- The Washington Times - Friday, December 25, 2009

On Christmas Day, while exhausted parents nationwide settle down for well-deserved afternoon naps, Stephen Kellogg will load his instruments into a van and begin the six-hour drive to the District.

“For the past five years, we’ve been touring 10 months out of the year,” says the Boston native, who lives with his family in Connecticut. “This year, we took some time off to record an album, so we were only out on the road for seven months.

“That’s still a lot of time, though,” he adds, laughing. “We spent several weeks in the Middle East and Europe, and we traveled to different places to play for the troops. A month playing in Turkey feels a lot more like four months of touring domestically.”

As the singer, spokesperson and namesake member of Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers, Mr. Kellogg is a familiar face on the concert circuit. His songs evoke memories of Tom Petty’s twang and the Band’s earnest rock, and he takes a page from those road-seasoned acts by maintaining a demanding tour ethic. Since their formation in 2003, the Sixers have logged nearly 1,000 shows.

The singer admits that the process can be difficult. “You can’t take along the comforts of home on the road,” he says. “I’m lucky, though; I happen to be in a band where I get along great with the guys. Our tour manager is my cousin, and he’s been with me since my first performance. But man, the way we tour is not for the faint of heart.”

With such heavy touring comes the desire to make each show interesting and unique. A self-professed Deadhead, Mr. Kellogg grew up listening to bands whose set lists varied from night to night. A similar mentality governs the Sixers’ tours, most of which are themed.

“If we don’t change things up, we can’t expect people to come out and pay money to see us more than once a year,” says the singer, whose livelihood relies on repeat customers and newly converted fans.

“I guess you can make an argument that people like something they can count on. You go to McDonald’s because you know what you’re going to get. But I’d rather be the zany chef that people visit just to see what he’ll cook up next.”

Next on Mr. Kellogg’s plate is the so-called Under the Influence tour, in which the Sixers will pay tribute to their peers by covering other artists’ music. Josh Ritter and State Radio are included in the mix, as is a bluegrass version of an OAR song.

However, before he launches Under the Influence, Mr. Kellogg will conclude the band’s most recent tour with a performance at the 9:30 Club.

“It’ll be different from the others,” he says of Saturday’s show. “Normally, we play a lot of listening rooms, so the 9:30 Club is a different animal entirely. It’ll be a transition show. It’s the grand finale to the big rock tour that we just did, but we’ll also play a few songs from the Under the Influence set list.”

Although the band will continue to tour throughout 2010 - shows are already booked through mid-May, with many more to follow - Mr. Kellogg is content to live in the moment and enjoy the final performances of 2009.

“It’s such a good time of year,” he says. “Everyone’s been cooped up over the holidays. It’s a good time to get out there, wear little Santa outfits and remember that I’m lucky to have this job.”

c Catch Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers at the 9:30 Club on Saturday. The Alternate Routes will open. Tickets for the 8 p.m. performance are $15.

Varied New Year’s fare

It’s the year’s biggest party night, and no party is complete without music. So ring in the New Year in tuneful style with these local events:

- For those who didn’t manage to score seats to the Kennedy Center’s sold-out tribute to Frank Sinatra, tickets are still available for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ performance at the 9:30 Club. The group plays vintage soul music with contemporary flair - meaning everyone from young Amy Winehouse fans to seasoned Sam Cooke fanatics will find reasons to dance. Tickets are $55, and doors open at 9 p.m.

- The 13th annual Downtown Countdown has landed its most popular headliner to date with Third Eye Blind. The multiplatinum pop group will perform at the Grand Hyatt; festivities begin at 8:30 p.m. and run until 1:30 a.m. VIP ticketholders also will be treated to a private acoustic performance by the group, while general attendees will enjoy additional music by the local group Gonzo’s Nose and a bevy of regional DJs. Ticket prices vary.

- If you’d prefer spending the final hours of 2009 supporting more of the District’s local acts, head over to Jammin’ Java at 7 p.m. for an intimate concert. Just 200 guests will be admitted, and the multiact concert features performances by Shane Hines, the Blackjacks, Crash Boom Bang and Billy Woodward & the Senders. As a bonus, the $30 admission fee includes an hourlong meet-and-greet with the bands.

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