The Schenectady Holiday Parade has been a longtime family tradition for musician Madison VanDenburg.
As a child, the Cohoes native and finalist on season 17 of “American Idol” participated in the parade with a contingent from the Capital District Soap Box Derby, sometimes singing Christmas songs on the group’s float.
On Saturday, she’ll debut “The Light of Christmas,” a song written by multi-platinum songwriters Kenny Lamb and Anthony Little, at the Schenectady Tree Lighting and Holiday Parade.
“It’s come full circle,” VanDenburg said during a recent interview with The Gazette.
She recorded the heartwarming song in Nashville with Lamb.
“When I heard Madison sing on ‘Idol,’ it wasn’t her range or power that caught my attention, it was the way she connected emotionally to the songs and lyrics — that intangible thing we look for and can’t explain, but you know it when you hear it,” Lamb said in a statement.
While VanDenburg had initially gone to Nashville to record other songs, as soon as Lamb sent her a demo of “The Light of Christmas” she immediately connected with it.
“ ‘The Light of Christmas’ to me is about the feeling of togetherness around the holidays and the joy that Christmas brings. Around Christmastime, the world just seems so much lighter and happier, especially when you’re around those you love. There’s no other feeling comparable to Christmastime,” VanDenburg said.
The song precedes several others she has been working on throughout the past year. At the onset of the pandemic, VanDenburg had a robust schedule of shows lined up but had to cancel them and focus on songwriting.
“As hard as that was in a lot of aspects … there were some things that were kind of good about being able to be home and really stick my head down and work, because I really feel like I connected more with the songwriting side of music,” VanDenburg said.
“It allowed me to have time to really look inside and figure out who I was as an artist.”
In her career, VanDenburg has performed songs from a range of genres, from pop to singer/songwriter to country.
“I think because I love all music and I love all types of genres, for years it was so hard to hone in, but I definitely am so comfortable portraying myself as more of a pop artist,” she said, adding that the music she writes and most appreciates has strong vocals and lyrics, like the work of pop artists Halsey and Demi Lovato.
“That’s the direction that I’m heading in and I really love it. I’m very excited to be showing that new side of me,” VanDenburg said.
In the coming weeks she’s also got a performance lined up in Chicago for the city’s Thanksgiving Parade. But debuting “The Light of Christmas” in the Capital Region was important to VanDenburg.
“The Capital Region has always been so patient with me and supportive and encouraging. That’s something I’m so grateful for, and that’s why I’m so excited to debut the song at the parade. They get to see it live before anyone else in the world,” VanDenburg said.
Kickoff to the season
With its 2021 return, the 52nd Schenectady Holiday Parade will celebrate superheroes both on and off the big screen.
“After a year off, we wanted to honor the hard work all the doctors, nurses and front-line workers put in since the beginning of 2020, but also look forward to reuniting this holiday season,” said Kaci Palleschi, the event’s coordinator for the parade’s main sponsor the Daily Gazette. “We will be honoring the ‘super’ in all our heroes, including comic book characters from childhood and our everyday heroes.”
Stepping off at 5 p.m. Saturday, the parade is expected to draw upwards of 15,000 people to downtown Schenectady.
It will include 18 floats, some with superhero-inspired designs. The CREATE Community Studios float will feature 20 uniquely imagined superheroes, created mostly by young artists and ranging from alien-like creatures to anime-style humans.
Mountain Ridge Adventures will have a Spider-Man-themed float, and while they might not be classified as superheroes, the princesses of Hill City Ice Queen will be in attendance, making their way along the parade route in a horse-drawn carriage.
“We have some awesome floats to look forward to this year. Several entries will be honoring our front-line workers as superheroes,” Palleschi said.
One such front-line worker, Rodelin “Rodel” Sumiran, a full-time nurse in the intensive care unit at Ellis Hospital, will serve as the parade’s grand marshal. He was voted 2021 Nurse of the Year by Daily Gazette readers and is an adjunct instructor for the Ellis Medicine-Belanger School of Nursing. During a news conference earlier this season, Sumiran said the holiday parade has become a yearly tradition since his family migrated to Schenectady from the Philippines seven years ago.
“Every year we’ve been looking forward to it,” he said. “It was something that was initially new, but as we stayed here and it’s become our home, we look forward to it. It’s actually the best way to start the holidays.”
The parade will kick off at SUNY Schenectady County Community College, make its way up State Street and conclude at Lafayette Street. Attendees may notice some additional holiday decor along the way, as the city has added more lighted wreaths and trees to State Street and encouraged businesses to deck their storefronts with holiday decorations.
The added decor is part of a competition known as “Illuminocity,” in which businesses partner with nonprofit organizations. Businesses will compete for the top spots in the following categories: creative design; Schenectady pride; technical challenge; most animated; and The Griswolds. The Daily Gazette will also hold voting for a People’s Choice category online between Nov. 19 and Jan. 3.
Cash prizes will be awarded to first-, second- and third-place winners, with the People’s Choice having just one winner. Prizes will then be donated to the nonprofit aligned with each business.
For information, visit downtownschenectady.org.