Home for the Holidays | Northern Sky Theater
Home for the Holidays logo

2023 Show
Dennis Keith Johnson, John Rood Lewis, Cathy Grier, Bruce Newbern

Between Christmas and New Years

The Gould Theater, 9058 County Road A, Fish Creek, WI

Celebrating the season, Home for the Holidays will have five performances between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Enjoy some of Door County’s favorite musicians as they dazzle us with their vocal and instrumental talents. Dennis, John, and Bruce have all played in our pit bands throughout the years so this is their opportunity to take the stage! We welcome Cathy to our stage for the first time although she is very familiar to the music community. After the show, everyone is welcome to gather outdoors around Northern Sky’s cozy fire ring. Bakery and hot beverages will be available for purchase.

Running time: One hour and thirty minutes (approximately)

“It all started as a opportunity to extend that holiday feeling beyond Christmas morning,” said Holly Feldman, Director of Public Relations, of the beginnings of Home for the Holidays. “So many people talk about the ‘let down’ that follows shortly after the ‘build up’ to the holiday season. Our Home for the Holidays show has been very popular with folks who cherish the season of giving and don’t want to see it end on December 25th.”

Early evening performances of Home for the Holidays are scheduled for 4pm on December 27-31. Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students and $15 age 12 and under. All seats are reserved.

2023 Cast

Musician Dennis Keith Johnson Northern Sky Theater credits include performances & orchestrations for The Fish Whisper, Love Stings, Sunflowered, Fisherman’s Daughters, Cheeseheads the Musical, Dad’s Season Tickets, We Like It Where, and mixed the live CDs for The Fish Whisper, Love Stings, Sunflowered. Dennis has recorded/performed with bands/artists Chase, Jim Peterik, Survivor, Software, Dennis DeYoung, Jerry Butler, B.B. King, Larry Carlton, Paul Wertico; at Newport Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall, Hollywood Bowl, Budokan (Tokyo), Radio City Music Hall; Jingle recordings include Sears, Red Lobster, Cheerios, State Farm, Old Style Beer (composer) and United Airlines. Founder of the Dennis Keith Experience (dkexp.com).  Dennis has provided music for ABC-TV, Abbott, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Cellular One, Citibank, CNA, Kraft, Merck, Miller Brewing, Motorola, for national/international events.

John Rood Lewis has been working as a full-time performing guitarist, bassist and composer for a number of decades now, based out of Des Moines, Miami, Chicago and now, beautiful Door County. As a touring sideman he’s had the good fortune of performing at a number of iconic venues such as The Cavern Club (Liverpool), Paradiso (Amsterdam), Shepherd’s Bush Empire (London), NBC Studios (Rockefeller Plaza, NY), the Palace Theater (Hollywood, CA), and the Oprah Show. Joh has written, published and recorded quite a bit of instrumental music and, more recently, an album of original songwriting entitled Graffiti. He has also enjoyed playing in the pit band of a few Northern Sky Theater productions including We Like It Where, The Fisherman’s Daughters and Sunflowered. This last year John’s been playing all over the county with a lot of different local musicians, making new friends along the way, and having a real good time.

Soulful and electrifying, Cathy Grier hails from New York City by way of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Cathy’s gritty, soulful vocals underscore the poignancy of her lyrics. A blues traveler with a dynamic stage presence, and tasty guitar licks. In her eclectic writing and performing style, blues is a fundamental cornerstone of everything she does. Cathy’s life story can be felt in every heartfelt note. Cathy formed The Troublemakers in 2017 with a stellar lineup of top Wisconsin blues musicians. Their 2020 album “I’m All Burn,” hit the Blues charts worldwide, and was in the top 100 for 2021 of RMR Contemporary Blues Charts. The title track was named Coolest Blues Song of 2021, Big City Rhythm + Blues magazine.

