The end of another year is just around the corner on the calendar and that means holiday and Christmas tours.
There are plenty of acts coming this way, including several you can check out in the next few days and weeks. Among the holiday-themed shows are a couple of seemingly diametrically opposed musical and performance styles, though they could probably put together a weird and entertaining inter-group jam.
On Tuesday, the Piano Guys come to the State Theatre in Cleveland. Steven Sharp Nelson, Jon Schmidt, Al Van der Beek and Paul Anderson are likely much more popular and successful than you may expect of a classically trained, pop-inclined piano quartet that became initially famous on YouTube.
Now they boast some impressive stats such as 1.6 billion YouTube views, six of their nine albums debuted at the top spot on the Billboard classical albums chart, and they sell out concerts around the globe. Not bad for four middle-age dudes who were initially brought together to promote Anderson’s music store online.
The band’s latest reason for touring — besides seeing your smiling, satisfied faces from the stage — is the album “Limitless,” released in early November. The album contains more of the group's classical, pop and rock mashups, such as the very familiar “Hungarian Rhapsody” mixed with Coldplay and the Chainsmokers' hit “Something Just Like This,” and pop star Shawn Mendes’ pulsing “In My Blood” mixed with the theme to “Swan Lake,” as well as covers such as “DNA,” the bouncy hit by the hilarious K-Pop boy band BTS that has been working very hard to break America.
Back in my day (wait, where’s my cane so I can go wave it around at folks from the safety of my lawn), we called this stuff elevator music, stuff you’d play for your grandma while taking her to the optometrist, but I must admit it’s pretty soothing and mildly pleasant.
The Piano Guys, all longtime members of the Church of Latter-day Saints, have also released two Christmas albums and the tour is called "Christmas Together," so chances are pretty good that you’ll get a few holiday favorites during the show.
Continuing the piano-and-holiday theme, the Kent Stage has longtime New Age king George Winston coming to its cozy confines Monday. Winston has been recording since the early 1970s and arguably paved the road for groups like the Piano Guys with his “rural folk” style; he's also recorded New Orleans stride and a Doors tribute album. He’s topped the New Age charts seven times in a decades-long career and has three platinum and four gold albums in his catalog.
His current “Winter” tour features his two albums dedicated to late jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, who wrote the beloved music for the 1965 special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Winston has been focusing on solo piano concerts and albums, including his recent “Spring Carousel” featuring compositions he wrote while recovering from a bone marrow transplant at City of Hope Cancer Hospital in California; he is donating proceeds from the album’s sales to the hospital. Additionally, Winston and the Kent Stage would like concert-goers to bring a nonperishable food item for the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.
On the other end of the musical and holiday spectrum, Mushroomhead, the Grateful Dead of Cleveland metal bands, is hosting the Krampus Christmas Show at 6 p.m. Dec. 29 at the Agora in Cleveland. Mushroomhead is 25 years into its long, strange, costumed, scary-masked trip and have gone through nearly as many members. But the group still keeps playing its brand of industrial-infused, occasionally rap-laced alt-metal, and folks keep coming to see them, so more power to you, fellas.
What can you expect? I have no idea as I haven’t seen them since a scary, over-packed night in a now-defunct downtown Akron club. The group does know how to put on a ridiculously theatrical, macabre show, if that’s what you’re after. Tickets are $25-$30 at www.agoracleveland.com, 216-881-2221.
R.I.P., Roy Clark
I didn’t get a chance to shout him out last week, but I grew up watching Roy Clark and Buck Owens on the old syndicated hillbilly variety show “Hee-Haw.” For an East Oakland kid, the show — which came on after my other post-cartoon Saturday favorite “Soul Train” — was like staring through a gingham-curtained window into another world filled with overalls, literal and figurative hayseeds, incredibly amiable and goofy jokes about mules and moonshine, and tall ponytailed women in tied-up shirts and short-shorts.
Clark and Buck Owens, the primary hosts, used to make me laugh but it wasn’t until a few years later that I started to realize what an amazingly talented musician the affable Clark actually was. Being a rock kid, I was used to screaming, distorted, heavy-effects-laden, ego-driven, guitar speed demons. But watching Clark and various guests play incredible lines incredibly clean on the guitar, banjo and fiddle, making it look so easy, certainly gave me a new appreciation for the host and for the country and bluegrass genres.
He always seemed like a genuinely nice guy and I was glad to have him in my home. I would suggest any music lover head on over to YouTube and check out any of the many videos featuring Clark, often with some other instrumental badasses such as Glen Campbell, Chet Atkins or Clarence “Gatemouth" Brown, and appreciate that we lost another great one.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758. Like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml, and follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.