Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Letter From HillTop Songwriter Cathy Asunma




... and Happy Holidays to you, Cathy! Thanks for the kind words!

Letter From HillTop Songwriter Jill Johnson



We've been getting some great feedback on our latest HillTop Records Christmas Album project! Much thanks to Jill Johnson and everyone else who has taken the time to write to us lately. Happy Holidays from the entire HillTop Records team!

Letter From HillTop Songwriter Inez Kobus



We're so pleased to hear that you like what we've done with your beautiful work, Inez! Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Great American Songwriters: Duke Ellington

"In the century since his birth, there has been no greater composer, American or otherwise, than Edward Kennedy Ellington." - Bob Blumenthal, The Boston Globe


For some reason, we have yet to mention a jazz musician in our HillTop Records Great American Songwriters series. Well, we're going to remedy that situation right now by highlighting one of the greatest ever: Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (1899 - 1974.) Throughout his lifetime, Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions and while he is most closely associated with the world of jazz, his music actually helped to shape a number of genres: blues, pop, classical, gospel, etc. He even wrote film scores and stage musicals. Ellington also worked extensively as a big band leader and was an accomplished pianist. His body of work grew to such an impressive size that it was given awards and accolades even decades after his death. Most recently, the composer was posthumously honored with a Pulitzer Prize in 1999.

In the beginning, though, Duke Ellington started his musical career as many others do--by taking lessons as a child. Both of his parents were pianists (his mother played mostly parlor songs and his father operatic arias) and young Edward was on his way by the age of seven. Equally early on, the boy was given the nickname ("Duke," after the casual elegance and dapper dress that his mother taught him) that would stick with him for the rest of his life. Although he had other childhood interests, Ellington recognized his musical abilities--and he wrote his first composition at the age of 15. The song, entitled "Soda Fountain Rag," was composed entirely by ear (he had not yet learned how to read and write music) and inspired by his after-school job as a soda fountain jerk. Ellington was also inspired by a number of great jazz musicians and ragtime pianists. Among his first influences were Cliff Jackson and Doc Perry; once he began to pursue music professionally, he took advice from Fats Waller and Sidney Bechet.

Ellington's first gigs were in cafes and clubs around Washington, D.C. It was there that he was bitten by the performance bug, and he eventually dropped out of college to paint commercial signs by day and play piano by night. In 1917, he formed his first group: "The Duke's Serenaders" ("Colored Syncopators," so went the slogan.) Ellington acted as a performing member and as the group's booking agent. Their first gig, at the True Reformer's Hall, earned him a total of 75 cents. Duke honed his music and marketing skills at the same time, and the group reached a high level of success for those times. They were able to seamlessly shift from African-American to white audiences during the days of strict segregation in D.C.

Eventually, The Serenaders dissolved and Ellington made the decision to move to New York. He became an influential figure during the Harlem Renaissance, but found that the local music scene was much more competitive than he had been used to previously. After years of struggling to make ends meet, Duke and his bandmates landed a four-year engagement at the Hollywood Club (afterwards re-opened as the Kentucky Club.) At the time, the group was called Elmer Snowden and his Black Sox Orchestra; the name was later changed to The Washingtonians.

The year 1924 was a big one for Duke Ellington. He made eight records and received a composing credit on three others. His career continued to gain momentum and The Washingtonians were extremely successful from 1932 to 1942. They routinely performed at the legendary Cotton Club, were revues combined everything from comedy to burlesque. Weekly radio broadcasts from the club gave the band national exposure, and Ellington reaped the rewards. In 1929, he appeared in his first movie--a 19-minute RKO short called Black and Tan. In those years, Ellington juggled numerous jobs and recorded countless songs under several pseudonyms. He mingled with famous vaudeville performers like Jimmy Durante and renowned songwriters like George Gershwin.

During the Great Depression, the music industry obviously took a toll. However, Duke and his orchestra were able to weather the storm by touring around the country and landing radio appearances. In his days as a bandleader, Ellington became known for his unusual way of conducting: He typically used piano cues and visual gestures, and very rarely conducted with a baton. He also grew innovative during a time of great competition. Ellington would make recordings of smaller groups (sextets, octets, etc.) within his 15-man orchestra and compose pieces specifically designed to highlight a single instrumentalist and create variety. Among these successful songs were "Jeep's Blues" written for Johnny Hodges, "Yearning for Love" for Lawrence Brown, and "Trumpet in Spades" for Rex Stewart.

