Ghost-buskers: The joys of playing music on Halloween

Thursday October 25, 2012


Outside of the of Bobby "Boris Pickett’s "Monster Mash," or possibly Michael Jackson’s "Thriller," there is not much music that is associated with Halloween. Yet, for many, this weird and slightly subversive holiday can be a particularly fun time to see live music.

And to perform.

It certainly is a fun time for Henning Ohlenbusch, guitarist and songwriter for the aptly named School for the Dead. "Playing shows to crowds of costumed people is the best. It’s hilarious and surreal to look out over all the strange costumes. The people are a little looser, and it keeps the band on their toes because we can’t recognize who anyone is. It’s like we get to watch a show while we put on a show."

"Halloween is my favorite holiday," added Ohlenbusch. "I think it might because it is almost entirely inclusive. It’s not based on a religion that might leave some people out. It also gives people a chance to try out what it’s like to be someone or something else. People seem to feel and behave a little differently when they are slightly separated from their usual identities. Also, it’s creepy."

Ohlenbusch and his label-mates at Rubwrongway Records traditionally celebrate Halloween with a series of shows, culminating with an outdoor gig on Halloween, in Florence, Mass. "It is a ridiculous idea to play outside in New England on Oct. 31. It’s one of our most fun shows of the year. When we start, the park is pretty much empty, by the time we are finishing, it is full of hundreds of people all dressed up in crazy costumes."

With her exaggerated beehive hairdo and retro wardrobe, everyday is a bit of Halloween for Big Apple-based singer Christine Ohlman, who will be in the area this weekend for a Halloween bash at IMA in Goshen, Mass. (A gig that was snowed-out last Halloween).

When asked to share a Halloween memory, Ohlman dug deep. "My memories are all about gigs, naturally. One Halloween back when James Taylor and Carly Simon still owned The Hot Tin Roof out on Martha’s Vineyard, I hired a very elaborate Marie Antoinette costume while, unbenownst to me, my entire band had conspired to dress up as me, complete with beehives and cocktail dresses. It was wild. There was a guy wearing nothing but a strategically-placed plastic pumpkin. First prize went to a guy dressed as ‘The Accident At Chappaquiddick’ -- having taken a few liberties with the story, he was dressed as a tree, with a very large plastic car crashing into him."

Last year was particularly memorable for Ohman, as she tried to get to her Halloween gig in Goshen.

"I’d been on the road solo in Burlington, where little or no snow was predicted, but was in communication with my bandmates in Worcester and Connecticut. There was no doubt it was going to be a record-breaking storm. I knew I had to try and make it, and Ann Hackler (who is intrepid anyway -- just unflappable) and I were in constant touch by phone. The Hill folks (equally intrepid!) from up around 1794 Meetinghouse way were planning on coming down regardless, she told me. I was game. But then my drummer called from New Haven to say that the snowflakes were the size of dinner plates and, almost simultaneously, the power went out at IMA. Reluctantly, we all had to agree that there was no choice but to cancel. Oh, how I hated to! We had a lovely time at the IMA house that night, a bunch of us sitting around telling rock ‘n’ roll stories by candlelight. Afterward, the band sent Ann and June a big boxful of candles to make up for the ones they burned that night."

Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez perform Saturday at 8 p.m. at The Institute for the Musical Arts, 165 Cape St., Goshen, Mass. Retro wear and Beehives encouraged. Tickets are $17 in advance, $20 day of. Visit

Rubwrongways’ Halloweekend at The Basement in Northampton (across from The Iron Horse) on Friday at 8 p.m., featuring School for the Dead and When Particles Collide. On Saturday at 8 p.m., featuring A Severe Joy, The Fawns and Sea Level.

Dave Madeloni writes a weekly music column for Ovation. He can be reached at


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions