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B-52's & the Tontons Hope Houston Is Ready to Party

Houston will see many parties in Houston for New Year’s Eve, but none bigger than the one thrown by the City of Houston in the theater district. From fireworks to stand-up comedy and Broadway singalongs, this family-friendly event will offer something for everyone — even the little ones, who can enjoy hot-cocoa sampling, balloon artists and a 9 p.m. countdown" to make sure they’re in bed before the real party starts.

But the best part of all? It’s free.

Those not shuttling the kids off to bed will especially want to make their way to the main stage at the corner of Smith and Texas streets by 9:15 p.m. to catch homegrown indie-rock stars The Tontons. And keep your place near the stage, because the headliners are none other than the masters of cult pop and New Wave, the B-52’s, at 10:35.

But we're not the only ones excited for the party. Speaking to Kate Pierson of the B-52’s via telephone from her home near Woodstock, N.Y., she adorably gushes in anticipation of performing for our beloved Bayou City.

“Our goal is really to have fun," she says. "That wasn’t always our goal in the beginning, but now, it's like, ‘Wow, people have fun seeing us. It makes them feel good.’ You know?...now I feel like it’s such a great release for people and a place where people can be tolerant and let their freak flag fly and have fun, you know?" [Laughs]

It is certainly a positive experience for fans of all ages. The B-52’s occupy one of the best-loved places in pop music. Songs like “Love Shack,” “Roam,” and “Private Idaho” have made them famous the world over.

“We have a big range of age groups coming to our shows," Pierson explains. "You know, it’s not like a graying, balding audience. All ages are welcome, as they say. When you hear something like, 'Rock Lobster,' it’s just so different, it always commands your attention. Even if I hear it, like in a restaurant or something, I don’t always immediately recognize it as us. My ears perk up, like, 'What’s that?'"

Uniquely fitting yet archetypal poster kids for the post-punk new wave movement, the B-52’s have always been a little slice of weird, hip fun. “We don’t really fit [anywhere] because our sound is just so different from everybody. I can’t think of any other band that sounds like us. Basically, all the other bands that came out of Athens [Georgia] after us — R.E.M., Love Tractor, and Pylon all had a unique sound, too. So, the whole goal is really to be different and not sound like anyone else."

And to that end, they've been enormously successful.

"The B-52’s have a very unique sound and a very unique way of writing," Pierson elaborates. "We write collectively,  like, tapping into our collective subconscious and streaming from our brains to see what we can come up with. I think that’s why it’s timeless and it’s really party music that anyone can tap into at any age.”

The B-52’s have been drawing fans since 1977, when they first started playing real gigs. To hear Pierson tell the stories of their rise to fame is no less than an oral history of our recent pop culture. Pierson can even recalls the moment she realized the band was a hit

“The very first show we did, we didn’t know what to expect," she recalls. "You know, the first time it all really sunk in, we played this show at a club in New York and there was a big line going around the corner. Ricky [Wilson, late guitarist] asked, 'What’s that line?' and they told us, “That’s for you guys.” And, I realized there was a ground swell, and it wasn’t from Max’s or CBGB’s this was a real line for us at a bigger club. Then I realized we were taking off.”

To their favor The B-52’s have never quite landed; their popularity and positive image remains intact. Reflecting on a 39-year career and selling over 22 million albums worldwide is quite a leap from their first gig at a friend’s Valentine’s Party in 1976.

“We never imagined this.” Pierson explains, “We just played for friends and wanted to play parties in Athens [Georgia] we thought that’d be really good. When we played the house party, we had hardly been together. We only had about five songs, we played them twice. Fred [Schneider, vocals]  told people we had a band and they wanted us to play, so we had to get it together and we shook the house. “

While the B-52's have slowed their touring schedule in recent years, Pierson picked up solo work to satisfy her growth and curiosity as an artist during the meantime. Releasing her solo album, Guitars and Microphones, last February, Pierson found herself in the spotlight again with some very hilarious company. SNL and Portlandia comedian Fred Armisen pitched in and acted on the video of her song, "Mister Sister." What became an anthem for the Transgender movement is something of a compliment to her and her active role in the LGBTQ and AIDS  activism communities.

“You know, [the song] wasn’t intended that way…but, it’s created a really great dialogue," Pierson says. "It’s really meant for everybody. Anybody who feels betrayed by the mirror in that song. It could be about a girl or a guy, it’s really about transformation. It’s a really fun song and was a great video, I hope to do more solo shows. It’s really fun to play live."

Working on her solo project was a collaboration of love — Pierson's wife, Monica Coleman, pitched in too. When not minding their kitsch travel lodge and Airstream hotel, they collaborate in creative ways.

“My partner Monica really helped [on Guitars]," Pierson says. "She did all the artwork on the cover, the booklet, and directed the video. We had a lot of fun, we used Kobalt Label Services. I had written a lot of songs and I really want to put out another album of songs, too. It’s just so much fun to do new stuff.”

Speaking of new stuff, Tontons bassist Tom Nguyen hints the band may play new, unheard tracks at their New Year's Eve performance.

“We are going to be trying some new material and maybe try to include a surprise or two, but I think the B-52's are going to steal the show,” he says, his enthusiasm is evident. “We haven't been playing much in Texas recently, so we are pretty excited to do a show, especially one with legends like The B-52's. I think we are more excited to see them than to actually perform.”

For the Tontons and at least one member of the B-52’s, this is not their first meeting. As chance would have it, The Tontons gained a new famous fan one night on the road. Nguyen recalls the funny moment when first meeting Fred Schneider.

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“This was around our second or third tour and we were in Chapel Hill, N.C.," he says. "The headliner canceled because presales were terrible and no one was there, so they just packed up and left. Fred Schneider walks into the club with some friends because he was told to come check out the headliner. He ended up watching our set and hanging out with us afterwards. It made the show worth it for us and he was fun to hang with."

Fun indeed, the chance meeting is the kind of tale told only to insiders. Even Pierson laughs at the strange coincidence

“'What in the world was he doing in North Carolina?', is really the question," she says. "People tell me all the time they have Fred sightings —'I saw him on this street or that street,' because he’s always out and about shopping for records. He’s a big vinyl hunter and people see him all the time.”

See houstonnye.org for more information.

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