In the 1930's, Ellington wrote some of his hugest hits: "Mood Indigo," "Sophisticated Lady," and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing.)" The next decade, he took his composing a step further and collaborated with a long list of notable musicians. He also set his sights upon a long-term goal: to extend the jazz form from the three-minute limit of the 78rpm record side, of which he was already considered to be a master. He may have been spreading himself too thin because during the '40's, Ellington experienced a big dip in popularity. The times were changing, and audiences were shifting from Big Band jazz to soloists, Bebop and other genres. However, the world had not yet seen the last of Duke Ellington. In 1956, he appeared at the famous Newport Jazz Festival and experienced a great career revival. He signed a new contract with Columbia Records and released his best-selling LP, Ellington at Newport. In the late '50's and '60's, he focused on composing film scores and also composed adaptations of John Steinbeck's novel Sweet Thursday, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt.

Even in the 1960's and up until his death in '74, Duke Ellington steadily worked in the music industry. He collaborated with everyone from John Coltrane to Louis Armstrong and left an awe-inspiring repertoire as his legacy. He was most certainly one of the greatest American composers to have ever lived, and a worthy addition to our HillTop Records songwriters series. Of his own work and writing process, Ellington famously said:

"The writing and playing of music is a matter of intent.... You can't just throw a paint brush against the wall and call whatever happens art. My music fits the tonal personality of the player. I think too strongly in terms of altering my music to fit the performer to be impressed by accidental music. You can't take doodling seriously."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Great American Songwriters: Bill Gaither

Here at HillTop Records, we record a lot of Gospel and Contemporary Christian music--especially during the holidays, when religious music becomes more mainstream. At all times of year, however, the world of gospel music gives us many wonderful songs written by many great American songwriters. In particular, Bill Gaither (born William J. Gaither and best known for his work with the Bill Gaither Trio and the Gaither Vocal Band) can easily be counted among the best. He wrote some of the most beloved gospel songs and for that, he more than deserves a mention in our Great American Songwriters series.

Originally from a small town in Indiana, Bill Gaither began his musical career at a fairly early age. He formed his first singing group, the Bill Gaither Trio, when he was still a college student at Anderson College. The other two members of the trio were his sister Mary Ann and brother Danny. The siblings continued to perform together after Bill graduated, and even as he began a career as a full-time English teacher. However, the dynamics of the singing group changed in 1964. This was when Mary Ann Gaither left and Bill's wife, Gloria, took her place. Along with being a singer, the young Gloria was an excellent songwriter as well. The Bill Gaither Trio enhanced their traditional repertoire with contemporary originals and created a new sound. Each member of the trio lent something special. Bill contributed his songwriting talents, his high bass (or low baritone) voice, and his guitar- and piano-playing abilities. A few years into teaching, he realized that the day job was taking too much away from his music--so he quit and dedicated himself completely to songwriting and performing. He never lost his love of teaching, though. Years later, Gaither was quoted as saying about his lengthy Christian music career:

"Yes, I'm still a teacher, but in a larger classroom ... A lot of our songs are teaching-type songs. I can tell people to reach out to one another to give, not just money but their time and energy ... I like that."

When he was in his late 20's, the gospel singer/songwriter got his first hit: "He Touched Me," recorded in 1964. The breakthrough song officially introduced Bill Gaither to the Christian music industry--an industry in which he felt immediately at home. Inspired by southern gospel singers like Hovie Lister and Jake Hess, Gaither built a repertoire of his own inspirational songs. Other notable influences included groups like The Statesmen Quartet, The Happy Goodman Family and The Speers. Gaither was, however, most often inspired by the people closest to him. Much of his greatest work was written for and with members of his own family. After spending many years singing with his brother and sister, Bill went on to collaborate (and enjoy a very successful business partnership) with his wife. To date, the Gaithers have composed roughly 600 songs together.

