Holiday concert season starts with a bang | Arts | San Luis Obispo

It’s the season to wear outrageously showy sweaters, drink spiked eggnog, graciously accept inedible fruit cake gifts, and most importantly, listen to Christmas carols and holiday music. If this sentence annoys you, read no further. But if you’re as excited as Buddy was to see Santa Claus in the movie Elf, gather for your guide to this week’s Christmas concerts.

We can trace popular Christmas music to the 13th century, when under the influence of Francis of Assisi, Christmas carols were written in the vernacular instead of the traditional Latin carols and hymns heard in churches. Since then, the Christmas concert has become a tradition for many families … and the scourge of Grinches everywhere. (Are you still here? I told you to stop reading, cranky pants.)

An annual local concert that now celebrates its 15th year is the Winterdance Christmas Celebration, which features seasonal music from Celtic and Nordic lands performed by the New World String Project with Irish champions Marisa Gilman and Cameron Carlson-Riddle.

Presented by local NPR affiliate KCBX 90.1FM, the concert is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 19 in the SLO Octagonal Barn milking parlor (doors at 3:30 p.m., music starting at 4 p.m.; general admission presale from $ 30 or $ 35 at the door; children 13 and under $ 20 in presale and $ 25 at the door on Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours will be required at the door. Masking is optional but encouraged.

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  • Courtsey photo of the new world ropes project
  • EXOTIC INSTRUMENTS The masterful New World String Project will present traditional music from the Celtic and Nordic lands at the 15th Annual Winterdance Christmas Celebration on December 19, in SLO’s Octagonal Barn.

The New World String Project features members of the famous Celtic group Molly’s Revenge — Stuart Mason (guizouki, guitar) and John Weed (violins) —as well as longtime musical partners Aryeh Frankfurter (nyckelharpa, harp) and Lisa Lynne (lemon, harp).

“This year’s music will include Celtic seasonal favorites from previous years as well as new music with a decidedly Nordic touch,” organizers said, which makes sense since the nyckelharpa is a Swedish violin. You will also hear octave cajon and mandolin.

So if exotic instruments played by master musicians, together creating a tapestry of traditional music, and punctuated by airborne dancers sound like your jam, it promises to be an incredible spectacle in a charming place.

“The result is something new and their own – a sound rooted in ancient traditions from Scandinavia, Appalachia and Celtic lands, but also sparkling with modern influences,” organizers said.

Kerry Irish Productions Inc. and the Clark Center in Arroyo Grande have put together two vacation shows for you this week. On Friday, December 17, experience Christmas from a Celtic table (7:30 p.m.; all ages; $ 35 to $ 55 at

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IRISH DANCE An Irish Christmas on December 18th at the Clark Center in Arroyo Grande will dazzle you with the main dancers of Riverdance as well as songs from the Kerry Voice Squad and music from the Kerry Traditional Orchestra.  - COURTSEY PHOTO BY KERRY IRISH PRODUCTIONS

  • Photo Courtsey of Kerry Irish Productions
  • IRISH DANCE An Irish Christmas on December 18th at the Clark Center in Arroyo Grande will dazzle you with the main dancers of Riverdance as well as songs from the Kerry Voice Squad and music from the Kerry Traditional Orchestra.

The evening will take participants on a journey through an Irish Christmas with tales, dances, songs and authentic traditional Irish music. Irish actor Sheelagh Cullen and an award-winning cast of Irish singers and dancers will evoke the magic of the holidays.

The following night, Saturday, December 18, check out An Irish Christmas (7:30 p.m.; ages 5 and up; $ 40 to $ 58 on, as seen on PBS.

“Join an award-winning cast of Riverdance directors and world champion dancers to celebrate Ireland’s great Christmas traditions: making butter, chasing wren on St. Stephen’s Day, lowering the half-door, and more! ” said the organizers. “Come and enjoy a spectacular dance, singing traditional Christmas carols from the Kerry Voice Squad and superb music from the Kerry Traditional Orchestra to celebrate the international spirit of the holiday season.”

Can you think of music more associated with Christmas and the Advent season than George Frederick Handel’s “Messiah”? Well guess what? The famous English-language oratorio was originally performed at Easter and only became a Christmas pillar after the composer’s death in 1759.

SLO Master Chorale presents a holiday festival with Handel’s “Messiah” on Saturday, December 18 at SLO’s Performing Arts Center (7 p.m.; all ages; $ 10 to $ 26 at

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VOX TRADITION The SLO Master Chorale will present Handel's glorious choirs

  • Photo Courtsey of the SLO Master Chorale
  • VOX TRADITION The SLO Master Chorale will present the glorious choirs of Handel’s “Messiah” at SLO’s Performing Arts Center on December 18, in addition to classical Christmas carols.

With a structure that resembles an opera, the three parts of “Messiah” begin with the prophecies of Isaiah and the announcements to the shepherds; on the Passion and the choir “Alléluia”; end with the resurrection and glorification of Christ in heaven. But that’s not all.

“Enjoy the famous choirs of Handel’s ‘Messiah’, followed by music for brass, choir and Forbes pipe organ,” organizers said. “With the Westwood Brass Quintet, attendees can expect to hear ‘A Christmas Festival’ composed by Leroy Anderson, as well as arrangements of traditional songs by Mark Hayes and Mack Wilberg.

Don’t be a Grinch. Get your Christmas cheer! ??

Contact senior editor Glen Starkey at [email protected]

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