To decide the order, musicians’ names were pulled one by one from a hat. John Bustine was up first. The tall, tattooed artist took his place under a web of white Christmas lights and kicked off the evening with a soulful rendition of John Prine’s Christmas-tinged “All The Best.” Later, during the excellent “Miss Amputee West Culver County,” you could hear musicians in the audience harmonizing with Bustine during his chorus. It was a preview of what was to come.
Musicians, especially Josh Read of Revival, wandered on and off the stage throughout the night to accompany their friends. Whether it was to fix the placement of a mike, hit the bass drum, or strum an additional guitar, the stage became a communal operating table. Vandaveer, otherwise known as Mark Charles, led a ramshackle rendition of “Silent Night” with members of These United States on pedal steel guitar and drums, Laura Burhenn on keyboards, and Bustine and Read taking turns jingling the requisite bells.
Even the sparse performances by Kitty Hawk and Jim Dempsey of the Moderate, which at times battled with the noise level of the audience, were met with howling applause by the near-capacity crowd. Brandon Butler, who took the stage after Dempsey, fueled his performance with ten-minute interludes on his affinity for bear and buffalo meat. There was never a dull moment.
The Jesse Elliott-led These United States were the last to play. On stage with more than half of the club’s performers, the band pushed the night’s blend of folk into rock-and-roll territory. The last song was “Burn This Bridge,” which Elliott dubbed his depressing version of a Christmas song. But there was nothing sad about it. It was the rollicking conclusion to a night of good music.