Western swing guitar man extraordinaire Joel Paterson took the stage Friday night to a packed house for a sold-out show at Evanston SPACE.
Twinkling antlers and blinking bulbs lit the cozy Christmas sweater-clad room as the dapper guitarist took up his golden axe for a great night of swinging holiday music. The stage was decorated retro Candy Cane Lane, complete with a giant peppermint blow-mold, snowy North Pole sign and a nicely decorated tree with gifts wrapped beneath it. A snug buzz was in the air as the audience settled in for a festive set of holiday tunes.
“I’m going to make you WANT to hear some Christmas songs,” Paterson started in, with a laugh that got the room going after opening with a snappy, up-tempo rendition of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.
Next was a bluesy and playful take on I’ll Be Home For Christmas. As Paterson tapped and splashed through a magic bag of vibrating Hi-Fi tones, the harmonics flashed like frosted elements in crisp air and the warm electric tubes zoomed like Kris Kringle UFOs in the sky of a Silent Night blizzard.
Dipping the neck of the guitar with his monogrammed strap slung around his shoulder like a midcentury troubadour on a late night special, Paterson spread out the musical feast like a bountiful platter of goose. Picking and strumming along, the melodies glided effortlessly with the speed and spark of a whip-fast toboggan down a nice hill of fresh powdered snow.
Paterson weaves the notes and chords of his guitar together with all the sweetness and precision of an agile ribbon-candy operator on an assembly line: Highly accurate and looking effortless. Doling out just the right amount of dazzle with each portion for maximum enjoyment.
Down the list of popular favorites, from Blue Christmas to Jingle Bells, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, all the way to Mele Kalikimaka and back, Paterson put his signature on the numbers. Playing in the western swing tradition but also incorporating a variety of intricate guitar-picking styles that hearken back as far as the 1920s, to the blues and earlier ragtime rhythms, Paterson creates certified guitar magic and it’s a sheer joy to see and hear.
From your rush-hour-weary Lite FM listener to the most discerning and hardcore of guitar aficionados there’s a nifty little something in each stocking for everybody. Virtuosic and illustrative, the tunes jump to life with a touch of the blues and expert deft styling from surf to swing.
The show marks a tremendously successful run on the heels of a reissue of Paterson’s classic Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar album, originally released in 2017 on Chicago’s Ventrella Records. Comprised of 14 instrumental holiday classics, it’s rereleased on both CD and special Christmas-green vinyl. “Is that a gimmick?” he joked during the set.
At a brief pause, he turned to the audience. “You guys mind if I turn off the Christmas light for a moment?” Gesturing to the plastic North Pole light beside him, he said, “They call these old things blow-molds, did you know that? They’re free in everybody’s yard. It’s great. All you’ve got to do is grab one!”
The audience roared as he introduced a few numbers in his repertoire outside the Christmas realm.
Included was a string of excellent Beatles renditions done in a variety of ragtime arrangements off his 2020 release, Let It Be Acoustic Guitar! (Joel Patterson Plays The Beatles Again). The numbers included favorites such as All My Loving, I Just Saw a Face, and I’ll Follow the Sun. Those got the audience singing along and in the mix. It was a nice reprieve from the Christmas fare, though you would have to have been in a pretty scroogey mood to have gotten tired of that material after only half an hour or so.
He also introduced a batch of tunes with a bit of a guitar history, paying homage to the influence and timeless craft of blues legend Blind Blake as well as country-western guitar-picking giants Chet Atkins and Merle Travis.
In addition to being a pretty all right guitar player, Paterson has his stage banter down to a science. His hip and tall figure coupled with his easy off the cuff Wisconsin wit is a whole other charm on stage unto itself. As the room progressively imbibed, things loosened up to the atmosphere of a more raucous holiday party. Paterson worked it like a pro. He’s certainly no stranger to playing in a snowbound tavern on a cold night locked in for three sets with a roomful of cheerful, well-served patrons.
Paterson can often be seen out and about in the usual Chicago haunts performing regularly, both solo and as well as with a full group of ace players. Whether you see him solo or with a full band it’s always a top-shelf guarantee. He’s damn hip. One more blessing and a beautiful reminder why it’s not so bad being here, home for the holidays.