Cross-generational appeal key to Mannheim Steamroller's success

Posted by Chip Chandler on
Mannheim Steamroller will bring its Christmas tour to town Dec. 27.
Matt Christine Photography

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

Tickets are going fast for Mannheim Steamroller's return to Amarillo, and founder Chip Davis thinks he knows why.

"You'll see this in the concerts — it's grandma, grandpa, mom, dad and kids. It cuts across all generations because it's ... safe to take the whole family to because they know it will be in everybody's taste range," Davis said. "It's been passed along generation to generation."

One of Davis' two touring companies of the show arrives in Amarillo for a 7:30 p.m. Dec. 27 show in the Amarillo Civic Center Complex Auditorium, 401 S. Buchanan St. Tickets are $25 to $65, plus fees; Panhandle PBS supporters who pledge $100 will get a ticket and a meet-and-greet pass. Call 806-378-3096 for tickets or 806-371-5479 to pledge.

Davis developed Mannheim Steamroller as a recording project in 1974 after he had already found success as a jingle writer and in collaborating with Bill Fries to create the C.W. McCall character known for "Convoy," a '70s paean to CB radio.

"When I was trying to get the whole thing started, I don't know if I knew it would connect," Davis said. "I was just tenacious, like a little terrier grabbing a hold of a pant leg.

"I just loved doing the music, and people who would hear it said they loved it," Davis said.

His first album, Fresh Aire, and its three follow-ups explored the four seasons by using a mix of light jazz, electronic music and Baroque stylings. Though popular now, the music was unusual enough that Davis struggled to find a distributor, eventually coming up with his own label, American Gramaphone, to release the albums.

But in 1984, he struck gold when he started reworking traditional Christmas music in his signature style.

"The first shows we did, Fresh Aire was what was known by the fans, but we were close to some Christmas dates at the Orpheum (in Omaha, his home), so we came out and did the Christmas show in the second half and blew their brains out," Davis said. "They went crazy for it.

"So, I started chasing the Christmas thing for quite a while — for years, in fact," Davis said. "Here's the kicker: We've started getting requests for Fresh Aire ... so I've insterted a 20-25 minute segment of Fresh Aire you'll see in the show down there."

The touring production features about six Mannheim players alongside about 20 members of an orchestra drawn from local players, all performing in front of a full multimedia extravaganza, Davis said.

"It's just beautiful, and the new technology has really punched up the show," he said.



Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and at on Facebook.

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