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An Artists’ Quarter benefit; holiday events, from ‘Santaland Diaries’ to ‘Yulestride’

ALSO: ’70s flashbacks on the Centennial Showboat; four holiday CD releases; Wendy Lehr reading at the Jungle; and more.

A crowded night at the Artists' Quarter.
Photo by John Whiting

Every area jazz musician who doesn’t have a gig will likely show up Sunday at the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul, where owner Kenny Horst is grudgingly allowing a benefit to be held for himself. He announced in October that the jazz club he has run for nearly 20 years – first at Fifth and Jackson in Lowertown, then in the basement of the Hamm Bldg. – will close Jan. 1. His rent has doubled, audiences have dwindled, and Horst, who always ran the place on a shoestring, hasn’t taken a salary for more than a year. The goal of Sunday’s benefit is to raise enough money for closing and transitioning costs that Horst doesn’t have to turn his pockets inside-out. Donors will match up to $10,000 in contributions. There’s a $10 minimum donation requested at the door, the AQ’s usual exorbitant cover.

Here’s a partial list of the dozens of musicians set to perform: Debbie Duncan, Dave King, Connie Evingson, Patty Peterson, Bill Carrothers, Dean Magraw, Bryan Nichols, JT Bates. See the complete list on the AQ’s website. The music starts at 5 p.m. and continues until whenever. 480 St. Peter St., St. Paul, downstairs from Meritage. If you want to know how musicians feel about the end of the AQ, we’re running a series on our blog called “Pleased and flipped: Memories of the Artists’ Quarter.”

Who – or what – is Dungan Levee? Think Blind Faith or Cream, the Traveling Wilburys or the Highwaymen. Dungan Levee is the Minneapolis version of a supergroup, formed to benefit Mike Olk, a former KARE11 and WCCO-TV news producer and videographer who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Adam and Noah Levy (the Honeydogs), honky-tonk hero Nate Dungan (Trailer Trash) and Tommy Vee of the Vees will join together at Lee’s Liquor Lounge on Saturday to raise funds for Olk’s treatment and expenses. Other musical acts scheduled to appear include the WCCO Blues Band (featuring Don Shelby), the CharterKats, the Eagles tribute band Motel California, Tin Can Gin, and Olk’s former band the Oarsmen. 2-6 p.m. Suggested donation $15. Here’s the Facebook event page FMI.

Other arts-related news will have to wait as we devote the rest of today’s Artscape to helping you with your holiday plans.

Our Christmas stocking of holiday events

You know about “A Christmas Carol” at the Guthrie, and you have your pick of Nutcrackers and Messiahs. So here’s something different (and not, we hasten to add, in that bad Minnesota meaning of the word). Like Santa himself, several of these holiday shows fly under the radar.

god rest ye scary gentlemen
Courtesy of Hardcover Theater
Hardcover Theater presents: “God Rest Ye Scary Gentlemen 2.”

Hardcover Theater: “God Rest Ye Scary Gentlemen 2” at the Bryant Lake Bowl. When all that holiday sweetness makes your teeth hurt, do this. Four fully-staged stories include “The Inexperienced Ghost” by H.G. Wells, “Mr. Tilly’s Séance” by E.F. Benson, “The Black Poodle” by F. Anstey” and “Teig O’Kane and the Corpse,” an Irish folk tale. Dead bodies abound. Now through Dec. 22. FMI and tickets ($15 door, $12 advance or with Fringe button, $6 kids 12 and under).

Dangerboat Productions: “An Unscripted Minnesota Holiday” at the Bryant Lake Bowl. The broad-brush story line: a small town is planning its annual holiday festival, a rich meanie has something up his or her sleeve, and a hero saves the day. The details? Up to the audience, who’ll provide the town’s name and the festival’s theme and decide which cast member plays the hero. Everything is improvised, even the songs, and the villain is played by a different guest improviser each night. Dangerboat is Tane Danger and Brandon Boat of The Theater of Public Policy, a group famous for thinking on its feet. Danger directs. Tonight (Dec. 6), continuing Dec. 12-14, 19-21. FMI and tickets ($15/$13).

unscripted mn holiday show
Courtesy of Dangerboat Productions
“An Unscripted Minnesota Holiday”

One Voice Mixed Chorus: “A Midnight Queer” at First Universalist Church of Minneapolis. Founded in 1988, the nation’s largest LBGTA chorus is giving its first-ever holiday concert – music from Chanukah, Kwanza, Solstice, the Hindu festival of lights, Christmas, and Mawlid an-Nabi (Sufi birth of Mohammed), plus spoken word, poetry, and sing-alongs. Tonight at 7:30 p.m., tomorrow (Dec. 7) at 3 and 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15-$25).

