Sunday night was frigid, freezing, and extremely cold in San Diego. Granted, California winters are mild compared to Decembers in the rest of country, but nonetheless, we were ill prepared to handle the hour-long wait outside a classified concert location downtown. Only the promise of the fantastic show ahead kept the hypothermia at bay. We were in line to see Noah Gundersen and his cousins and siblings perform their famous—as my friend, Lauren told me—family Christmas concert. Apparently, each member of the extensive Gundersen clan is a musical prodigy who can sing and play multiple instruments. Needless to say, I envied their talent, but was more than excited to bask in their euphonious folk glory. That is, if we didn’t freeze to death before the doors opened.
Finally, we were allowed entrance to thaw off inside the design studio/venue, and let me tell you, the space was beautiful. The brick walls were painted white, and one wall was covered in sloping white paper. There was a small area at the back of the room with all of the band’s gear already set up on oriental rugs (my favorite), and delicate dimly lit bulbs hung low above. A jovial bartender gave us complimentary IPAs, and we all filed into the room expectant of the concert ahead.
There couldn’t have been more than 60 people at this perfectly intimate holiday show, but the very small room filled quickly. It became very clear to us that we needed to stake our claim on some real estate or be shoved up against the walls, or worse, against another person.
After each concertgoer had a beer firmly gripped in his or her hands, the Gundersen’s took to the stage. There were six of them, each with an instrument or two: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric bass, a small drum setup, a violin/fiddle, and a couple of other ones that I can’t currently recall. The comfortably filled the space.
The show began with a cover of a classic Christmas tune, and then progressed to Le Wrens (one Gundersen family band) songs. Folksy and upbeat “Don’t Forget Me” really showcased their talent for harmonies, but it was “Tickets For Teasing” that completely transfixed everyone. Maybe it was Lizzie Gundersen’s raw, soulful, yet perfectly delicate voice. Maybe it was the paired-down softness of a single acoustic guitar that forced the entire room to quiet. Maybe it was the tortured lyrics of a love that could never be, one that ended “before it had to begin.” Whatever the reason, no one spoke as she sang, each of us was emotionally enthralled in her melody, but after her last note, the room erupted with applause.
The increased volume of the crowd continued into the troupe’s cover of the fantastic and fun holiday classic, Sir Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” Everyone was singing along and dancing. It was the epitome of merriment amongst a bunch of strangers. ‘Tis the season.
The man I came to see, Noah Gundersen, took over the set list and played his hauntingly quiet and sweet-sounding “Poor Man’s Son.” The song was soothing for about the first four minutes, but then switches to lyrics from the old hymn “Down to the River to Pray.” The audience, myself included, proceeded to sing along and created a choral effect that was really beautiful. The perks of a small venue, I suppose.
The Gundersen Family Christmas was the perfect showcase of the clan’s individual and collective talents, with a sprinkling of well-known holiday cheer. The show juxtaposed upbeat songs with mellow and melancholy tunes, and ended with a song that required help from the entire audience. Noah and his family ventured offstage and out into the middle of the room, to the middle of the crowd. We were all surprised, and a bit unsure as to why they’d all come into the center. As people moved out of their way, each musician ended up filling the space of three people, so we were forced to get up close and personal with our neighbors in the crammed venue.
It was worth it though, because a cooperative “Silent Night” started small, and as we began to all join in together, the melody reverberated off the walls. As it spilled out onto that chilly street, I can only imagine that it warmed those wintry spots where this night had begun.
Turn up the volume on your computer for this one!