John Legend, Barry Manilow, Trans-Siberian Orchestra lead Tampa Bay's packed Christmas concert season

Singer, songwriter and actor John Legend will perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday. (BRONTE WITTPENN   |   Times)
Singer, songwriter and actor John Legend will perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday. (BRONTE WITTPENN | Times)
Published Nov. 14, 2018

John Legend has a voice like hot buttered rum by the fireplace, like silken pajamas on a polar bear rug.

So it was only a matter of time before the EGOT-winning singer decided to join the reindeer games and drop a holiday album.

The result, A Legendary Christmas, should be the soundtrack to your 2018 holiday mixer. Legend luxuriates in a simmering wassail of influences, from '70s soul (No Place Like Home) to Bacharachian lounge-pop (Silver Bells) to N'awlins funk (Merry Merry Christmas). Even Stevie Wonder drops by to blow a few notes on What Christmas Means to Me, a song from Wonder's all-time classic LP Someday at Christmas.

One can only hope Legend's first-ever holiday tour, which launches Thursday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, feels as timeless as the album. Nostalgia plays a huge role in the holiday concert circuit, which each year brings through town dozens of artists peddling seasonal tunes and their own greatest hits. It's a proven and profitable formula, one countless acts have used to build and extend their careers. They're usually family-friendly, so you can often take kids and grandparents. And at the end, you might leave covered in fake snow.

Legend isn't just the premiere name on this year's Christmas concert calendar. He's also first out the gate, ushering Tampa Bay into a packed six weeks of Christmas rock, choral and symphonic shows. Oh, and Nutcrackers. You better believe there will be Nutcrackers.

Here's your list; no need to check it twice. All of these shows look pretty nice to us.


The best pop and rock Christmas concerts feature artists who have a healthy selection of holiday material to mix in alongside their biggest hits.

John Legend (8 p.m. today, Ruth Eckerd Hall): If you see wife Chrissy Teigen and the kids there, wish them an early Merry Christmas. If not, catch their hourlong variety special, A Legendary Christmas With John and Chrissy, on Nov. 28 on NBC. $97.25 and up. (727) 791-7400.

Michael McDonald (Nov. 23, Capitol Theatre): The inimitable (okay, fine, everyone does a Michael McDonald imitation) blue-eyed soul man has a whopping four hit holiday albums. Yah mo be wearin' red and green at this one. $84 and up. (727) 791-7400.

Brian Setzer Orchestra (Dec. 5, Ruth Eckerd Hall): The swing revivalist's long-running holiday tour came to Clearwater for the first time last year, and it went so well he's already back. $52.75 and up.

Barry Manilow (Dec. 7, Amalie Arena): The pop icon is playing only a handful of holiday shows this year, and one is in Tampa. You never know when a tour will be his last, so get on it. $16 and up. (813) 301-2500.

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Michael W. Smith (Dec. 10, Capitol Theatre): He's not bringing Amy Grant this time around, but the Christian star does have former American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle. $69 and up.

Brian Wilson (Dec. 11, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall): After wrapping a tour celebrating Pet Sounds, Wilson and longtime comrades Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin will bring another LP to life: 1964's The Beach Boys' Christmas Album, featuring Little Saint Nick and The Man With All the Toys. That's worth a trip to Sarasota. $87 and up. (941) 953-3368.

Chris Isaak (Dec. 12, Capitol Theatre): Isaak's got some holiday songs, but he should really drop one called Santa Did a Naughty, Naughty Thing. $89 and up.

For King and Country (Dec. 14, Amalie Arena): Likely the biggest single show on this list, the Christian superstars are close to selling out Amalie for their popular holiday tour. $25.50 and up.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra (Dec. 16, Amalie Arena): If you've never seen these holiday titans live, you have two chances, at 3:30 and 7 p.m. Prepare to be blinded by the Christmas spirit. $31.25 and up.


Drumlines? Drag queens? Macaulay Culkin? Here are some great offbeat events this season.

A Drag Queen Christmas: The Naughty Tour (Dec. 28, Straz Center): It's after Christmas, but any chance to watch a cavalcade of queens from RuPaul's Drag Race strut their stuff, holiday-style, is not to be missed. $25.15 and up. (813) 229-7827.

Drumline Live Holiday Spectacular (Nov. 25, Mahaffey Theater): Genius idea, packing the percussive power of a drumline into a kid-friendly holiday show. Get ready to move. $29.50 and up. (727) 893-7832.

Miracle on Cleveland Street (Dec. 1, downtown Clearwater): The family-friendly celebration brings snow, ice skating, carriage rides and a free concert by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Let there be funk on earth.

Jane Lynch (Dec. 8-9, Straz Center): With anyone else at the center, this might be a fairly straightforward holiday cabaret. But with Emmy-winning actor Jane Lynch leading two shows a day in the intimate Jaeb Theater, anything's possible. $49.75 and up.

Cirque Musica Holiday: Wonderland (Dec. 16, Yuengling Center): Not to be confused with Cirque du Soleil's Crystal, an ice skating show hitting Amalie Arena around the same time, this lush show features acrobats, aerialists and live performers backed by a symphony. $25 and up. (813) 301-6700.

Florida Orchestra: Home Alone in Concert (Dec. 21, Ruth Eckerd Hall): We'll all be watching Home Alone at least once this holiday season, but you've probably never seen it like this, screened live at Ruth Eckerd Hall with the Florida Orchestra and Master Chorale of Tampa Bay providing a live score.


Whoop-de-do, and dickory-dock: There's also a lot of jolly jazz out there this year.