Among their most celebrated songs, the Gaithers have given us "Because He Lives," "The King Is Coming" and "Something Beautiful." Typically, Gloria writes the lyrics and Bill writes the music. However, the pair have said that the composition is very often a joint effort. Their songs of worship and praise have been sung by popular Christian artists like The Cathedral Quartet, The Speers, Sandi Patty, The Heritage Singers and Carman. However, what makes the Gaithers' songs so legendary is their ability to cross over into other genres. They were brought into the world of country by The Statler Brothers and even managed to reach the realm of rock and roll, thanks to Elvis Presley. The combination of uplifting, soulful lyrics and catchy melodies makes the Gaithers' music accessible to many audiences.

Bill Gaither's wide reach does not only extend to songwriting, but to all parts of the music industry. He founded the Gaither Music Company, an all-inclusive corporation that runs everything from concert booking (under the Gaither Management Group) to TV production and even copyright management (Gaither Copyright Management.) There is also a recording studio (Gaither Studios, formerly called Pinebrook Studios) and an animation company (Live Bait Productions) that is run by Bill's son, Benjy.

Whenever possible, Gaither has included members of his immediate family in his ever-growing empire. He is also known for mentoring a number of aspiring and up-and-coming musicians. He has been called a "father figure" by the likes of Mark Lowry, Sandi Patty, Amy Grant, Jonathan Pierce and Carman. They and other artists owe much of their success to Bill Gaither, whose never-failing interest and belief in the Contemporary Christian music (CCM) industry is truly inspiring.

Bill Gaither has also helped to shape the world of southern gospel music as we know it today, most notably though his famous Homecoming tours. Founded in 1991, the concert program brings together major stars of the southern gospel and CCM industry. These tours have sold over 1.1 million tickets around the world, and are commonly thought to have sparked a revival of the genres. Legendary performers like The Isaacs, Jessy Dixon and Lynda Randle have headlined at renowned venues like Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. Additionally, Bill has managed to maintain the Gaither Vocal Band and expand it to include a number of recognizable musicians. Everyone from Guy Penrod to Mark Lowry have sung with the group that continues to perform to this day.

The Gaithers have won awards (including six Grammys), written books, toured internationally and helped to revive an entire genre within the U.S. and the world. At the same time, Bill and his family have never lost sight of their reason for writing music in the first place: their faith. Bill recently said, "Music is just a tool we use. Obviously the central message is the Gospel, and we do that through music". An October 2010 interview with The Denver Post also quoted him as saying:

"There are two reasons I keep touring. First, I really believe in the message with all sincerity. Gospel music can make a difference in the world. ... Second, I love the art form. Oh, and three, the young people I travel with don't treat me like an old person."

Even at age 74, Bill Gaither seems far from old--and he does not seem to be slowing down any time soon. Here at HillTop Records, we're excited and inspired to see what he brings to the world next.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Internet Radio: The Future of Traditional Radio?

A few months ago, we featured a blog entry about the world of Internet radio. Here at HillTop Records, we like to stay on top of the latest technological trends--and, in fact, we have some exciting news for all of you! We are about to launch our very own Internet radio station to feature the latest songs by our songwriters under contract. The station will include several streams dedicated to specific genres, and you will be able to access it right on our official website. You will also be able to access it from anywhere because, unlike traditional terrestrial radio that functions in a limited range, HillTop Records Internet radio will be available worldwide.

By now, most everyone has at least heard of Internet radio. However, it may be surprising to learn just how quickly the phenomenon is growing. Approximately 42 million Americans listened to online radio at least twice a week in 2009. This number has doubled since 2005. Bridge Ratings recently conducted a study of 3,500 consumers to track the current trends and predict the future of Internet radio. According to their findings, the medium will have 185 million listeners by the year 2020. Compare that to terrestrial radio's predicted 250 million listeners, and you will see that the Internet is quickly catching up. And the climbing numbers do not only pertain to audiences. The shift to online radio is similarly reflected by advertising revenue.

ZenithOptimedia recently reported that in 2009, advertisers spent a combined $288 million on Internet radio ads (including $28 million on podcasting.) That amount shows an increase of 28% from the previous year. Bridge Ratings predicts another increase of 12.5% by 2011, putting the estimated budget at $324 million. This amount is spent by advertisers in a number of ways, from audio and music video ads to buttons and banners on websites. These savvy advertisers are responding to Internet radio's dramatically growing audiences. In Bridge Ratings' study, about half of the consumers surveyed said that they spend more time listening to Internet radio now than they did six months ago. By comparison, 71% of that same group said that the amount of time they dedicate to their favorite AM/FM radio stations has not changed at all.