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Oh, all right, we’ll include one ‘Messiah.’ Among the many local businesses and organizations badly hurt by the endless Minnesota Orchestra lockout is the Minnesota Chorale, which has served as the Orchestra’s principal chorus since 2004. It was originally scheduled to sing the “Messiah” twice with the orchestra in the newly renovated hall. Instead, the Chorale will join players from the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra for a concert performance tonight (Friday, Dec. 6) at Roseville Lutheran Church. Soprano Maria Jette will appear as guest soloist, and artistic director Kathy Saltzman Romey will lead the 1743 version of the work, which includes alternative versions of a few well-known arias and a seldom-performed chorus or two. 7:30 p.m. Free-will offering; no tickets, no reservations.

Wendy Lehr reads aloud at the Jungle. Take the kids or grandkids to hear a local treasure read favorite holiday books in the persona of “Mrs. Peterson.” Plus prizes, cookies, and cider. Three Saturdays: Dec. 7, 14, 21. Ages 4 and up. FMI and tickets ($6).

The Singers: “What Sweeter Music: Christmas Under the North Star.” A 42-voice professional choir now in its 10th season, The Singers has commissioned more than 60 new works from local composers. This year’s holiday concert features a new memorial commission by conductor Matthew Culloton and works by Stephen Paulus, Dale Warland, F. Melius Christiansen, Leland Sateren, and David Cherwien. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 at St. Olaf Catholic Church in Minneapolis (come at 7 for a 30-min. organ prelude), 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8 at Wayzata Community Church, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15 at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in St. Paul. Order tickets here ($10-$30).

Courtesy of VocalEssence
Mariachi Mi Tierra

“VocalEssence Sings Tidings of … Jazz and Mariachi.” Now in its 45th season, the internationally known VocalEssence is hardly under the radar, but this year’s Christmas concert is one you won’t hear anywhere else. The centerpiece is Dave Brubeck’s charming Christmas cantata “La Fiesta de la Posada,” featuring the Twin Cities’ own Mariachi Mi Tierra. With pianist Dan Chouinard, the 100-voice VocalEssence Chorus and 32-voice Ensemble Singers, other holiday delights and the winning carols from the 16th annual Welcome Christmas Carol contest, this will be a winner. Five performances: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater; 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8 at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13 at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Apple Valley; 7:30 Saturday, Dec. 14 at Colonial Church of Edina; and 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15 back at PlymouthFMI and tickets

Frank Theatre: David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries” at the Cowles Center. One of the funniest Christmas stories ever is Sedaris’s tale of working as a Christmas elf in Macy’s “SantaLand” in the Herald Square, New York, store. The stage adaptation of this merrily subversive classic stars Joe Leary as Crumpet the Elf. Directed by Wendy Knox. Dec. 13-23. FMI and tickets ($29). A video gives you a peek at the show. Note: Mature subject matter, so maybe get a sitter.

Flying Forms: “A Baroque Christmas” in the Baroque Room. Traditional carols, fiddle tunes, and lute songs performed on period instruments including baroque violin, recorder, baroque cello and harpsichord. With violinist Marc Levine, baroque vocalist and McKnight Artist Fellow Carrie Henneman Shaw, and lutenist Phillip Rukavina. The Baroque Room is on the second floor of the Northwestern Building in St. Paul’s Lowertown (275 East 4th St.). Go through the street-level doors, up the elevator or stairs to the second floor, and find suite 280, an intimate music salon with a resonant acoustic perfect for early music. 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14. Tickets at the door ($15 adults, $10 seniors and students).

Free holiday movies at Union Depot. You’ve seen “A Muppet Christmas Carol” a zillion times … but you’ve never seen it in the fabulously renovated Union Depot, which is fast becoming a place you go to, not just rush through. Two nights, three free movies each. Saturday, Dec. 14: “A Muppet Christmas Carol” (4 p.m.), “A Miracle on 34th Street” (7 p.m.), and “Love Actually” (rated R; 9:30 p.m.). Saturday, Dec. 21: “Home Alone” (4 p.m.), “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (PG-14, 7 p.m.), and the original “Die Hard” (the Christmas action movie! Rated R, 9:30 p.m.). Refreshments are available for purchase during the films, but there’s no reason you can’t bring your own popcorn or snacks (but leave the alcoholic beverages at home).

