Carols of Comfort: Joy to the Burg, the Christmas music is come

Carols of Comfort: Joy to the Burg, the Christmas music is come

Doug Wilburne
Photo courtesy of Jerry Kambic, Jerkami Communications Group

To truly understand Joy to the Burg, you have to take a step back.

On Dec. 21, 2019, Steve Schwartz stood with his son as they sold the first album by Joy to the Burg, a local group that spreads Christmas cheer through music and art while raising money to support Harrisburg’s homeless in partnership with Christian Churches United (CCU).

It was the night of 3rd in the Burg, and Schwartz saw beloved local band, No Last Call, walk by.

No Last Call is a 35-person marching band that’s known for showing up in flash-mob style, playing hits, collecting donations and departing. The marching band, including trumpet player Doug Wilburne, had a song on that first-ever album. So, Schwartz exclaimed, “Hey, play your song from Joy to the Burg!”

As No Last Call changed key and played the song, the clock hit 7 p.m. Why was that important? It was the same time that the seasonal walk-in emergency shelter doors opened. There was a risk that the shelter wasn’t going to open at all, but Joy to the Burg was able to raise the money from that initial project in time to get it rolling.

“So, I’m thinking, ‘How cool is this confluence of events?’” Schwartz said. “And I started to cry a little bit.”

Fast forward to 2022, and Joy to the Burg has built something lasting and incredible. Now chaired by Wilburne and supported by a number of other sponsorship committee members (including Schwartz) and Executive Leadership Forum (ELF) members, Joy to the Burg continues to raise money for Harrisburg’s homeless.

“Our band is 100% dedicated to creating fun and joy, and to be able to do that and, at the same time, provide a very meaningful benefit to people in need, is something that just warms our hearts,” Wilburne said.

The album is teeming with music—33 songs, each from a different artist. Well-known local musicians like The Jellybricks, No Last Call, Bob Geiger, Leap of Faith, Shea Quinn, Susquehanna Chorale and others grace the track list. There’s also a special song from Reading native Peter Rogan called “A Home for the Holidays,” which was co-written by Schwartz and Phil Madeira, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter and member of Emmylou Harris’ band. In short, the album will make your holiday party all the more special.

Joy to the Burg’s Christmas music album is available as a digital download and can be purchased online or in person at various local establishments. It comes with more than just a download code—you also score a collectible print of Shea Quinn as Santa Claus, the first in what will be a series as the years go on.

More music isn’t the only addition to this year’s Joy to the Burg endeavor. An element of visual art also has been added by way of a collection of eight greeting cards, each from a different Harrisburg artist. Carol Scott, Stephen Michael Haas, Ross Tyger, Janice Hagstrom Bailor, Nora Carreras, Andrea Minick Rudolph, Lori Sweet and TheBurg’s own cartoonist Brad Gebhart all participated in the project, which you can order online or find in person at various locations.

Alice Anne Schwab, executive director of the Susquehanna Art Museum, facilitated the greeting card project. Schwab has personally worked with CCU on projects for more than 30 years and served as a Joy to the Burg ELF member.

“Susquehanna Art Museum is kind of an anomaly in the community,” Schwab said. “As a non-collecting entity, we are always bringing new world-class exhibitions for the consideration of our community. We often exhibit local artists at the museum, and being involved in the curation of the card project felt like a natural affinity for Susquehanna Art Museum.”

Schwab added that the music and cards are available in the museum’s gift shop.

Also, don’t miss the ABC27 TV special on Dec. 8 at 10 a.m., featuring Joy to the Burg. Days later, on Dec. 11, you can catch them at the Englewood. The first event, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., will be an “easy-listening brunch,” as Wilburne describes it, with a series of Joy to the Burg musicians playing. Then, from 3 to 8 p.m., visitors can enjoy a large collection of bands playing a five-hour musical extravaganza.

Another event, a pop-up holiday happy hour at Strawberry Square on Dec. 14 from 4 to 7 p.m., will include Joy to the Burg entertainment.

As Schwartz, Wilburne, Schwab and the rest of the hardworking team at Joy to the Burg and CCU continue their efforts to spread Christmas cheer for the greater good of the community, one thing is certain—Joy to the Burg has found a place in Harrisburg’s heart, and it’s here to stay.


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