One thing that has had a great impact on Internet radio's popularity is the evolution of mobile phone technology. Nowadays, many cell phones allow you to listen to online radio, whether via the actual device or by hooking it up to your car stereo. Bridge Ratings' projections for mobile phone audio audiences are quite impressive: The number could reach as high as 40 million by 2015. Compare that to the estimates for other media outlets--274 million for terrestrial radio, 25 million for satellite radio and 5 million for HD radio. Of course, it is difficult to make these sorts of predictions within the world of new media as the technology is constantly advancing. As new and improved ways to listen to music are developed, the size of an audience will grow accordingly.

In the meantime, the Internet has already won over one population: young adults, ages 12-24. As online usage among these Americans increases, the time they spend using other media drastically dwindles. This is especially true with radio. In 2000, 74% of young adults regularly listened to traditional radio; today, in 2010, only 41% do. This significant shift has created an important opportunity for advertisers: branding. To date, only one major online radio provider has managed to create a big name for itself--Pandora. According to a survey conducted by Vision Critical back in March, Pandora is the favorite among 27% of consumers. Of the group surveyed, 42% had listened to Pandora at some point in the past year. No other service (not even the heavily advertised iTunes or Rhapsody) garnered more than a single-digit response. There is therefore plenty of room for marketers to step in and create some competition. It is important to remember that there are thousands of options out there--including the soon-to-be-launched HillTop Records Internet radio station!

Exciting developments are certainly afoot in the world of radio. An industry that remained virtually unchanged for a century has recently been forever altered by the Internet. However, online radio is not as new as many listeners think it is. While its most significant growth happened during this decade, the first attempts at streaming radio actually occurred in the early 1990's. The idea of webcasting terrestrial radio was first embraced by college radio stations. The first to succeed were WXYC at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Georgia Tech University's WREK. The trend gradually spread throughout the United States and in 1995, KPIC was supposedly the first commercial radio station to broadcast online. Then, also in the mid-'90's, early online-only radio stations were developed. Websites like Broadcast.com, TheDJ.com and Imagine Radio (all three were later purchased by major media companies) emerged to lay the groundwork for the next step--Live365, which we mentioned in our previous blog. Despite setbacks created by disputes over copyright and royalty payments, Internet radio rapidly picked up steam--and it does not appear to be slowing down any time soon. Here at HillTop Records, we will do our very best to keep you informed about the latest trends and developments.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What's Happening In Music In: Montreal

Our neighbor to the north is certainly rich in culture, and only a short drive or flight from many American cities. Once there, you will find countless museums and theaters. If you're planning a trip to Montreal, here's another thing to add to your list of things to do: check out the city's thriving music scene. The next stop on our HillTop Records series on local music scenes is the cultural capital of Quebec, a fantastic destination for anyone who loves music. While you will find many similarities between the scene here and in the U.S., one obvious difference immediately separates Montreal's music scene: It's bilingual!

Most bands and singers from Montreal have at one time performed in French. The city fosters a variety of genres and welcomes musical acts from around the world. At any time of year, you are sure to find an array of concerts and other events. However, there is a best time to experience the French-speaking music scene: summertime. The warmest months bring with them the Les FrancoFolies de Montréal. Multiple stages are set up in and around the Place des Arts in the Centreville district to highlight French-speaking musical acts from all around the world. The genres on display run the gamut: rock, pop, hip-hop, reggae, folk, chanson and punk are all well-represented during this nearly two-week-long festival. Many of the concerts are free to the public; however, there are also special acts (mostly held in local concert halls and theaters) that require attendees to purchase tickets. The much-celebrated event is said to draw as many as 1,000 French-speaking performers--and 500,000 visitors! For over 20 years, it has been the largest musical extravaganza in the French-speaking world.

