Sat 12/16 @ 8PM
Since the turn of the century, Cleveland’s Neil Zaza has been creating magical Christmas memories for classic rock fans with his annual “One Silent Night” show.
This year’s Yuletide jam — where you’re likely to hear sublime mashups of, say, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” into the Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” as well as “What Child Is This?” into Aerosmith’s “Dream On” — takes place Sat 12/16 at the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park.
CoolCleveland caught up with Neil Zaza at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport just as he left for a brief trip to China.
CoolCleveland: First of all, wow, you’re on your way to China. You’re living like a rock star.
Neil Zaza: This year I did six weeks in China starting in August. I came home for a few weeks and then went back. Afterwards, I was like, cool, I’m home. I can relax and prepare for “One Silent Night.” Then a promoter called me up and said we want you for one show. I said, “Oh man.” He made it worth my while financially, but it’s kind of a pain in the ass. I do one 30-minute set in Guangchou, China, but I’m gone five days. It’s all travel.
CC: How long have you been traveling to China?
NZ: I’ve been going there literally for 15 years. I tour there three times a year — a month at a time. That’s a typical story of hard work and beating it into the ground. Finally, I’ve been going there so many years, the crowds are in the thousands of people and I’ll walk into a Starbucks and hear “Zaza.”
CC: What do you have planned new for “One Silent Night” this year?
NZ: After doing it so many years, you have to keep it fresh for the people as well as the band. It’s like, “We’re playing that song again?” So I did a bunch of rearrangements of the tunes. We do this long medley at the end of the show that is a mashup of classic rock tunes and Christmas carols, whether it’s “Highway Star” or “Carry On Wayward Son” or “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” But I totally gutted the medley. It’s a little more aligned to some of my loves, like a little more Van Halen. It’ll be really cool.
CC: Hmm, Van Halen’s “Jump?”
NZ: No, a little bit of “Hot for Teacher.” I was just telling the guys, all of the rest of the tunes are fine and good, but I’m just waiting to play “Hot for Teacher.”
CC: Are you surprised that a decade and a half later the “One Silent Night” is still going strong?
NZ: I thought honestly it would last a few years. We had a good time at Playhouse Square, but it’s lived on. Truth be told, there’s been times where I’m like I should give it a break, but we always end up doing it and it always has a life of its own. It always surprises me, people come out to this thing. It’s really amazing.
CC: Over the last couple of years the holiday show moved to the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park. Does being in a different venue change the concert?
NZ: The only thing different with the crowd is we don’t have the younger people because it’s 21 and over. Everyone loves coming down to the Rocksino. They can gamble, eat and it’s free parking. It’s really an easy experience. So the Rocksino has been really good to us and for us.
CC: Having released two studio albums — One Silent Night Vol. 1 and One Silent Night Vol. 2 — when’s the next release?
NZ: Actually, we recorded last year’s show. At the upcoming concert we’ll have Live at Hard Rock Rocksino for sale. It really would count as a “Vol. 3.” I’m really proud of it. The record sounds great. It turned out way better than I thought it was going to turn out. This is a different show than has been captured before. Really all of it is relatively new because every year I change the arrangements.
CC: Finally, is the title to the holiday show — “One Silent Night” — actually referencing the day after the concert when people’s ears are still ringing?
NZ: (laughs) That’s right, it’s the irony of the title. It’s one fucking loud night, but it really doesn’t flow in the title.