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Originally published Thursday, December 20, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Sing along with Judith Owen, Harry Shearer

If you ask the esteemed singer Judith Owen why Seattle is one of three stops this year for her annual Holiday Sing-Along, she'll tell you it's because the Triple Door is a stellar venue.

Special to The Seattle Times

Concert preview

"Judith Owen & Harry Shearer's Holiday Sing-Along," featuring the Bobs, Julia Fordham, Jill Sobule and other guests, 7 p.m. Sunday, The Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle; $30-$35 (206-838-4333 or www.tripledoor.net).

If you ask the esteemed singer Judith Owen why Seattle is one of three stops this year for her annual Holiday Sing-Along, she'll tell you it's because the Triple Door is a stellar venue. Ask the same question to her husband — comedian/actor Harry Shearer — and he'll say it's because the "Spinal Tap" giant skull was, at least for a time, stored in Seattle.

"I'll take any chance to visit the site of the Skull," he jokes.

Whatever the true reason, the Triple Door becomes an extension of the Owen/Shearer living room Sunday for what the couple call their "antidote to Christmas" — complete with a Christmas tree and comfy furniture.

"It truly began in our living room," explains Owen. "We starting having our friends over, people like Richard Thompson, Keb' Mo', and the stellar cast kept growing. We'd all eat, drink and sing."

Eventually their house was overflowing, so the couple decided to move the sing-along to a public venue. They debuted it in 2005 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles but made every attempt to keep the humanness of their living room. They invited the audience onstage and even brought the family dog. "The late Victor saluted the security guard backstage at the Disney Hall by making a deposit," Shearer says. "No wonder we haven't been asked back."

This year they've already held the show at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles and in New Orleans, where they have a second home.

"New Orleans has the highest percentage of churchgoers, so they also really like to sin," notes Shearer. Proceeds from the Sing-Along will go to the Tipitina's Foundation, which helps fund music education in New Orleans.

Seattle, which usually ranks low on church-attendance surveys, should be a perfect market for the nonreligious show, which includes the Spinal Tap classic "Christmas with the Devil," along with more traditional fare such as "The Christmas Song" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman."

"The songs we sing," Owen says, "whether it be a Mel Torme number or something else, they are all just fantastic songs. They are folk songs, really."

Owen grew up in Wales, where music was an integral part of her holiday. Shearer is Jewish but thinks Hanukkah has been "pumped up with a lot of helium to make it compete with Christmas."

Shearer's birthday is Dec. 23, so he's always had to compete with the holiday. He turns 64 on the night of the Triple Door show and says that when an audience at a previous sing-along serenaded him, "it made up for years of bad birthdays."

The couple's previous shows have included a number of stellar guest musicians, and the Seattle date will feature Jill Sobule, Julia Fordham and the Bobs.

"Christmas is the most stressful time of the year, and people need to laugh and be fantastically uplifted," Owen says. "The idea of having the Bobs, and Harry, in this show, is to have the serious and the satirical. This show is both reverent and irreverent."

In that way, the show is a lot like the couple, with Owens being a serious musician and Shearer the clown, best known for providing the voice of Mr. Burns on "The Simpsons." Still it was Shearer who just earned a Grammy nomination for his 2007 comedy CD, "Songs Pointed and Pointless." He promises not to sing any controversial songs this time out. "We don't mess with politics in this show," he notes. "It's all warm and fuzzy."

Owens is quick to chime in with the last word: "A lot of people who come to the show have no idea what to expect, but they all leave in a better mood." Even Mr. Burns wouldn't have a problem with that.

Seattle-area music writer Charles R. Cross is the author of five books. Reach him at charlesrcross@aol.com.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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