Bruce Newbern is excited to be playing on the Gould stage! No stranger to Northern Sky, he has fought the mosquitos on their stage in the woods. Bruce has played percussion in past Northern Sky productions including, Strings Attached, When Butter Churns to Gold, No Bones About It, Doctor, Doctor and Boxcar. He has also spent many summers playing for the Peninsula Players, including the shows, A Little Little Night Music, Nunsense, Always…Patsy Cline, Bridges of Madison County, Ghost, Peter and the Star Catcher and this seasons’ show, Dames at Sea. Bruce has enjoyed many past summers with Door Off Broadway dinner theatre as well as community productions with the Isadoora Theatre Company and making music with area musicians. Since his recent retirement from teaching music, his days have opened up to spend even more time composing and playing music. When not behind an instrument he enjoys spending time woodworking and hanging out with his wife Karen and their menagerie of pets at his home in Sturgeon Bay. He especially enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren.

Performers By Year
Performers By Year

2022 - Katie Dahl, Jeff Herbst, Claudia Russell, Colin Welford

2021 - Doc Heide, Karen Mal, Matt Zembrowski

2020 - "A December to Remember" Virtual Holiday Concert

2019 - Katie Dahl, Rich Higdon & Eric Lewis

2018 - Jeff Herbst, Ryan Cappleman & Tom Donoghue

2017 - Eric Lewis, Katie Dahl & Rich Higdon

2016 - Eric Lewis, Doc Heide & Holly Feldman

2015 - Doc Heide, Amy Chaffee & Craig Konowalski

2014 - Molly Rhode & Chase Stoeger, Katie Dahl & Rich Higdon

2013 - The Rhode Sisters

2012 - Doc Heide, Claudia Russell & Chris Irwin

2011 - Katie Dahl, James Valcq & Karen Mal

2010 - Eric Lewis, Doc Heide & Holly Feldman

2009 - Eric Lewis & Doc Heide (guest Holly Feldman)

2008 - Eric Lewis & Chris Irwin

2007 & 2006 - Scott Wakefield & Claudia Russell



‘Home for the Holidays' thrives on originality in Fish Creek

Warren Gerds - December 28, 2021

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – A show with people who create is going to be special. The 2021 edition of “Home for the Holidays” is such. Together are three Northern Sky Theater stars of varied stripes in a year-end celebration entertaining in ways they know best. Each presents original songs. Each sings and plays an instrument or two. Each tells personal stories. All are engaging.

And then there is a big word: Transcendent. Each gets there in his or her way: beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience.

For four more performances to Saturday, Dec. 31, Doc Heide, Karen Mal and Matt Zembrowski will hold forth in Barbara and Spencer Gould Theater.

Fred “Doc” Heide is one of the founders of the company. The cosmic thread of many of the company’s original shows owes a lot to the weavings of his mind. In this show, he’s got more such wonders, from comical to profound.

Karen Mal has been present at oh so many beginnings of shows along the way, her voice and musicianship among the company’s guideposts.

Matt Zembrowski is a newer force in the really hard creative trifecta of book-music-lyrics, and in this show is heard as a singing pianist (keyboardist) of infectious humor.

Does this sound a bit much? Perhaps, but it’s a great show.

The list of songs below doesn’t do justice to what happens. Unseen amid that list are word pictures of homes that created artists out of a home’s better or worst. Some pictures:

Karen Mal, long a resident of Austin, Texas, living on four acres of folky camaraderie and creativity. A dog – Woody – is her starting point for the descriptiveness of “Christmas at Woody’s Place.” Karen Mal’s emotions ripple as she sings.

Matt Zembrowski’s image in a medley of theme songs of Christmas TV specials is that of a father eagerly recording the music that his son now delivers with a tenor voice filled with joy. In the mix are musical glimpses of the Grinch, Charlie Brown, the Berenstain Bears, Garfield and Mickey Mouse, among others.

Doc Heide brings multiple images in a new take on “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” in a comical explanation for the name Packers of his beloved team and in a visit to his mother’s fascination with Julian of Norwich and her “Revelations of Devine Love” of the 14th /15th centuries in his and embracing “All Shall Be Well.”

