“This is not your mama’s Christmas show,” Erin Zindle said in between infectious laughs. “But it’s the kind of show that can be enjoyed by moms and dads and grandmas and little kids and people of all ages, and so there’s something for everyone in it.”
The Christmas show Zindle is talking about is the eighth annual Ebird and Friends Annual Holiday Show, to be held at The Ark on Dec. 11. Zindle, otherwise known as Ebird, is the lead vocalist and instrumentalist of the local band The Ragbirds, a five-piece band she started with her husband about 10 years ago.
The Ragbirds’s musical influences vary across categories and continents. When they started out, Zindle and her husband would busk on the streets of Ann Arbor with her gypsy and Celtic inspired fiddle while her husband provided the percussion. With the folk elements driving their multicultural perspective, The Ragbirds call their style of music folk rock with a world influence.
The Ragbirds’s love of musical diversity also inundates the style of the holiday show. With a vast assortment of artists ranging from indie bluegrass band The Accidentals to Sean Ike from the funk soul band Third Coast Kings, Zindle is making sure all kinds of music are represented.
“This year we have The Accidentals joining us. And they’re just adorable and they’re going to be part of my string section. I’ve got the horns from Rhyta and my friend Brandon (Smith) from Appleseed Collective and Jessica McCumons, whose voice just blows me away,” Zindle said. “We’re covering so many styles. There’s going to be classic and old timey and gyspy fiddle and jazz, soul, funk horns and big show-stopping R&B pieces, some tender hearted folk and everything in between.”
Zindle handpicks the artists to play at the show every year, allowing her to display the both local and far-reaching talents of her friends and family.
“We’re all admirers and friends and there’s a mutual admiration of the musicians on board. When we play together you see that onstage. Everybody’s really lit up and thrilled to be there because they get to play with these cool musicians onstage for one special evening. It’s a one time only thing. Every year it’s different, and it gets better every year. It improves every single year and it’s amazing.”
As it has for the past five years, the Ebirds and Friends Holiday Show will take place at an Ann Arbor musical institution, The Ark.
“It’s a tiny stage for 22 people to be on, but we make it work. It’s a great spot to do the show because there’s a warm and friendly vibe in the crowd and the people who come to The Ark are just ready for the show,” Zindle said. “They’re just so into it, and very present and active and involved. There’s so many volunteers and people who run The Ark who are big fans of the show and they’re there to celebrate it with us. It’s a lot of fun.”
But it’s no surprise that people are excited to collaborate with The Ragbirds. After working with producer Jamie Candiloro, who has also worked with artists like R.E.M. and Willie Nelson, The Ragbirds will be releasing their fifth studio album in early 2016. Zindle is planning a national tour after the release.
“We are so thrilled about the new album. It’s everything about where we started from and our inspiration from world music. I feel like we’ve done so much travelling physically and musically and our music has reflected all of that,” Zindle said. “With this new album, it just feels more like coming home.”
But in the meantime, Zindle will be coming home through her work on the holiday show. The show recreates the familial feelings that Zindle experienced as a child during the holiday season.
“When I was growing up, my family would make music only once a year,” Zindle said. “We had a really big family and they would gather together on Christmas Eve. It was my first experience of music as a joyous community bonding experience. And I felt that really deep in my soul. And it became my favorite part of that gathering. I would kind of rush through the gifts and the food and be like, ‘OK when do we get to sing?’”
While the show’s inspiration stems from the music of late holiday nights of her childhood, the result is the creation of a new family and an evolution of Zindle’s meaning of home.
“It’s been many years and my family doesn’t gather like that anymore. I’m here in Michigan, and I was originally from Buffalo, N.Y. So I’m even removed physically from my family,” Zindle said. “But now, I have this wonderful Ann Arbor musical family and I wanted to have a reason to say, ‘Let’s get together in one place and play all together.’ This was the perfect theme to make the centerpiece of the community gathering. It was a good way to get creative around what can be seen as a cheesy style of music, like Christmas music. But we have such talented and creative people that we have fresh, inspired and interesting takes on old tunes. And every year we feature some wonderful original songs.”
The best part of the holiday show for Zindle is its capacity for bringing people together. Alongside friends and fellow musicians, she can ignite a spirit of the holidays that most performers can only dream of kindling.
“The whole night is thrilling to put together, and I’ve had so many people come to the first show and they’re like, ‘I need to get tickets to tomorrow! I want to see it again.’ When people see it, they want to come back year after year, and tell their friends and family, and it grows year after year because it brings people so much joy.”