by Steven Sanchez
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and no one in the Central Valley is better or more qualified to bring much-needed holiday cheer than the man, the myth, the legend: Nate Butler! He’ll be hosting the 27th Annual Mmm-Mmm Christmas: The Island of Misfit Toys Edition at Fulton 55 on December 13. The venue website describes the 21-and-older event:
“Come sing Christmas Carols with us, guided by your host Nate Butler! The lyrics will be projected overhead, so you have no excuse not to join us in holiday song. We’ll also watch classic Christmas TV Specials, make ornaments for the Christmas tree (crafts materials are provided), and indulge in much holiday cheer!”
Tickets are $2 or $3, the doors open at 8 p.m. and the party begins at 9 p.m. That ain’t Jack Frost knocking on your door, it’s Nate who’s got his bag of goodies and is ready to get the celebration going.
The host of The Local Show on KFSR 90.7 plays music from the Central Valley from 8-9 p.m., and has the holiday spirit year-round. With his piano and Santa outfit, this is Nate in his element, and for him it doesn’t get any better than this. To elaborate on the profile we did of him last year, we chatted with him about how he convinces a person who doesn’t celebrate the holiday to get into the spirit, when he knew Christmas would be his favorite holiday, can the decorations and music before the actual festivities be a little too much, and the process of putting on his show.
KRL: It seemed like yesterday was Christmas, and now it feels like it’s already here again. Besides the show, what are you most looking forward to this holiday season?
Nate: I love the Christmas lights, the way they make everything sparkle and glow. I have Christmas lights in my apartment year-round—not a tree, just the lights. I love it when the lights start going up around the neighborhood, and I always feel a bit sad when they have to come down after the holidays. And of course, the music. I love Christmas music—that is, the old traditional songs and the classic recordings. There isn’t much Christmas music recorded after 1980 that I like. The Christmas songs I like most recall nostalgic memories of my childhood. And, of course, Christmas is always a nice time to spend with family and friends—I’m looking forward to that, too.
KRL: You held this event last year at Fulton 55 and you’re doing it again this time around. What’s your relationship like with Fulton 55 and can we expect this to be an ongoing thing from here on out?
Nate: I have a great relationship with Fulton 55, especially manager Tony Martin and his staff. Tony was managing Club Fred when I started doing this event at Club Fred in the early 1990s, and he has been a big supporter ever since. It’s really because of Tony Martin that we get to do this at Fulton 55 now. I hope to keep doing this at Fulton 55 for as long as they’ll have me!
KRL: Christmas isn’t for everybody and there are those who don’t celebrate it. From your perspective, what methods have you used effectively to get the biggest skeptic into the holiday spirit?
Nate: The sing-along aspect of my Christmas party seems to be very effective! You get a bunch of people together in a bar with a few toddies and ales, and they just lose their inhibitions and have fun. And we sing a wide variety of songs, from the serene “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night” to the raucous “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas,” and our classic “Twelve Days of Christmas” sing-off. Over the years, I’ve had more than one person tell me at the show, “Y’know, Nate, I don’t like Christmas much, and I don’t like Christmas songs, but I’ve had a really great time here tonight; thanks for putting me in the holiday spirit.” And that to me is the biggest reward possible.
KRL: What age were you, or what definitive moment was it for you where you realized that this was your favorite holiday?
Nate: It’s been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember, although Halloween is just as important to me. (Both holidays involve a lot of fantasy, mystery, and magic.) Every child enjoys getting presents, of course, but I was always mesmerized by the lights and decorations, as well as the Christmas TV shows, movies, and music. To me as a child, it was all magical. I always looked forward to that magic as much or more than the presents, and that feeling never wore off. That’s why I do Mmm-Mmm Christmas, to try to recreate the wonder of a childhood Christmas, except that now cocktails are involved. Seriously, I think a little libation helps some people let their guard down and revert to those childlike emotional responses that are still buried inside of them.
KRL: So, when it comes to the decorations and setting things up for the show is it all you, or do have your own Santa’s helpers assisting you?
Nate: Oh, I have a lot of Santa’s helpers assisting me! I couldn’t do this alone, although in some of the early years I tried. Over the years, I’ve developed a whole crew of friends who all play an important role in making things happen: Kenny Young has been providing me with a tree (and more) for decades, and his partner Jennifer Bredberg always brings goodies and helps with set-up and decorations; Ray Settle is my go-to sound and video man; and Joy Mohler and her daughter Sabrina not only run the overhead projector with all the lyrics for singing along, but they put on quite a shadow-show with their creative cut-outs on the overhead projector. The audience always gets a lot of laughs out of that! And of course, Fulton 55’s Tony Martin is always there to help me with anything else I need. On the performance side, I have Scott Hatfield providing great piano accompaniment, and Glen Parrish and Audrey Betz helping me lead the crowd in song. Glen has been doing this with me since the 1990s, but Audrey is a relatively new addition to our Mmm-Mmm Christmas family; I think this will be Audrey’s third year with us. Also, my old friends John Mazier and Mallory Moad will do their traditional onstage cameos. I couldn’t do this event without these Santa’s helpers, and I’m grateful to them all for continuing to be a part of this, and for being my friends.
KRL: I’ve seen stores put up Christmas decorations in September and radio stations are already playing Christmas music. Has there been a time where this holiday overload has gotten to you—where it’s wavered your spirit, or would it take a lot more for you to lose it?
Nate: No, my enthusiasm for the holiday season has never wavered, and I hope it never does. But I’m acutely aware that many people are annoyed or even distressed by all the decorations and music, even more so when they start so early in the year, and I totally understand where they’re coming from. And sure, even I have days when I get into the car, hear another holiday song, and just turn it off—everybody needs a break sometime. But I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving the season. At least, I hope not.
KRL: The holiday spirit seems to run through your veins; when I run into you at different times throughout the year, you still have that same smile and jolliness. It’s like still being a kid. What’s your reaction, or what do you say when people tell you to grow up?
Nate: Gosh, I’m already much more grown-up than I wish to be. Who wants to be a grownup?
KRL: You’ve done this for 27 years. Do you see yourself hanging up the Santa suit anytime soon? And when do you know it’ll be a good time to stop?
Nate: Wow, I’ve never even thought about that. I guess I’ll keep doing this until I can’t anymore. The only thing that would make me stop doing my annual Christmas party is if everyone else just got sick of it and asked me to stop—which could happen! However, I know that a lot of people look forward to this event every year, because they tell me so. So as long as they keep looking forward to it, I’ll be there to do it for them, and myself! For additional information check out Nate Butler’s website and Facebook page.
You can find many other holiday events on KRL’s Christmas/holiday events page.