Electrifying Christmas

We found the story behind Alt 94.7’s annual Electric Christmas concert

Catfish & the Bottlemen’s lead singer Van McCann shares the stage with the band’s beer-drinking toucan at Electric Christmas.

Catfish & the Bottlemen’s lead singer Van McCann shares the stage with the band’s beer-drinking toucan at Electric Christmas.

Photo by Ashley Hayes-Stone

It’s that time of year when waistlines expand, attendees of gift exchange parties get unwanted junk and holiday tunes about misfit reindeer saturate the airwaves. Sacramento’s local alternative station, Alt 94.7, helped alleviate one of those problems with its 7th annual Electric Christmas show. It featured well-known indie rock bands, giving Sacramentans’ ears a break from the holiday noise.

Hundreds upon hundreds of hipsters decked the halls of the Golden 1 Center on Friday, Dec. 6, snug in ugly Christmas sweaters and facial piercings and ready to rock out to bands Local Natives, Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Head and the Heart—plus The 1975 as headliners.

What exactly is an Electric Christmas? Well, over the years, it's evolved to engage its effortlessly cool crowd directly with the show. Alt 94.7's assistant director Andy Hawk says the radio station sprinkles festive components into the concert experience, giving it some atmosphere.

“We try to incorporate different elements in a couple hours to give a festival feel to a winter show,” Hawk said. “We try to make this a mini Christmas festival, and there's a classic Christmas sing-along—and there's Hipster Santa.”

That's right: Hipster Santa. Alt 94.7 brought back the Chuck Taylor-clad elf for the third year running, posing for photos with fresh arrivals.

The Entercom-owned station first started its alternative spin on the giving season in 2013. The first show, held at Sleep Train Arena, featured six indie rock bands including Grouplove and Capital Cities. After another year in Natomas and a 2015 show at the Memorial Auditorium, Hawk says folks from the Golden 1 Center asked 94.7 to bring the party downtown.

At this year's show, Local Natives warmed up the crowd with the song “When Am I Gonna Lose You” from their 2019 album Violet Street, and made Christopher Walken proud with the 2017 single “I Saw You Close Your Eyes” that prominently features a cowbell. Catfish and the Bottlemen took the stage and played “Longshot” under the neon green projection light of their 2019 album art for The Balance, featuring a toucan drinking a beer through a straw.

In between acts, audience members' tweets appeared on screens. Lucky fans also had a chance to sit in a red sleigh onstage during each band's set.

Hipster Santa wasn't done for the evening. He opened for The Head and the Heart, appearing on stage throwing T-shirts into the crowd, perfectly setting the mood for the band's “All We Ever Knew.”

After their set, lyrics to “Holly Jolly Christmas” projected on the screen above the stage and some audience members sang. OK, so you can't get completely away from the holiday tunes.

The 1975 had everyone moving the moment they entered the stage, with killer projections and light show and backup dancers that didn't miss a beat.

The star of the evening, of course, was Hipster Santa. Drew Newbold, the former creative director for the radio station, has played the character for the past three years.

Newbold says he first played a non-hipster Santa in 2015. His father was portraying Santa Claus for the Biggest Show on Snow when he fell, injured himself and left a pair of boots to fill. Newbold stepped in.

In 2016, his father died. It had been a tough time for Newbold, he says, and the next year, Hawk asked him to take on the role of Santa for Electric Christmas.

“I became Hipster Santa kind of reluctantly,” Newbold said, “Sometimes, when we get opportunities to get out of our comfort zone—especially if it makes someone else happy—rather than push that notion aside and saying, ‘No, that's not who I am,'—lean into it.”

Everyone has a lesson to learn from Hipster Santa—even Hipster Santa.