Another popular music event that takes place in the summertime is the annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Unlike the FrancoFolies, this event celebrates a specific genre rather than a language--and you may hear jazz musicians from across the globe. Every year, the festival welcomes 3,000 artists from 30 countries. It features 650 concerts, including 450 free outdoor shows, and reports close to 2.5 million visitors. These large numbers have definitely attracted attention--and in 2004, the concert set the Guinness World Record for being the largest jazz festival in the world. Back when the festival made its first run in 1980, it hosted the likes of Ray Charles and Vic Vogel. To this day, it continues to bring the best of jazz to the streets of downtown Montreal.

Other wonderful music festivals in Montreal include Pop Montreal, the Montreal Reggae Festival, the FestiBlues international de Montréal, the MUTEK Montreal electronic music festival, the Festival International Nuits Afrique ("African Nights") and the Osheaga rock festival. These smaller (compared to the record-breaking music festivals) events highlight the great diversity within the local music scene. From blues to rock and roll, reggae to electronic, the people of Montreal love all kinds of music. Throughout the year, you can expect the city's major music halls to be offering something new and exciting. Check out the Centre Bell, the Montreal Forum, the Place des Arts, the Parc Jean-Drapeau (home to the Radio-Classique Montréal studio and the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier) and state-of-the-art venues like EXcentris (a hybrid cinema/concert hall.)

Along with offering a full calendar of guest musical acts, some of these monumental venues also serve as the permanent homes of Montreal's most beloved musical institutions. For example, the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier houses the main stage for the Montréal Symphony Orchestra. It was re-named in recent years to honor the head of the company. The massive, multi-purpose venue also accommodates the Opera de Montréal and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. It is therefore a must-see landmark for lovers of classical music. Another is the historic Ermitage on the Collège de Montréal's campus, the main performance venue of the Little Symphony of Montreal from 1942 to 1952. The concert hall has also hosted the Montreal String Quartet and served as a recording studio for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

On the other end of the spectrum, Montreal also has the Métropolis--a downtown performing arts centre that was named one of the world's 100 best rock concert venues. If you like alternative rock, you should also consider catching a show at Les Foufounes Électriques. The multi-level establishment (called "Foufs" by those in-the-know) opened in 1983 and is the oldest alternative rock venue in the city.

Whether your musical tastes are more aligned with I Musici de Montréal Chamber Orchestra or Arcade Fire, you are sure to find like-minded fans on the Montreal music scene. Famous artists and groups from the city and its outskirts include Leonard Cohen, Chromeo, Simple Plan and Celine Dion. For more information on past and present artists performing in Montreal, check out MontrealMusicScene.com. The site has a comprehensive calendar of upcoming events, profiles of local artists, and even message boards that allow you to communicate with other fans. Lastly, for a dose of unique Montreal music culture, head to the city's central park on a Sunday. Every week, a huge impromptu drumming festival is hosted by local legends, the Tam Tams. The regular jam session (originally started back in 1978) has attracted as many as 100 drummers, and it is a great way to experience the music of Montreal "off the beaten path." As always, we will continue to update you on what is happening in music in a city near you right here on our HillTop Records blog!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Great American Songwriters: Willie Nelson

An icon of the 1970's outlaw country movement, Willie Nelson is an American music legend. Even now, well into his 70's, he continues to capture audiences and maintain a strong presence within our national pop culture. He has preformed alongside everyone from Bob Dylan to Dave Matthews, and incorporated many different genres into his outstanding repertoire: jazz, blues, reggae, folk--nothing is off-limits to the versatile and prolific Willie Nelson. We're definitely fans of his here at HillTop Records.

Born in Abbott, Texas in 1933, Nelson was given his first taste of music by his grandparents. Young Willie started taking mail-order music lessons at the early age of 6, and his immense talent was evident from the start. At 7, he wrote his first song--and by 9, he was part of a local band. He played guitar alongside his sister, Bobbie, who played the piano. A few years later, the Nelson siblings met a young fiddler named Bud Fletcher and joined his band, Bohemian Fiddlers. Between small town gigs and other high school activities, Willie Nelson worked as a DJ for local radio stations (including KHBR in Hillsboro, Texas and KBOP in Pleasanton) and also routinely sang at honkey tonk bars near his home. While describing his childhood, he said: “I was influenced a lot by those around me--there was a lot of singing that went on in the cotton fields.” Even when he was still a teenager, it was obvious that Willie Nelson was destined for a career in music.

