Most people look forward to the holiday season and it's easy to understand why. With friends, family, presents and delicious food, what else could you ask for? Holiday concerts have also become a staple of the Christmas season, with shows popping up all over the country during December. And it's not just holiday standards either, there are shows for everyone, whether you like hip-hop, country or classical music.
The Holiday Pops concert, put on each year by the Boston Pops Orchestra, stands out as one of the best, and most well-known, shows in the United States. Since its inception back in the 1970s, people have traveled to Boston from all across the country to experience the legendary show firsthand.
Held at legendary Symphony Hall, the show takes audience members through numerous holiday standards from Handel's "Hallejuah Chorus" to the crowd favorite "Sleigh Ride." The tradition is also famous for incorporating a timeless Christmas story into the performance. In years past, it has ranged from 'Twas The Night Before Christmas to Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus.
Although the Holiday Pops is famous for its Christmas classics, there are a number of other concerts that put a less traditional spin on the holiday season. Among the most popular is the Jingle Bash, which is held each year at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, and this year's event (slated for December 15) has an impressive lineup.
Some of the biggest names in pop music will be heading to the Chicago area for the show, including teen sensation Justin Bieber and hip-hop star Pitbull. "Call Me Maybe" singer Carly Rae Jepsen, fresh off her Grammy nomination, will also be among the headliners. World-famous DJ Calvin Harris will take the stage as well.
Many of the best holiday shows are hosted by local radio stations, such as Hartford, Connecticut's, annual Jingle Jam, which is put on by 93.7. Held at the XL Center, the Jingle Jam has attracted some of the biggest hip-hop names in the industry and this year is no different, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, Rick Ross and Ne-Yo will all be making their way to the popular concert.
It's hard to find someone who doesn't enjoy Christmas music, whether they prefer the John Lennon staple "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" or the WHAM! classic "Last Christmas." There's no denying that holiday concerts are here to stay.
Of all the legends of classic rock, Eric Clapton is among the most successful over the last two decades. Though his time with the Yardbirds, Derrick and the Dominoes and Cream made him an icon of the 1960s and 1970s, he has maintained a place in contemporary music while some of his peers may have faded from view.
Over the last decade, Slowhand has continued to tour and record new music, and he's planning on furthering the trend in 2013. Clapton recently announced an extensive U.S. tour that kicks off on March 14 before culminating at the much-anticipated Crossroads Guitar Festival on April 12 and 13 at Madison Square Garden.
Clapton's resurgence as a force in the industry began more than 20 years ago. He was years removed from songs like "Crossroads" and "White Room," but when he recorded his now-legendary Unplugged album, Clapton was once again atop the music world. The 1992 album perfectly showcases Clapton's technical skill and songwriting prowess, taking listeners through an acoustic take on classics like "Layla" and newer songs such as "Tears in Heaven," an emotional eulogy to his deceased son.
Clapton's unplugged album earned him six Grammy awards including Album of the Year and Song of the Year, and helped set the stage for what would prove to be an impressive decade. He released a number of popular tunes throughout the 90s that helped introduce him to a younger audience. Songs such as his cover of "Change the World" and 1998's "My Father's Eyes," made were hits among a diverse audience.
More recently, Clapton has not slowed down. He continues to perform with some of the most talented guitarists from across generations. Over the last several years he has played with the likes of Keith Richards, Jeff Beck (who was also a member of the Yarbirds) and Gary Clark, Jr., one of the most skilled emerging guitarists. His 2010 album, Clapton, was a critical and commercial success and peaked inside the top 10 on the Billboard 200 charts.
In 2013, Clapton's participation in the Crossroad Guitar Festival is especially important because it marks his 50th year in the music industry. Since it first launched in 2004, the festival has brought together some of best guitarists in history and 2013's is no different. The two-day event will feature the likes of Buddy Guy, John Mayer, BB King and Vince Gill.
It's that time of year again, when everyone breaks out the tinsel and ornaments, fills up on fruitcake and eggnog, and lays out some milk and cookies for Jolly Old St. Nick – that's right, it's Christmas. The holiday season is off to a grand start and while many families have their own traditions and ways to celebrate the big day, so do many performance troupes and theaters. There are a plethora of wondrous shows to check out this year, each of which is bursting with holiday spirit.
Fans of more traditional Christmas fare will have a lot of great shows to choose from in the coming weeks. One of the most treasured classics of the season is the Nutcracker Suite, a charming ballet scored by Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky that has captured the hearts of countless families since the 1890s. Theatergoers can also follow the story of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, or experience the Yuletide joy of The Night Before Christmas. Meanwhile, fans of Christmas music can enjoy rousing versions of their favorite songs with the Christmas Pops, or catch updated versions of these holiday classics at Jazzy Christmas.
