With the end of 2011 in sight, the holiday hustle and bustle is reaching a fever pitch as millions scurry for last-minute gifts and preparations for family holiday gatherings. Shoppers are finding deeper pockets this year, too, as holiday shopping is projected to reach a record $469.1 billion this season, according to figures from the National Retail Federation.
In the midst of the mania, musicians throughout the United States are helping to make the season bright with sounds that appeal to any and all — from jazz lovers and country music loyalists to those who prefer the sounds of a symphony or were born to rock (for a good cause).
Fans of classical music have had, and still have, plenty of chances to enjoy holiday symphony performances in metropolitan areas nationwide. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco kicked off the season on Nov. 30 with The Best Time of Year: A Christmas Special with the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Randall Craig Fleischer and featuring the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and San Francisco Symphony. On Dec. 13–15 GRAMMY winners Peabo Bryson and Jennifer Holliday entertained hallgoers with Colors Of Christmas, a festive evening consisting of pop hits and Christmas favorites. This weekend, guests can choose from performances of Handel's "Messiah" on Dec. 17–18 or a mariachi-style celebration with a concert by Mariachi Sol de México de José Hernàndez on Dec. 18.
Over in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 31 the National Symphony Orchestra will end the year with New Year's Eve at the Kennedy Center, a concert conducted by Murry Sidlin featuring music from composers such as Rossini, Bernstein, Copland, and Tchaikovsky, among others.
The fun in the nation's capital started with the 89th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting held in President's Park on Dec. 1. Artists on hand to perform were OneRepublic, whose 54th GRAMMY-nominated Ryan Tedder sang "Christmas Without You," Nickelodeon heartthrobs Big Time Rush, country singer Rodney Atkins, British singer/songwriter Ellie Goulding, Kermit the Frog, and soul songstress Marsha Ambrosius, whose hit R&B track "Far Away" has earned her two nominations for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards. The ceremony is available to view on demand.
While her Muppets partner in crime Kermit appeared in Washington, D.C., Miss Piggy made a special appearance on "CMA Country Christmas" in Nashville on Dec. 1. Bridgestone Arena got steamy when Miss Piggy and 20-time GRAMMY winner Vince Gill performed a sultry duet of "Baby It's Cold Outside." The concert also featured GRAMMY-winning guitarists Brad Paisley and Brian Setzer performing "Sleigh Ride," while fellow GRAMMY winner Faith Hill and 54th GRAMMY nominee Martina McBride dazzled the audience with holiday favorites. "CMA Country Christmas" will be re-broadcast on Dec. 17.
After the big shindig in Washington, D.C., Big Time Rush made their way to Los Angeles for the annual KIIS-FM Jingle Ball on Dec. 3. Headlining a roster of pop and R&B acts was the GRAMMY-winning Fame Monster, Lady Gaga. A three-time 54th GRAMMY nominee, Gaga rocked the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live with a set including "Born This Way," "White Christmas" and "Marry The Night."
Nokia Theatre L.A. Live will play host to another holiday event, Stevie Wonder's 16th annual House Full of Toys Benefit Concert, on Dec. 17. Hosted by comedian Steve Harvey, special guests will include 54th GRAMMY nominee Drake, Justin Bieber and Michael McDonald, among others.
Earlier this month in Los Angeles, California State University, Long Beach's KKJZ-FM held its annual Jingle Jazz concert Dec. 4 at the El Rey Theatre. The event featured performances from the John Egizi Quartet with Barbara Morrison, Luis Conte Ensemble and the Kurt Elling Quartet. Elling, a former Recording Academy Vice Chair, is up for Best Jazz Vocal Album for The Gate for the 54th GRAMMY Awards.
Veteran rocker Alice Cooper will host his 11th annual Alice Cooper's Christmas Pudding on Dec. 17 at the Comerica Theatre in Phoenix. The event will bring musicians, dancers and comedians together for a night of festive entertainment in support of Cooper's Solid Rock nonprofit foundation to help at-risk youth in Arizona. This year's "super band" will include guitarist Orianthi, Judas Priest's Rob Halford and Korn's Brian "Head" Welch, among others. Proceeds from the event will be contributed to the Rock, Solid Rock's new teen center scheduled to open in spring 2012.
"It is humbling to have all these incredible musicians and entertainers donate their time to help us make the Rock a reality for at-risk youth," says Cooper. "We've been taking our music and dance programs into the streets for years and soon the kids will be able to come to us in a safe, nurturing environment."
In full swing since late November, Kenny Rogers' 30th annual Christmas & Hits tour is scheduled to wrap Dec. 23 at the NYCB Theater in Westbury, N.Y. A heartfelt tradition among his fans, the show welcomes local choirs and children selected in each city of the tour to sing traditional and original holiday songs with the three-time GRAMMY winner.
"It's a sweet little show, very family oriented, which is what it's all about," Rogers told Reuters.
Of course, this is just a sampling of holiday-themed music events. Check your local area for events near you.
(Judy Asman is a Southern California-based freelance writer.)