose Polenzani and Rose Cousins. The following year, she pulled in more musicians, Aoife O’Donovan and Catie Curtis among them, and gave the group its puckish name. Annually since then, Ms. Kimball and an occasionally-changing cast of female comrades have embarked on December mini-tours in New England and New York.

“It’s not just about the reinvention of the soundtrack of the holiday, it’s about lady time,” Ms. Kimball told the Gazette this week. “We have a great time.”

Re-harmonizing holiday classics, with deep affection and the occasional touch of whimsy, is the group’s annual mission. One of their many crowd-pleasers is a Nutcracker Suite medley featuring wordless, slightly off kilter vocal harmonies in Waltz of the Flowers, five glockenspiels in Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies and an exuberantly whirling Russian Dance for fiddles and cello.

On the more reflective side, Silent Night is a seraphically reverent show-stopper, while a quodlibet arrangement of pensive show tunes layers Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas Time is Here with Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

The audience should come expecting to sing, according to Ms. Kimball. “We especially like it when we get them to sing crazy stuff,” such as Deck the Halls with the lyrics scrambled to Heck the Dolls and a chorus of “La fa fa fa fa,” she said with a laugh.

The line-up performing at the playhouse will be Ms. Kimball and Ms. Polenzani on acoustic guitar and baritone ukulele, Valerie Thompson on cello, and fiddlers Jenna Moynihan and Hannah Read. All five musicians also sing and play glockenspiel.

Saturday afternoon, after they arrive on the Vineyard, the members of Wintery Songs in Eleventy Part Harmony will join Ms. Dacey on the air at mvyradio for a live interview that’s expected to begin at around 2:30 p.m.

The playhouse seats fewer than 100 people and tickets, priced at $30 ($25 for seniors and students) may sell out before the 7:30 p.m. show time. To confirm availability, contact the box office at 508-696-6300.

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