Clockwork Angels

Veteran rockers Rush brought their steampunk-themed concept album to Toyota Center December 2.

Best Show Ever: "Probably our CD release party," Lankford says. "It was the first show that felt really magical. That being said, I feel like we do better than the last one every time we perform. So I guess the best answer would be our last show in Corpus Christi at House of Rock with Wanda Jackson."

Only in Houston

Baybrook Mall's Santa Claus is also a bluegrass star.

Sometimes, Les Heinemann admits, he does get peed on.
Creg Lovett
Sometimes, Les Heinemann admits, he does get peed on.

By Creg Lovett

Les Heinemann has played Santa Claus at Baybrook Mall in Friendswood for 13 seasons now. Somebody told him that by December 25 of this year, he'll have had almost 300,000 children sit on his lap and sort out their Christmas lists.

I first met Heinemann in 2001 when I worked at Baybrook part-time, and we'd chat on our lunch breaks. Les discovered that I'm from Kentucky, which usually leads to a conversation about basketball, horses or bourbon. Instead, I discovered that Santa loves bluegrass.

Back at his home in Colorado, Heinemann leads a band called The Florissant Fossils Bluegrass Band. They're on Facebook and have a sweet ReverbNation page with a handful of songs. "I'd Like to Trade All My Troubles," "Barefoot Kids from Long Ago" and "Blue Virginia Blue" are about as fluent and well-recorded as anything you'll ever hear.

They've played all over the place for a long time now, both at bars and at parties, but Florissant Fossils are a big festival band now, too. They even had a minor hit, something like No. 13 on the bluegrass charts, over in Europe. No, really, it's true. I've been trying to get them to play Houston for years, but it comes down to money. A six-man band that sounds this good doesn't travel light.

Heinemann hasn't seen Todd Waite play Crumpet the Elf in The Santaland Diaries at Houston's Alley Theater. He's lived it, and people ask him about it from time to time. They ask him to come to their Christmas parties after hours, but mostly they ask him to whisper in their ear, "What does my child want for Christmas?"

By the end of most days, he's got a pile of Christmas lists handwritten in crayon. Some are typed and printed, and some come with Christmas cards, candy canes or baked goods. Heinemann has seen all the crazes go by his lap: The Furby, Tickle Me Elmo, *NSync and Dora the Explorer, to name a few.

He doesn't get peed on every day, but it happens, and Heinemann takes it in stride. The show must go on. That's not what bothers him, anyway. You don't get hugs from 300,000 kids without having a heart, and it doesn't come without heartbreak.

Heinemann says he wishes he could communicate with the autistic kids and hear their wishes, too. He sees them every year, and hopes things get better for them soon.

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