10th annual ‘Holiday Hootenanny’ at Variety Playhouse benefits Habitat For Humanity

The annual “Holiday Hootenanny” is at the Variety Playhouse Dec. 19 at 7pm.

T-Dawg Presents

The tenth annual “Holiday Hootenanny” returns to the Variety Playhouse this Sunday, a concert of local artists and tributes honoring Atlanta musicians who passed away this year. With three sets of music spanning genres across the Americana spectrum and encompassing several decades of Atlanta talent, this year’s “Hootenanny” promises to live up to its name and reputation, with proceeds benefiting Atlanta’s Habitat For Humanity. Thomas “TDawg” Helland, producer of “Holiday Hootenanny,” and Atlanta bluegrass musician Reverend Jeff Mosier joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about the “Hootenanny” and the joyful noise its attendees can look forward to.

This unique revue originated 23 years ago when a collective of musicians organized by the late Ricky Keller, a multi-instrumentalist and producer beloved by many of his peers in the studio scene of the ’70s and ‘80s, and drummer Jeff Sipe formed an experience known as the Zambiland Orchestra. “In a nutshell, they would just make it happen,” said Helland. “It was just a musical miracle, to say the least, and the talent level is what really enabled that to happen, and the spirit of it, too.”

R Mosier, an accomplished banjo player and leader of bluegrass jam band Blueground Undergrass, described his longtime musical friendship with the show’s producer Helland. “Thomas is really the impetus to put together festivals and shows that have a very specific quality of genre-blending, is what I call it,” said Mosier. “There’s improv, but then there’s purity in it as well, where he has real pure bluegrass bands or pure blues, or pure R&B. He just created a huge musical tent of community-building musicians, and … I’m lucky to have been involved in all of his ventures. We’re partners in crime that way.”

Many members of the Zambiland Orchestra once moved through the backing bands that supported the late, legendary Colonel Bruce Hampton, who passed four years ago and was known for his wildly expressive and experimental rock performances. His name comes up often with Helland and Mosier, both acolytes of Hampton determined to carry his influence forward into the music of the “Hootenanny.”

Other renowned Atlanta musicians being honored this year include the recently passed Ike Stubblefield, Tom Gray and Count Mbutu. “I’m planning to have Ike Stubblefield’s Hammond B3 [organ] up on the stage,” said Helland. “We’ll have his Hammond up there, and we’ll be playing his style … His spirit will be there all night long.” 

The night’s third set of music spotlights music from Capricorn Records, performed by an array of acts associated with the historic Macon-based Southern rock label such as Randall Bramblett and Tommy Talton. “It will embody the sound that was Capricorn Records back in the ’70s and feature the horns and the Hammond and the slide, and the bluesy sound and the soulful sound,” said Helland. “The good stuff.”

The decades-spanning Americana music scene coming together for this special evening celebrates improvisation and collaboration, in a way Mosier suggested means as much to the players as to the audience. “We attempt to become bigger than the sum total of our parts, which is what’s beautiful about music — it’s the collaboration and the cooperation,” said Mosier. “It’s a healing force in the universe. It’s a medicine we’ve made for ourselves, and it’s, I think, now more than in many years, it’s needed for people because it’s like a balm. It’s like a salve for the soul, and that’s why we do it.” 

More information and tickets about the Dec. 19 “Holiday Hootenanny” at Variety Playhouse can be found here.