Break out the fuzz guitars and layered dip: It's time to celebrate Cliffsmas

For the fifth year in a row, the guys in local rock trio Cliffs will host “Cliffsmas,” a charity event disguised as a rock show. Early on, Cliffs held the concert in November and called it “Cliffsgiving,” which, according to the band, is part of a long tradition of “putting Cliffs in front of stuff.”

“We have this big holiday party every year,” said Cliffs singer/guitarist Aaron Cottrell, seated next to singer/bassist Adam Hardy over lunch. “Our good friend Alex Douglas always makes this seven-layer dip, and it's this famous dip that he's super proud of. … So one year Adam found this strip of paper and wrote, ‘Cliffs' famous seven-layer dip' and put it in front of the dip, and all night people knew it was Alex's, but they kept coming up to us and being like, ‘Oh, my God. This seven-layer dip is so good.' And Alex is like, ‘That's my seven-layer dip!'”

(Reached for comment, Douglas clarified. “They may have embellished the amount of layers,” he said. “It's probably more accurately a five-layer dip.”)

Another year, Cliffs commandeered a chalkboard above the food spread. “We wrote, ‘Merry Cliffsmas. This party is brought to you by Cliffs,'” Hardy said. “We just kind of [hijack] people's parties and things and put, ‘Cliffs' famous cake' or ‘Cliffs' pizza.'”

“We're very popular at parties,” Cottrell said.

This year's Cliffsmas takes place at Spacebar on Saturday, Dec. 15, alongside fellow locals Van Dale and Good Reverend and Chicago act Sonny Falls. Entry is $3 with a canned food item, and Cliffs will split the proceeds from the show between the Mid-Ohio Foodbank and Community Refugee & Immigration Services (CRIS); the band is also soliciting winter clothing donations for CRIS.

“The winters here suck. It's either mild and wet or cold and awful, so for people seeking refuge from different countries … here's something to at least make them a little more comfortable,” Hardy said.

Cliffsmas also gives the fuzz-pop band a chance to perform some of the tunes they recorded over the summer for a forthcoming record, the follow-up to 2015 album Self Portrait. On a sweltering day in June, Cottrell, Hardy and drummer Jason Winner met up at Jeremy Ebert's home studio (aka Jerbil House) to record with Alex Douglas, who was able to put the stolen valor of his layered dip behind him.

“It had to be 98, maybe 100 degrees that day. We were tracking in the house with no air conditioning, and we had to close all the windows and doors and turn off all the fans. We were in there for almost 12 hours that day,” Cottrell said. “Jason was having the hardest time. … His phone was cracked a little bit, and he forgot to take his phone out of his pocket, and he sweat so much that the sweat got into the cracks of the phone and fried it. He had to get a new phone.”

Hardy and Cottrell see the new record, due out in 2019, as both a combination and culmination of previous albums, and Douglas later concurred. “This album was more intentional, and though we still experimented and did weird stuff, as is a trademark of every Cliffs album, it seemed like we all had a good idea of what we wanted to accomplish,” Douglas said.

“Weirdos (making art),” a song from Self Portrait, has become a kind of credo for Cliffs. “Weirdos making art … we're gonna change the world!” the band shout-sings on the chorus. It's tongue in cheek, but not completely. To Cliffs, wherever one finds weirdos making art, there's always the possibility of something larger at play.

“We're pretty self-aware that we live in Columbus, Ohio, and all the forces in the world are working against artists to not allow you to change the world through something like art,” Cottrell said. “But you have to tell yourself sometimes, ‘We're gonna change the world, man!'”