In his early 20's, Nelson moved to Vancouver to pursue his dream. In 1956, he recorded his first song--"Lumberjack," written by Leon Payne. The single did moderately well, but not well enough for Nelson to be able to quit his day job as a radio announcer. A few years later, he sold one of his own songs (called "Family Bible") for $50; it went on to be a hit for Claude Gray, and has since been covered by many other musicians. Nelson's climb to the top was far from over; however, his perseverance and resilience were already in play. To this day, Nelson is known to frequently make inspirational and positive statements. A favorite quote of his: "Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results.”

Like other successful recording artists, Willie Nelson got his first big break "behind the scenes." When he first made the move to Nashville in 1960, he was unable to get a recording contract--but he was able to land a publishing contract over at Pamper Music. He began writing songs for other American singers, including "Night Life" first recorded by Ray Price. Even before it became the most covered country song of all time, the single received a lot of attention--and got Nelson a job as a bass player for Price's band. While he played with the Cherokee Cowboys, Nelson continued to sell hit after hit to famous country and pop artists: "Funny How Time Slips Away" by Billy Walker, "Hello Walls" by Faron Young, "Pretty Paper" by Roy Orbison and "Crazy" sung by Patsy Cline (which is reportedly the biggest jukebox hit of all time) were all written by Willie Nelson.

In 1961, Nelson was finally signed by Liberty Records and able to take his first steps as a legitimate recording artist. He released several singles under the label, including "Touch Me" and "Willingly" (a duet with Shirley Collie, who later became his second wife.) Despite his easy success as a songwriter, however, Nelson had trouble winning Nashville audiences over with his singing voice. He eventually moved to Austin, where listeners seemed to relate better to his distinct sound. He joined the Grand Ole Opry and released a string of Nashville Sound-inspired country albums under RCA Victor Records. They did fairly well, but he never quite reached a level of stardom.

Just as Willie Nelson began to consider retiring from music, the "hippie" music scene began to pick up speed in Austin. The free-spirited, Bohemian nature of the burgeoning culture was the perfect match for Nelson's unique brand of country music. Elements of rock and roll, jazz, western swing, and folk laced his music throughout the '70's--and his popularity subsequently soared. After a brief stint with Atlantic Records (under whom he released Shotgun Willie in '73 and Phases and Stages in '74), Willie signed with Columbia. The move proved to be one of the best decisions that he ever made, as it finally gave him creative control over his work. With the release of Red Headed Stranger in 1975, Willie Nelson cemented his status as an American music legend. Funny enough, his first #1 hit as a singer was written by someone else--it was a cover of Fred Rose's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain."

Along with Waylon Jennings and a few other contemporaries, Willie Nelson established a sub-genre that the public dubbed "outlaw country." He certainly played into the theme with his '76 album, Wanted! The Outlaws. It featured hits like "Good Hearted Woman" and "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time," and it became the first platinum country album. That monumental success was immediately followed by two others: Waylon and Willie and Stardust. Towards the end of the decade, Nelson also saw success as a film actor; however, he never stopped recording music. In the early '80's, he gave us great songs like "On the Road Again" and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," which he recorded with Julio Iglesias. And in the mid-'80's, he made an exciting career move when he formed a band called The Highwaymen with Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash.

Other famous artists with whom Nelson has collaborated include Sinéad O'Connor, Bonnie Raitt, and Paul Simon. His 2004 album, Outlaws & Angels, featured cameos by everyone from Al Green to Kid Rock--and in 2008, he performed live with Snoop Dogg in Amsterdam. Never afraid to experiment or test the boundaries of music, Willie Nelson has remained an integral part of the American pop scene. The musical legend continues to surprise and thrill--and even his favorite guitar is a celebrity! The Martin N-20 nylon-string acoustic, named "Trigger" after Roy Roger's horse, has been strummed by a pick so many times that it now has a large hole in the body (worn down by the fact that this particular type of guitar does not have a pick-guard and is customarily played fingerstyle.) The instrument's soundboard has been signed by over a hundred of Willie Nelson's friends and colleagues--as much a sign of his success as of his personality. Of his career, Nelson has said: “I'm a country songwriter and we write cry-in-your-beer songs. That's what we do. Something that you can slow dance to.” This ability to tap into a deep, personal sadness while at the same time keeping his wit and sense of humor is perhaps what makes him such a wonderful songwriter. We know that he is an inspiration to many of our songwriters here at HillTop Records.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Your Guide to the Best Holiday Concerts of 2010

