This year marks the 20th anniversary of Peter Mayer’s “Stars & Promises” Christmas show. Mayer, a member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band, admits the response to his annual holiday tour has taken him by surprise. “Initially we went out and just threw instruments in a van and wrote music we really wanted to hear. I thought it was just going to be a fun escapade for a year or two.” Two decades and three holiday albums later, the escapade has become tradition.
Christmas traditions goes hand in hand with innovation for Mayer who was raised in India by missionary parents. “We’d haul in a scotch pine in 110-degree weather and my mom would decorate it with cotton to simulate the snow of her Illinois childhood. She pulled off the illusion pretty well, it was really other worldly.” Mayer’s song “A Junkman’s Christmas” was inspired by his equally inventive father. “One year, my parents made an error in the present count and I was down a few. When my dad realized the mistake, he ran into his office and put together junk; useless broken pieces but ones that would still fascinate a child. He brought them out to me wrapped in newspaper, born anew as gifts.” The story of “A Junkman’s Christmas” was recently translated into an illustrated children’s book. “It turned into this theme of you’re never too old, too worn out, too far-gone to be loved,” said Mayer.
The patchwork ethos of his childhood is reflected in Mayer’s “Stars & Promises” oeuvre, a collection of carols, classic Christmas songs and original material. “We do a version of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ as a medley with one of my own called ‘When You Come Home.’ It was an attempt to write my own Christmas song, to tell my own story. I wrote it in Philadelphia when I was really missing home.” As his own songs become part of the Christmas canon, Mayer hopes the message of his music will transcend religious boundaries. “Regardless of the faith that you take part in, I’ve really strived to make ‘Stars & Promises’ inclusive in terms of coming to enjoy the music and the peace and the joy of the season. Our job is to come together and celebrate community and charity and spread that around.”
As the guitarist for Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band, Mayer spends a part of each year spreading the spirit of Margaritaville. What began as a summer gig has turned into a three-decade tenure. “Nothing lasts that long anymore,” laughed Mayer. His role as a Reefer brought Mayer and his family to Key West, where they lived for a time and spent a memorable, if not authentically chilly, holiday in Midtown. “We did one Christmas in Key West and we turned the air conditioner down to like 50 so we could feel what it was like to be cold again.”
Out of reverence for the holiday he celebrates in song, Mayer never plays a gig on Christmas day. Instead, he spends it at home in Nashville with his wife and two children, daughter India and son Brenden. “For us, it’s the one time when phones can’t ring and we’re not pulled away from the family circle,” he said. Taking a literal page from his own mom and dad, Mayer’s Christmas ritual includes reading the letters his now departed parents sent home from India. “We have a big dossier of these years of letters and we can go back to specific dates and find out what happened around certain times. It’s really neat to read those letters and dip our feet into that history. It reinforces the Buddhist idea that generations talk to each other after what we call death and birth, that time and transformation go on.”
While Key West is familiar terrain to Mayer, next week’s performance of “Stars & Promises” will be the first time he brings his Christmas show to the island. “I think Key Westerners will love it. We’re pulling up some local talent with a children’s choir and Scott Kirby. I hope you all come out and enjoy the celebration of love, peace and joy.” Mayer brings his brand of holiday cheer to the Key West Theatre Tuesday Dec. 3.