RED BANK: LIGHTS UP ON HOLIDAY SEASON

holiday-express-2010-2Tim McLoone (below) and Holiday Express sound the keynote for another silver-bells season on the sidewalks of Red Bank with a free concert and Town Lighting ceremony Friday night. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge) 

timmclooneHe’s the leader of the band and founder of the winter-wonderland wall of sound known as Holiday Express. As such, Tim McLoone is also the conductor of a festive freight-train that each year carries its message of community and caring to the places that almost no one wants to think about — not even during the holidays.

And every Black Friday evening, McLoone is a conductor of electricity — when he and the big band sound the keynote and flip the switch on a season of sights and Santa-fied activities that make Red Bank the area’s undisputed Capital of Christmastime.

santa 112709Leave the reindeer at home and take the Santa Express between station stops Little Silver and Red Bank, as a special guest commuter (joined by jolly old Mrs. Claus) leads a firetruck procession to Friday’s free downtown concert. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

McLoone will tell you he’s “just the keyboard player;” just the most familiar face in a huge humanitarian organization. But when the Express takes the outdoor stage at Broad and Canal Streets this Friday night, they’ll do more than just entertain the assembled crowd for the 23rd consecutive year. They’ll be making the much-maligned Black Friday a whole lot brighter, giving a public boost to their own (oftentimes below-radar) mission, and maintaining a tradition that represents the greater Red Bank green as a genuinely special place to call home.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the annual outdoor appearance of Holiday Express without the Santa Express, the special-edition New Jersey Transit train that carries concert-bound revelers between station stops Little Silver and Red Bank, in the company of Santa and Mrs. Claus. The train departs Little Silver at 6:44 p.m., with the guests of honor greeting passengers, posing for photo ops, and leading the procession down Monmouth Street (complete with firetruck escort) upon arrival in Red Bank. Those not taking the train may want to arrive at the borough’s gingerbread-style station house by 5:30 to enjoy performances by the Pipes and Drums of the Atlantic Watch and Kathryn Barnett School of Dance.

Then, at approximately 7 p.m., the downtown festivities get underway with the free show by Holiday Express, performing a supercharged set of well-roasted seasonal chestnuts that range from the sacred and serene (“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Silent Night”) to the secular and silly (“Run Rudolph Run,” “Mr. Grinch,” “Disco Santa”). The accent is on the upbeat; the sound is big and bold — and at the climax of the show, the juice is turned on for the downtown lightscape, with the official Red Bank Town Tree at Riverside Gardens the shining star atop the borough’s long-admired display.

As an added stocking-stuffer, all downtown parking will be fabulously free of charge on Friday and Saturday, November 27 and 28. The intersection of Broad and Canal will be closed to vehicular traffic for the duration of the Town Lighting event, and video screens will be set up to enhance the view of the stage. The Red Bank Volunteer Fire Department will be dispensing hot chocolate, and the countdown to the light-up will be presided over by the on-air personalities of News 12 New Jersey.

From there, it’s back on the bus for the musicians and support personnel of the all-volunteer Holiday Express, as the organization’s two regional touring units resume a schedule that will take them to more than 60 locations in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania — with the Express expected to log over 10,000 miles visiting, playing for and distributing gifts to tens of thousands of residents (many without any family or friends) in area homeless shelters, psychiatric hospitals, developmental centers, children’s wards and other places well off the beaten path. It’s a road that will take McLoone and company back to Red Bank for one more public performance on December 17, when they return to the Count Basie Theatre in an annual fundraiser fuel-up for which tickets ($25 – $125) are available right here.

Of course, Friday night’s festivities are merely the start of a busy holiday shopping season in the borough’s business district; an interlude that resumes on Small Business Saturday, November 28, with a slate of activities that takes in Santa and scavenger hunts; horse rides and harmonies; “mannequins” and more. Tune in tomorrow to redbankgreen for details — and keep it tuned to GO ON GREEN for a comprehensive rundown of holiday services, sales, concerts and special events, from now through New Year’s.