For the past four years, Steven Bankey has listened to a fair share of Christmas music; probably more than the average listener.
While some people casually ear a “Deck The Halls” or an “O Holy Night” to-and-from their commute to work throughout the month of December, Bankey sits inside his home recording studio months before the holiday season even begins, mixing and editing a CD of Christmas tunes sung by local musicians.
Christmas in the Sioux is the name of this project, now in its fourth year of development. Whether he was recording the participating artists, organizing the CD release party or providing a track of his own, Bankey has been a part of Christmas in the Sioux all four years.
For the past two years, Steven Bankey and his wife Kelsey -- who also shares singing credits on a few Christmas in the Sioux CDs -- have taken over the project and look to improve their efforts with each consecutive CD. As a result, physical copies of “Christmas in the Sioux 4” were released well ahead of schedule.
“Being involved throughout the beginning, I’ve gotten better at organizing this and streamlining the process because it takes a ton of hours,” said Bankey. “We got it knocked out in two days as far as the backing tracks go. Then we scheduled vocalists to come in and then we had mixing and mastering left to do. It honestly took about three weeks.”
Discs were ready for distribution before Thanksgiving and could be purchased at Sioux City bars like The Marquee and Work & Church Booze Parlor, as well as all the local Hy-Vee stores. Now all that’s left to accomplish is setting up for the CD release party, presented by Dunes Surgical Hospital.
The all-ages event begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday (Dec. 15) at The Marquee. As always, the CD and the subsequent release party serve as a benefit for local children’s charities. This year’s charities include Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) For Children and the Mercy Child Advocacy Center.
This year’s CD includes Christmas songs performed by Noah Towns of Noah Towns and the Other Brothers, Alex Erwin of GhostCat, Angela Lambrecht of Ultra Violet Fever, Shawn Fertig of Calling Grace and Steve Carlson of Thick Mistress, among other singers.
“Christmas in the Sioux 4” also contains a duet with Kelsey Bankey and Big Daddy of Classic Rock 99.5, as well as an altered version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” performed by Lil Red & the Medicated Moose Band, in which the acoustic husband-and-wife duo bicker back and forth trading playful insults to each other. The hip-hop group D.A.D. even provided an original holiday tune to add to the mix.
The duet featuring Big Daddy was particularly interesting for Steven Bankey, who said he had no idea the radio DJ could sing. But sure enough “he knocked it out of the park.” The collaboration, he continued, could mark a new direction to take for the 2018 CD release, in which local celebrities take part in duets or stand-alone performances.
“And we’re trying to find ways to keep it fresh and interesting as far as the types of songs,” said Steven Bankey. “We always say we have a couple different goals. Number one is charity. And number two is showcasing local talent and musicians.”
When it comes time to start working on the project, Bankey said he both seeks out talent and facilitates with those musicians who’ve reached out wanting to participate in Christmas in the Sioux. Backing bands and individual singers then play inside Bankey’s home studio – Two Bird Dog Recording Studios. Before the album is even completed, Bankey has an idea for what he wants it to sound like and what songs he wants to include.
“So I kind of pick artists based off of that,” he said. “We want to keep some returners but also rotate out new. So some of the artists maybe nobody’s heard of them or maybe they’re newer. Eric Tompkins of TEEM, for example. Love those guys! But he’s relatively new. Showcasing him was really cool.”
While some musicians had their songs chosen by Bankey, others came into the recording studio with a Christmas song already in mind. But whatever the method, Bankey and company tend to play around with songs, exploring different sounds and styles. Or, in the instance of Lil Red & the Medicated Moose Band’s “Grinch” song, change one word to make an entirely different song.
“You change one word from ‘Mr.’ to ‘Mrs.’ and then you alternate verses – there you go!” said Bankey. “It’s fun because everyone knows Lil Red [Tiffany Jurries] and the Moose [Bryan Jurries] and their personalities. It fit them perfectly! It was a collaboration to come up with that kind of thing.”
Standing out from the other tracks on “Christmas in the Sioux 4” is D.A.D.’s yuletide-fueled hip-hop banger “Christmas Time,” the first rap tune included on the four-year-old project.
“D.A.D. was able to bridge that gap,” said Bankey.
So what’s next for the organizers of Christmas in the Sioux? A cumbia- or Tejano-inspired cover of “Feliz Navidad?” An altered version of The Killers’ “Christmas in L.A.?” Or maybe have Siouxland’s best guitarists collaborate for a rendition of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Carol of the Bells?”
Or perhaps a version of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” that isn’t ear splittingly awful? Might have to put that one at the top of next year’s Christmas list.