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'Homegrown Christmas' starts and ends with friendship

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNY SPRINGER - Wilsonville singers (L-R) Christina Cooper, Naomi LaViolette and Michele Van Kleef pose in front of the historic Stein-Boozier Barn at Murase Plaza. It might be a holiday-themed concert, but the upcoming “Homegrown Christmas” is all about old friends.

“When I was thinking about the show and today, it starts in friendship,” said Wilsonville singer/songwriter Naomi LaViolette. “We became friends and happened to find each other in a way, and then it becomes about the community we live in.”

Along with fellow Wilsonville performers Michele Van Kleef and Christina Cooper, LaViolette and a backing band consisting of Tim Ellis on guitar, Bill Athens on bass and Ken Ollis on drums, will present their fourth annual Christmas show, “Homegrown Christmas,” on Dec. 16 and 19 at the Wilsonville McMenamins Old Church and Dec. 23 at McMenamins Kennedy School in Portland.

This series of concerts was previously a single show known as “A Wilsonville Christmas.” This time, the music will be similar, but there will be more of it. All three artists have contributed songs to the show, which will also feature winter and holiday standards and special guest dancers and a children’s chorus from Innovative Dance Studios. On top of that, proceeds from the shows will benefit the Oregon Food Bank.

“What I think is neat is we don’t stick to one style or genre of holiday music,” said Van Kleef. “We put on a show that covers all the bases — from classical to slightly jazzy to Americana, full on with stand-up bass, to swing and little bit of rock, pretty ballads — we cover the whole range.”

What started as one show in 2009 has grown to four shows this time around, due to increasing popularity. For 2013, you can reserve seats in advance at the Old Church by buying tickets online at etix.com, and there will be both all-ages and 21-and-older performances to accommodate a wider audience.

“We finally decided to have a 21-and-over show,” said Van Kleef. “There are folks who just don’t want kids running around. It’s just a different environment entirely when it’s over 21.”

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Christina Cooper performs at the 2011 A Wilsonville Christmas concert at the McMenamins Old Church. Van Kleef, LaViolette and Cooper all remain busy with their own solo musical efforts. This is the only time during the year they will perform as a group. That alone makes for a special night, or in this case, series of nights.

“When you see friendships last through the years, it’s a gift,” said LaViolette, who just released her soulful new EP “You’ve Got Me” in October. “Life changes, we change and our kids change and grow. But we’re always going to come together at Christmas time and keep going.”

The sheer variety of music also makes it fun, said Van Kleef, who grew to national prominence as a musician in the 1990s as a vocalist for Calobo, whose members have gone on to even bigger things musically as part of The Decemberists and other groups.

“I think that’s what’s fun, and it’s taking me back to Calobo,” she said. “I think people liked our Calobo band because we’d do all different styles at our shows and it spoke to a number of people that way. It also works for us; we’re all three very separate, but we come together with a lot in common and yet we’re all very different on our own. It’s neat to have that.”

Van Kleef is currently finishing work on her second solo full-length record, which was recorded at Portland’s Kung Fu Studios. Her first album, “After All,” was released in 2012 to critical acclaim.

Cooper got her start performing with the first “Wilsonville Christmas” show four years ago. Now, she’s increasingly active in the metro area and is gaining an affectionate fan base. She’s also full of ambitious ideas for the future of the trio’s Christmas effort.

“I’ve been playing with Tim (Ellis) and playing more shows,” Cooper said.

During a recent sit-down with all three women, talk on that topic flew back and forth over coffee. Should they book a longer tour? Should there be a Christmas-themed record to go with next year’s concerts? What kinds of venues should they seek out? And can they find sponsors for the record, the shows, or both?

Those familiar with the music business know those kinds of questions are often more complex to answer than it might appear. And the three ladies still are seeking answers to all of them.

But in less than a half-hour, a few things were decided - at least in the abstract.

“We want to work on a ‘Homegrown Christmas’ album,” Cooper said. “We’ll do one for now, and five years in we’ll have one.”

“It’s opening this door of this could go outside of what we’re doing now,” LaViolette added. “So this year, we’ve got to rock it.”

“We’re going to look for sponsorship to create an album and make this a tour next year,” Van Kleef said.

Web: http://www.michelevankleef.com, http://www.naomilmusic.com, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Christina-Cooper/377949205660665?fref=ts



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