Mannheim Steamroller bringing its Christmas show to Idaho Falls, SLC, Boise
Fans of Mannheim Steamroller and its career-making series of “Fresh Aire” albums figure to have a pretty merry next few months.
First off, the annual holiday tour that finds two different Mannheim Steamroller ensembles criss-crossing the country to play some 80 cities combined is under way. In addition to Christmas music from the half dozen Mannheim holiday albums, the group’s founder and songwriter Chip Davis said there will be a little extra something special for “Fresh Aire” fans.
“I’ve added in some more Fresh Aire,” Davis said of the holiday show during a late-October phone interview. “We’re getting a lot of requests from the fans because we don’t do Fresh Aire tours. And they’ve been saying could you add some to the Christmas show. I don’t know total volume wise, but maybe a third of the show is probably Fresh Aire sprinkled around throughout different parts.”
The same fans will also want to keep an eye out for the release of “Exotic Spaces,” the new Mannheim Steamroller album that is planned for release this coming March.
“We’re kind of, in our press stuff, are sort of alluding to it as if there was a ‘Fresh Aire 9,’ this would be it because it’s in the psyche of the way I’ve constructed ‘Fresh Aire’ albums,” Davis said.
“‘Exotic Spaces,’ I didn’t call it ‘Fresh Aire 9’ because most composers, when they’ve written a ninth symphony, usually die right after that,” he added with a chuckle. “Like Beethoven, the guy’s like ‘Nine symphonies, bye.’”
Davis, obviously, is very much alive and well. He celebrated his 70th birthday in September with a barbecue attended by nearly 100 of his best friends and family. Far from slowing down, he’s looking at a particularly busy fall and winter.
First there are several Christmas activities. On Nov. 30, Mannheim Steamroller will participate in the National Tree Lighting ceremony in Washington, D.C. It will be the third time Davis and his ensemble have been part of this White House celebration.
“We were kind of schooled in the (thought of) yeah, you get to do this once and that’s it,” Davis remarked. “Then we got a second time, and we were like ‘Woah, a second time.’ So yeah, the third time is seriously ‘wow!’”
Davis will also spend time at Universal Studios in Orlando, where Mannheim Steamroller will perform on a half dozen weekends leading up to Christmas — the latest in what has become an annual booking.
And of course, there is the Christmas tour, which will be coming to several venues throughout the region, including the Idaho Falls Civic Auditorium on Dec. 20, Boise’s Morrison Center on Dec. 21 and Salt Lake City’s Eccles Theater on Dec. 22.
The enduring career of Mannheim Steamroller didn’t begin with Christmas music, but rather with the release in 1975 of the first “Fresh Aire” album. Combining classical music and pop, and using orchestral instruments and synthesizers and other synthetic tones, “Fresh Aire” helped usher in the new age music genre.
Between 1975 and 2000, Davis released eight Mannheim Steamroller “Fresh Aire” albums, which enjoyed major popularity considering they were marketed in a niche genre.
But today Davis and Mannheim Steamroller are best known for Christmas music. Davis entered the holiday fray with the 1984 album “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas,” at a time when such seasonal albums were largely seen as something artists released when they were on the downside of their careers.
Instead, that first Christmas album became a huge hit, selling 5 million copies, and Mannheim Steamroller has become the best-selling Christmas act of all time, with combined sales of more than 28 million albums.
After this year’s holiday season, Davis will return Mannheim Steamroller to its “Fresh Aire” roots with “Exotic Spaces.” The unique album features songs that were inspired by famous — and exotic — sites, such as Egypt’s Pyramids and the Taj Mahal. Modern technology played a key role in helping Davis realize his vision for “Exotic Spaces.”
“Really it would almost have been impossible or extremely difficult to do if it were not for today’s virtual instruments,” he said. “Like some of the crazy instruments, ancient Egyptian instruments, I have access to this stuff now through, there are different programs. So ‘Exotic Spaces,’ when I’m doing (the song) ‘Pyramids,’ I’m using a lot of (computer-created) ancient Egyptian instruments, then part way through Steamroller kicks in and starts driving it. The same deal with ‘Taj Mahal,’ I’m using like sitars and things for ‘Taj Mahal’ and once again Mannheim it.”
In addition to his musical projects, Davis has also co-authored with writer Mark Valenti a book trilogy aimed toward kids and young adults inspired by a timber wolf and horse he has on his 150-acre property near Omaha, Nebraska. Davis, who has written several children’s books, hopes the trilogy will hit stores sometime next year.
“The thing that inspired it was watching them play together, and they’re not supposed to do that. But they grew up together, since they were eight weeks old,” Davis said. “They race back and forth. It got me thinking, because I can see them from my sitting room, I was like ‘I wonder what’s going through their minds?’ So we started making up stories of what we thought was going through their minds. That was the inspiration for it.”