Back in July, Akron-based singer-songwriter Ryan Humbert did a show at the Kent Stage that he called Strung Out. It featured a nine-piece acoustic group, including a string quartet, performing both Humbert’s originals and covers by Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and Peter Gabriel.
That concert was so successful that Humbert has revamped the concept into a gala holiday event, Strung Out for the Holidays. It takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Akron Civic Theatre. Tickets are $20 reserved, $15 general admission. Humbert will be promoting the show tomorrow morning on the WKYC Channel 3 morning news show and on 91.3 FM the Summit’s afternoon drive program.
Humbert will be joined onstage at the Civic by Emily Bates on vocals and percussion, Ben Evans on piano, Matt Middleton on drums and percussion, Steve Norgrove on acoustic bass, Erin Vaughn on lead acoustic guitar, and background singers Kristy Caples, Becca Fostyk and Abby Knowles. The string section includes violinists Michael Houff and Mary Kettering, violist Monica Gregory and cellist Derek Snyder.
Humbert began working on the show last summer, shortly after the first Strung Out concert.
“I wanted to turn this into a big event,” he says. “I talked to my friend Howard Parr at the Civic and he said, Let’s bring it to the Civic Stage. People used to get dressed up and go downtown to big events. I said, Let’s make this a big classy event people want to go downtown for. American Commodore is providing tuxedos for the band. Emily’s going to be in a big red ball gown. I started irritating my roommates with Christmas music in September. I went through multiple versions of “Silver Bells” and “O Holy Night” to find one that would fit what we were doing. I had to go through hundreds of songs.”
The result is a 36-song, two-and-a-half hour concert with intermission that again blends Humbert’s own songs with distinctively arranged covers, including many holiday-themed tunes, ranging from Joni Mitchell’s “River” to the 1943 Bing Crosby hit “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
“It definitely stretches and challenges the band,” says Humbert. “We are typically a loud rock band. This lets us see what it’s like to play on the quiet side. And songs like 'The Christmas Song' are beautiful, but they aren’t that easy to play. The string section adds a unique sound and lets us do things we wouldn’t normally do, like 'Eleanor Rigby,' which is just going to be the strings and five singers around a microphone.”
And in the spirit of the season, the show is a fundraiser for the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank.
“It’s the wrap-up to their annual Long Haul Against Hunger campaign,” says Humber. “They’ll have a big truck out front of the Civic from 5 p.m. until after the show to collect food and financial contributions. A portion of every ticket sold will go right to the food bank. My goal is for people to learn more about the food bank and realize how important the work they do is.” —Anastasia Pantsios