December is a month when generosity increases, joy is spread, and people take of the needs of others a bit more seriously…for the most part. Various benefits and drives pop up sporadically to help “those less fortunate.” One such event has been held at BFE Rock Club, on Jones Road in Houston, in the form of a Christmas musical unlike anything you might see this time of year.Houston Hard Rock/Heavy Metal act, Wide Open Throttle, have been hosting their own Rock N Roll toy drive for the past half decade; bringing in boxes upon boxes of toys that are donated to the Toys for Tots foundation. Lone Star Metal had a chance to talk with singer and originator of the event, Ryan McKnight, about the creation of this unique event.
“Five years ago, I was at Lowes home improvement and saw a Santa suit. I did not buy it at first, but after thinking about it for a few days, I decided I was going to go back [to] buy the suit and play our Christmas show in the suit. At the time, it was just going to be a Christmas time show, Toys for Tots was not involved yet. We had a setlist with a lot of our original songs and a couple covers and I started playing around with the lyrics to the covers while listening to Christmas Music…That first year I wrote four songs and typed up the first program and that started the whole idea,” McKnight reflects on his spark of inspiration.
The Christmas show turned toy drive snowballed into a full production concert complete with costumes, holiday lighting, and full set of Christmas themed covers. “Each year we just try to add a little bit more Christmas spirit and holiday cheer. We have changed costumes over the years, added new songs, new decorations and this year we have a limited edition 5th Anniversary T-shirt to sell for donations to Toys for Tots.”
The concept of the concert originated from the initial four songs McKnight wrote alternate lyrics for. The band now has nineteen covers of songs popular with the Hard Rock and Metal crowds, but with lyrics that are centered on the Holidays like “Deck the Halls to the Wall” to the tune of Accept’s classic, “Balls to the Wall,” or “The Snowman’s Courageous” to the tune of “Fly Me Courageous” by Drivin’ and Cryin’. We asked Ryan how he manages to keep up with all the lyrics. “It is very difficult. I have to really think ahead in each song as we sing through it, and I still mess up occasionally. There are actually a few of the songs that I can’t sing with the correct lyrics anymore. The fun [thing] about the songs is what keeps my head straight the most because the real lyrics are serious topics and ideas, but with the Christmas versions, it is all about being funny and entertaining…I can usually remember the new words. Keeping myself from laughing during the set is another big problem though,” the singer muses.
The toy drive is successful, and has built momentum over the past five years into an annual event that requires a few months planning now. Ryan attributes a large portion of the success of the event to the community that helps. “We have people who have helped us out with advertising, program and flyer printing, decorations, donations, and promotion of all kind. The whole show is just such a joy to put on and to be part of and we hope that over the next few years it can get bigger and bigger. We got involved with Toys for Tots the second year in, and now we just try to bring in as many toys as we can each year. We have gotten bigger each year with everyone’s help and together it will continue to grow. It is for a good cause and it is one of a kind. With us dressing like Santa and the Elves, the programs so people can sing along and the show being all ages it can be fun for the whole family, and it is something new and different that everyone can enjoy.”
This year’s White Open Throttle Christmas Toy Drive will be held on December 8th at BFE Rock Club, 11528 Jones Rd. in Houston. Wide Open Throttle will open the event with their Christmas set at 8:30pm with Six Minute Century and Crank Case to follow. Be sure to come early to snag your limited edition t-shirt, and bring a new, unwrapped toy for admission. Click here for an archived article on this event.