In the holiday spirit
HUNTINGTON — So Justin McElroy, a professional wrestler, two drag queens, Cledus T. Judd, Tim Irr, Larry Groce, Senora May Childers, Laid Back Country Picker, the Sh-boom barbershop quartet, a singing puppet (Trace Cherokee) and Rod Elkins in a Christmas onesie all walk into a former bank building.
It’s not a joke, folks.
It’s just your daily dose of “The Good Time Christmas Show” in Huntington.
Today, Dec. 25, as they have every day since Saturday, Dec. 1, the creative partners, Josh McComas and Michael Valentine, of their newly formed Montani Films, will release videos full of Christmas cheer.
Shot here in downtown Huntington at their CoWorks studio, the videos are shared for the world to enjoy on their Facebook page and YouTube channel as “The Good Time Christmas Show.”
Both are dads with young kids at home, McComas and Valentine — already brimming with plenty of Christmas cheer themselves— said they couldn’t help but have some Christmas joy boil over at the office.
While they were tossing around the idea for either a Christmas concert at CoWorks or a Christmas video, their friend, Alan Brown, a WSAZ producer and also member of The Dividends, happened to stop by and visit.
“We were just sitting around and Alan Brown was in the office and I was like, ‘Hey, we ought to film a Christmas duet,’” Valentine said. “Then we were like We could do one a week until Christmas. Well, maybe we could do two a week. We went home that night and we didn’t talk to each other until the next day. We had both decided that we could do 25 people. Then I was like uh-oh do I know 25 people?”
With the daunting idea of a creating a fresh-cut daily Christmas video advent calendar of sorts, McComas went to work setting the scene for the studio which has a flat-screen fireplace that roars in front of the old bank vault.
“That night I went and bought a couple decorations at Walmart,” McComas said. “The next day, we came in and searched the building and found the third floor had a repository of ridiculous Christmas stuff.”
While Valentine, who does the videos for the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, and who is the well-known founder for such bands as Chocolate Four Wheeler and Good Ol’ Boys and a Girl, worked the phone calling in favors and flavors.
Valentine, who hosts the show, took a nod from Dean Martin’s old Christmas specials, when good friends would just happen to “stop by” and better yet have a song ready.
To give it that kind of off-the-cuff, neighborly and spontaneous feel, McComas has woven in a lot of the funny outtakes where guests are hamming it up with Valentine whose bedazzled in an array of Christmas costumes and attire.
As often as Valentine has changed outfits, he has also changed instruments playing guitar, keyboards, bass, ukulele, saxophone, snare drum, jingle bells, and, of course, just vocals when part of the Thundertones, the Sh-boom quartet, stopped by to sing with Mike in the middle.
“We rated that one P.G. for permanent grin,” said McComas, who busted out laughing, and can be heard laughing behind the camera on a number of outtakes.
Right out of the gates he snagged five quick videos: Brown, Parry Casto, “Funkle Sam,” singer/songwriter, Patrick Stanley, comedian Nate Cesco, and yours truly, to give them a head start.
Valentine said it was both humbling and heart warming to see what lengths and distances folks went to, to help spread some musical Christmas cheer.
“That was maybe the most surprising parts was how willing people were,” Valentine said. “Senora drove three hours (one way) and Kelsie Cannon drove three hours and Sasha (Colette) and Jeremy (Short) drove an hour. I can’t hardly understand someone crossing the street to do this, let alone someone driving from Morgantown to sing ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.’”
Valentine and McComas hit the road to Charleston and the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame shop at the Charleston Town Center to shoot videos with The Carpenter Ants and Larry Groce singing “Frosty the Snowman,” which was written by West Virginia Music Hall of Fame member, Walter “Jack” Rollins. They also taped with The Carpenter Ants doing, “Santa Claus Blues.”
“This has been a dream for me to play with some of my good friends and musical heroes,” Valentine said. “It is a trick. I put a very talented person beside me and I fake it, and because of them, it looks like we are both doing a good job.”
Interestingly, the daily stream of Christmas videos has also been a public launch of their video production company together called, Montani Films.
Although they had teamed up on various projects in the past, Valentine, who had Brainwrap Productions, and McComas, who had McComas Productions, operated separately as just two of the many video production teams in the Tri-State.
After McComas got the Cabell County Schools contract, he brought Valentine on board, since they had worked together on a bunch of projects including filming Tyler Childers and The Food Stamps at a sold out concert at the Mountain Arts Center last year. They also shot a short film together, called “Ache” for the Huntington Music and Arts Festival 72 Hour Film Challenge.
This past spring, they shot another national video together for Chuck Prophet and Kim Richey, two nationally touring music acts who were appearing on Mountain Stage — in addition to shooting Ona that night.
After the two collaborated on a couple comedy videos for comedian Cledus T. Judd’s videos during his recent re-launch back onto the national scene.
“With that contract came an influx of work,” said McComas of the schools contract. “I couldn’t do it myself, so I was like who is available who do I trust and who would I like to work with and Michael said yes.”
Both proud West Virginians, they settled on the name Montani Films to give a nod to the state’s motto Montani Semper Liberi” (Latin for “Mountaineers are Always Free”).“I wanted to pick a new name for the business that paid a little homage to the state but without people really realizing what it is,” McComas said. “Montani is the first word in the state motto and so I thought it was a really subtle way to incorporate something from the Mountain State into our business name that pays tribute to our state and holds true to who we are but that also sounds fancy enough that people don’t think twice about it.”
McComas said “Good Time Christmas Show” has helped people be introduced to not only their new company, but also to CoWorks, the new office sharing space at the Chase Bank Building where they share space with Nate Cesco and his team of creatives at Coseri.
“We went from no likes for a brand new page to in the last few weeks, over 50,000 post reaches almost 40,000 post engagements and are over 600 likes. It is not huge, but for that to happen in just a few days over sharing some Christmas videos has been cool for us,” McComas said. “We have been talking about this forever, creating an on-going music series. This is a really good test run for us. People are not only willing to come by and spend some time with us, but people are wanting to watch it, and consume it and talk about it and share it.”
While they are not sure what projects will come rolling there way or who will stop by the office in 2019, they do know who is stopping by today on Christmas.
Valentine’s puppet character, Trace Cherokee, who starred in his own award-winning indie film, “Trace Around Your Heart,” is rumored to be stopping by—if he’s not in jail, again.
“Trace may be here on Christmas morning with a well-known Tri-State person as Santa,” McComas said.
“Although he did say he looked more like a roadie for the Brian Setzer Orchestra than Santa,” Valentine added.