For all his show business credentials, from taking song requests at Fenway Park from Twitter to playing keyboards and accordion for bands including members of R.E.M. and Blondie, Josh Kantor isn’t used to being the center of attention. But on Friday, the Red Sox organist of nearly two decades will see his name on the marquee for the first time, as he brings “Josh Kantor’s 7th Inning Stretch Hometown Holiday” to City Winery in Boston.
During the months that Fenway Park was closed to fans, Kantor and his wife, the Reverend Mary Eaton, regularly streamed a live show on Facebook from their living room in Cambridge, where Kantor keeps a compact version of the Fenway organ. The show, called the “7th-Inning Stretch,” included a delightful and distracting mix of songs, stories, jokes, calls to donate to local food banks, and Kantor donning various silly hats. Now, for the first time, Kantor will play one of those signature shows for a live audience, with help from “The Worst Talk Show” cohosts DJ Angie C and Handsome Boyfriend Dave.
The Globe caught up with Kantor on the road in Pennsylvania where he was about to go into the studio with one of his several bands, the Split Squad.
Q. Let me make sure I have it right — you started “7th-Inning Stretch” during the pandemic when ballgames were shut down, and did 120 shows in a row.
A. Yeah, we started two weeks after the lockdown, the day that the baseball season was supposed to have started. I did the livestream every single day for the 120 days that the baseball season was suspended. My wife helped me with the technology and kept an eye on the chat. And we encouraged people to donate to the local food banks, so all the press attention was welcome in the sense that we were able to turn that into telling people to donate money, which they did.
Baseball started in July , and since then we’ve continued to do it once or twice a week, and we still have this small core following. A real kind of community has developed, where people are getting to know each other virtually, and making plans to meet up with each other in real life and go to ballgames, and people are telling us that they’re traveling from all over to come see the show. It’s exciting.
Q. What exactly will the format of the live show be?
A. It’s going to be an episode of our show, episode 200 and whatever. It’s going to have some of the familiar elements in terms of taking song requests and telling stories about my misadventures in the worlds of music and baseball. We will definitely have special surprises with this in the form of guests and other elements, but because this is on a stage, we’re not winging it as much.
We have [rock radio personality] Angie Shaw, DJ Angie C; she very succinctly described what we’re going for as “a night of unmitigated joy,” an opportunity to be in real community with our virtual community of the past couple of years that has really helped us get through a lot.
Q. How did you handle song requests during these live shows if you didn’t know the song already? Is that something you can even do?
A. Not really. It doesn’t quite work the same as at Fenway, where I have a couple of minutes to listen and figure out the chorus. With this, I do not. The flip side of it is that it’s OK for me to make a mistake, as opposed to at Fenway where I really try not to make mistakes. But if I sort of half know it, I say let’s take a crack and see if I can kind of figure it out along the way.
Q. Did you always play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the virtual shows?
A. Much like at Fenway, it’s the only thing written in stone. That’s sort of how we got the idea to call it the “7th-Inning Stretch.” I always encourage people to sing along. Pretty early on, one of our viewers came up with this idea to change the lyric “I don’t care if I ever get back” to “I do care if I ever get back.” So last summer, a bunch of people made a fan group for the show, and they made T-shirts that’s like a cartoon drawing of me and Mary and it says “I do care if I ever get back.” It’s very cute.
Q. When we talked in 2018, you had never missed a home game at Fenway since you got the organist job in 2003. Is your streak still intact?
A. It’s still intact. I don’t know the number, but I know I hit 1,500 sometime in late July this year. I’ve had the lucky combination of being healthy and also, for the most part, not having anywhere better to be. I can remember a couple of times years ago when I was feeling sick and I went in, took medicine, and kind of plowed through. Having been through COVID, I think I and a lot of other people have a much greater awareness that if you’re really sick, don’t come to work. So it’s going to end at some point. I don’t give it a lot of thought, really. I don’t want it to feel like pressure. It’s just a one-day-at-a-time thing, and whenever it ends will be the right time for it to end. And that’s fine.
Interview was edited and condensed.
JOSH KANTOR’S 7th INNING STRETCH HOMETOWN HOLIDAY
At City Winery, 80 Beverly St., Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. (doors). $18-$30. citywinery.com/boston, 617-933-8047