It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, and musical institutions are dusting off wreaths. Ignore the pageantry at your own risk. Whereas other periods of the concert calendar are prone to lure audiences with fresh content and names, December is well-stocked with old reliables. Cultural comfort food is in order, especially after the virally challenged COVID years.
From a more categorically spiritual perspective, Westmont College goes downtown this weekend — to the Granada Theatre, to be exact — for its popular Christmas Festival, on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon (December 3-4). Under this year’s subtitle “The Prince of Peace,” the Festival blends music, narrations and other expressive elements, and serves as an unofficial Santa Barbara kickoff for the Christmas “holy season.”
Variety spices December’s holiday goings-on in town, as usual. Westmont’s event, for instance, is the polar opposite of the “Hometown Holiday Hoedown,” at SOhO. On Thursday, December 15, Chris Shiflett — the S.B.-bred lead guitarist of the Foo Fighters for many years and a respectable solo artist in his own right — leads the charge of a rock ‘n’ roll/alt country show also featuring the Parry Gripp-ed Nerf Herder and Logan Livermore.
And to turn another geo-cultural corner, Christmas music plays a strong and Mexican-flavored role in an appearance by the prized and polished Mariachi Sol de México, playing a UCSB Arts & Lectures-sponsored show at the Arlington on Wednesday, December 7. More officially, the concert goes by the name “Mariachi Sol de México: José Hernández’ Merry-Achi Christmas.” ‘Nuff said. From another global corner comes the “Irish Christmas” shindig, at the Lobero on Friday, December 23.
Santa Barbara’s impressive choral music groups always come out to play in December, fulfilling that long standing global Christmas tradition. For many years, the Santa Barbara Choral Society (celebrating its 75th anniversary this season) has offered up its religious/secular offerings under the fitting title “The Hallelujah Project,” landing at the Lobero Theatre December 10-11. No, the “Project” doesn’t overly dwell on Handel’s Messiah. (this year it focuses on Bach’s Cantata 191,Gloria in Excelsis Deo). Yes, Virginia, there will be Santa Claus lore, as in the customary reading of The Night Before Christmas, this year by Music Academy head Scott Reed.
One true and unique choral pleasure arrives not in a typical Santa Barbara venue, but in the semi-secret and sacred, reverberant space of the King’s Chapel at the old St. Anthony’s Seminary on Garden Street, courtesy of the a cappella group Quire of Voyces and its cherished “Mysteries of Christmas” program. This year, the group, directed by Nathan Kreitzer for over a quarter-century, serves up its feast of Renaissance to Modern to ink-still-wet premieres at the chapel on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, December 17-18, at 3 p.m.
Pop musical celebrations from different eras and stylistic attitudes come to the 805 in the form of the harmony-enriched, friendly-family dynasty of Venice, returning for a Christmas show at SOhO on Sunday, December 11, and venerable icon Johnny Mathis, returning to Chumash Casino on Friday, December 16.
Wait, there’s more … Music also plays a strong and central role, of course, in The Nutcracker, with two productions to choose from — at the Arlington on December 10 and 11, from the Santa Barbara Festival Ballet, and State Street Ballet’s version at the Granada December 17-18. A younger upstart in Santa Barbara’s Christmas traditions — though now up to the 15-year mark — is the Christmas Revels, bringing its dogmatically secular mix of music, dance, storytelling and atmosphere-weaving to the Lobero Theatre on December 17 and 18. This year’s GPS-cultural theme is “A Scottish Celebration of the Winter Solstice.”
It has been said that the great band Los Tigres del Norte, stopping at the Chumash Casino on Friday, December 2, is “the Beatles of Norteño” music. Fair enough, except that, unlike the stage-shy, the Los Tigres concert calendar has kept them buzzing and moving since forming in 1975. Not surprisingly, appearances at the Casino tend to sell out, but it’s worth a try to get in this Friday night.
Over at SOhO on Sunday, December 4, the Santa Barbara Acoustic series closes its fall season with the respected and Latin Grammy-winning Costa Rican guitarist Diego Garcia, aka “Twanguero.” The series kicks up again early next year, with a list including the wonderful guitarist-singer-shaker-upper Becca Stevens (on February 19), who has appeared and impressed locally before, under her name at SOhO and in David Crosby’s band at the Lobero.
The ever-loveable and now 20-years-deep Tales from the Tavern series in Santa Ynez was deprived, by COVID, of a grand season finale last month when co-headliner Dave Alvin (on a wowsome double-bill with Jimmie Dale Gilmore) caught the dreaded bug. As a late-breaking substitute, they have wrangled a season-closing night at the Maverick Saloon on Wednesday (December 7) featuring popular singer-songwriter Michael on Fire, with allies Bear Erickson and Bill Flores and Ronn Cobb in his band.
On the classical music end of the spectrum, the now 75-year-old Music Academy continues its quick “Mariposa” series with a recital from MAW alum Michelle Bradley, Sunday at Hahn Hall. Bradley’s career has wended through the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and San Francisco Opera, in the title roles of Tosca and Aida. Christmas carol fare may or not be tossed into the program salad as an appetizer.
The “homecoming for Christmas” theme continues when Santa Barbara-germinated and still very much kicking band Toad the Wet Sprocket plays in the relatively intimate venue of the Marjorie Luke Theatre next Thursday, December 8, for a concert benefiting Doctors Without Walls.
Editor’s Note: The national organization, Doctors Without Borders, was misidentified as the beneficiary of the Toad the Wet Sprocket concert on December 8. This story has been updated to reflect the beneficiary, the Santa Barbara-Based Doctors Without Walls organization. Our apologies for any confusion this may have caused.