Enough with the bah humbug. Don’t let COVID steal Christmas music.
Minnesota music-makers plan to deliver the joys of the season even if it means pivoting for the pandemic. The Blenders are offering a free series of crowdfunded yule video clips. The New Standards are releasing a new holiday album. And the ever-inventive Kat Perkins is available for “curbside caroling” — in person or virtually.
The New Standards’ “The Holiday Show Album” has been in the works since the summer of 2019. With the coronavirus quashing live performances, the trio also planned a streamed concert this year with a parade of guests and a director from Los Angeles.
“We went pretty far down the path, and we had a budget and we were getting people lined up from out of town to do cameos and we were getting the crew together,” said New Standards singer-pianist Chan Poling, whose trio has staged Christmas shows for 15 years.
But the daunting budget, the lack of a communal vibe without an audience and the fear of someone in the cast or crew getting COVID prompted the trio to abandon plans just last month. They’ve accepted that their new album — CD and download — will be their 2020 holiday legacy.
“People point out to us that we don’t play many holiday songs in our show,” singer-bassist John Munson said. “But in the case of this record, it’s much more holiday fare than the show really ever is. It’s just another way for us to defy expectations.”
There are contributions from Jeremy Messersmith, Aby Wolf and Nellie McKay as well as the New Standards’ original gem “Christmas Time Next Year,” among others.
After 18 consecutive years of holiday concerts in Minnesota and North Dakota, the Blenders nixed thoughts of a streamed show but still hatched a plan to raise money for charity and pay their backup musicians, crew and themselves. Even though they had Bell Bank as a titular sponsor, the vocal quartet turned to crowdfunding.
“We had no experience with Kickstarter,” singer Tim Kasper said. But with more than 550 people contributing more than $40,000, the vocal quartet reached their “stretch goal” and created videos of seven songs at Creation Audio in Minneapolis.
Starting Nov. 20, the group will drop a new video every Friday until Christmas for free viewing on YouTube.
Lorie Line cancels solo tour
Lake Minnetonka piano star Lorie Line planned an ambitious tour with a twist. For nearly three decades, her Christmas jaunt has featured her Pop Orchestra, lavish outfits and creative staging. Because of the pandemic, this year’s scheduled 25-concert trek was going to scale back to a solo piano performance in theaters in six Upper Midwest states. But she pulled the plug on Thursday after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced new restrictions on entertainment spaces. (About half her concerts were in Minnesota.) However, she will perform a streamed show Dec. 10 from Orono.
No one is more determined in her approach to holiday gigs than Perkins, of NBC’s “The Voice” fame. Not only is she considering streamed shows at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres where she had been booked for live performances, but she’s also available for caroling outside family homes via katperkinsmusic.com.
“We converted my tour van and made it into a Christmas living room with a fake fireplace and carpet,” Perkins said. “It’s a rolling Christmas machine. And there’s a virtual option: Let me Zoom in with your family and we’ll sing along for 30 minutes. We’ll even go on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. People need music more now than ever.”
Similarly, Paul Peterson of Minnesota’s first family of jazz is offering a customized virtual holiday concert via petersonmusicandevents.com.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres had booked a series of separate rock, soul and Celtic seasonal revues plus the Andy Williams and Bing Crosby Christmas show (it will be broadcast at 4 p.m. Dec. 25 on WUCW, Ch. 23), but now its staff is negotiating to switch to streamed shows.
The Dakota in Minneapolis has pivoted from live shows to streaming, including the Steeles, Robert Robinson, Nachito Herrera and Nicholas David.
Crooners in Fridley canceled the next month of its series of live seasonal shows featuring, among others, jazz thrush Karrin Allyson and country stalwart Sherwin Linton. Given Walz’s new rules, Crooners is planning to return to live shows Dec. 18 with the Crooners Revue led by piano maestro Sanford Moore.
There are two streaming projects showcasing the imagination of Minnesota talents. Vocalist Charmin Michelle is offering “A Copasetic Christmas Carol,” a jazzy adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” with narrator Ben Sidran (7 p.m. Dec. 10 twincitiesjazzfestival.com, free).
The Sounds of Blackness have retooled their 42nd annual African American interpretation of “The Night Before Christmas” from a musical into a streamed concert (available Dec. 19-31). After weeks of Zoom meetings and rehearsals, the 16 singers, 10 musicians and a handful of camera operators will spend four days in early December filming at the Ordway.
Costs have at least doubled from the Sounds’ usual one-night engagement at the Guthrie Theater, but the Ordway is underwriting the production as a precursor to possible live shows next year.
“Normally we have a green room with catering, but COVID. We do need to bring our own food,” said Sounds director Gary Hines. “We have contingency plans if we have to do any kind of lockdown. A lot of meetings. I love the meticulousness of the Ordway.”
The extensive lineup of streaming Christmas concerts — some free, most ticketed — includes such Minnesota favorites as Davina & the Vagabonds, Tonic Sol Fa, Shaun Johnson & the Big Band Experience, Mother Banjo, the Southside Aces, Simple Gifts, Steven C, the Minnesota Orchestra, Cantus and VocalEssence. Two out-of-town regulars in December — Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Jim Brickman — are also streaming concerts to Twin Cities audiences.
Some seasonal stalwarts, including the Brian Setzer Orchestra, are taking a pass this year. But there are plenty of musical options for holiday cheer.
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719