Doc Heide is transcendentalism on the hoof. He opens the show with nimble guitar playing and soon nimbly works the audience, warming folks about their “smiling eyes” above the required face masks and launching into a COVID-19 twist on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Included in laughable desperate acts, we “had to go store to store to keep our keister clean” – a pure Doc Heide line.

This and that:

+ On opening day Monday, two-thirds of the house raised hands as being in the Gould Theater for the first time.

+ A campfire is lighted at a gathering spot outside before and after the performance.

+ Doc Heide teases Illinois along the way, knowing there are such audience members. He has a way-out way of reminding them where they are – by choice.

+ The performers respect one another’s creative space and also work as a team.

+ And, holy cow, there is no other place to be comically reverent about the manger scene to question “What is lowing?” and then, as the song says, “Celebrate the Holy Cow.” A transcendent show, yes.


Musical selections

“Joy to the World” – Doc Heide guitar solo

“What a Pity What a Shame” – Doc Heide, all

“Away in a Manger” – Karen Mal

COVID-19 take on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (a la Doc Heide) – All

“Christmas at Woody’s Place” (Karen Mal) – Karen Mal

“Holiday TV Themes” – Matt Zembrowski

“Celebrate the Holy Cow” (Doc Heide) – Doc Heide, all

“What am I Supposed to Do with All Those Cookies” (Matt Zembrowski) – Matt Zembrowski

“Follow That Star” (Doc Heide) – Doc Heide

“This is My Christmas Wish for You” (Karen Mal) – Karen Mal

Take on Packers name (Doc Heide) with music of “Deck the Halls” – Doc Heide

“Three Wishes for Christmas” (song scratched from “Gypsy”) – Matt Zembrowski

“All Shall Be Well” (Doc Heide) – Doc Heide (guitar) and Matt Zembrowski, vocals, Karen Mal, ukulele

“Peace Carol” – Matt Zembrowski

“There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” – All


‘Home for the Holidays' again engaging in Fish Creek

Warren Gerds - December 28, 2017

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) - In the final week of each year, Northern Sky Theater puts on a performance titled “Home for the Holidays” in Old Gibraltar Town Hall. The title and the place stay the same. The cast changes from year to year. Songs change from year to year. The overall tone of warmth and camaraderie stays the same. Performances tend to feel homey and relaxed.

And so it is with the 2017 edition of “Home for the Holidays,” which opened Wednesday to a sold-out house and will close Sunday, Dec. 31, to a sold-out house – and has lots of folks coming in between.

Performing in this show are three skilled and sensitized musicians who this year presented an album-release concert of songs by Northern Sky Theater co-founder Fred Alley – Katie Dahl, Eric Lewis and Rich Higdon. Two of Alley’s song are in this concert. One, “Solid Ground,” contains the line, “I’ll leave my song for you to carry on.” Prescient? It sure seems that way with this threesome.

The concert has a certain spirit.

It also pushes the envelope. One sequence Wednesday held the audience breathless because of this: Eric Lewis is a string instrument whiz. He is playing mandolin. Also playing mandolins are Rich Higdon and Katie Dahl – though the instrument for them is a second or third language. Higdon and Dahl are trying to keep up with Eric Lewis’ lead on tunes everybody knows, starting with “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Little plinks in dinks pop up in their playing as Eric Lewis steams on, but a chorus emerges… the playing is intent (as in firm resolve)… the listening is intense… and the effort and result become golden/wonderful.

Katie Dahl, guitar, mandolin, vocals; Rich Higdon, bass, ukulele, percussion, mandolin, vocals; Eric Lewis, guitars, mandolin, vocals

Musical selections

“Listen to the Angels” – Katie Dahl

“There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” – Eric Lewis

“Angel Dream” – Eric Lewis

“Lombardi Avenue” (Katie Dahl) – Katie Dahl

“Jingle Bells” – Eric Lewis, mandolin, Rich Higdon, spoons

“Solid Ground” (Fred Alley) – Eric Lewis, Katie Dahl

“Christmas in the Trenches” (John McCutcheon) – Katie Dahl

“O Little Town of Bethlehem”/“Ode to Joy”/“Angels We Have Heard on High” – mandolin trio: Eric Lewis, Katie Dahl, Rich Higdon

