No holiday show in the current parade of celebratory concerts, carol-sings and “Nutcrackers” enjoys such perennial popularity as the Mountain Snow concerts folk singers Chris Shaw and (music and life partner) Bridget Ball began in 1990.
On Friday, the tradition continues, at The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) in the highly capable hands of longtime Mountain Snow Orchestra stars Kevin McKrell, Brian Melick and John Kirk, plus McKrell’s longstanding folk-Celtic-rock band, the McKrells.
Shaw and Ball began Mountain Snow and Mistletoe at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall; while it moved to The Egg and the lineup changed a bit, its key elements of homespun warmth, folk-song authenticity and happy joking around have remained constant. When Ball would walk out onstage and ask, “Well, how’ve you been?” the feeling was so genuine that everyone tried to tell her, all at once. When Shaw hit the punchline of an Adirondack tall tale of his Uncle Walt’s improbable hunting exploits, or when McKrell and Melick joked up a Christmas classic recitation with sound effects and hijinks, I fell out of my seat every time.
“We not only gave our blessing for those guys to continue and to use the name, we attended the show,” said Shaw of going with Ball to see the Mountain Snow Orchestra continue the holiday celebration last year. Shaw and Ball may have thought they were retired from it after 25 years, but they were wrong. “They brought us up out of the audience to sing ‘Light a Light,’ ” said Shaw — Ball’s beautiful holiday song that sparkled in every Mountain Snow show since the beginning.
As for why Shaw and Ball left the show, “This was on me,” Shaw explained. “I had been on tour for 42 years.” For 15 of those years, Shaw — an expert picker and strummer — traveled the world giving clinics for Taylor Guitars.
“When I quit playing [shows], I went to SCCC culinary school so I could volunteer in soup kitchens, and that’s what I’m doing,” Shaw said. Ball is a successful financial planner. The Mountain Snow crew remains close. “I’m going to Dublin with [Mountain Snow Orchestra leader] Kevin [McKrell] in February with [patron of all arts] Chet Opalka and Dick Miller,” he said. McKrell leads folk-singer tours of Ireland; a hurricane complicated his most recent foray. Shaw said he and Dick Miller had co-chaperoned a school trip to the Galapagos and found they travel well together. “So I invited him to go to Dublin for lunch!” Food is also on his mind professionally: Shaw is working to expand his soup-kitchen activities with a growing list of partner organizations.
He knows Mountain Snow is in good hands. Shaw said, “We’re thrilled that those guys can carry it on and use the name.”
So is McKrell, who will lead both the Mountain Snow Orchestra — himself, percussionist/leprechaun Mellck and multi-instrumentalist Kirk — and his own band, the McKrells. An earlier version of the McKrells played everywhere, including Carnegie Hall, opening for the Fureys. These days, the McKrells are John Kribs (also with Johnny and the Triumphs and the Raquette River Rounders; guitars), John’s son Orion (mandolin), Arlin Greene (son of Smokey Greene; bass), Doug Moody (fiddle) and Melick (percussion). McKrell rightly says he’s “worth the price of a ticket himself.” They all sing. McKrell’s songs have been recorded by the Kingston Trio, the Fureys, the Woods Tea Company, Hair of The Dog (led by ex-McKrells bassist Rick Bedrosian) and others. His folk-singer daughter Kate joins the McKrells on Friday at The Egg, and in other holiday celebrations almost anywhere with a stage.
McKrell sees Friday’s show at The Egg as both opportunity and responsibility.
“To be able to carry on the tradition of Mountain Snow and Mistletoe is … extremely cool,” he said, grateful “that Chris and Bridget trusted us enough to put their baby into our hands.” He added, “That being said, it is also a bit of a burden because Chris and Bridget trusted us enough to put their baby into our hands!” He said, “If we can bring even a bit of the honesty of performance and joy in the songs that Chris and Bridget brought to this show year after year, I will be happy.”
The show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $28. Call 518-473-1845 or visit www.theegg.org for information.