Some of your favorite characters are also feeling festive this holiday seasons, and bringing their Christmas cheer to the stage. Fairy tale lovers can take their little ones on a magical journey as Cinderella's Christmas brings a bit of the princess' lifestyle to the stage, while drama enthusiasts can learn lessons about family and togetherness at Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas. Fans of the Sunday funnies can enjoy season's greetings from their favorite furry friends at performances of Garfield Christmas and It's Christmas, Snoopy. Of course, what holiday season would be complete without a visit from the Dr. Seuss' green grump, the Grinch? How the Grinch Stole Christmas continues to be a cherished part of the seasons - and a performance that families won't want to miss.
Those who are looking for a slightly different take on the traditional holiday theater experience will have a number of unique options to explore as well. Whether you're hoping for a scare at Halloween on Christmas, to experience new worlds at Christmas on Mars, or looking to learn a bit more about photography at A Kodachrome Christmas, you're sure to find something to suit your tastes this Christmas.
Few topics in sports have attracted as much controversy as college football's BCS system. The call for a playoff has finally been answered, and by 2014 the national champion will be picked in a new, more fan-friendly format. However, until that time the college football world still has the BCS system, and luckily this year is shaping up to be one of the most memorable in recent years.
This year gives us one of the most anticipated National Championship match-ups ever, with perennial powerhouse Alabama squaring off against a rejuvenated Notre Dame team, which just completed its first undefeated regular season in more than 20 years. The two programs are some of the most decorated in college football history, and the Fighting Irish are one of the biggest surprises of the year after they started off the season ranked outside the top 25. When the two teams kick off on January 7, it may be one of the most watched games of the sports year.
Of course, there are a number of other compelling games, including the Orange Bowl. Played each year in Miami, this year's contest features an unusual match-up between ACC champion Florida State and MAC champion Northern Illinois. The selection of NIU caused quite a stir, especially since their placement in the Orange Bowl knocked Oklahoma out of the BCS picture. While Northern Illinois, who finished the season 12-1, is certainly a good team, their regular season schedule was not particularly challenging, with their biggest win probably coming over Army. Not only that, but their lone loss came to Iowa, who finished the year a paltry 4-8. If they can pull off the upset of Florida State it would be one of the most stunning victories of all time.
The Orange Bowl is surrounded by controversy, but that's not the case with some of the other games, especially the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, which pits Oregon against Kansas State. Both teams were contenders for the National Championship before late-season losses dropped them out of the picture, but they still stand as two of the most exciting squads in the country. KSU is led by Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Collin Klein, while Oregon's high-flying offense will give the Wildcats a serious test.
There are more than two dozen other bowls to check out, and sometimes it's hard to keep track. Some to be on the lookout for include Capital One Bowl, which pits Nebraska against Georgia, and the Outback Bowl, which features Michigan against South Carolina.
Everywhere you look on TV it seems like a new comedian is taking over the airwaves, and it's been this way for years. Whether it be Jerry Seinfeld making the seamless transition from stand-up to sitcom stardom or people like Jon Stewart, who have taken the more traditional path from the stage to behind the talk show desk, every big star seems to have gotten his or her start performing stand-up shows.
Sometimes the formula is flipped around a little bit, however, and that is especially true for Daniel Tosh. The wise-cracking Comedy Central host got his start on the stage, and while he has always been a talented stand-up, his popularity skyrocketed after the debut of his TV show Tosh.0.
The show, which is essentially Tosh offering up sarcastic comments to YouTube videos, is the perfect venue for him to showcase his oft-offensive brand of humor. Since the show began in 2009, his stand-up star has risen considerably. He released his third comedy album Daniel Tosh: Happy Thoughts in 2011, which topped the Billboard comedy charts.
Tosh has been a big hit in the last three years, but few stand-up comedians have been more successful on TV than Louis C.K. The self-deprecating comedian became a critical favorite with the debut of his FX series Louie. He plays a somewhat fictionalized version of himself, and the show's dark humor - often coupled with several bits from his routine - have made the series one of the most unique on TV.
Along with his Emmy-winning series, Louis C.K. also helped pioneer a burgeoning trend in the stand-up world. He sold his 2011 special Live at the Beacon Theater for $5 online. Since then, other comedians have followed suit including Rob Delaney and Aziz Ansari.
Speaking of Ansari, he is also balancing a stand-up career with one of the most recognizable roles on TV - Parks and Recreation's Tom Haverford. Ansari had appeared intermittently on several shows and movies before - including Flight of the Conchords and Funny People - but his supporting role as Tom has helped propel Parks and Rec to be one of the most beloved comedies on TV.
