The December Dozen: 12 holiday concerts to jingle your bells and make your spirits bright E-mail
by John Sinkevics

Stressed about the holidays? Don’t sweat it: If the world really ends Dec. 21 as some doomsday soothsayers suggest in hailing the end of the Mayan calendar, all that hand-wringing over Christmas cards and shopping lists will have been in vain anyway.

tso2 On the flip side, mockery of the impending apocalypse makes for some interesting eve-of-doom events around West Michigan.

If that doesn’t cheer you up, there are plenty of the usual festive, holiday shows to keep your spirits from dragging into the abyss, including this weekend’s Grand Rapids Symphony Holiday Pops concerts at DeVos Performance Hall, followed by the Grand Rapids Ballet Co.’s “The Nutcracker” Dec. 14-23. Not only that, the symphony brings back the acrobatically magical Cirque de Noel to DeVos Dec. 18-20. The ever-Christmasy Mannheim Steamroller revisits West Michigan, too, this time playing a matinee show on Dec. 23 at Muskegon’s Frauenthal Center.

And of course, there’s the projected return of the mammoth Hot FM New Year’s Eve party which draws thousands to Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids for a ball drop and live music. But there are musical treats you may have overlooked. So if we survive into 2013, here’s my list of the Top 12 West Michigan holiday concerts outside the spectrum of the usual for folks to celebrate this month. It’s not exactly “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” so let’s call it “The December Dozen”:

1. Trans-Siberian Orchestra presents “The Lost Christmas Eve” at 4 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Friday, Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, $31.50-$72 – If you’ve never seen TSO’s over-the-top, heavy metal-meets-symphonic display and lights-and-pyrotechnics-infused bombast, brace yourself (and bring earplugs and sunglasses), because you’re in for holiday music like you’ve never heard it before. If you’re one of TSO’s many returning fans: The ensemble is touring a new production based on its “The Lost Christmas Eve” album. Oh, and $1 from every ticket sold goes to charity, thanks to a longstanding partnership with WLAV-FM (96.9). Joy to the world, indeed.

2. Decembersongs: An Acoustic Holiday Celebration at 6 p.m. Dec. 9, Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake, $30 advance, $33 day of show (with sofa and table seating available) – This lakeshore community holiday concert features four nationally acclaimed singer-songwriters: Dan Navarro, Amy Speace, Jon Vezner and Sally Barris, swapping original holiday songs in a “Bluebird Café-styled writers-in-the-round” format. The show in this “pindrop-quiet” listening room benefits the Greater Ottawa County United Way to feed the county’s hungry.

3. Embellish Handbell Ensemble playing the MAJIC Concert Series at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14, Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, $10 donation – Use any puns you’d like. Ring in the season. Get your bells on. Just make sure you check out this amazing Grand Rapids handbell group embracing the sounds of the holidays. Better yet, proceeds go to local organizations whose focus is social justice.

4. Frankie Ballard’s Country Christmas at 8 p.m. Dec. 14, State Theatre in Kalamazoo, $18, Ticketmaster – West Michigan’s own Frankie Ballard has been a so-called “up-and-coming” country star for a few years. But he’s been a star in his own backyard much longer than that, which should make his holiday homecoming show in Kalamazoo where he attended Western Michigan University a real barn-burner.

5. The Lazy Blue Tunas Christmas Shows at 8 p.m. Dec. 14-15, One Trick Pony in Grand Rapids – These fun-loving souls who unfurl acoustic rock and pop covering several decades pack the house at One Trick every December for shows in which “eclectic Christmas nuggets are randomly thrown into the mix.” In honor of the 12th year of this hoopla, they’ll also fire up their Yule logs on Dec. 21 at the Grattan Irish Pub and Dec. 22 at Riverbend Bar & Grill.

tubachristmas 6. Tuba Christmas at 3 p.m. Dec. 16, St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids, $10 advance, $12 day of show – Sure, everyone knows tuba players are the butt of jokes, like the one about the tuba player who walked into a bar … and had to pay $200 to have the dent removed. But if you’ve never heard three dozen tubas, baritones and sousaphones playing “Deck the Halls” and other Christmas classics, you just haven’t lived. This year’s “Brass With Class” Christmas concert also features performances by The Hark Up Horns Down Home Horns, The Voices of Freedom and Kick It in the Brass.

