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December's best holiday music events 

Wednesday, Dec 9 2009
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For some folks, December is insufferable, a month packed with blinking, twinkling reminders of just how commercially focused, environmentally callous, and falsely cheerful this country can get. But I'll admit it — I love every last bit of Christmas crap. Giant, light-up flakes covering Market Street lampposts in October? Let it snow. Christmas tree lots setting up shop in November? Yes, please. I grew up in a house full of wood-carved Santas, hand-sewn stockings, and every variation of Christmas CD. The crazier the season gets, the better.

Every December, I embark on a mission to crash as many holiday events as my schedule and liver will allow. The next two and a half weeks are the best time to hit special seasonal events in all their candy-striped glory before we're pounded with January doldrums. So before the hokey Santas and chintzy cover songs go back into the closet for another year, here are my picks for the best ways to celebrate the season with a little music.

Jim Campilongo's "Christmas Show"
Telecaster maestro Jim Campilongo will saddle up alongside pedal-steel player Bobby Black on Monday, Dec. 21, to put the twang back in Xmas during this Make-Out Room "Christmas Show." He'll perform songs from his holiday album, Almost Christmas, giving covers of such classics as "Blue Christmas" and "All I Want for Christmas Is You" a nostalgic jangle. Campilongo has lent a guitarist's hand to the indie world (Bright Eyes) and alt-country types (Teddy Thompson, Gillian Welch), among others, but he releases solo records as well, most recently Orange, a mix of acoustic and electric six-string tunes. The seasoned player should remove any bit of crass from Christmas. His songs carry an easygoing, desert troubadour vibe, whether he's serenading with country, blues, or jazz.

Uni and Her Ukulele's "Christmas Is Best"
A tiny instrument can bring a whole lotta joy, especially when it's Uni strumming out Xmas tunes. If you can't afford a trip to Hawaii this year, you could always order up a fruity cocktail and bask in the tropical sounds of this little slice of stringed heaven. Uni and Her Ukulele's "Christmas Is Best" show promises her favorite holiday hits at Amnesia on Sunday, Dec. 13, when she performs with opening acts including Chico's the Yule Logs. Plus, how can you miss an evening that promises to send you home with "homemade Elf poop"?

El Vez' "¡Viva Christmas!"
If you're looking for something a little cheekier, El Vez — aka the Mexican Elvis, aka the Thin Brown Duke — is a wizard of wit. He spins a theatrical web of song, dance, and political parody alongside his backup dancers, the Elvettes. At his "¡Viva Christmas!" show at the Independent on Thursday, Dec. 17, expect to hear reworked holiday carols and pop hits intertwined with current events, all woven into a parade of punchlines, costume changes, and Spanish-language puns. The man born Robert Lopez has taken the stage in many iterations over the years, including his stint in early L.A. punk heroes the Zeroes and later turns as part of the Teatro ZinZanni ensemble. But El Vez is the cream of his entertainer guises. Los Straightjackets open the evening with instrumental surf rock.

Live 105's Not So Silent Night parties and preparties
Alt-rock radio station Live 105 fills up the end of this week with its annual holiday parties, open to the public until they sell out — which most of them do. Things kick off on Wednesday, Dec. 9, with Soundcheck's Holiday Ball at Bimbo's. The lineup is chock-full of indie pop from the Downer Party (see Marc Hawthorne's piece on the group in this issue), the Lovemakers, Band of Skulls, and White Rabbits. Thursday, things move over to Mezzanine for the Not So Silent Night Pre-Party, an upbeat dance party featuring Hey Champ, Passion Pit, and Gossip — the last of whom released one of my favorite records of 2009. Popscene is also hitching a party to the radio station bender, featuring late-night DJ sets from members of Gossip and Passion Pit on Thursday. On Friday, the night really gets not so silent with the big event — AFI, Muse, Vampire Weekend, and more at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

See also page 50 for one addition to the list, our Hear This" pic for the How the Grouch Stole Christmas show. If you have any musical holiday events I've missed here, e-mail me and I'll add them to our blog, http://blogs.sfweekly.com/shookdown.

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz

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Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

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