Flying Pig Theater: “Martini and Olive’s Takin’ Care of Christmas” on the Minnesota Centennial Showboat. Silly songs, tacky costumes, and serious ’70s flashbacks. What’s not to love? Especially on the Showboat, docked at Harriet Island in St. Paul. Dec. 14-29. If you insist on having your heart warmed, “Martini and Olive” alternates with “The Christmas Foundling.” FMI and tickets ($16-$24).

Butch Thompson’s “Yulestride” at Hamline’s Sundin Music Hall. The stride piano master and host of KBEM’s “Jazz Originals” plays his own bluesy, two-handed arrangements of “Jingle Bells,” “Silent Night,” and more holiday favorites, plus vintage tunes including Charlie Straight’s “Santa Claus Blues.” 4 p.m., Dec. 15.  FMI and tickets ($15 door, $10 advance).  

Courtesy of the Cedar
Mary Mack

“Mary Mack’s Holiday Meat Raffle Show with Doggy Sweater Competition” at the Cedar. We barely know where to start with this. It’s a variety show with singing, accordion, audience participation, improvisation, angry dancing, and bad meat, raffled off by a fake butcher. You may come out scratching your head, but your wallet won’t be much lighter than when you went in. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19. FMI and tickets ($10/$12).

Stocking-stuffers: Four holiday CD releases by area artists

That’s right, four. You can go to the shows, enjoy the music live, buy CDs as gifts and have them signed. Holiday shopping made easy, plus you have a night out.

The Jana Nyberg Group, “Winter Song.” An album of original music and fresh, fearless arrangements of old faves like “Let It Snow” and “The Nearness of You.” Nyberg is a strong singer with a clear, spacious voice and considerable charm. Her husband is trumpeter, composer and bandleader Adam Meckler, and together they make a formidably talented music power couple. “Winter Song” has swing, sass and already a sort of timelessness. Sweet surprises: “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” with string quartet, and a playful run at the daunting “Waters of March” in Portuguese, with Meckler joining in on voice. Nice work, you two. Saturday, Dec. 7 at the Dakota. 8 p.m., $10 at the door. FMI.

Laura Caviani, “Holly, Jolly and Jazzy.” Caviani’s impeccable pianism and superb sense of swing make these holiday chestnuts shine as if they were written yesterday. Her trio – Gordy Johnson on bass, Joe Pulice on drums – are right there with her, sharing a brain and the same feel for the music all through this exceptional album. “Greensleeves” has never sounded so sunlit and cheery, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” so witty and sly. We have a huge stack of Christmas CDs and this one’s on the top. Sunday, Dec. 8 at First United Methodist Church in Sartell. 4 p.m.; free-will offering. Also Friday, Dec. 13 at the Artists’ Quarter. 9 p.m., $10 cover at the door. Remember, the AQ is closing

Larry McDonough Quartet, “Angels, Kings, My Favorite Things.” Let’s just say it: “My Favorite Things” is a cute song, but wimpy. Whiskers on kittens, warm woolen mittens, yawn. Pianist, composer, bandleader and vocalist McDonough gives it a kick in the pants, turns Richard Terrill loose on some Trane-ish saxophony and tells a different story. His imaginative arrangements transform all of the familiar tunes on his latest recording, making this the holiday CD to reach for when you’re tired of the same-old. “Little Drummer Boy” with no drums? Fine with us. And it’s good to hear “Ode to Joy” in a jazzy new version. Thursday, Dec. 19 at the Artists’ Quarter. 8 p.m., $5 cover. Also Sunday, Dec. 22 at Icehouse. 7:30 p.m., $5 cover.

Charles Lazarus, “Merry & Bright.” It’s said that the trumpet is an especially demanding instrument, one you have to play every day or risk losing your chops. A trumpeter with the Minnesota Orchestra, Lazarus hasn’t had a steady gig for more than a year, but if this new CD is any sign, he’s sounding better than ever. High-energy, big and brassy, it’s just what we need to take the chill off the winter. Having played with some of our finest, Lazarus knows how to choose a team: pianist Tommy Barbarella and vocalist Bruce Henry are two of the talents who join him in this joyous and varied outing, which starts with a velvety “Silent Night” and ends with a spicy “Jingle Bells.” Thursday, Dec. 19 at Wayzata Community Church. 7 p.m., FMI and tickets ($20/$15).