The Hagg Comes to the Paramount

Editors picks this month include Merle Haggard, The Nutcracker, the Dickens Fair, the Accordion Revue Babes, art studio strolls, and Hanukkah events.


Merle Haggard

Photo by Myriam Santos, courtesy of Vanguard Records

Way back in the 1950s, country music was dominated by something called “the Nashville sound”—sappy, smooth, and genteel, music that eschewed simple fiddles and banjos for full-backing orchestras and excessive studio post-production. Songs by artists such as Jim Reeves and Don Gibson blurred the line between country and easy listening and made country music something you might expect to hear in a dentist’s office. Then something changed: A gravel-voiced curmudgeon from Oildale, Calif., with a new old sound—the twangy, under-produced Bakersfield sound. It was Merle Haggard, whose whiskey-soaked outlaw ballads about riding the rails, wandering long, lonesome roads, and doing hard time behind bars changed the country landscape.

Alongside the likes of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson, Haggard was the grizzled grandpappy of a different sort of country, down and dirty, and, above all, anathema to the over-polished and poppy Nashville sound. Haggard draws from Southern swamp rock, honky-tonk blues, and Appalachian folk ballads, making a sound truer to the American soul than to any studio executive’s whims. You can feel it in lyrics as weathered as the man who sang them: “Now you wear your skin like iron, your breath as hard as kerosene.”

Nowadays, when country is once again synonymous with saccharine top 40 love songs about pickup trucks and ticks, a good dose of Merle, especially at 78, is exactly what you need to clear the fluff from your head. Haggard brings his rugged voice and homespun tunes home for a concert where even squares can have a ball.

Friday, Dec. 4, 8 p.m. $30-$120. Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland.



Visions of Sugarplums

Graham Lustig’s updates The Nutcracker.

On Christmas Eve, young Marie dreams that the toy nutcracker given to her by her Uncle Drosselmeyer comes to life to fight the evil forces of the mouse king. E.T.A. Hoffmann probably couldn’t have foreseen that story’s enduring appeal when he first penned Nutcracker and Mouse King in 1816. But nearly 80 years later, Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky adapted Hoffmann’s gothic fairytale into The Nutcracker, the familiar ballet that’s become a staple of the Christmas season.

Since then, the ballet has been subject to countless reimaginings. Feuding cat and mouse duo Tom and Jerry performed The Nutcracker with Tom as the “Cat King.” The Care Bears saved Confiturembourg with the power of feelings in The Care Bears Nutcracker Suite. And the very first animated movie to star perennial kids’ favorite Barbie pitted the doll against a mouse king played by Tim Curry in Barbie in the Nutcracker. But however you dress it up, the simple story about a little girl dreaming about her future love still touches audiences today.

The Oakland Ballet’s rendition, which updates the beloved ballet to the early 20th century while staying true to its classical roots, taps into that heartfelt core. Oakland Ballet Artistic Director Graham Lustig introduced his own take on the classic to Bay Area audiences in 2010, and it has quickly become a Christmas tradition.

Saturday, Dec. 19, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 20, 2 p.m. Adults $25-$87 depending on seating. Seniors and kids under 12 receive a 15 percent discount. Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland.



Holiday-ish Art Walks

Head to Jingeltown and Berkeley for artistic surprises.

The holidays can be loud, crowded, and aggravating, but here’s a way to clear your mind. Throughout December, various art walks will give you the chance to escape the holiday stress and drink in some high culture at your own pace.

First, the 25th annual Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios, in which more than 100 local artists and artisans open up their studios to the public, will be going on all month, displaying art in all media from painting to sculpture and everything in between.

Saturdays and Sundays, Dec. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20; Thursday, Dec. 24; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Free. Studios are located throughout Berkeley.

Meanwhile, there’s also the 8th Annual Jingletown Winter ArtWalk, and what art walk could possibly have a more Christmassy name than that? More than 50 artists working in the funky little estuary neighborhood between the Park and Fruitvale bridges open their homes and studios.

Monday, Dec. 7, and Tuesday, Dec. 8, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Free. Jingletown Arts District, Oakland

Finally, BAC Artists Annual Exhibition will host media by members of the Berkeley Art Center. Exhibition starts Saturday, Dec. 5, with a gala 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Free to all BAC members.

Berkeley Arts Center, 1275 Walnut St., Berkeley.



What the Dickens?

Top hats, tails, and Victorian revelry at the Cow Palace.

G’day, govna, shine yer shoes? Nimmy up the wickershams and Bob’s a donut? Cor, welcome to the cockney-twanged world of Charles Dickens. Need an excuse to fall into character as Gus, the lovable chimney-sweep, clean as a whistle, sharp as a thistle, best in all Westminster?

Then kindly don your top hat and very proper stroll down to the Dickens Fair for a very Victorian holiday revelry, when the Cow Palace becomes maze of quaintly Dickensian theaters, dance floors, music halls, tearooms, and shops populated with street vendors hawkin’ the latest wares. And, of course, you can try those ever so Christmassy roasted chestnuts that all those street urchins have been raving about.

Meet characters right out of Dickens’ best-loved stories and enjoy live entertainment of the most Bri’ish sort, like the Bangers and Mash Band and the Siamsa Scottish & Irish Dance Show. The best place to find the Christmas gift for that special chimney sweep, scullery maid, or patent snake oil huckster on your list.

Saturday, Nov. 21, to Sunday, Dec. 20, 10 a.m-7 p.m. $20-$30. Cow Palace Exhibition Halls, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City.



Happy Hanukkah

Ways to celebrate the Festival of Lights.

Besides the usual round of Menorah lightings and festive latke bakes, the East Bay has plenty of other ways to celebrate the Festival of Lights. On Dec. 8, you can learn how to make traditional beeswax Hanukkah candles and build your own earthen menorah at Urban Adamah. This event is for families with children ages 5 and up, workshops are limited to 30 participants, and tickets are $8 for each participate or $20 for a family of 3 or more. Advance registration required.

And for holiday thrill seekers who want to get the adrenaline pumping with more than a good dreidel spin, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Vallejo will host the Northern California Hanukkah Festival on Dec. 21. Ride roller coasters til you plotz, then enjoy special themed animal shows as well as Hanukkah face painting and live musical Hanukkah entertainment. Plus, get your photo taken with the “original” Hebrew Hammer, Judah the Maccabee. Mazel tov!

The ticket price, $23.56, includes the Hanukkah Festival plus Holiday in the Park. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, 1001 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo.

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