I’ve seen Tim McLoone’s Holiday Express bands perform many times, but the show that stands out the most is the smallest one I’ve seen. It was at a soup kitchen in Clifton. I don’t know when, exactly, but probably around 20 years ago.
I was there because I was writing an article for The Star-Ledger about McLoone and Holiday Express — who have presented, literally, thousands of similar shows over the last 27 years, showing up and entertaining at no charge, and distributing free Christmas gifts, too.
I remember my eyes welling up as I drove away. Holiday Express’ show — upbeat Christmas music, played with great enthusiasm and total professionalism — meant so much to the people who were there. I wasn’t expecting to have that kind of reaction, but it just floored me.
I remember a few other specific things about that show. I remember, for instance, that saxophonist Ed Manion was in the band. I believe he was still a member of Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes at the time, and had also, of course, toured with Springsteen and Little Steven’s Disciples of Soul, and done session work for all kinds of big names. But there he was — in a dingy little soup kitchen, on a Tuesday afternoon — giving his all for a crowd of, maybe, 40 or 50.
I also remember doing something I’ve never done in public before: sing. With a microphone and everything. “Everybody’s gotta sing, Lustig,” McLoone announced at one point in the show, and though I tried my best to get out of it, McLoone, insisted, and I did it. (The song was “What Christmas Means to Me,” by the way. And I was awesome.) Anyone who knows me would, I’m sure, agree that McLoone must have unusual powers of persuasion, in order to get something like that done.
But he does, and he’s used those powers — and his many other skills, of course — to make Holiday Express a New Jersey institution. And though he’s been very successful as a restaurateur and a nightclub owner (and often sings and plays keyboards with his own band, Tim McLoone & the Shirleys), it’s his work with Holiday Express, I assume, that inspired the New Jersey Hall of Fame to include him in its class of 2019. The ceremony will take place Oct. 27 at the Paramount Theatre, on the Asbury Park boardwalk — just a few steps away from his Tim McLoone’s Supper Club.
Soon after the ceremony, McLoone will get back to work on Holiday Express. The organization’s busy season is coming up. This year, they will present — as they always do — about 100 events, from Nov. 4 to Dec. 24, in New Jersey hospitals, nursing homes, rehab centers and other places where a little holiday cheer goes a long way. Some days, different groups of musicians will present Holiday Express shows at several locations.
McLoone is at the center of it all, harnessing the power of 2,500 volunteers, including some 150 professional musicians who agree to play Holiday Express gigs, squeezing the dates into their own already busy schedules.
In a press statement, McLoone said that when he first heard that he was being inducted, “My first reaction was, ‘Really? Me? Why?’ But then I understood that it was because of all the people who have helped me along the way and that I was standing on their shoulders.”
The New Jersey Hall of Fame has made some other smart choices with this year’s inductees. Southside Johnny and The Smithereens are going in, too, which is a big deal for the New Jersey music scene.
I’m going to cover the Oct. 27 ceremony, and will probably focus on them. So will most other music journalists, I’m sure.
But I didn’t want to let McLoone’s induction — and his remarkable achievement — go unnoticed.
For more on Holiday Express, visit holidayexpress.org.
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