Meet Les Heinemann, Baybrook Mall's Bluegrass-Picking Santa Claus
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.
Photo courtesy of Les Heinemann
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.
He leads a band called The Florissant Fossils Bluegrass Band back at his home in Colorado. They're on Facebook and have a sweet ReverbNation page with a handful of songs on there. "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 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. He's seen all the crazes go by his lap: The Furby, Tickle Me Elmo, *NSync and Dora the Explorer, to name a few.