The holidays have the power to bring people together.
And to bring bands together.
What has evolved into The Ohio City Singers, sort of an all-star collection of local rockers that has become a musical staple of Northeast Ohio Decembers, originally was thrown together for a Christmas party in or around 2003.
“It was a gift for my parents,” says Chris Allen, who also plays in bands Rosavelt and The Boys From the County Hell, a Pogues covers act. “We basically wrote a few Christmas songs and invited all these musicians over and we recorded it. And it became such a hit that we did it every year.
“Ten years ago, we decided we should make this a real thing and record an actual album,” Allen continues in a phone interview to promote the band’s new compilation album and upcoming anniversary gig at House of Blues in Cleveland.
Three more albums followed for the band — which, along with Allen, consists of Doug McKean (The Boys From the County Hell), Brent Kirby (The Jack Fords, The New Soft Shoe), Austin “Walkin’ Cane” Charanghat, Don Dixon, Kelly Wright (The Anne E. DeChant Band), Matt Sobol (The Waynes), Tom Prebish (Rosavelt, The Boys From the County Hell, The New Soft Shoe), Nick Stipanovich (The Boys From the County Hell) and Fred Perez-Stable (Rosavelt, The Boys From the County Hell) — and now the aforementioned compilation, “All Wrapped Up: The Best of The Ohio City Singers.”
The band’s two most popular songs, both of which, of course, can be heard on “All Wrapped Up,” are “Snowflake,” sung by Allen and guest vocalist Marti Jones, and “White Cleveland Christmas,” sung by McKean. The latter is a tune made for Northeast Ohio neighborhood bar in the final, snow-filled days of the year, while the former is a bit more of a traditional holiday number. The two songs, Allen says, show the range of the outfit.
“The band was a rock band recorded at a Christmas party, so there’s definitely a party atmosphere to a lot of it, but with each record there were some pretty serious attempts at some classic kind of Christmas songs” he says. “People are fans of both elements of the band, and you’ll see both of those elements in play at our concerts.”
If you didn’t know better, the band’s name might suggest the act is a choir from the West Side Cleveland neighborhood.
“I was living in Ohio City at the time when I was writing songs,” Allen says. “For whatever reason, that popped into my head in the very beginning, and I never thought about it twice.
“It probably doesn’t sound like the rock band that it is, but we had so many people in the band that could sing — it’s kind of a luxury to have.”
With members scattered around the area — Charanghat, Prebish and Perez-Stable live in Avon Lake, Allen says — and the fact that some of them play various instruments and that Allen, Dixon and Charanghat take turns on lead vocals, you’d think they wouldn’t need all the members all the time, but not so.
“Since we don’t play that often, I don’t like to get out unless we can get the full thing, because it is part of the charm of it — the fact that there’s so many of us.”
The band’s first real gig was a record-release show for their first album, “Love and Hope,” at the Cambridge Room at House of Blues. That’s just one reason Allen is pumped for the Singers’ anniversary concert Dec. 16 at the venue’s Music Hall.
“We’ve finally worked our way up to the big room, so it’s exciting for us just to be playing in that space,” he says. “And it gives us room to kind of air out the whole band. We’ve played on some pretty small stages crammed up.”
The show is a reason for celebration for the band, but don’t expect to see too many Great Lakes Brewing Co. Christmas Ale — or other similar high-alcohol content concoctions — being consumed on stage.
“We like to have a few beers while we play, but you really can’t get too crazy,” Allen says. “The stuff, as fun as it sounds — some of it’s kind of complicated in its arrangements, so you have to be careful in that regard.”
Allen says to expect songs from the entire catalogue, as well as a few seasonal covers. However, if you’re expecting to hear The Pogues’ beloved “Fairytale of New York,” you’d be wiser to plan to return to House of Blues Dec. 23 for a gig by Boys From the County Hell.
“The Boys, when we do that, we’ve got such an orchestrated arrangement — we’ve got actual strings,” Allen says. “We tried it with this band, but, honestly, it sounded like a cheap version of it.”
In case you were wondering, this is no farewell party, Allen saying he hopes the band records a new album next year.
When he talks about his fondest memory of The Ohio City Singers — that first Christmas party, where he handed out sheet music for the new songs to the assembled musicians and eventually saw friends and family pouring in through the home’s three entrances — you understand why he wants to keep the good holiday times going.
“It was like everybody found out about this party, and every room exploded with people and we started the tune and it was so fun,” he recalled. “I just kind of knew it resonated and was going to last.
“And so many members of the band were there and present, and it’s like that spirit has continued on — and it’s still just as much fun as it was then.”
What: The Ohio City Singers
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 16.
Where: House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
Tickets: $18 in advance, $20 day of show.
Follow Mark Meszoros on Twitter @markmeszoros.