Make a Scene: Swampy Clause lands at Top of Tacoma Christmas night

  • NAUGHTY OR NICE? Flanked by a pair of admirers (long time girlfriend Claire Jensen, left, and Rianne Tillery), Sean Nivens - aka Swampy Claus - unwinds after a traditional Christmas night set at the Top of Tacoma. This year Swampy must fly in from Texas to do the annual show. (Photo Courtesy Of Swampy Claus)

Everybody! You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout, I'm telling you why. 'Cause Swampy Claus is comiiiing to tooooown. What? Yes, Swampy, not Santa. And, for the uninitiated, Swampy Claus is a boozy holiday tradition that's been going on at Top of Tacoma, 3529 McKinley Ave., since 2008. Tacoma singer-songwriter Sean Nivens has headlined the Top the last four Christmases as his musical comedy personae, Swampy Draws. Think crusty, old bluesman meets Flight of the Concords. He sounds like Redd Foxx in need of a Sucrets, and he sings campy cuts about grilled cheese sandwiches, big butts and getting blitzed on Carlo Rossi. You know, the finer things in life. “I dress up like Santa and put some Christmas lights on the shack,” Nivens said, referring to the rickety porch backdrop he uses at shows. “I usually try to fake my way through a couple of Christmas songs,” he said. “A lot of people like to get hammered and come sit on Santa's lap in front of a dirty, old shack and get their picture taken.” Normally, it's a short sleigh ride for Swampy Claus. But, in July, Nivens and his girlfriend moved to McAllen, Texas, a town near the Mexican border that - though comparable in size to Tacoma - doesn't quite have the same music scene.

“Pretty much the only shows to go to down here are open mics and cover bands,” Nivens said, when asked about Swampy's reception in the Lone Star State. “I actually found a couple of guys that are pretty cool to jam along with. I found a bass player and a drummer, and we were going to an open mic thing. But they stopped doing it now, so I'm back on my own again.” So excuse him if he's a little homesick. But, as a struggling musician, he wasn't sure he'd be able to afford to return for Swampy Claus until recently. The owners of Peterson Brothers The Eleven Eleven – 1111 S. 11th St., in Tacoma - have put out a fundraising jar to help cover the cost of Swampy's plane ticket. And last week Nivens was furiously at work on a new album he'll give anyone who kicks in $10 towards the cause. “It's just an acoustic album, me and my guitar,” he said. “I'm recording it on my iPad right now. … I have six originals recorded, and I have four more that I'm still not quite happy with yet. But they'll be ready before (next week.)” And speaking of tight deadlines: “I still have to teach my bandmates all the new songs, and I don't see them until Christmas Eve at 11 o' clock. So we're probably going to go to either the Top or The Eleven Eleven, grab a drink or two, and then jam all night.” Swampy will also perform at Peterson Brothers on Dec. 30 before heading back to Texas. You can also listen to tunes from his self-titled debut on the latest installment of the Tacoma Weekly Mix Tape along with holiday tunes from Big Wheel Stunt Show and Joshua Cain Band.

Swampy Claus

7 p.m. Christmas Day

no cover charge, but must be 21 or older to enter

Top of Tacoma Bar and Cafe

3529 McKinley Ave., Tacoma

(253) 272-1502 or


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