CONCERT REVIEW: INGRID MICHAELSON’S 2019 HOLIDAY HOP

For over a decade, Ingrid Michaelson has been sprinkling her own special brand of holiday cheer across New York City.

Last week, Michaelson hosted her 13th Holiday Hop, an annual tradition that draws her legions of fans from all over the country. This year, the one-night-only event took place on December 11 at cabaret venue (Le) Poisson Rouge, and completely sold out in under sixty seconds.

At one of her previous Holiday Hop shows, Michaelson noted that she likes to start watching Christmas movies and singing carols in September. Her rationale: if it’s during a month that ends in “-ber,” it’s not too early to start feeling festive. This year, however, she confessed that she moved her kick-off viewings of Christmas Vacation up to August. For Michaelson, these concerts are a genuine celebration of her favorite time of year. As a result, the holiday spirit at these events is always infectious, sure to make any Grinch’s heart grow at least three sizes.

Songs For The SeasonIt’s the same excitement that made Michaelson’s first holiday record, Songs For The Season, such an instant classic. Though released only last year, the album sounds like it could have been recorded alongside the Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney albums that serve as staples of the season. Its nostalgic qualities provide the same warmth as a fresh cup of cocoa, while its unique interpretations of standard Christmas carols pay homage to decades past. At the same time, they remain undeniably true to Michaelson’s distinct indie/pop sound. 

Michaelson performed many of the songs from the album at previous Holiday Hops, but there is nothing like hearing these particular iterations of these songs live. This was especially true when Ingrid’s real life partner, Will Chase, joined her on stage for a cozy rendition of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” Chase—a Tony-nominated Broadway performer with screen credits that include SMASH, Nashville, and Stranger Things—has the type of timeless voice that would have guaranteed him a spot in the Rat Pack if he were around then. It’s not difficult to see why Michaelson tapped him for a version of the song that could have been unearthed from a time capsule.

Chase wasn’t the only surprise guest of the evening. In addition to an unannounced opening set by A Great Big World—who made several audience members tear up with their smash ballad “Say Something” and current single “Fall On Me”—Michaelson invited Jason Mraz up to the stage to perform their new holiday collaboration, “Christmas Valentine.”

Released in November exclusively via Amazon, this charming love song is one of only two holiday originals by Michaelson (the other, “Looks Like A Cold, Cold Winter,” opened both her album and the show). Yet its vintage 1950s-inspired tone made it an organic fit alongside rousing performances of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Mele Kalikimaka.” 

Ingrid MichaelsonIf the audience had not been forewarned, nobody would have ever surmised that Michaelson and Mraz had never performed the song live together before that evening. Like their chemistry on stage, their harmonies were lush and on point, with each verse trade-off more complementary than the other. When their voices came together for the candy-coated chorus, it was evident that the duo wasn’t just bringing out the best in one another; they were also having a ton of fun that couldn’t help but have a ripple effect into the smiling crowd.

Though the evening was full of beloved holiday songs—including a truly impressive Andrews Sisters-esque arrangement of “Jingle Bells”, an energetic mash-up of five various standards, and a heartwarming encore performance of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”—Michaelson also interspersed some of her own biggest hits.

When it came time for “You And I,” Michaelson asked the crowd what it was about that specific song that makes it the most highly streamed of her music on Spotify, even now eleven years after its release. One audience member yelled out “It’s my wedding song!” to which others nodded along and seemingly echoed the sentiment. 

My personal wedding song, however, “Young and In Love” (from Michaelson’s most recent album Stranger Songs, which I wrote about here) was the original song of hers I was most excited to hear live. The catchy and feel-good anthem was a standout crowd-pleaser, with audiences chanting along and dancing to the song’s earworm of a hook. It provided a euphoric rush of energy that seemed to surprise and delight Michaelson.

Now that we’re in December, I can confidently declare that Stranger Songs is one of my top five albums of 2019. The record ushered in an exciting new twist on Michaelson’s signature folk-tinged pop by having her explore pulsing electronic and synthpop influences. The soaring and cinematic nature of the record is no accident since it is influenced by the brilliant 1980s-like score of Netflix’s Stranger Things. 

Ingrid MichaelsonAs this is the first Holiday Hop since the release of Stranger Songs, it was also a delight to hear album track “Christmas Lights.” Michaelson—who plugged the song as both a new one and “Bonus Jonas, it’s Christmas themed!”—played the heartbreaking song with an emotional fervor that made it hauntingly gorgeous. The songstress explained that as much as she loves the holidays, it’s now become a time of year that really reminds her that both of her parents (with whom she shares her most cherished holiday memories) have passed. “Christmas Lights” may be inspired by Winona Ryder’s character on a television series, but the song’s real message is that the holidays provide us with the opportunity to remember and even communicate with lost loved ones. This made for a touching and poignant moment in an otherwise blissful evening. 

Michaelson treated her fans to “Missing You,” the brilliant first single off Stranger Songs and the one that was robbed of a Song of the Year nomination at the upcoming Grammy Awards. She also performed hits like the cheeky “Girls Chase Boys,” the irresistible “Be OK,” and the declaration of romance that skyrocketed her into the public eye and Old Navy commercials in the first place, “The Way I Am.” 

To close the show, Michaelson invited all of the evening’s special guests (including Mraz, Chase, and A Great Big World) back on stage for a choral take of “Auld Lang Syne.” A joyous farewell to both the evening and the past year, the beautiful group number highlighted the sense of community that’s always present at these intimate Holiday Hop shows.

After a year that included a possibly career-best album and wildly successful headlining national tour, Michaelson is setting her sights on working on the musical theater adaptation of The Notebook in 2020; she has already written the music and lyrics for the show that promises to cement her reputation as one of Broadway’s most exciting and anticipated new composers. If the early buzz and raves from the show’s reading earlier this year are any indicator, life is about to drastically change for the Staten Island independent recording artist. 

And if that proves to be the case, her 14th annual Holiday Hop next year may be the last one held in a venue smaller than Radio City Music Hall or Madison Square Garden. 

About ALEX KELLEHER-NAGORSKI 167 Articles
Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. Alex lives in Western Massachusetts and can be found on Twitter at @AlexKNagorski.