COTTONWOOD - It's now been at least 21 years since Mount Hope Foods and John Ziegler and his circle of friends teamed up to put on the annual Christmas Concert. The Mount Hope's Christmas Concert Circle of Friends will be Sunday, Dec. 16 in the Mingus Union High School Auditorium. Doors open at 4:30 and the concert begins at 5:30.
Each year John Ziegler and his "Circle of Friends" perform a collection of Christmas songs and other seasonal classics.
Admission is free and there will be refreshments.
Mount Hope will match all cash donations to the Central Arizona Food Bank. This will be the fourth year that Mount Hope has matched the donations for the food bank. Last year Mount Hope presented the food bank with a check for $4,000.
Ziegler said that in the beginning it was just him or maybe a couple of friends.
"The first year I ran out of songs and had to finish the set with songs like Mack the Knife," he said.
He probably hasn't done Mack the Knife during the Christmas Concert since. It has grown.
Of course Major Lingo and the Johnny Lingo Trio will be an important part of the entertainment, plus providing back up for other performers. One real highlight of last year's concert will return this year, the Mingus Union High School Glee Club with director James Ball.
Michael Donaldson, the Scottish piper from Williams, Ariz. will perform, and so will Gary Kupper from New York City, who used to be in Chuck Berry's back-up band.
New this year will be the Tor Brothers from Sedona. And James Reid will perform his juggling act again.
There will be many other performers, too many to mention.
"There will be some clogging by Trish Jahnki," Ziegler said.
Many of the performers repeat year after year, some for many years in a row. But Ziegler always has an eye out for new talent.
"We try to make room for new faces in the circle," Ziegler said.
"We owe a huge amount of thanks to Mingus Superintendent Tim Foist," Ziegler said. He said the Mingus Auditorium is a great venue for a concert and performances such as the Circle of Friends.
The concert represents a lot of work for Ziegler.
"It takes a month," he said. "I don't mean it takes everyday. But I start about three months out. During the last three or four weeks, I dedicate as much time as I physically can."
Over the years Ziegler and Major Lingo have been involved in several annual events, such as the Christmas Concert and The Day of The Dead. Some of these concerts have been around longer than most bands even stay together. He explains why.
"It's just sentimental," he said. "It's just a familial thing."
He said when the group was getting started they were all over the map putting on "all-age" concerts.
Even though Major Lingo will be done and retired at the end of this year, Ziegler said the Mount Hope Christmas Concert will be ongoing.
"This has nothing to do with Major Lingo's retirement," he said.
In fact, other groups, including the Johnny Lingo Trio and Mountain Stranded Time will keep Ziegler busy with gigs well into the future.
He said the best part of performing at a show like the Christmas Concert is simply the interaction with the audience.
"The way the crowd responds," he said. "You see the smiles on their faces. It's so uplifting."