A Walker Family Thanksgiving: Enjoy the agony/ecstasy of family holidays—from the sideline

  • Wed Nov 18th, 2015 2:00am
  • Life

Tom Walker

The Walkers would like to invite you over for Thanksgiving.

Not for the actual meal or holiday, but as part of their one-night show, A Walker Family Thanksgiving, on Saturday, Nov. 21 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley. Think of the Walkers like the von Trapps from “The Sound of Music” but fully American. Their sound is best described as folk Americana, or as pater familias Tom Walker said, “great, genetically-enhanced harmonies.”

“It’s not about watching how the Walker family does things, so much as using that as a lens to watch one’s own family,” said Tom Walker, who people may recognize as being a retired pastor and a member of the Rural Characters.

The whole family, and then some, will take the stage for two hours of skits, songs and stories. Tom and Claudia Walker, their daughter Amy Walker (made famous by her voice impressions, of which the YouTube video “21 Accents” has almost 10.5 million views), and Claudia’s brother Paul Houser make up the main group. Adding to their familial chorus will be special guest musicians Ben Walker, Linda Morris, Randy Hudson, Dave Bokel and Jennifer Bondelid.

Featuring songs and stories, the evening show will take the audience through a typical experience around any holiday family gathering. People laugh, people argue, people fight, people cry, people eat, and people sing.

“It’s sort of a microcosm of any community and probably most families,” Tom Walker said. “There’s gonna be a lot of fun in it, there’s gonna be a lot of emotion in it, there’s gonna be some sadness and pain and loss in it.”

The Walkers tragically know loss. Their son, Adam, died at 22 in 2000 after drowning in a hot tub. Claudia Walker said she suspected that he was either overheated after a long run or had a seizure, something he suffered from as a child, in the hot tub. Photo courtesy of the Walker family | An image from a family reunion of the Walkers in 2000.

That certainly soured several holiday and family gatherings. But the Walkers grieved, mourned, recovered and continued their musical musings. Support, time and understanding, Claudia Walker said, healed her emotional wounds.

“15 years, that’s a long time,” she said as to why the Walker family can now celebrate the holidays. “It probably took me seven years to get to the point where I felt it was a clean wound for me, where I had some perspective of time to know that our lives have gone on, they’ve been rich and full. We’ve missed Adam every single day.”

Professionally, Claudia Walker is used to trauma and grief. She spent her career as a professional musician performing music therapy. For the past decade, she has played harp and sung for the dying as part of a service in the Providence Health System. That experience has also helped her gain perspective and mourn her own losses. One memory clings to her, like the clutch of a newborn.

“I remember holding my babies and going through this exercise of saying, ‘If you died tomorrow, it’s been such a complete gift,’ ” she added.

The Walker Family Thanksgiving will hardly be all gloom and doom. Celebration abounds when the Walkers gather.

As a narrative, Claudia Walker said the show will take people through life, from birth to death. One of the opening songs will be by Tom Walker, who wrote it before their son Adam was born. It’s called “Little Baby Comin.’ ” Another favorite song of Claudia Walker’s is “On Children” by Sweet Honey in the Rock, taken from the words of author Khalil Gibran about children.

“It’s really a love letter to our community,” Amy Walker said in a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles. “It’s totally family friendly. It’s a big hug. It’s for people who love to celebrate the cycles of life and the values of family and community.”

“What you’ll see in this program is our values, of connection to one another, love — which as far as I’m concerned connects everything on the planet,” Claudia Walker said.

To make it all work, the Whidbey Island-bound Walkers and Houser met over the past year to work on the arrangements and rehearse. Amy Walker joined in via a video chat connection a few times, and even flew up once in June to do a full rehearsal.

With 20 pieces planned for the show, there was plenty to be practiced. Some are original songs, some are covers, some of the pieces are pulled from Amy Walker’s one-woman show, “Amy Walker: Inside Out,” for which she just wrapped an international tour.

Now, they’re ready to roll all of their work — and maybe even a little family baggage — out on stage.

With all of the songs and stories and skits, the Walkers are hoping they resonate with their guests in the audience. They want it to be a mirror of family holiday get togethers past, present and future. More than anything, they want it to be truthful.

“I think it’s really important, especially around holiday times, to keep it real, especially in a rural community,” Tom Walker said. “People know when you fake it.”

Dinner’s on in the Walker family. Be there, 7:30 p.m., or miss out on a family’s journey through song.

A turkey day concert with plenty to say

Join the Walker clan for a night of song and story at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

Husband-and-wife duo Tom and Claudia Walker, along with their famous daughter, Amy Walker of “21 Accents” notoriety, will be joined by Claudia’s brother, Paul Houser, as the main family show. But, like so many families’ holiday gatherings, there will be plenty of other characters as part of the show. Also expected to join them on stage are Ben Walker, Linda Morris, Randy Hudson, Dave Bokel and Jennifer Bondelid.

The audience is encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item as a donation to the Good Cheer Food Bank.

Tickets cost $22.

Online tickets are available until noon the day of the show at www.wicaonline.org. For tickets by phone, call 360-221-8268 or 800-638-7631. The theater’s box office at 565 Camano Ave. in Langley is open 1-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, and two hours before the show.