Some people have taken the reverse route, including Craig Ferguson. The affable Scotland native gained notoriety for his role on The Drew Carey Show, and later as the host of The Late Late Show. However, he did not release his first comedy special until 2009.
The NFL season is already half over; and boy have things changed a lot since the first four games. Surprise teams many thought could make an unforeseen run into the playoffs have almost disappeared completely, while the defending Super Bowl champion Giants have seem to have hit their yearly mid-season slide. Yet, while the landscape has changed considerably over the last month or so, the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans are still the cream of the crop.
After the first month of the season, a lot of fans, me included, were singing the praises of the Arizona Cardinals. They were 4-0, and their wins included a surprising victory over the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots. Since then, the Cards are 0-5 and are slowly fading from playoff contention in the NFC. Plus, with inconsistency at quarterback - whether it's John Skelton or Kevin Kolb under center - it's unlikely they'll get back in the conversation.
The Cardinals fall from the ranks of the undefeated have helped right the ship a little. The familiar names are back in the thick of things - the Ravens, Patriots, Steelers, Packers, Giants and Bears, are all on pace to head back to the playoffs this year, even though the Giants have lost two in a row and have struggled on offense as of late.
But arguably the biggest story so far this NFL season is the success of both the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. Last year, the Colts released future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning to make way for first overall pick Andrew Luck. The former Stanford star was expected to come into a work in progress, but the unflappable rookie has led the Colts to an impressive 6-3 record and on the cusp of a playoff berth.
As for the Broncos, who signed Manning after he was released, things could not be going any better. Manning seems to be showing no ill effects of his several neck surgeries that required a year off and is beginning to click with his receivers. Add that to the fact the Broncos defense is firing on all cylinders, and they are right in the hunt for a wide open AFC at 6-3.
After a wild start, full of crazy finishes and replacement referees, the NFL seems to have returned to more stable ground. Still, there's still half the season left so a lot can happen, but at this point I wouldn't be surprised to see the Patriots and Falcons squaring off in Super Bowl XLVII.
There aren't many genres more uniquely American than country music. However, despite being an integral part of Americana for decades, the style has changed drastically over the years. From its earliest days of old-timey music to the outlaw country of the 70s and today's fusion of country pop, the style has certainly spanned a wide range of areas expanded over time.
More recently, some bands have emerged that have bridged the gap between old and new country music including North Carolina's own The Avett Brothers. Fronted by Scott and Seth Avett, the band blends elements of folk, bluegrass, country and pop together to create a sound that appeals to a large swath of listeners across the country and helped create a genre all their own, known in some circles as "newgrass."
The Avett Brothers first gained recognition for their energetic live shows and the success of 2007's album Emotionalism. That was followed up by 2009's I and Love and You, which was considered to be among the best albums of that year. In 2012, they were back with another hit album, The Carpenter, along with a popular U.S. tour.
Though The Avett Brothers have put a new spin on contemporary country music, there are some musicians who have been immensely successful for decades without having to change their style too much, including Kenny Chesney. The 44-year-old Tennessee native has seemingly been doing the same thing since the early 1990s, and can you really blame him? He is one of the most decorated country musicians in history and won four consecutive Entertainer of the Year awards from the Academy of Country Music.
Much like The Avett Brothers, Chesney has become a legend thanks in large part to his live shows, which are a summer staples in seemingly every city across the country. Most recently, he teamed up with fellow country icon Tim McGraw for the Brothers of the Sun Tour.
One of the most noticeable trends in country music over the last decade or so has been the increase of standout female performers. In years past, there was usually just one or two women dominating the scene, whether it was Faith Hill or Shania Twain. Now? Everywhere you look there is a talented female performer coming onto the scene. Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Nettles have all left their mark on the modern country world.
In a twist of irony, it's become cool to like bands that are seemingly less popular than more mainstream acts. Though some people value certain musicians based on how popular they are, the fact is that there are many acts out there that don't get nearly as much attention as they should.
For me, this is most highlighted by singer-songwriter The Tallest Man on Earth. The 29-year-old Swede, whose real name is Kristian Matsson and actually stands at an average height, is among the most talented guitarists in music today. He manages to weave complex rhythms and catchy melodies all by himself, which lends a raw, unrefined sound during a time when songs have become even more produced.
The Tallest Man on Earth had standout albums in 2005 and 2008, but his 2012 release There's No Leaving Now opened my eyes to what an impressive performer he had become. From the opening notes of the lead track "To Just Grow Away" to the introspective crooning of "Revelation Blues," the album stood out to me as one of the best released so far this year.
Tallest Man on Earth isn't the only lesser-known performer to have an incredible album come out this year. I've also been listening to the Dirty Projectors album Swing Lo Magellan almost nonstop since it dropped in July. The band is fronted by enigmatic lead singer and guitarist David Longstreth, whose innovative guitar playing and songwriting has helped them stand out.
