Even before it started playing Christmas night shows at the Beachland some 13 years ago, the local swing/blues/jazz act Blue Lunch held festive Christmas night parties at some of the city’s smaller blues and jazz clubs.
“I lose track of time, but we did some Christmas night shows prior to the ones we now do at the Beachland,” says band leader Peter London in a recent phone interview. After taking a year off because of the pandemic, Blue Lunch's annual Christmas Night Latke Party returns to the Beachland Tavern on Saturday, Dec. 25. “We did a show one time at Jones Co. Tavern, which was up in Cedar Center. We did some at Wilbert’s too. Once we went to the Beachland, we have been going there every year. The only year we missed was last year due to COVID. We started in the ballroom, but we moved to the tavern and decided we liked that better. The Beachland is taking things seriously in terms of people being vaccinated, so that’s the best place for us to do it.”
Since many band members are Jewish, London says playing a concert on Christmas seemed like a natural thing to do.
“Christmas is obviously almost a generic holiday now, so we thought it would be a good night to play a show,” he says. “We figured that not too many Christians would go out on Christmas Eve, but we thought Christians would want to go out on Christmas night if only to get away from their families.”
To make the show into something really special, the group will bring in two special guests this year, upholding a longstanding tradition.
This year, harmonica players Hank Mowery and Tom Moore will sit in with the band. Mowery fronts the Grand Rapids-based Hawktones and has worked with Pinetop Perkins, Nick Moss, Rusty Zinn and many others. Moore was the frontman for Little Frank and the Premiers for many years, and he also released two albums with the Moore Brothers Band. He also produces the blues and roots podcast, Mambo Sauce.
“Tom [Moore] is a good friend of the band, and we met Hank [Mowery] through Tom,” says London. “Tom is out of South Bend, IN. He’s a great singer and harmonica player and a real good showman. He’s a great entertainer. He saved us one year when one of our guests, Bill Miller, who wasn't feeling well, couldn’t go on. He didn’t go on that particular night even though he was there. Tom was there as an unofficial guest. He got up there and sang and played, so it helped us out.”
Moore told London about Mowery, and London extended an invitation to him to join the group at its latke party.
“Hank [Mowery] is a great singer and player too,” says London. “He’s out of Grand Rapids, MI. We talked to him to see if he was interested, and he was all up for it. He has two great CDs out. It’s real nice stuff. We haven’t worked with him before, so we’re excited. He came to Cleveland one time to play Wilbert’s with his band, and I put together a band and opened for him. He has some Ohio connections too.”
Given that the band recently added some additional members, London says the veteran band has worked new material into its sets.
“Some people think of us as a swing band, but we do more straight blues and more soul now thanks to our new guitarist Billy Seward,” says London. “We do some originals and classic covers. There are tons of blues-based bands throughout the country, and there are lots of talented artists under the radar. I like to think Blue Lunch is a band with veteran talent even though the average person around the country hasn’t heard of us.”
While the latkes won’t be included in the ticket price, the Beachland kitchen will adapt to make the potatoe pancakes available just for Blue Lunch’s concert.
“The concert is just a fun night,” says London. “It’s always drawn a variety of people. There are some people who have never been to the Beachland. Some people who read the Jewish News might see an article about the show and will come, and there are fans of ours and fans of the Beachland. It’s been a fun time. It’s something we look forward to doing. This year, there aren’t that many gigs, so we’re especially excited for it.”
Doors open at 7 p.m., and London will spin blues, soul, and R&B on vinyl before Blue Lunch hits the stage.
Christmas Night Latke Party with Blue Lunch, 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 25, Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $15 ADV, $18 DOS, beachlandballroom.com.
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]