Sheila E. has played the world’s glorious stages with some of music’s greatest icons.
Still, the premier percussionist, who turns 62 Saturday, says it doesn’t get any better than taking the stage with her entire family.
Normally, it’s merely rare. During a pandemic? There’s a better chance of finding a claustrophobic in a crowded elevator.
“It’s been a year — over a year,” Sheila said.
Heck, it’s been 11 months since she’s played with her own band, while “staying ‘prayed up,’ doing what we need to to do make sure we’re staying healthy.”
A glimpse of sunlight, however, emerges from the gloom when Sheila joins her dad, Pete, and brothers Peter Michael and Juan in “An Escovedo Family Christmas” live-streamed from the Downtown Theatre in Fairfield on Dec. 18.
Performing as a family “has always been important,” Sheila said Tuesday by phone. “We have so much fun when we play together. And as we get older — wiser — we realize how precious time is and how precious it is to create these memories while we can.”
Family first, sure, but when it comes to the set list “there are ‘discussions’ when we talk about who’s taking the solos. It’s still the competition,” Sheila said. “That’s what makes it fun. It’s ‘I want to play this.’”
Growing up in Oakland, there were many Christmas memories — and it was almost always about family, Sheila said.
“We had a lot of family, tons,” said Sheila, including her seven nephews from one aunt. “Our immediate family, our cousins, aunties, and uncles on both sides all get together. A lot of fun, a lot of dancing.”
Sheila remembered her mom working at an ice cream factory — “or something like that” — and would bring popsicles home.
“I didn’t have any money. I think I was about 12, and I took popsicles and built a little house. That was everyone’s gift.”
Holiday food? Tamales on her dad’s side, gumbo on her mom’s side, “depending on where we were going,” Sheila said. “When it was a little bit of both, it was pretty awesome.”
When it comes to Christmas tunes from the Downtown Theatre, Sheila hopes to perform her own “Little Drummer Girlz.”
Live-stream and all, the free show — with donations accepted — won’t have a soul in the seats of the 340-seat theater.
“We miss the audience, for sure,” Sheila said. “For me, I haven’t really played live-streamed the entire year. I did do a lot of Zoom charity events where you could see a lot of people on the screen.”
Still, even without the fans cheering, clapping, and dancing, “I think it still feels the same as far as being excited about playing and the nervousness. That’s what’s great. The feeling is still there. We know people are watching and we’re excited to play with each other. We miss it.”
It will be the first time Sheila’s picked up the sticks to play since a mid-summer concert for Elevate Oakland, a nonprofit that brings the arts to the city’s youth.
“I need to stay playing. It’s the longest I’ve gone without playing,” Sheila said. “I miss the people, the fellowship with the band and the fans.”
The upcoming gig is another cherished moment with her dad, “Pops,” who keeps playing at 85, as the ongoing retirement discussion continues.
“He’s talked about it for awhile,” Sheila said. “But we said ‘No, you can’t. We can’t let you.’ We tell him ‘It keeps you going, keeps you moving.’ We feel if he stops, it would be downhill.”
As for her own illustrious career, count on Sheila E. to pack her suitcase and hit the road again when the pandemic ends.
“There’s nothing I don’t miss about touring,” she said. “It’s a mind-set and you have to really love what you’re doing. You take the band and you make it good. It’s hard, it’s challenging, it’s exhausting, and traveling is so difficult. But it’s all worth it when you hit the stage and play and everything else goes away. This is what I do and I get to share my gift.”
Frazier Trager Presents: The Escovedo Family Christmas Featuring Pete (Pops), Sheila E, Juan, & Peter Michael, Friday, Dec. 18, 6:30 p.m. Free, donations accepted. For info, ftpresents.com.