Trail Band still follows its own path

‘Christmas machine’ was founded to play tunes of the pioneers




If you go

What: The Trail Band, in concert.

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 9-11 and 3 p.m. Dec. 10-11.

Where: Aladdin Theater, 3017 S.E. Milwaukie Ave., Portland.

Cost: $19.50-$38, plus ticketing fees, or 800-745-3000.

Information: 503-234-9694, ext. 1.

Medford, Ore. — Almost as reliable as Santa but not quite so elusive, The Trail Band returns for another year of holly-jolly, fa-la-la Christmas classics. The Portland ensemble will take the stage Dec. 9-11 at the Aladdin Theater.

The Trail Band was established in 1991 as an orchestra for a state-commissioned play, “Voices from the Oregon Trail.”

“Over the course of that play, we bonded and decided to keep gigging,” says Marv Ross, guitarist, producer and founding member of the band.

The group performed its first Christmas show in 1994 and has been touring with it ever since, changing up songs each year to keep it fresh and festive.

Variety is the hallmark of this band’s repertoire, which includes the classics (“Angels We Have Heard on High,” ‘’Deck the Halls,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”), a few lively Irish jigs, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Lionel Hampton’s jazzy “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.”

“We’re a Christmas machine,” jokes Ross.

This year, The Trail Band will introduce the lesser-known German carol “Puer Natus” by 16th-century composer Michael Praetorius.

New tunes

Four originals also are on the bill. There’s Ross’ “The Christmas Train,” a country fiddle tune and snapshot of Ross’ grandfather, a railroad engineer; and “Santa Man,” a jump-blues song about a woman whining about all the things she got for Christmas and doesn’t want. The band’s musical director, Cal Scott, also contributed two songs: “The Road to Heaven,” a ’50s-style gospel song sung by special guest Linda Hornbuckle, and the Celtic-sounding “Dancing Around the Christmas Tree.”

The Trail Band is Scott, Mick Doherty, Phil and Gayle Neuman, Eddie Parente, Dan Stueber and Ross and his wife, Rindy Ross.

Each of the musicians plays at least three instruments — they have been known to transition effortlessly from an all-brass jazz piece to a string bluegrass tune — and 35 different instruments are featured in this year’s show.