Peter White returns with annual Christmas tour

The day after Thanksgiving, it will be another reunion of sorts.

Four decades ago, music-lovers walked past the Golden Bear sign overlooking Pacific Coast Highway and went in to see Peter White perform. Friday night, those who remember the 1970s can pass the same sign and hear the same musician — even if the beloved concert venue was demolished decades ago and White is long past his days with British folk-rocker Al Stewart's band.

The guitarist, who has led his annual "A Peter White Christmas" tour since 2003, will kick off the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa's new Concerts on the Shore series with saxophonist Mindi Abair and trumpeter Rick Braun. A short walk from the ballroom on the hotel grounds is Pete's Sunset Grille, which sports the old Golden Bear sign on an interior wall.

"I remember being there on occasion and looking up and seeing this sign and thinking, 'I remember that sign'," said White, a Los Angeles resident. "It was the Golden Bear sign. It's right there in the hotel."

The sign, which features a bear's head surrounded by sun rays and a promise of "entertainment, dining, cocktails," has resided in the Hyatt restaurant for a decade. Memories of the club, which closed in 1986, remain strong in Huntington Beach. The International Surfing Museum recently hosted an exhibit about its history, while a group of musicians who once played there, including Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, gathered for a reunion concert in 2009 at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort.

Tim Rodney, the food and beverage manager of the Hyatt's Californian restaurant, called the sign a favorite among residents who remember the days when White and others performed.

"Most of the tourists have no idea what that is," he said. "But the locals go, 'Oh, cool! I used to go there.'"

It's only fitting that the Hyatt evokes memories for White and others, because it was that nostalgic vibe that inspired him to play Christmas songs in the first place.

As a child in Letchworth, England, he often joined his brother and sister in going door to door and performing holiday tunes on the recorder. A quarter-century later, a fellow musician invited him to play on a Christmas tour, and the sight of audience members singing along made him realize the music's sentimental value.

Finally, after years of playing on others' tours, White formed one of his own. The first year, White and Abair led the band; Braun came on board in 2004. With few exceptions, the lineup hasn't changed since.

The three headliners, who play with a backing group, follow a strict regimen: rehearsals the three days before Thanksgiving, then the tour beginning the day after the holiday. In a typical year, the tour fits in nearly two dozen gigs before Christmas.

Friday's performance will start Concerts on the Shore, a holiday series that the Hyatt plans to make a yearly offering. In addition to the White show, the hotel will host a New Year's Eve concert featuring Brian Culbertson, Eric Darius and Larry Braggs.

White's band, which last brought its Christmas tour to the Hyatt in 2007, alternates pop and jazz with Christmas tunes, with Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" and John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" among the offerings. White, who admitted that his vocal chops are limited, takes a turn as Elvis Presley singing "Blue Christmas" — a number that his daughter urged him to include after she watched a YouTube video of the King and heard her father sing along.

To further the effect, White performs the song in a wig with sunglasses and fake sideburns.

"This became a thing in the show," he said. "I would put these things on when no one was looking, and all of a sudden, I'd turn around and I'd be Elvis. I'd sing 'Blue Christmas' like Elvis. It's something I never imagined I would ever be doing in my wildest dreams when I started out in music."

If You Go

What: "A Peter White Christmas"

Where: Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, 21500 Pacific Coast Hwy.

When: Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Friday; opener DW3 goes onstage at 7:30; White's band plays at 8:45

Cost: $55 to $75

Information: (714) 698-1234 or http://www.concertsontheshore.com

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