You've probably already heard a Christmas song or two on the airwaves, especially if you've been in a shopping mall recently. And now that it is officially the month of December, there's really no avoiding it--the 2010 Holiday Season is in full swing. Here at HillTop Records, we love the holidays and (of course) the accompanying music. To help you all embrace this current holiday season, we've compiled a quick list of the country's best upcoming concerts. No matter which part of the United States you're celebrating in, you are sure to find a fantastic holiday concert near you.

New York City

- Jazz Jam Red Hot Holiday Stomp (12/09/2010 - 12/11/2010) at the Rose Theater. Jazz at Lincoln Center jazzes up your favorite Christmas songs, bringing a Crescent City twist to the classics. Along with regular performances, there is a new Family Matinee this year (on Saturday, 12/11.) The interactive show will last about 75 minutes (no intermission) and will be specially geared towards children.

- The New York Pops' Holiday Celebration (12/10/2010 - 12/11/2010) at Carnegie Hall. Led by Tony-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, this annual concert celebrates the holiday season with carols and traditional favorites.

- Radio City Christmas Spectacular (12/01/2010 - 12/30/2010.) Billed as "America's Favorite Holiday Show," this beloved extravaganza has been thrilling families for over 75 years. Featuring live musical performances and dance numbers by the world-famous Rockettes, this exciting spectacle is not to be missed. If you're in New York City this holiday season, definitely book tickets to this unforgettable show.

Los Angeles

- LA Phil Holiday Sing-Along (12/18/2010) at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Part of the LA Phils' "Deck the Hall - Holiday Concerts" series, this family-friendly event is the perfect holiday celebration. Sheet music is provided so that you and your loved ones may sing along with all of your Yuletide favorites.

- Home by the Metropolitan Master Chorale (12/05/2010) at the Hollywood, California United Methodist Church. Known around the city for its innovative chorale music, the Metropolitan Master Chorale celebrates the 2010 Holiday Season with their own renditions of traditional and modern classics.

- LAVC Holiday Concert (12/11/2010 - 12/12/2010) at Los Angeles Valley College's Mainstage Theatre. The holiday extravaganza will feature live performances by the LAVC College Choir, the LAVC Philharmonic Choir, the LAVC Vocal Jazz Ensemble and the Valley Symphony Orchestra.

Chicago

- A Chanticleer Christmas by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (12/06/2010 - 12/07/2010) at the Fourth Presbyterian Church. The New Yorker called this “the world’s reigning male chorus” and you can see why at this holiday event. The award-winning, 12-voice a capella group celebrates the season with everything from Baroque classics to contemporary favorites.

- Welcome Yule! (12/17/2010 - 12/23/2010) at the Symphony Center. Another popular event by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, this concert promises a merry program of new arrangements and classic carols. You are welcome to sing along with your favorites--and keep your ears out for some musical surprises!

Dallas

- Christmas Pops with Marvin Hamlisch (12/02/2010 - 12/04/2010) at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Kicking off the Holidays at the DSO series, this can't-miss concert once again reminds us of why Marvin Hamlisch is such a beloved entertainer. The event is sure to include old and new holiday favorites--some with a unique twist to keep you on your toes!

- The Dallas Symphony Orchestra's Christmas Celebration! (12/09/2010 - 12/19/2010) This popular Christmas tradition features fun for the whole family, as brought to you by the Dallas Symphony Chorus and a local children's choir. The concert promises an all-new program of holiday classics and even a visit from Santa Claus himself.

- The Christmas Music of Mannheim Steamroller by Chip Davis (12/26/2010 - 12/27/2010) at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. This unique component of the Holidays at the DSO festivities celebrates its 25th year as one of the most popular Christmas shows ever! The signature sound of Mannheim Steamroller meets the musical genius of Chip Davis to create a truly magical holiday event.

