The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 12, 2013

Shared traditions: Mannheim Steamroller has become Christmas ubiquitous

Mannheim Steamroller has become Christmas ubiquitous

By Tanner Kent
tkent@mankatofreepress.com

---- — Mannheim Steamroller plays a role in the Christmas traditions of countless families.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, the music and multimedia phenomenon created by Chip Davis supports two full Mannheim Steamroller ensembles through a combined 80-city tour. In addition, the No. 1 selling Christmas artist of all time has a presence in the Macy’s Parade and an ice skating special.

Yet, Davis makes sure that every member of the Mannheim Steamroller team has Christmas Day off to enjoy their own holiday traditions.

“We want everyone to have their own family time,” Davis said. “We are out there preaching that. To not offer it ourselves would be wrong.”

Mannheim Steamroller performs in Mankato — the group's only Minnesota stop — today at the Verizon Wireless Center.

For fans and audience members, the concert represents rare access to the full Mannheim Steamroller experience. Though Mannheim Steamroller is the No. 1-selling Christmas artist of all time — doubling the sales of the No. 2 artist, Elvis Presley — it's live concerts are an exercise in immersion, a saturation of seasonal pomp and extravagance.

For Davis, however, Mannheim Steamroller's non-stop holiday tour schedule represents the continuation of a long-held and closely guarded dream.

"I'm doing what I always wanted to do," said Davis, who releases all of his music through American Gramaphone, the independent music label he owns and operates out of his Omaha, Neb., home. "This is pretty much the ideal situation at this point in my life."

At another point in his life, however, Davis was told his musical vision would never sell.

Before Davis and Mannheim Steamroller began making Christmas albums, he was a composer with an idea to meld classical music with jazz and progressive rock sensibilities.

In the early 1970s, he began shopping his debut album, "Fresh Aire," with record labels. The response was lukewarm.

"I heard constantly, 'I really like this. Can I buy a box of 50 for my friends?'" Davis said. "But then, they'd tell me: 'There's no place for this in retail.'"

During the next eight years, Davis released five more Fresh Aire albums on his own label, many of them ruminating on the seasons and featuring eclectic instrumentation. It wasn't until 1984 that Davis released "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas," the composition that has now been certified platinum six times.

But even then, Davis was told the idea wouldn't sell.

"When I started saying that I wanted to make a Christmas album, people kept telling me, 'Everybody will think you're career is ending,'" he said, adding that it wasn't long before the album cracked the Billboard charts and began its trek toward becoming one of the best-selling Christmas albums of all time. "I didn't have many more arguments after that."

Today, Mannheim Steamroller is a musical and entrepreneurial machine with dozens of albums to its credit and one of the industry's most robust selections of merchandise.

In addition to standard fare, fans can purchase Mannheim Steamroller candles and fragrances, Christmas decorations, cookie cutters, food seasoning and cinnamon hot chocolate. Then, when they've exhausted Mannheim's 12 separate Christmas albums, they can kick back and listen to 2007's riff on space exploration, "The Music of the Spheres," or any of the group's other equally quirky, non-holiday selections (the next of which, Davis said, will include a duet between Mannheim and a pod of whales recorded off the coast of Oregon).

"It's all so exciting," Davis said. "I never thought it would turn into this."

If You Go What Mannheim Steamroller concert When 7:30 p.m. today Where Verizon Wireless Center More info www.verizonwirelesscentermn.com