By Collin Breaux
With a mix of irreverence and heartfelt sentiment, eclectic musical act Squirrel Nut Zippers is looking to celebrate the Christmas season in San Juan Capistrano in a manner only they can.
The band—which blends elements of jazz, swing, America, punk rock and other styles—will be playing at The Coach House on Dec. 13 as part of their Christmas Caravan tour, which will include other West Coast dates in Seattle and Portland. Squirrel Nut Zippers was part of the swing music revival trend in the 1990s.
The tour is based off their 1998 album Christmas Caravan.
“It’s a lot of fun,” band founder James “Jimbo” Mathus said of the show. “A lot of people like it.”
Mathus further said they like playing The Coach House and that he enjoys getting to visit San Juan Capistrano when they’re in the area, particularly Mission San Juan Capistrano.
“I love the town,” he said.
Squirrel Nut Zippers—which started in North Carolina—enjoys coming out to the West Coast and does so regularly, Mathus said. The Christmas Caravan tour is generally a great time and one that is “high-energy.”
Since they began touring again in 2016 after a hiatus, the band is now at the “top of their game,” Mathus said. Concerts such as the upcoming gig at The Coach House give fans a chance to get up-close and personal with the band.
Currently, Squirrel Nut Zippers is a nine-piece act with a horn section and several singers who take turns on vocals. Their music brings together people of different backgrounds, and while their songs mix in different styles, Mathus said there’s “not one type of genre” you can decisively put your finger on with their music—though he does point to New Orleans jazz as a strong influence.
Dark humor is also a part of Mathus’ songwriting, and he said Christmas Caravan is a staple in a lot of people’s houses around the holidays.
Mathus admits that while he’s not a huge fan of the holiday season, he likes the band’s Christmas material.
As the swing revival period of the ’90s has long since passed, Squirrel Nut Zippers continues hitting the road to entertain audiences.
Mathus—who is currently 56 years old—grew introspective as he noted he’s been playing music since he was 6 and doing it for a living going back to his 20s.
“It’s really nice and kind of reaffirming of why I got started, because I enjoyed the reactions of other people,” he said. “You’ll get a lot of action from us on stage.”
Mathus also reflected on the band’s longevity and chance to be a part of fans’ lives. Getting the chance to get back on stage after the COVID-19 shutdown just feels like “old times again” for Mathus.
“We’re still here, doing what we do,” he said. “We’re very unique. We’re very quirky. We put a lot of effort into our stage performance.”
What: Squirrel Nut Zippers
When: Tuesday, Dec. 13. Doors open at 6 p.m.; concert starts at 8 p.m.
Where: 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano
For tickets or more info: thecoachhouse.com. Tickets are $35.
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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