“Don’t Go Down to Aurora” (Fred Alley) – Katie Dahl

Guitar solo (Eric Lewis) – Eric Lewis

“It Wasn’t His Child” (Skip Ewing) – Eric Lewis

“How’d You Like to Spend Christmas on Christmas Island” – Rich Higdon, ukulele, vocals, Eric Lewis, guitar

“Here Comes Santa Claus” – Katie Dahl; Eric Lewis, mandolin

“In the Dark” (Katie Dahl) – Katie Dahl

“Where is the Light”/“This Little Light of Mine” – Katie Dahl, Rich Higdon, Eric Lewis


‘Home for the Holidays' sifts, winnows

Warren Gerds - December 28, 2016

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Doc Heide is an inquisitive sort. He got to wondering how far the Three Wise Men of The Christmas Story traveled. Some scholars say Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar – “sounds like a Palestinian law firm,” Heide says – started in Persia. Some say they started in Yemen. To travel to Bethlehem, they would have traveled either 1,700 or 1,300 miles, respectively. Either way, by camel, “it was a really big deal,” Heide says. Their directions weren’t exactly pinpoint: Under a bright star.

This is part of the lead-in to “Follow That Star,” a song Heide wrote for Northern Sky Theater’s 2016 edition of “Home for the Holidays,” a five-performance concert running through Saturday, Dec. 31, in Old Gibraltar Town Hall.

Doc Heide being a creative sort, “Follow That Star” is not a toss-off ditty. Its words explore the perspective of the Three Wise Men. The music involves Heide in lead with colorings all the way through by colleague Holly Feldman, and at the very end added touches by Eric Lewis; to Heide’s guitar lead, Lewis comes in on mandolin to complete a musical illustration of care and reverence.

The stamp of Northern Sky Theater means something, and the first performance of “Home for the Holidays” attracted a sold-out house. The concert is distinctive for how it touches familiar chords and yet explores the new and off-the-beaten track. Imagine buying a new pair of shoes that feel just right right away…There, you’ve got it.

The concert comes with doses of reverence and irreverence.

Reverence: Songs from old spirituals (“Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain”) to those of new and/or different perspectives, including Heide’s “Follow That Star” (tale of Wise Men) and “Stranger Keep on Walking” (of stable owner) and Lewis' offering of “It Wasn’t His Child” (of Joseph).

Irreverence: A tease of clashing family opinions at holiday gatherings set to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and a lampoon of our next U.S. president with “Tweeting in a Donald Trumperland” set to “Winter Wonderland.” Advice in the latter: “When speaking your mind, it’s best to be kind.”

The performers’ personalities come out. Feldman ranges from light-hearted in tunes with her first name somewhere in them to motherly concern in Katie Dahl’s “In the Dark.” Lewis is a musician whiz with a flair for fun, as in the catchy “I Love the Packers,” told from the perspective of a fan from Tennessee, as he. Heide is a font of creativity, as one would expect of a co-founder of Northern Sky Theater who in his real life in teaching/research deals with matters of the mind. Performing is but a playroom in his house.

The show comes with giveaway prizes. Audience members have to answer multiple-choice questions on the same premise: Which one of these was not a Northern Sky Theater show? The answers are so easy that even I could get them.

Performers: Holly Feldman, vocals, percussion; Doc Heide, vocals, guitars; Eric Lewis, vocals, mandolin, guitar

Musical selections

“Mary Did You Know?” – mandolin-guitar instrumental

“Wasn’t That a Pity and a Shame” – Doc Heide, Holly Feldman

“Run, Run Rudolph” – Eric Lewis

Bob Gibson/Joan Baez’ “Virgin Mary Had One Son” – Holly Feldman, Doc Heide

Doc Heide’s “Follow That Star” – Doc Heide, Holly Feldman

Eric Lewis’ “Off to Lambeau”/“Jimmy Ryan’s” – Eric Lewis mandolin instrumental

Songs with “Holly” in lyrics – Holly Feldman

“Home for the Holidays” – Eric Lewis

“Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head” – Doc Heide, Holly Feldman

