In Conversation: Alana Jacoby, Sam Salmond, and Jenny Stafford

On a cold, snowy, blustery evening in NYC, we met up at City Bakery with hot chocolate to talk about the MTF Holiday Salon, our favorite Christmas memories, and how Alana is too fancy to meet up with us because she’s at the opening night of Mortality Play in Boston!

SAM: What the hell is this Christmas Concert Salon Thing?
JENNY: Well, the three of us (Sam, Alana, and myself) met as students at NYU and became fast friends, and one of the things we bonded over was our insane, mutual love for Christmas. Out of that came this concert, and we’ve been putting it on for the last six years as a Toys for Tots benefit. Every year we get together, wear pajamas, put up as many Christmas decorations as we can find, and perform original Christmas songs! In the last few years we were lucky to merge with MTF, and be able to have it as a concert with an open mic component, so that all kinds of songwriters could share new holiday songs!

JENNY: What is your favorite Holiday Salon Concert memory?
SAM: I don’t know his name (if anyone remembers this, please tell me. Or if this writer is reading this interview, say hi!) But last year, during our open mic section, a man got up and acapella talk-sang his way through a song he wrote called “All I Want For Christmas Is Anal.” Nothing has ever brought me such joy.
ALANA (via text, cuz she fancy): The first year we did this, the concert ended with a special appearance by Santa, played by Bill Finn. The three of us had bonded throughout two years of taking his class at NYU, so that felt right. He agreed to come be our Santa and debut an original lyric to close the show.
We met up with Bill a few weeks before the show to talk through the plan, and sitting on his couch he started trying to list Santa’s reindeer: “Dasher, Prancer, Dixon, Dolly…Tamale…” that moment in itself was probably one of the best Christmas presents I got that year. On the night of the show we still had no idea what his song was going to be. I don’t think I’d ever been so excited about Santa Claus coming, even as a kid.

JENNY: When you’re writing a new Christmas song, what is your approach?
SAM: So I’ve written a new song for this evening each year and have tried to challenge myself each time to try and write a different “type” of Christmas song… A comedic one, a protest song, a heartbreak one. I like trying to take each of those holiday tropes and writing my own weird version of it.
JENNY: I usually try to reflect something personal that’s happening in my life at the time. When I first started dating my boyfriend (the same year we started these concerts!), I was discovering what it was to be in love at Christmas, and what it is to have Christmas traditions that clash with someone else’s—so that’s what my songs were about that year! There was one year that I’d lost a dear friend a few weeks before the concert, and that year I wrote about experiencing loss during Christmas. Making it personal helps me to write from a real place.

JENNY: What is your all-time favorite Christmas song?
SAM: A Space Man Came Travelling.
JENNY: That’s not a real song.
SAM: I do this rant every season, but it is the greatest song ever and I don’t understand why everyone in the world isn’t listening to it every year. It’s this 80s ballad about how the star at the nativity wasn’t a star, but was in fact, a spaceship… And this spaceman is present for the birth of our lord and savior… and the song is written without a single trace of irony and I LOVE IT!!!!

SAM: Ok, so you’re drunk around the piano.
JENNY: Of course.
SAM: What Christmas song are you screaming your face off to?
JENNY: It’s a toss up. One is Oh Holy Night, just because only like ten people on earth can really hit that high note without failing gloriously, and it’s fun to be that failure. The other is All I Want for Christmas Is You…because it is the second best “All I Want For Christmas Is…” song that I’ve heard. Also, Love Actually.

JENNY: From the beginning, this evening has always been a benefit for Toys for Tots. Why?
SAM: The holidays are about generosity. I love the idea that us having a silly, fun night together can also be a meaningful, charitable experience. We get this chance to share our love of the season with people in need.

SAM: So, what was your favorite Christmas gift as a kid?
JENNY: When I was five or six, my parents made me a doll house. My dad snuck out every Sunday night to go build it with my Grandpa, and then my mom painted it and did all the interior design—it was everything my little girl heart could want! I actually still have it in my parent’s basement. They had to evacuate their home because of wildfires a few years ago, and that was the only thing I asked them to make sure to save on my behalf! (PS Their house was fine, thankfully!)

JENNY: Years and years into running this holiday salon, what do you most look forward to each year?
SAM: The first year we did this concert, we closed the night with a song we all wrote called “Together Christmas Never Ends.” Each year, we end with that same song. I love that moment when we all, a little embarrassed to be singing in front of people, look into each other’s eyes and sing the chorus together again. Over the years since writing that song, we’ve all grown up and changed or moved or whatever and don’t get to see each other as much as we did that first year… But I love that it brings us back together every Christmas and I get to close the night harmonizing and smiling with the people I love.

JENNY: This concert really morphs year by year, kind of based on what’s going on with us! It started as a really big concert, with songs only by the three of us, and Broadway stars and William Finn as our guest performers. Other years we just didn’t have the time and resources for that, but it was still important to us to keep it going—we’ve literally done the concert in Sam’s living room for an audience of like 15 close friends. It’s been AMAZING to partner with MTF, and be able to make it feel like a real community experience—it’s so delightful to hear from so many writers, and so many takes on Christmas. It never really feels like Christmas until this concert!
SAM: It really feels like the spirit of MTF (and of the season) that as it’s gone on, it’s really opened itself up to include a whole community. That’s what MTF offers, and what makes MTF so unique. Especially with all that’s been going on since the election, it feels like a really important time to come together and celebrate love, do good in the world, and make change, and help those around us. So donate to Toys for Tots—and while you’re at it, #GetInGear and donate to MTF!

This Sunday starting at 8, come to the PIT put on some PJs, share a toy, share a song, or just come be part of the wonderful community! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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