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Raising a Christmas toast with the Hot Toddies

This Arts and Culture feature joins cousins Mike and Danielle Todd and award-winning country artist Grady James as they prepare for a Christmas concert at the Guelph Youth Music Centre Sat. Dec 14

Making music is written into Danielle and Mike Todd’s DNA but it took a series of Christmas shows this weekend to get the cousins performing together on stage for the first time.

“It’s kind of cool," said Danielle. “We’ve always played at our own family Christmas parties or jumped up with each other on stage, but this is the first performance that we’ve done together.”

They are both working musicians with many of the same influences but have developed separate styles and recording careers. Mike’s original music has a strong soul and R&B groove that is evident in his last record Good Man that featured the infectious single and video Liar.

Danielle moved to Nashville two years ago where she has been playing the Broadway circuit, writing and recording.

“We were always going in different directions,” said Mike. “That’s why it never sort of lined up.”

Danielle tries to get home when she can, especially during the holidays, and when she does, she usually plays a couple local shows for her loyal fan club the Hot Toddy’s.

“We were coming home to do a Christmas concert and I thought who better than family,” she said. “We’re doing three shows. Friday (Dec. 13) we’re in Kitchener, Saturday (Dec. 14) in Guelph and Sunday (Dec. 15) in Sarnia.”

Joining the Todd’s for all three shows is Danielle’s producer and boyfriend Grady James who has had a pretty eventful year.

“This has been an especially good year,” said James. “There were a lot of bad ones leading up to it and this one has gone quite well.”

Early in 2019 James was nominated for male vocalist of the year and best country artist at the 2019 Coachella Valley Music Awards and a song he co-wrote with singer Gyth Rigdon, Proof I Always Loved You, was featured during a finale performance by Rigdon on The Voice.

“The night it came out it went number one on iTunes and charted on a bunch of billboard charts,” said James. “That was a super big thing and the next night I won both awards.”

James and Danielle also got to walk the red carpet with country music royalty in August during the 13th Annual American Country Music Honors at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

“We were between Miranda Lambert and Martina McBride,” said Danielle. “It was really fun to walk the carpet and hear people saying can you look over here. Can you look over here?”

Danielle and James met through a mutual friend and he is now producing her music.

“I put out two singles and two videos this year,” said Danielle. “The first one, Crazy, did really well in Canada and the second one, Backburner, did really well in Australia. It got up to 24 in Australia on their major music network chart. It’s their equivalent to Billboard.”

The video for Backburner was shot in James’ hometown at the JT Saloon in Joshua Tree California.

“I grew up in Joshua Tree, out in the cowboy desert,” said James. “My dad bred horses and he was a real cowboy. It was a cool place to grow up. My father always played music and he supported me when I wanted to do that. He got me a guitar for my 10th birthday and I started taking lessons and learning old country songs.”

James plays a bartender in Danielle’s Backburner video.

“It is like an old west saloon with a place to tie you horse up outside,” said Danielle. “It was really cool and really hot, 118 degrees in the desert. I got heat stroke and fell off the horse.”

James, like a chivalrous cowboy, got to her just in time.

“That’s right and I had to catch her,” he said. “I caught the fair maiden.”

Mike has taken a break lately from performing his original music and has been touring with the cover band Romeo Sex Fighter.

“I have no idea where those guys came from,” he joked. “I joined the band about six years ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a hand in naming the band, but it was one of the major reasons I joined.”

He jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with Danielle and James.

“Mike came down to Nashville for about four days and we figured out a little bit of the show while he was down there,” said Danielle. “We did some recording, but we couldn’t get the songs licensed in time so, we haven’t been able to release them.”

The shows will include a mixture of Christmas standards and originals by all three artists

“It’s cool because Grady is kind of in between Mike and I,” she said. “I am pretty much country pop and Mike is soul, R&B kind of style. Grady played a lot of country growing up then went full on into blues in university. We’ve got a bit of everything and I am super excited. There is no question that it is awesome.”

The combination of styles should deliver something for everyone.

“It’s going to be cool because everyone does something a little different but Christmas music no matter what genre of music you play, it’s kind of where the worlds collide,” said James. “Everyone does Christmas music whether it’s soul or country or whatever. It’s going to be a cool mix.”

Sharing the stage with her partner in music and life and performing for the first time with her cousin is going to be a circuitous, sentimental journey for Danielle.

“My first trip to Nashville was with Mike,” said Danielle. “It was my first time and the first time he ever went. I said, do you want to go to Nashville, and he said, ’you plan it and I’ll come.’”

When she asked him to play the Christmas shows she got a similar response.

“You do the leg work and I will be there for good cheer,” said Mike with a devilish grin.