Doc Heide’s “The Girl with Winter in Her Eye” – Doc Heide

Skip Ewing’s “It Wasn’t His Child” – Eric Lewis voice-guitar solo

“Winter Wonderland” a spark for parody – All

Katie Dahl’s “In the Dark” – Holly Feldman

Eric Lewis’ “I Love the Packers” – Eric Lewis, then audience

Doc Heide’s “Love Our Enemies” from “Packer Fans from Outer Space” – Doc Heide

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as spark for parody - All

Doc Heide’s “Stranger Keep on Walking” – Doc Heide

“Go Tell It on the Mountain” – All

Encore; “This Little Light of Mine” – All


‘Home for the Holidays’ is living history

Warren Gerds - December 27, 2014

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Music and history and memories and holidays and musicality and marital bonds and a Door County aura are rolled into one in “Home for the Holidays,” a year-ending and era-ending concert running through New Year’s Eve at Old Gibraltar Town Hall.

“We are so proud to be the last show under the moniker of American Folklore Theatre,” performer Molly Rhode told the opening night audience Friday. Throughout the performance, Rhode said (often), “American Folklore Theatre (or AFT), soon to be Northern Sky Theater,” in keeping with the name change that “most sincerely” takes place Thursday, Jan. 1. (One of my article/columns on the change is at http://www.wearegreenbay.com/story/d/story/critic-at-large/35030/-9lniqtYoUi9jwL55ysg0w. The “most sincerely is lifted from the Coroner in “The Wizard of Oz.”)

In its simplest form, “Home for the Holidays” is a folk music-driven show. Performing are four people who are well versed in the genre – Katie Dahl and Rich Higdon (who are married – “To each other,” Dahl noted) and Molly Rhode and Chase Stoeger (who are married). Performing this music to them is akin to water pouring off a roof in a healthy rain – very natural and flowing. Along with vocals, the four tap into a bunch of instruments necessary for their excursion – washboard, upright bass (sometimes two at once), spoons, bells (as in jingle bells), guitars, ukuleles (sometimes four at once!), concertina, shaker/rhythm-sound-making thingie, harmonica, kazoos, mouth harp, mandolin and banjo. My only wish is that Dahl wouldn’t stand so close to her microphone because it masks her mouth and makes some of the lyrics of songs (some of which she wrote) less clear.

The first performance started hot from the performers and the crowd; the hall, set up for 99 seats, was full. It was as if the audience was hungry – a turn-on for entertainers.

The 2014 edition of “Home for the Holidays” is easy to savor. Songs and sections segue to tantalizing cross references. A prime example: “I May Not Be a Football Hero” starts as a slightly risqué tune by the guys that evolves into a four-ukulele ditty/homage to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Packers heroes (even Brett Favre) with Dahl singing of Rodgers, “he helps me R-E-L-A-X.”

The show includes references to the late, great Fred Alley, co-founder of American Folklore Theatre and writer and performer with a supreme tenor voice. His songs in the show illustrate his range from sensitivity to all-out, fired-up rhythmic imagination. To me, it is no accident that the show draws to a close with the performance of his gentle “Beneath the Northern Sky” (source of the troupe’s new Northern Sky Theater name) followed by “Auld Lang Syne.”

VENUE: Old Gibraltar Town Hall, built around 1880, is dominated by white on its exterior and interior. The building near the shore of Fish Creek Harbor in Fish Creek was restored as a project of Gibraltar Historical Association. Among its functions, the rectangular hall is a performance space, with a raised stage that includes an optional stage curtain. The space is historical for American Folklore Theatre as the site of its first fall production, “And If Elected” in 1992, and now as the site for its final production under the name of American Folklore Theatre as the organization officially becomes Northern Sky Theater on Jan. 1, 2015. The fiber board ceiling and wood walls are plain save for historical photos on the walls and wainscoting rimming the lower walls. The floor is of narrow wood strips. The space works quite well for folky performances.