The Bankhead Theater is set to see out 2022 with a major performance featuring a Tri-Valley native as the headliner for its upcoming New Year's Eve show in one of the biggest local events of the weekend, which is also packed with performances and festivities ranging from standup comedy to hiking.
Meredith McHenry, who grew up in Livermore and Pleasanton and developed her musical foundations in those school districts before studying music at Las Positas College, described her musical trajectory as "interwoven and formed through the whole Livermore and Pleasanton musical system."
But while this set the stage for her current musical career, which consists of more than 20 shows per month on average throughout Northern California, McHenry said relieving stress from a job unrelated to music across the country ultimately put her in a position to succeed in a full-time music career.
"I moved to Pennsylvania for a couple of years, and I was just ready for a big shift and kind of needed to start over to a certain extent," McHenry said.
McHenry said that she started to hit a wall in her pursuit of a career outside of music, with a "high-stress, high-quota, high-demand sales position" pushing her to a breaking point.
"So I would go blow off steam at the end of the week by going to our local karaoke bar," she said. "I had done a lot of performing in my early years and just kind of set it aside. Looking back I think it was because I was afraid to pursue what I loved so much."
Her casual foray back into performing, a stroke of luck, and trends in reality television in 2011 eventually landed McHenry a much larger audience than she'd ever anticipated, and launched her on her current trajectory.
"When I moved back to California I was still doing that once in a while on the weekend, and happened to be at a bar that was holding a round for the Karaoke World Championships," she recalled.
With reality singing shows all over network television at the time, McHenry said that she found herself and her fellow performers recruited by ABC to a short stint on the small screen as the competition progressed.
"They were looking for a way to do it on the cheap, so they took their news team and sent their news team out to cover the karaoke championships," McHenry said.
While the effort to save on production costs associated with shows like "American Idol", "The X Factor" and "The Voice" -- which debuted on NBC that year -- was not a roaring success for ABC, it garnered a large enough audience during its one season to set McHenry's career in motion.
"It was really cheesy, and so ridiculous, and got canceled almost immediately but I got into the top four in the country and it got to almost a million viewers," McHenry said. "That was 2011 and since then I've formed multiple bands, I've been playing all of the Bay Area and all over Northern California recently in lots of different styles and genres like blues and rock and funk."
McHenry's upcoming show at the Bankhead is set to be the culmination of her wide-ranging musical career as it has evolved over the past decade, and an opportunity to showcase the vast array of musicians she's performed and collaborated with.
"With the New Year's Eve show, I've taken it as an opportunity to showcase and thank all of these wonderful folks who've been hanging out with me the last 10 years as I figured out how to do this," McHenry said.
With deep roots in the Tri-Valley -- and a personal connection to Nancy Bankhead -- McHenry said the venue, as well as the opportunity to bring her favorite collaborators together, were making for what she anticipates to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"My mom moved to the house in downtown Pleasanton that was owned by the Bankhead family and the daughter is a rancher and she used to come and wash her horse blankets at our house," McHenry said. "She was always a huge supporter of the arts, and she was always really encouraging of whatever performance endeavors I was involved with at the time."
Another part of her continued connection to the Livermore performance space was the date of its dedication -- Sept. 27, 2007 -- which was her 25th birthday.
"It feels like a real full circle moment in a lot of ways," McHenry said.
One moral of McHenry's musical story so far, she said, is that what one is passionate about can be hard to suppress or escape from, even when other pursuits seem more practical.
"I tried really hard to find lots of other jobs that were safer than music, but it was the thing that I loved so much that it kept coming back to me and I kept coming back to it," McHenry said.
"Holding onto the things that make us light up, the things that fill our hearts, is always going to serve us," she added.
McHenry and her many collaborators and fans are set to take to the Bankhead Theater at 2400 First St. in Livermore on New Year's Eve (Dec. 31) at 8 p.m. Tickets and more information are available at livermorearts.org.
For those looking for smaller-scale New Year's celebrations, or with other plans, the weekend is set to feature a number of other opportunities to welcome in the new year and say goodbye to 2022.
* The Livermore Area Recreation and Park District is hosting their annual "First Hike of the Year" for early risers at 7 a.m. on Jan. 1 at Sycamore Grove Park, kicking off at 1051 Wetmore Road. More information is available at larpd.org
* Tommy T's Comedy Club is hosting Tony Roberts through the weekend, with five show dates on Dec. 30, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 at 5104 Hopyard Road in Pleasanton. More information is available at tommyts.com.
* Almost Famous Wines at 271 S. Vasco Road in Livermore is hosting Crawdad Republic, Of Shape and Sound, and Loren O for another New Year's Eve musical offering on Dec. 31 with doors opening at 7:30 p.m. More information is available at almostfamouswines.com
* Michelle Lambert is taking to the stage at Pairing Wine Bar and Restaurant at 310 Main St. in Pleasanton on New Year's Day (Jan. 1) at 11:30 a.m. More information is available at paringswb.com.