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The Ohio City Singers bring holiday spirit from Northeast Ohio to Germany

Christopher Allen
Holiday rock troupe the Ohio City Singers released its debut album with German record label Hoboville Records in November. The nine-piece band will bring holiday cheer to their hometown with a performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Dec. 18.

For more than a decade, the nine-piece band the Ohio City Singers has been performing traditional and original holiday-themed tunes for audiences throughout Northeast Ohio.

The rock group has released five albums over the span of its tenure, starting with 2008’s “Love and Hope.”

On Nov. 4, the debut album was rereleased in Europe by German-based label Hoboville Records.

Christopher Allen, the Ohio City Singers vocalist and guitarist, said this international release could open new doors for the Northeast Ohio-based group.

“In Germany, they love Christmas music,” Allen said. “The goal would be to get over there, obviously it would have to be next year, and the hopes with the label is that they're going to release one of the albums every year.”

The Ohio City Singers will spend December playing live shows throughout Cleveland, including a sold-out show at Forest City Brewery Dec. 10 and a larger gig at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Dec. 18.

Starting a Christmas-themed band

The band has an extensive catalog of Christmas-themed songs, with titles like “White Cleveland Christmas” and “Gingerbread Girl.”

Christopher Allen
Meredith Pangrace plays accordion in the Ohio City Singers, a nine-piece holiday band that released its debut album in 2008.

Allen said it all began when he and his sister, Molly, decided to write and perform some original Christmas music together as a present for their family in the early 2000s.

Allen has been a longtime staple of the Cleveland music scene, performing with bands like the Boys from County Hell, the Guilty Hearts and Rosavelt.

He recruited his bandmate Doug McKean to help flesh out some holiday-themed tunes.

“We had a big Christmas party in Ohio City. Hence the name the Ohio City Singers,” Allen said. “We recorded the party, and it was just a huge hit with our family and friends.”

Allen and his collaborators decided to continue writing and performing holiday-centric songs each year around Christmas following their debut.

“We did that for several years, until 2008 we decided, let's release a real record,” he said.

Allen said the band grew to nine members, each bringing forward memories of Christmas parties and fun holiday events from their respective childhoods.

These themes inspired the songs on the band’s debut album, which he said resonated with families and kids.

“I mean, we thought it was just a big adult Christmas party that we were writing for,” Allen said. “But the shows immediately drew families and drew people of all ages. The Christmas party that we had in Ohio City we now have at venues such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is mind-blowing to us.”

Writing seasonal music year-round

Allen said his father encouraged him to write Cleveland-centric Christmas songs for local audiences.

He said approaching Christmas songs, which are instantly recognizable to listeners for their association with tradition and memory, was initially difficult for him as a songwriter.

“I think there's probably some nervousness with people when they think about a new Christmas song,” he said. “Like, this is going to be like [a] ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’ kind of thing.”

He said putting down his guitar and writing songs on the piano helped open the floodgates for creative inspiration.

He said the album titled “Love and Hope” was deliberate, as the band made a rule to keep the songs positive. Even if the theme of the song is wistful, its sound had to be energetic and uplifting.

“I mean, we thought it was just a big adult Christmas party that we were writing for, but the shows immediately drew families and drew people of all ages."
Christopher Allen

“Our songs really sometimes tend to fall into two camps. There's the party songs,” Allen said. “Those are specific kind of songs, but we also have a whole slew of songs that are more of the sentimental songs. Like ‘Snowflake’ — different songs like that that are meant to kind of pull at the heartstrings of Christmas.”

Allen said he, McKean and Austin “Candy Cane” Charanghat start planning out their holiday songwriting in January, so they spend much of the year with Christmas music on their minds.

“But then, you know… we have recorded, I think, two of the albums over the summer,” he said. “So yeah, a lot of times it's a year-round thing.”

He said he and his bandmates are “rock ‘n’ roll writers” at heart, so feedback on their music has been generally positive.

“Even some of the guys in the office said, ‘You know, I don't normally like Christmas music, but this is something I could listen to all the time,’” Allen said.

Gearing up for December holidays and beyond

The Ohio City Singers celebrated the initial recording of “Love and Hope” with a Christmas party at the Happy Dog in Cleveland, with family and friends singing a lot of the backup vocals.

The nine-piece band has continued to thrive for so long because it’s a group of longtime friends.

The rerelease of “Love and Hope” in Germany could mean the band travels overseas every year.

But the group remains Christmas focused and Cleveland-centric, for now.

“ [‘White Cleveland Christmas’] has been a big staple,” Allen said. “When we started booking shows at regular venues, some of the booking agents would say to me, ‘There is nothing like this happening.’ A lot of people will make Christmas albums, but this is specifically not a band doing a Christmas album. It's a Christmas band.”

Allen said he and his bandmates have more new songs written and hope to release a new album in 2023.

Members of the Ohio City Singers

Christopher Allen - Acoustic and electric guitars, vocals

Austin “Candy Cane” Charanghat - Electric and acoustic guitars, vocals

Don “Dingle” Dixon - Keys, percussion, trombone, glockenspiel, Christmas magic, vocals, production

Brent Kirby - Drums, vocals

Doug McKean - Electric guitar, keys, accordion, vocals

Dave Padrutt - Bass guitar, vocals

Meredith Pangrace - Accordion, vocals

Matt Sobol - Acoustic guitar, elf sounds, vocals

Kelly Wright - Vocals

Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.