In case you haven’t tuned in to network programming in the past decade, Festivus is the Seinfeld holiday “for the rest of us,” invented by the character Frank Costanza as an alternative to the commercialization of the holiday season. First featured on the sitcom in December 1997, the Festivus celebration includes such rituals as the “Airing of Grievances,” “Feats of Strength” and, in lieu of a Christmas tree, the Festivus pole — an unadorned length of aluminum pipe. And a lot of yelling.
In one of those weird life-imitates-art vortexes — or life-imitates-television, at least — Seinfeld fans all over have begun recreating these rituals, celebrating the fake holiday each year on December 23 (or thereabouts). Several books on Festivus are available, and a Milwaukee company manufactures and sells Festivus poles, both in a 6-foot size and a convenient table-top version. This phenomenon might seem a bit Trekkie, I suppose, except that the point of Festivus seems to be not really giving a shit.
Here in Pittsburgh, it’s been the inspiration for an annual public Festivus celebration hosted by promoter (and regular CP contributor) Manny Theiner. While the idea is hardly unique, I doubt that any other Festivus celebrations, public or private, feature a Leonard Cohen tribute band … from Youngstown.
The Leonard Cohen Ensemble One got its start in 2004, when two graduates from Youngstown State University’s music school — Adam Mamula and Ian White — started performing material by the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter at open-mic events around town. “It just started as a fun thing,” says Mamula, who sings and plays piano. “People really liked it, while not necessarily knowing why.”
Mamula doesn’t claim to be much of a singer — a limitation the raspy-voiced Cohen also cops to. “It’s just something I discovered I was able to do,” he says. Originally from Monaca, Pa., Mamula is classical percussionist by trade, and drummer for rock band The Zou. “We kinda take the music of Leonard Cohen and kick it up a notch,” he says. “We try to make it fun.”
These days, the LCEO convenes about once a year, playing a few shows when the other members of the now-scattered ensemble are visiting Youngstown for the holidays. Joining Mamula are bassist Ian White, guitarist Kevin Glaz and drummer Dean Anschutz, plus saxophonist Brandon Masterman, backing vocalist Justin Endler and Jenna Barvitski on violin and backing vocals. (Multi-instrumentalist Christina Veneron is not available this year.)
At the LCEO’s Festivus performance, expect Mamula to open solo, playing a few quieter Cohen songs by himself — like “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “The Story of Isaac” — before the rest of the Ensemble convenes for juiced-up versions of “Everybody Knows,” “Hallelujah” and, in “almost a blasphemy from the original,” the ever-popular “Suzanne.”
Even though LCEO has played each of Theiner’s Festivus shows, Mamula doesn’t see any meaningful connection between a made-up TV holiday and the Canadian poet and songwriter, “other than we’re doing songs of a Jewish Buddhist,” he says. Yet, perhaps Mamula himself is the connection. “I am a Seinfeld fan; I’ve seen every episode,” he admits.
The event, which takes place this year at Howler’s Coyote Café, in Bloomfield, on Sat., Dec. 22, will also feature dramatic, female-fronted alt-rock from locals The Meridians; shambolic chamber pop from Johnstown’s Endless Mike & the Beagle Club; and the one-man-band Buddy Nutt and his musical saw. Not to mention symbolic enactments of the traditional “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength.”
Of course, your inner Costanza may get all fired up over the irony that this celebration intended to send up the commercialization of the holiday season requires that you pay a $6 cover charge. To quote Frank Costanza, “there had to be another way.” But perhaps that’s a grievance you can air yourself. I’m a little more concerned about the Festivus tradition that the holiday doesn’t end until the head of the household is pinned in a wrestling hold. Who has to wrestle Manny?
Festivus III featuring Leonard Cohen Ensemble One, The Meridians, Endless Mike & The Beagle Club and Buddy Nutt. 8 p.m. Sat., Dec. 22. Howler’s Coyote Café, 4509 Liberty Ave, Bloomfield. $6. 21 and over. 412-361-2262
- A high strength-to-weight ratio: Leonard Cohen Ensemble One