Longstreth is surrounded by a stable of talented musicians, most notably guitarist and vocalist Amber Coffman, who has been a staple of the band since its earliest days. When I caught a show of theirs in August, the level of technical proficiency and passion the band displayed was arguably the best I've seen.
Over the last several years, the Fleet Foxes have been one of my favorite bands, so when I heard their former drummer was leaving to start a solo project, I was certainly intrigued. Under the stage name Father John Misty, Joshua Tillman released the solo album Fear Fun in 2012.
Tillman stepped out from behind the drums and left the ethereal folkiness of Fleet Foxes behind for a more psychedelic sound with songs like "Nancy from Now On" and "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings," standing among some of the best - yet mostly unheard of - tunes in the music world today.
November is one of the best months of the year for sports fans. The NFL and college football are both starting to heat up while basketball and hockey are usually kicking off. November is also when college basketball teams begin their march toward the Final Four in April, and this year it looks like some historic programs will be making a push toward the title.
Indiana comes into the year after having one of its best seasons in recent memory. Last year, the Hoosiers advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 10 years, and it looked like they were moving toward returning to their glory days of the 1970s and 80s. Pollsters seem to have taken note - the Hoosiers enter the season as number one on the Associated Press Top 25.
It's easy to understand why many experts see big things from Indiana this year. Not only are they led by a great coach in Tom Crean, but they return almost all of last year's squad including seven-foot sophomore Cody Zeller, a unanimous preseason All-American. The return of Zeller, coupled with the arrival of guard Kevin Ferrell, has Indiana sitting as a good pick.
But you can never count out last year's champ Kentucky. Unlike Indiana, the Wildcats return virtually nobody from last year's team, including freshman phenom Anthony Davis (now with the New Orleans Hornets), but coach John Calipari has a new crop of young, talented stars waiting in the wings. Leading the charge is North Carolina State transfer Ryan Harrow who will run the point, but he will be joined by the likes of freshmen Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress.
The Wildcats aren't the only team from Kentucky to enter the season with high expectations, cross-state rivals Louisville are in the mix as well. The Cardinals visited the Final Four last year under the leadership of coach Rick Pitino, and they return three starters from the team, which had one of the best defenses in the country. It certainly won't surprise anybody if Peyton Siva and Russ Smith lead the Cardinals back to the Final Four.
Last year was strange that Kentucky was the presumptive favorite and never wavered from their quest to capture the title, but that might not be the case this year. Though Indiana, Kentucky and Louisville lead the way, this year is wide open. Anybody - from Ohio State and Michigan, to Syracuse and UCLA - could end up cutting down the net come April.
There's no questioning the fact that The Rolling Stones are part of rock royalty. They just celebrated their 50th anniversary by announcing a mini-tour and though they're quickly approaching their 70s, the guys show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. While their latest tour marks their first time they've been on the road together since 2007, each member of the band has kept themselves busy in the meantime - some in more positive ways than others.
Always the most visible member of the Stones, Mick Jagger has stayed that way over the last several years. The 69-year-old rocker continues to be among the most prolific pop culture icons. In the last year, he even hosted the season finale of Saturday Night Live, where he closed out the show with a rendition of the Stones' classic "She's a Rainbow." He has also been busy working on his side project SuperHeavy, a supergroup with Joss Stone, Eurthymics singer Dave Stewart, Damian Marley and A.R. Rahman. The band released its self-titled debut in 2011.
The band's legendary guitarist Keith Richards has kept himself busy as well, but in much different ways. He penned the much-anticipated autobiography "Life," which was released in 2010. He also appeared alongside Johnny Depp in 2007's "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" and then once again in 2011's sequel "On Stranger Tides." Rumor has it that Depp used Richards' now-famous mumbled-delivery as part of the inspiration behind his iconic role of Captain Jack Sparrow.
Richards and Jagger may have been in the spotlight for positive reasons, but the same can't be said for every member of the Stones. Guitarist Ronnie Wood has been a tabloid staple since 2007, when rumors began swirling that he was leaving his wife for Ekaterina Ivanova, a young Russian waitress. He and his wife eventually divorced and in 2008, he entered rehab for the seventh time. However, he seems to have his life back on track and just announced he is set to marry once again. This time to a woman 31 years his junior.
With the announcement of their 50th anniversary tour, which has them performing two shows in London and two shows in New Jersey, the Stones seem poised to make a comeback, and there's no reason they can't. Anybody who has seen Jagger, Richards and the rest of the boys perform lately knows that there are still few things better than watching the Stones play "Sympathy for the Devil."