Collectively, Topeka has a lot of winter holiday traditions. Okay, I’m talking about Christmas here, but still, everyone is welcome to join in. With a longstanding parade downtown, the lighting of the city Christmas tree, and more recently the pre-parade Rescue Run (a benefit for the Rescue Mission), there is plenty of opportunity to gather in fellowship and celebrate the spirit of the season. Last year, musician Chris Aytes added some flavor to the collective effervescence with the Christmas Edition of his wildly successful LOUDsoftLOUD franchise. Chris and his co-horts, The Good Ambition and Monk’s Wine are bringing it to us again, with shows scheduled for Dec. 21 at the Live Room located inside Bullfrog’s Live at Huntoon & Gage. Chris and Monk’s Wine bandleader Ashley Reynolds shared with seveneightfive magazine what they are looking forward to for the second annual LOUDsoftLOUD Christmas Edition.

Q1: What excites you about this year’s Christmas edition of LOUDsoftLOUD?

Chris: Last year was the realization of a dream I’d had since 2006. Back then I was living in the Wichita area, I didn’t have a consistent band, and I wasn’t plugged into a scene. In early 2012, it dawned on me that all of that had changed and I could now pull this off. The event last year was a great success, with people asking me to do it again this year (and every year). With every event, there are things that go well and things that need improvement. I’m excited to implement a few improvements this year, and to take the vision further.

Q2: What can the audience expect that might be different from last year?

Chris: Two shows this time. We’ll have an early show that will be all ages, which will hopefully include some special surprises for the kids. The later show will be basically the same show, but adults-only. There will be a different energy between the shows, and I’m excited to see how different they end up being. The crowd informs a lot about a show in regards to energy and performance. [When] we do multiple shows in one day, each show is better than the last. It’ll be a lot of fun. The other big difference will be the musicians on stage. Last year was a bit of an all-star cast of musicians, with people floating on and off stage for almost every song, people trading instruments, and so on. It was a lot of fun, but it was really difficult organizing enough rehearsals with everyone, and the performances were great, but could have been even better with more preparation. There was something like 19 performers last year all in all. This year, the band will be a super-group made up of Monk’s Wine and Chris Aytes & the Good Ambition, all 6 of us on-stage at one time: two drummers, two guitars, a bass, piano, and lots of vocal possibilities. Reining it in just a bit in terms of personnel will allow for better preparation and amazing performances. Monk’s Wine and CA&theGA are different enough bands, that combining will make for a really great collaboration. You don’t want to mix two similar things to make something new; you have to blend diverse elements together. No one wants a peanut butter and cashew butter sandwich.

Ashley: Last year was a huge success like Chris said. I was so honored to be part of an event that simply showered everyone in attendance with an overwhelming sense of holiday spirit. When Chris mentioned what the idea for this year was I could barely contain my excitement. Seriously, two bands at the same time? Epic. This year will not only see the joining of Monk’s Wine with one of our favorite bands, it will also see the event at an entirely different venue with a brand new vibe. Still appropriate for our vision though. Different stage setup, a possibly grander feel while staying intimate with the crowd, and two shows with different vibes likely for each.

Chris: Monk’s Wine and The Good Ambition have had a friendly relationship for a few years now, though we have rarely gotten to perform together. Last year, I actually scaled my plans back and changed things up just so I could have Ashley Reynolds involved in the show. He had some schedule conflicts with my original plan, so I changed the date and made it a one-performance show, instead of two or three like I’d originally planned. I really wanted to work with Ashley on this show, and I think it meant a lot to him. He actually did an impromptu solo performance last year to make up for another musician who had backed-out from the show that day. Ashley’s a cappella performance of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)” was perhaps the best part of the entire night.

Q3: What do you think the new venue adds to the experience?

Chris: When Blue Planet Cafe closed, I had no idea where I would hold this show this year, and started to consider not doing it. I was unaware of the Live Room at Bullfrog’s until recently. Tom Krebs first brought it to my attention, and then Monk’s Wine performed there, and Ashley spoke highly of the place and the staff. The room is spectacular, and is going to offer just the right formal-yet-comfortable kind of vibe we want for the night. Working with General Manager Chris Okruhlik has been great. He’s excited about having the event in his space and we’re excited to bring it there.

Ashley: [The Live Room at Bullfrog’s] definitely brings some grandeur and a chance for a different kind of crowd to add to the elements of last year. So many showed last year, and with that success coupled with a whole new demographic from Bullfrog’s Live this is shaping up to be a pretty diverse and exciting show for everyone involved. Chris Okruhlik has been so helpful and accommodating with this and I think the Live Room will prove to be a perfect space for this year’s edition of LSL Christmas.

Q4: How is your band preparing for the event?

Chris: Right now it’s about song selection and preparing promotional material. Heavy promotion, including ticket sales, will begin in November, which is when we’ll all start having regular rehearsals. I’m already listening to some of my favorite Christmas albums, revisiting last year’s song selection, and dreaming up fun ideas for the show.

Ashley: Rehearsals start soon and right now we are preparing our minds and skills for a rehearsal with both bands together. Six amazing musicians all together under one roof on the same stage takes some mental preparation, especially when they are from two different bands. Lots of music, lots of rehearsal, and lots of fun is going down for the event this year and we are thrilled to be a part of it.

Q5: Other than CA&GA and MW, what other artists/musicians/bands are participating?

Chris: This is unknown as of now. I know people would love to return who got to perform last year, but not everyone will be coming back, just from an organizational standpoint I can’t do that again. Last year we formed a super-group, featured musicians from several different bands, solo performers, a Lo Pan’s Revenge performance, and a couple of people from musical theatre, and it was a blast collaborating with everyone. CA&theGA is MUCH busier this year and will still be doing shows out-of-town in the months and weeks leading up to this show, amidst all of the preparations. There’s a good chance we’ll include a few guests, but until Ashley, Jarrod and I get together and start collaborating on the show details, and until rehearsals start, we won’t know where we might need someone. If and when we do include guest performances, I want it to be because we needed that special something that only a certain someone can bring to the table.

Ashley: Like Chris said if there is a special space that needs filling that only a certain someone can fill then we will cross that bridge at that time. Regardless of who is involved it is going to be one hell of a holiday extravaganza. I know we, and I think I can speak for CA & the GA, are always excited to collaborate with the local talent and make some magical moments happen, same as last year. If you miss all other events this year, ink this one on your calendar.

[ Interview by Rio Cervantes-Reed | Image by Chris Aytes | November 2013 ]

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