7. The Verve Pipe’s 8th Annual Holiday Show with AG Silver on Dec. 22 at The Intersection in Grand Rapids, $15 – Verve Pipe frontman Brian Vander Ark tells me this could be the last Verve Pipe Christmas show ever (though the band doesn’t even play any holiday tunes), so fans might consider high-tailing it over to The Intersection for a jubilant musical voyage through TVP’s hits and faves. Better yet, Grand Rapids rock band AG Silver opens things after recently releasing “Hold On,” its first studio album in years. As usual, The Intersection follows this up with the always-energetic masters of ska, those guys in Grand Rapids’ Mustard Plug, unleashing holiday hijinks on two stages Dec. 30. The “Plugstock 2012” show also features Koffin Kats, Cheap Girls, Continental, Break Anchor, Green Room Rockers, Common Enemy, Three Cents Short and others ($10 advance, $12 day of show).

8. Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts’ End of the World Party at 8 p.m. Dec. 21, UICA in Grand Rapids – There are many world-ends-tomorrow bashes across West Michigan. This one coincides with the UICA’s opening of the “Utopia/Dystopia” exhibition, and features live music by Tokyo Morose and Haunted Leather, food and drink. The institute also promises “unexpected twists and turns” during the “festive and high-spirited” affair. Sounds good, as long as those turns don’t include earthquakes, pestilence and chaos.

9. Super Happy Funtime Burlesque 50th Anniversary Show at 9 p.m. Dec. 21, The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids, $10 – With tongues firmly planted in cheeks, Corey Eno Ruffin reconvenes this irreverent and eternally amusing ensemble – featuring a live band and burlesque show – for an “all brand new” production of comedy, satire, skits, striptease and “genre-defying” stuff as the world comes to an end. Oh yes, this is an 18-and-older show. (Speaking of comedy, the Lower Level of Shakespeare’s Pub in Kalamazoo amusingly hosts an “End of the World” party with Mathgames on Dec. 21, followed by a “Thank God the World Didn’t End” party with Pleasant Drive and Iggy Shevak on Dec. 22.)

Screen shot 2012-12-04 at 2.46.03 PM10. The Red Sea Pedestrians and The Corn Fed Girls presenting “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Abbey Road” in a New Year’s Eve show at 9 p.m. Dec. 31, Kalamazoo’s State Theatre, $23 advance, $25 day of show – Consider this a can’t-miss event for fans of the Fab Four. As Ian Gorman of Kalamazoo’s Red Sea Pedestrians puts it, this is “not only just a phenomenal venue to play no matter what in the heart of downtown Kalamazoo but a real chance to do the definitive performance of those two albums,” namely The Beatles’ classics mentioned above. The world music-infused RSP has teamed up with The Corn Fed Girls to play the albums before because they’re “all huge Beatles’ fans” who wanted to do something different in their live shows. Doing so on New Year’s Eve in a beautiful theater with great acoustics has inspired them to enhance the set design and add more visuals. The 11-person “mega-band” stays true to the spirit and nuances of the originals, but with slightly different instrumentation and its “original stamp,” says Gorman. By the way, the bands kick things off with their original material, which is impressive in its own right. (Another terrific Kalamazoo option for New Year’s Eve: eclectic jam band Ultraviolet Hippopotamus at Bell’s Brewery; $17 advance, $20 day of show.)

11. The Ragbirds, The Crane Wives and Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys playing the New Year’s Eve Party at 8 p.m. Dec. 31, Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, $10 – This lineup alone guarantees that folks will be lined up at the door. Three of Michigan’s best roots music outfits will have partygoers stomping, hopping and bopping into 2013 and beyond.

12. Starlight Six playing a New Year’s Eve show at 9 p.m. Dec. 31, Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids, $22.50 advance, $25 day of show – A New Year’s Eve tradition of WYCE-FM and the Community Media Center that’s worth repeating. This inspiring collaboration of Michigan singer-songwriters and musicians features Seth Bernard, May Erlewine, Dominic John, Joshua Davis, Rachel Davis, Zak Bunce, Jason Scott, and Mike Lynch. If you count more than six of them, well then, that’s just a holiday bonus.

Music critic and entertainment writer John Sinkevics comments on the local and national music scene at, and spotlights artists at 10 a.m. Wednesdays on Local Spins Live at News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW). Email him at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

Published December 4, 2012

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