Boston

- J.S. Bach: Christmas Oratorio (12/11/2010) by the Back Bay Chorale at the Sanders Theatre. One of Bach's most joyous and accessible works, the Christmas Oratorio is sure to delight and enchant. Brought to life by a brilliant chorale, orchestra and soloist, this holiday masterpiece is set to light up the stage at Harvard University's Sanders Theatre.

- The Boston Holiday Pops (12/08/2010 - 12/26/2010) at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. A favorite holiday pastime in Boston, this annual event celebrates the spirit of Christmas with song. Its 2010 season will be led by Keith Lockhart, and it is sure to contain old and new favorites. This year, the company is also organizing a special event: Join the Boston Pops on Boylston Plaza at 12noon on December 4th to help them set a Guinness World Record for the largest group of holiday carolers!

- Handel's Messiah (12/03/2010 - 12/05/2010) at the Handel and Haydn Society's Symphony Hall. Many would say it just isn't Christmas without this age-old tradition. This thoughtful rendition of the world-famous Messiah, performed by the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus, was called "beautifully balanced" by The Wall Street Journal.

San Francisco

- Deck the Hall 30th Anniversary Celebration (12/05/2010) with the San Francisco Symphony. This annual event, inaugurated 30 years ago, allows you to celebrate the holiday with your children while at the same time giving back to the community. Esteemed members of the San Francisco Symphony and special guests will perform, and post-concert parties include arts and crafts, decorated trees and refreshments. You can also book a special "angel package" that includes a pre-show meeting with Santa Claus.

- The Sing it Yourself Messiah (12/06/2010) presented by the San Francisco Sinfoniettta. A fun and interactive way to enjoy Handel's legendary Messiah, this exuberant version is set to take over the stage at the historic Mission Dolores Basilica. Maestro Urs Leonhardt Steiner will lead choral groups, students and families in a one-of-a-kind holiday sing-along event.

- The Snowman with the San Francisco Symphony (12/18/2010.) For kid-friendly fun over the holiday season, definitely check out this unforgettable musical event! The charming animated film The Snowman is made even more heart-warming by special performances by the San Francisco Symphony. Favorite seasonal songs and sing-alongs are sure to help you create lasting memories with your little ones.

Philadelphia

- A Feast of Carols (12/11/2010) at St. Paul's of Chestnut Hill. This annual pastime brings Philadelphia locals together to celebrate the holiday season with the Mendelssohn Club. Songs range from original carols to traditional favorites that span several centuries. The lively afternoon and evening performances are sure to get you into the holiday spirit.

- Glorious Sounds of Christmas (12/16/2010 - 12/18/2010) at Verizon Hall, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Brought to you by the Mendelssohn Club and the Philadelphia Orchestra, this beloved musical event is sure to include all your holiday favorites. Enjoy emotional renditions of everything from "Silent Night" to "Hallelujah" that are sure to appeal to listeners of all ages.

Washington, D.C.

- Happy Holidays! by the NSO Pops (12/09/2010 - 12/12/2010) at the National Symphony Orchestra Concert Hall. Beautifully conducted by the legendary Marvin Hamlisch, this spectacular holiday event is an annual Kennedy Center tradition. It will include favorites by everyone from Schubert to Berlin, as well appearances by Santa Claus and other special guests.

- Handel's Messiah by the National Symphony Orchestra (12/16/2010 - 12/19/2010.) A classic re-telling of an epic masterpiece, this version of The Messiah is sure to be unforgettable. The concert will be performed by the National Symphony Orchestra, four guest vocal soloists and the University of Maryland Concert Choir and conducted by Rinaldo Alessandrini.

- Seasons Greetings (11/25/2010 - 01/02/2011) at the United States Botanic Garden. This unique exhibit opened back in November, but its popularity is rapidly building as the end of the year approaches. The spectacular event celebrates the plant world and, in particular, how we humans incorporate plants into our holiday traditions. The Holiday Magic Concert Series actually begins on December 2nd and runs until the 30th. It features everything from traditional Klezmer music to 30's jazz and classic Christmas carols. Visit the U.S. Botanic Garden's official website for the full calendar of events--and don't forget to keep checking back here at our HillTop Records blog to be updated on other exciting holiday concerts and events!