112715holidayexp32Tim McLoone, at left above, and the Holiday Express band get some help kicking off another silver-bells season on the sidewalks of Red Bank at Friday night’s annual Town Lighting concert. Jackie Evancho (below) brings a program of holiday songs and hits to the Count Basie stage. (Photo above by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge) 

jackie_evanchoIf it’s accomplished nothing else during its quarter century of continuous service, Red Bank’s annual Town Lighting ceremony has successfully wrested the idea of “Black Friday” from visions of crushing chaos at the mall to one of sing-along harmony in a walkable-wonderland setting of merry commerce and activity.

When the lights are ceremoniously lit in downtown Red Bank for the 24th consecutive year this Friday evening, it will come not a moment too soon for an extended community that really does need a little Christmas, right this very minute. And summoned once more into service like a jinglebell-jukebox Justice League will be Holiday Express, the big traveling winter wall of sound whose founder and skipper Tim McLoone has helped sound the keynote and flip the switch on a generation’s worth of festive occasions in the heart of Red Bank’s downtown diorama.

santa 112709Join a special guest commuter aboard the Santa Express between station stops Little Silver and Red Bank when Santa and the Missus lead a firetruck procession to Friday’s free downtown concert. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

Scheduled to commence at 7 p.m. on and around the outdoor stage at Broad and Canal streets (closed to vehicular traffic for the duration of the event), the free concert promises to deliver the signature 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”). Video screen displays will enhance the view of the stage and the borough’s volunteer firefighters will be turning up the heat with complimentary hot chocolate.

The accent is on the upbeat; the sound is big and bold, and the downtown parking is free — then, at the climax of the show, the switch is flipped for the downtown lightscape, with the official Town Tree at Riverside Gardens the shining star atop the borough’s long-admired display.

For many a concert-bound reveler, the only way to travel to Friday’s Town Lighting is the Santa Express, the special-edition New Jersey Transit train that makes the short hop between station stops Little Silver and Red Bank, in the company of Santa and Mrs. Claus. The free train ride 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.

Of course, the Holiday Express show is just one of the more visible manifestations of the musical humanitarian organization that performs dozens of concerts at places that exist well below most people’s radar — the nursing homes, rehab centers, homeless shelters, psychiatric facilities and other locales whose audiences are made up of what McLoone calls the “adult orphans” among us. The musicians and their extensive network of administrative and support personnel will follow up Friday’s season kickoff with a typically intense schedule of performances all over the region, with a return to Red Bank for two paid-admission, public-welcome fundraiser shows at the Count Basie Theatre (December 19-20), for which tickets are available right here.


Speaking of the old Basie place: the region’s unofficial Capital of Christmas will be hosting a high-profile concert event of its own on Friday night, when teen soprano sensation Jackie Evancho returns to Monmouth Street for a 7:30 set presented under the theme Someday at Christmas: Holiday Songs and Hits. The young vocal virtuoso from Pennsylvania who first captured the hearts of a nation as a finalist on America’s Got Talent (and whose platinum-plated debut was, you guessed it, a Christmas record) will be drawing from her growing catalog of classical-crossover and holiday releases in a performance for which tickets ($29.50 – $75) can be reserved 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 this Small Business Saturday and Sunday 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.