Charlie Brown, Ralphie, Rudolph – not a one ever concerned himself with the concept of “Black Friday” in their day. And when Red Bank celebrates its annual Holiday Express concert and Town Lighting this Friday night, it will do so with a curious new mission: to take back the purity, and the sanctity, of Black Friday.
For anyone who’s ever called the greater Red Bank Green home, the holiday season simply doesn’t begin in earnest until Tim McLoone and the wondrous Wall of Sound that is Holiday Express make their now-traditional, public-invited pitstop to the downtown nexus of Broad and Canal streets.
It’s there, beginning with the free concert that starts at 7 pm, that the borough flips the switch on a wintry interlude of special activities and events that have made Red Bank the area’s undisputed Capital of Christmas.
The crowdpleasing concert by the Express is merely the centerpiece of a slate of activities going on around town this weekend — and as McLoone tells it, the big band that he founded (and has fronted since 1993) is merely the part of the all-volunteer humanitarian train that “makes the most noise.”
The 22nd season of performances by Holiday Express — a schedule that takes two regional touring and support units to 60-plus stops in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania — will have logged more than 10,000 miles by Christmas Eve. Along the way, they’ll play for and distribute gifts to more than 15,000 people in area homeless shelters, psychiatric hospitals, developmental centers, children’s wards and other places well off the beaten path — places whose residents are often without any family or friends.
It all begins with the return of the Galleria-sponsored Santa Express train, departing station stop Little Silver at 6:44 pm, with Santa and Mrs. Claus greeting passengers, posing for photo ops, and leading the Santa Parade procession down Monmouth Street via fire truck upon arrival at Red Bank. Those not taking the train may want to arrive at Red Bank station by 5:30 pm, to catch performances by the Pipes and Drums of the Atlantic Watch and Kathryn Barnett School of Dance.
The free outdoor concert — for which many thousands of revelers have braved every conceivable variety of November weather over the years — gets underway shortly thereafter, with the intersection closed to vehicular traffic for the duration of the event. The Red Bank Volunteer Fire Department will be dispensing hot chocolate.
At the heart of the annual event is Holiday Express, performing a set of seasonal chestnuts that range from rearranged traditional carols to such fun fare as “Frosty the Snowman,” “Mr. Grinch,” and “Disco Santa.” The band has put the accent on the upbeat for these concerts — reclaiming that “Phil Spector Christmas Album” wall of sound from the Bad Santa who brought it into the world 50 years ago. At the climax of the show, the juice is turned on for the borough’s much-admired downtown lighting display. (Already lit by that time, we’re told, will be the official Red Bank Christmas tree, installed this past weekend at the entrance to Riverside Gardens on West Front Street.)
This coming Saturday sees the kickoff to the shopping season activities in Red Bank, from Classic Horse and Carriage Rides to Pictures with Santa, and the Holiday Harmonies slate of strolling sidewalk entertainments.
Tim McLoone presides over the lighting of Rumson’s tree in Victory Park at 5 pm on Saturday, December 7 — and Holiday Express returns to Red Bank on December 18, for the annual fundraiser concert at the Count Basie Theatre.
Take it here for tickets to that historically sold-out show — then keep it tuned to redbankgreen for details on tree lighting ceremonies around the Green (as well as further appearances by the ubiquitous Mr. Claus), and check our Events Calendar listings for the day-by-day rundown of holiday concerts, ballets, plays, parties, gift fairs, and more.