If anyone reading this was planning to wear a bulky, reindeer-faced Christmas sweater to Ingrid Michaelson’s holiday celebration tonight, think again. According to the native New Yorker, dropping to the floor isn’t too uncommon in the heat of the moment at her performances. When I ask if festive attire by way of ugly sweaters is encouraged at her annual Holiday Hop, she laughingly tells me, “There seems to be a trend at my shows of women getting hot and passing out. It’s happened so many times. I’m like, just come in a tank top!” The Hop, which has sold out in its sixth year, will take over Webster Hall tonight in a flurry of red, green, blue, and white. Before donning the first of many yuletide cheer–inspired outfits and belting out a standard or two from the Time-Life Treasury, we caught up with Michaelson about holiday traditions, her favorite Christmas songs, and how we’ve all got a bit more to be thankful for this holiday season.
HH: I’ve never attended your Holiday Hop before, and I’m so excited to see you! What’s this year’s show going to be like?
IM: Every year, the band and I dress up as old people and open for ourselves, and we sing holiday-inspired songs—mostly pop songs that we change the words to. That’s the one thing that stuck [from 2011] so we’re going to do it every year now. We’ve got some really fun songs that we’ve been working on! Later, my set is just songs from my catalog, and other songs having to do with winter or snowmen and things like that. Then we do some fun holiday covers. Every year, I’ve done “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with my first bandmate, Chris. He’s been with me since 2003. He and I have been doing this song forever. I have a recording of it on iTunes now; we put it out last year. So we’ll end up doing that, too. I’m very into tradition. We watch the same movies every year, my dad wears the same Christmas vest on Christmas Eve, you know. I like the idea of having this constant and having this tradition peppered with new stuff.
HH: Would you say “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is your favorite Christmas song?
IM: Yes, that’s my favorite. I watch a lot of old musicals, and I think my biggest influence—at least vocally—is Judy Garland. There’s a scene in Meet Me in St. Louis where she sings this song that’s just this heartbreaking moment. It’s the last Christmas they’re spending in this beautiful house, and they have to move, and I love her ability to sing with so, so much emotion. I just love her so much, and that song to me is just perfection. The way she sings it is just beautiful. It’s always kind of just stuck with me through the years. It’s my favorite one.
HH: If you had to enforce a dress code for this party, what would it be?
IM: When I was married, for my bridesmaids, I found this amazing seamstress, and these beautiful fabrics, and I let my bridesmaids pick out the colors and styles they wanted—I like for people to have a choice but somehow still be under my control. I would say everyone should wear red and green, and then blue and white for Hanukkah, too, and have fun and be whimsical. Usually, we just go red and green and blue and white—two of our bandmates are Jewish. One year, I wore this ridiculous outfit—it was this pair of stockings, and one leg was red and one leg was green, and I wore it with these red gingham shorts and this red shirt. I looked like an elf that was a hooker at the same time. It was really funny. We kind of have fun onstage, so I would love for people to do that, too! Some people do, some people dress up very festively. It’s very cute.
HH: You’re from New York. Post-Sandy, this will ll be a humbling holiday season for so many people. Are you approaching the Holiday Hop any differently as a result?
IM: For me, everything—especially with the people from Staten Island, where I’m from—was very devastating and very sad with so many lives lost. The thing is, if you grow up and look at the world from a bird’s eye view, there’s that everywhere. At all times. There’s something happening that will fill your heart with sadness, if you focus on it. I try to compartmentalize that. I keep the weight of the world in one part of me, and sometimes I can keep it at bay, but the other parts of me are positive and try to make things better for myself and everyone around me. So I have to switch modes when I’m performing. That’s the kick when you have a really great love song, too. If you really think about what you sing when you’re singing it, it could just devastate you, but you kind of have to switch over to the performer side, the entertainer. I’m up there to make people feel better, basically, even if they feel sadness. It’s letting them purge their sadness. It’s my job to bring people out of that. So that’s how I look at performing, anyway, when I’m performing in the midst of sadness. There’s always sadness, you know? But there’s always joy, so you try to focus on the joy.
HH: Absolutely. Do you think you’ll bring back the Holiday Hop for an eighth year? What are your plans for next Christmas?
IM: I don’t know! My hope is that it eventually will get kind of bigger and bigger. Maybe next year I’ll do this big, big show—I want to do a huge show, with a children’s choir and a gospel choir, I just want the most ridiculous over-the-top stuff to happen. That’s just a Christmas wish of mine!
Photo via Bowery Presents