Joe Sauer was driving through Old Town last summer when he heard some fantastic harmonica playing wafting from one of the area’s patios.
Sauer asked around, found out who the musician was and soon had Craig “Twister” Steward signed up to play in this year’s Christmas Express concert at The Orpheum.
On Saturday, Wichita music fans can hear who else Sauer recruited for the annual show, which benefits the Shriners Hospitals for Children and the local Midian Shrine Transportation Fund.
“I call it a musical buffet, it’s so many different flavors,” Sauer said. “It’s people that I’d pay to see, and I often do.”
Organizers say about 600 area children each year are helped by the fund, which flies or otherwise helps transport them to Shriners Hospitals for treatment.
Sauer, who’s a musician himself, came up with the idea for the show six years ago after seeing a similar production on the East Coast.
Some past editions have leaned heavily toward country and blues. Sauer said this year’s version will be the most eclectic yet.
Former 3 Ring Circus singer Erika McGuire will kick things off with “Heaven Everywhere,” followed by Uche on “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”; Carrie Jonas on “Jingle Bell Rock”; Tim Drennan on “Mary, Did You Know?”; Jason Boyd on “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”; and Mary Aaron-Schultz on “Rockin’ Round the Christmas Tree.”
After intermission and a video featuring one of the children helped by the Shriners, Drake Macy will lead a doo-wop version of “I Pray on Christmas,”’ and jazz guitarist Steve Poorman will play an original arrangement of “O Come Emmanuel.” Sauer and Jim Hill will collaborate on an electric guitar duet of “Sleigh Ride,” Sondra and Terry Hacker will prerform “Merry Christmas, Baby,” Miranda Watkins will sing “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and Stewart will blow some bluesy harp on “Back Door Santa.” A finale with just about everybody playing and singing on stage closes things down.
Backing many of the performers is the 12-piece Christmas Express Band, led by Hill. While McGuire and some other performers have been with the show from the beginning, Sauer has lured Stewart and a couple of other new faces as well. Tanya and Sandy White of Ten Day Wish will perform “Blue Christmas,” and the Macy Brothers band will do “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” and “Please Come Home for Christmas.” The Dellrose Voices of Joy choir will offer two gospel songs, “Coronation” and “Emmanuel.”
“Their second song is just a barn burner, all stops out,” Sauer said.
Attendance for the concert has grown, and organizers moved this year’s show off Thanksgiving weekend to see if an even bigger crowd will show up.
They point out that the musicians all donate their talents, and the sponsors cover the production costs of the show, so that all proceeds go to charity.
“We want it to be a holiday tradition that folks can come out and have a good time,” said Jeff Breault, one of those sponsors. “All the performers love performing there, so it works out really well.”