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It's beginning to look a lot (more) like Christmas.
The COVID-19 pandemic still looms large over everyday life. But venue calendars have been full with concerts since late July, after the pandemic shut down the live-music industry in March 2020.
Consequently, Christmas concerts are coming back, with promoters and venues anticipating audiences eager to resume some of their holiday concert traditions.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller, holiday season staples for years in Milwaukee, return after taking 2020 off; TSO is at Fiserv Forum Dec. 26, while Mannheim is at the Riverside Theater Dec. 12.
Holiday theater favorites also return, like "A Christmas Carol" at the Pabst Theater, John McGivern's holiday shows at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino's Northern Lights Theater, and the Milwaukee Ballet's "The Nutcracker."
And expect to see more small clubs and local musicians announce holiday sets in the coming weeks. Milwaukee singer-songwriter Joe Richter already has, booking an Anodyne Coffee gig with his "Yuletide Band" Dec. 3.
But the return of live holiday music this year includes some newer holiday tours, acts that haven't done Milwaukee holiday concerts for years, and even artists going on their first Christmas concert tours.
Here are some of the best ones to check out, listed in order of occurrence.
Playing the Wilson Center for the first time in seven years, the men's choir will perform a choral interpretation of three holiday stories, including Dr. Seuss' "How The Grinch Stole Christmas." 8 p.m. Nov. 27, Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Performing Arts, 3270 Mitchell Park Dr., Brookfield. $55 to $77 at the box office and wilson-center.com.
It's rare that the artist who originated a classic Christmas song actually gets to perform it themselves in Milwaukee, but that'll be the case for groundbreaking Lifetime Achievement Grammy winner Jose Feliciano, who is celebrating the 50th anniversary of "Feliz Navidad" with a belated tour. 8 p.m. Dec. 4, Uihlein Hall, Marcus Performing Arts Center, 929 N. Water St. $25 to $52 at the box office and ticketmaster.com. Masks and proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test required for entry.
Isaak is celebrating the 30th anniversary of "Wicked Game," so expect to hear his album's breakthrough title track and other selections. But Isaak's most recent release was a live Christmas album in 2017, and those tunes will make up a big portion of the setlist for this holiday tour. 8 p.m. Dec. 8, Miller High Life Theatre, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave. $59.50 to $75 at the box office and through Ticketmaster. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test required. Masks required for first five rows, encouraged for all.
Delayed by the pandemic, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra finally began hosting full concerts last month at the Bradley Symphony Center (following a $90 million renovation of the former movie palace that's become its new home). Naturally, the MSO will resurrect its Holiday Pops program Dec. 10 to 12, and perform Handel's Messiah Dec. 16, 18 and 19. But MSO is also expanding its Christmas content, including booking Grammy-winning, classical leaning a capella troupe Chanticleer. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9, Bradley Symphony Center, 212 W. Wisconsin Ave. $25 to $115 at the box office and mso.org. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test required.
A holiday program for people who tend to dislike holiday programs: John Waters, the irreverent cult filmmaker behind "Pink Flamingoes" and "Hairspray," promises "holiday filth for bad little boys and girls everywhere" in his touring one-man show he's dubbed "It's a Yuletide Massacre!" 8 p.m. Dec. 9, Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. Phillips Ave. $49.50 at the door and through the Pabst. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test required. Masks encouraged, required for children 11 and younger.
In an interview last year, the alt-rock band's frontman Justin Furstenfeld suggested he was recording a gloomy Christmas album next. Whether that album arrives this year remains to be seen, but chances are this Christmas-themed concert (the band's 13th at the Rave) will feature some of that material. 8 p.m. Dec. 10, the Rave, 2401 W. Wisconsin Ave. $33 to $43 at the box office and therave.com.
The "America's Got Talent" Season Four finalists come to town for their "Deep in the Heart of Christmas" tour, one of the few matinee shows this holiday season for anyone who wants to go out but not stay out too late. 2:30 p.m. Dec. 12, South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, 901 15th Ave., South Milwaukee. $20 to $65 at the box office and southmilwaukeepac.org. Masks required for children younger than 12, encouraged for all guests.
With pipes strong enough for Broadway, and a preference for retro R&B (she once recorded a tribute album to Nina Simone), Morgan James has set her sights on holiday music with her soulful new album "A Very Magnetic Christmas." 8 p.m. Dec. 14, the Back Room at Colectivo Coffee, 2211 N. Prospect Ave. $20 at the door and through the Pabst. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative tests required. Masks encouraged, required for children 11 and younger.
After debuting at Milwaukee's Riverside Theater in 2019, the tour makes its return featuring past and present members of the Temptations, the Miracles and the Contours. 8 p.m. Dec. 17, Riverside Theater. $49 to $59.50. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative tests required. Masks encouraged, required for children 11 and younger.
Josh Caterer Trio
Caterer, best known as the frontman for pop punk band the Smoking Popes (and also a pastor), gets into the spirit of the season with this "holiday soiree." 8 p.m. Dec. 18, the Back Room at Colectivo Coffee. $15. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test required. Masks encouraged, required for children 11 and younger.
After a shining appearance at Blake Shelton's "Friends and Heroes" tour finale at Fiserv Forum last month, the country pop star comes back to town for a full set of her hits, plus holiday tunes. 7 p.m. Dec. 19, Riverside Theater. $49.75 to $119.75. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test required. Masks encouraged, required for children 11 and younger.
Summerfest perennial Vassar loves playing the Milwaukee market so much he found a way to do it last year when every venue was shut down — at a drive-in concert series in Grafton. In recent years, he's returned to Milwaukee again around the holidays, often with a co-headliner, and this time out rock band Sister Hazel will join him. 7 p.m. Dec. 19 and 20, Northern Lights Theater, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, 1721 W. Canal St. $55 to $65 at the box office and through Ticketmaster.
The Music of 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'
After reopening in 2016, beloved east side club the Jazz Estate has had success staging annual concerts, for families and adults alike, with local jazz musicians in a band dubbed The Commercialists performing Vince Guaraldi's score from "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Those shows — two to three performances a night, from Dec. 10-21 — often sell out, but this year, the Jazz Estate is moving the show to a larger venue to ensure more people can go. 6 and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 23, Turner Hall Ballroom. $25. Proof of COVID-19 vaccinations or negative COVID tests required for entry. Masks encouraged, required for children 11 and under.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article included a planned concert with Darren Criss at the Riverside Theater. That show has been canceled.
Masks are also not required at the Phil Vassar concert, as previously indicated. A second show has been added; the story has been updated with that information.
Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Evan Rytlewski. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee to hold multiple Christmas concerts this season