By DAVE LAVENDER
HUNTINGTON — Santa Claus is coming to town and he is ready to go honky tonking for a good cause.
For the fourth year, The Honky Tonk Heroes are presenting Honky Tonk Holidays, a Christmas concert fundraiser and toy drive for the local group, Kids Need Christmas.
Organized and run by Derrick Bishop, (http://kidsneedchristmas.tumblr.com) Kids Need Christmas has for the past seven years provided Christmas gifts, from toys to coats, shoes, socks, underwear and blankets, to area kids in need with The Honky Tonk Heroes, a Facebook music appreciation group, helping raise money each Christmas.
This year's concert is set for 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 with a host of regionally traveling country and Americana acts including: Laid Back Country Picker, Flat Tracker, The Local Honeys, Sean Whiting, Westwood Troubadours, and all the way from South Carolina, James Scott Bullard.
Admission is $10 or more donation and an unwrapped toy of $10 or more value. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 7 p.m. The event is free for first responders and for members of the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Works (IBEW, Local 317).
J.J. Waters, a local artist and well-known bartender, who founded Honky Tonk Heroes with a handful of hard-core country music loving friends, said it wasn't long after the group formed that he found out about his buddy Derrick Bishop's Kids Need Christmas efforts, and knew they had to throw their hat in the ring to help.
"The Honky Tonk Heroes had been around for about a year and had been going to a lot of shows and we had thrown some shows and kind of hung out but wanted to get more involved in the community and give back a bit. A friend had started his Kids Need Christmas charity and was looking for a way to raise funds and it seemed like a natural fit."
With more than 3,000 members, The Honky Tonk Heroes (https://www.facebook.com/realhonkytonk/) has never had to ask twice for anyone to play the show. In fact, such members, and friends, as Saskatchewan, native and red-hot touring artist Colter Wall have played the show non-gratis to help the cause. Wall played the upstairs of the original Black Sheep at the 2016 Christmas party, a bill that Waters laughs about having to turn down their good buddy Tyler Childers, who tried to hop onto the bill that was already filled.
"We've always had a strong media presence so when I originally posted asking for acts people overwhelmingly responded," Waters said. "I couldn't fit everybody on the bill so this year I asked in our group for suggestions as to who they would like to see play and then tag those people and see if they responded, and to see what would be a good fit and see what we could work out with everybody's schedules. We have been extremely lucky with amount of talent in the past and this year is no different."
Just a stone's skip across the Big Sandy River from Kentucky and its famed Country Music Highway, The Honky Tonk Heroes, based out of Huntington, have always operated with no borders, and have increasingly expanded their scope of influence into the Commonwealth and this year beyond.
Four of the six acts (Local Honeys, Laidback Country Picker, Westwood Troubadours and Sean Whiting) all hail from the Commonwealth, while Bullard gets the award for farthest traveled, rolling up from South Carolina to share such tunes as "Jesus, Jail or Texas."
This year, Honky Tonk Heroes' Honky Tonk Christmas concerts spread to Lake Lotawana, Missouri, where a similar country appreciation group, Honky Tonk Hotel, (founded by Jim and Victoria Guthrie) hosted a Honky Tonk Holiday on Dec. 1.
This weekend, the popular music venue, The Burl in Lexington, will host a Honky Tonk Holidays concert on Sunday, Dec. 16 with seven regional acts including Huntington's own DJ Charlie Brown Superstar.
On Monday, Caldwell Farms, in eastern Cabell County is hosting a Honky Tonk Holidays House Show with Tony Harrah, Zach Sovine, and Mobile, Alabama, Americana artist, Abe Partridge. Cost for that house is $12 or $8 if you bring a covered dish with all proceeds to Kids Need Christmas. Hit up PayPal with your contact info at https://www.paypal.me/tonyharrahmusic for more info.
"We had such an outpouring this year that we've split into multiple events showing Kentucky and Missouri some love," Waters said. "We started here with local Huntington talent, but through the power of social media you can see musicians you wouldn't see otherwise, and a lot of them are coming out of Kentucky, so it was natural for us to share those artists with as many people as we can. Through events like Kicking It On the Creek, we got adopted into that family, one of those families we met this year was Jim and Victoria Guthrie who run Honky Tonk Hotel in Missouri. We discovered we had a mutual admiration for the same thing and he liked what we were doing and decided to throw an event down their way They have an amazing array of talent that way. So we took some of the artists we loved and learned about the artists that they have there."
For the Missouri show, the Honky Tonk Heroes sent over Aaron Boyd, Eric Bolander and Sean Whiting, who has been sharing some new tunes off of his upcoming sophomore record, "High Expectations"due out in 2019.
Whiting, who currently has a crowdfunding campaign for the record, said their mini tour out to Missouri that included stops in Irvine, Kentucky, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Kansas City, Missouri, was a great success sharing their tunes and love of country music, and spreading Christmas cheer.
"It makes me want to keep doing what I am doing," said Whiting, a former coal truck driver who has been playing music full time for the past 2 1/2 years. "It is good to know there are people that feel the same way. It is all over the place and not here and that is what is great. Jim and Victoria and their friends are really trying to get us out that way and spread some of that Kentucky and West Virginia love and it is really uplifting. I feel good about it that we have a new area now and can keep branching out from there... To me it's all about being a good person and being good to people and making friends - that is the absolute most important thing. It made us feel great to be able to meet so many new friends and to get to help raise money and presents for kids who are less fortunate."
In addition to the music, the HTH Concert features a 50/50 raffle, as well as a raffle of a Fender guitar (from Mountain Music Exchange) that not only has been autographed by Tyler Childers but also by songwriting legend John Prine - thanks to Ian Thornton, of Whizzbang BAM. Wheeler Walker, Jr., has also sent autographed merch.
"It has been super surreal to be a part of this scene, the past year especially with Tyler taking off the way that he has," Waters said. "We were an early supporter of his and he of us. The things that all our musician friends are accomplishing that we would have never dreamed of has made it nice to be a small part of it. We are seeing many friends playing Mountain Stage and Red Barn Radio and playing huge shows in Nashville and going to Europe and the music they are putting out is just some of the best you will ever hear. I have been a music fan all of my life and the things my friends are putting out now are my favorites."
Waters, who has done art work this year for a bunch of artists such as Dwight Yoakam, Tyler Childers, Colter Wall, and Ona, said it feels great to be a part of the scene and to celebrate the success of the past year.
"I feel really blessed, the Honky Tonk Heroes has been the hub of it all for me and I have been able to on the regular put out posters for Colter and Ona and Dwight Yoakam and Tyler," Waters said. "To be able to make art and get paid for it is one thing. To get paid for it and support your friends is a whole other thing."
If you go
WHAT: The Honky Tonk Heroes present Honky Tonk Holidays, a Christmas concert fundraiser and toy drive for the local group, Kids Need Christmas.
WHAT GROUPS: Laid Back Country Picker, Flat Tracker, The Local Honeys, Sean Whiting, Westwood Troubadours, and South Carolina honky tonk artist, James Scott Bullard
WHERE: Black Sheep Stage at Black Sheep Burritos and Brew, 279 9th St., at Pullman Square
WHEN: Doors at 6 p.m. Show 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15.
HOW MUCH: $10 or more donation and an unwrapped toy of $10 or more value. Free for first responders and for members of the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Works (IBEW, Local 317).