Dave Koz and Friends (Nov. 24, Ruth Eckerd Hall): The horns! So smooth! Especially when hometown sax master Mindi Abair steps on stage, joining Koz, Jonathan Butler, Keiko Matsui and Shelea. $35 and up.

The Piano Guys (Nov. 29, Ruth Eckerd Hall): The viral piano-cello outfit is known for pop covers and cinematic videos, but they've also racked up huge views for their holiday songs. $63.75 and up.

Manhattan Transfer, Herb Alpert and Lani Hall (Dec. 8, Capitol Theatre): The jazz vocal group arrives with the Tijuana Brass trumpeter and his wife. $49 and up.

Peter White (Dec. 9, Capitol Theatre): More seasonal smoothness, as the jazz-fusion guitarist is joined by Ric Braun and Euge Groove. $38 and up.

Nate Najar's Jazz Holiday (Dec. 13, Palladium): The internationally known St. Pete jazz guitarist's annual holiday show always sells out, so get your tickets early. $30 and up. (727) 822-3590.

Kenny G (Dec. 14, Ruth Eckerd Hall): And now we've reached Peak Smoothness, as Mr. G will bring several albums' worth of holiday material to town. $39.25 and up.


A cappella, classical pop and other vocal groups bring huge harmonies to the Christmas canon.

Celtic Angels Christmas (Dec. 2, Capitol Theatre): The Irish vocal quintet will be joined by the Celtic Knight Dancers and Trinity Band Ensemble of Dublin. What holiday is this again? $30 and up.

The Texas Tenors (Dec. 4, Straz Center): After a long run on America's Got Talent, this country vocal trio moved on to Emmy-winning PBS specials. Last year, they performed at the White House's tree-lighting ceremony. $36.75 and up.

Home Free (Dec. 6, Tampa Theatre): After winning NBC's The Sing-Off, the a cappella country quintet has released several Christmas albums, giving them lots of work this time of year. $32.50 and up. (813) 274-8286.

Florida Orchestra: Holiday Pops (Dec. 14-16): Homegrown American Idol fave Michael Lynche and a gospel choir lead the orchestra through their annual holiday show, which features a closing audience sing-along with the orchestra. 8 p.m. Dec. 14, Straz Center, Tampa; 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 15, Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg; and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater.

St. Petersburg Opera: Seasonal Sparkle (Dec. 18-19, Palladium): An operatic spin on the pops, but don't go thinking there won't be a little Nutcracker in here, too. $20 and up.

Rockapella (Dec. 21, Capitol Theatre): Still no sign of Carmen Sandiego, but you can always count on spotting Rockapella in Tampa Bay around the holidays. $30 and up.


Yep, it's Nutcracker season! But that's not the only dance and theatrical event hitting local theaters over the next six weeks.

The Nutcracker (Nov. 30-Dec. 2, Palladium): St. Petersburg Ballet Company is first when it comes to the Sugar Plum Fairies. $25, $15 students/youth/seniors.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Dec. 12, Ruth Eckerd Hall): Try not to sniffle when this kid-friendly stage show pulls out Charlie Brown's tree. $35 and up.

The Nutcracker (Dec. 18, Ruth Eckerd Hall): This one is presented by Tampa Ballet Theatre. $38 and up.

A Christmas Carol (Dec. 20, Ruth Eckerd Hall): Dickens' classic tale, classic as always. $29 and up.

Next Generation Ballet's Nutcracker (Dec. 21-23, Straz Center): One last chance to squeeze in some Tchaikovsky before Christmas. $30 and up.

Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker (Dec. 26-27, Mahaffey Theater): If you can take yet another Nutcracker after Christmas, this staging by Moscow Ballet should be a good one. $34 and up.

Cirque Dreams Holidaze (Dec. 29-30, Mahaffey Theater): Broadway visuals and acrobatic derring-do, wedged into the week between Christmas and New Year's. $35 and up.


If you want a break from all the holiday shenanigans, check out one of these radio festivals, which are festive in name only (though you won't look out of place in a Santa hat).

93.3-FLZ Jingle Ball (Dec. 15, Amalie Arena): Canadian heartthrob Shawn Mendes headlines, along with Marshmello, Khalid, Bebe Rexha, NF, Bazzi and Sabrina Carpenter. $41 and up.

98 Rock's Not-So-Silent Night (Dec. 16, Mahaffey Theater): Three hard-hitting, female-fronted rock bands headline this inaugural event: Halestorm, In This Moment and, ironically, an act called New Years Day. $53 and up.

US 103.5 Jingle Y'all (Dec. 21, Dallas Bull): Okay, cute name, we'll give this country station that. Rodney Atkins and Jerrod Niemann headline this inaugural event. $30 and up. (813) 987-2855.


Pinellas Youth Symphony Holiday Concert: 6 p.m. Sunday. Palladium. $10.

Damon Fowler's Holiday Blues Bash: 7 p.m. Wednesday. Palladium. $20 and up.

Patel Conservatory's Best Christmas Pageant Ever: Nov. 29-Dec. 2 (times vary). Straz Center. $10 and up.

Ruth Eckerd Hall Chorus: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4. Capitol Theatre. $10 adults, $5 students/military.

Bowzer's Holiday Rock 'n' Rolly Party: With Peter Noone, Freddie "Boom Boom" Cannon, the Coasters, Joey Dee, Bowzer and the Stingrays, Rocky and the Rollers and members of Sha Na Na. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7. Ruth Eckerd Hall. $38.75 and up.

The Family Tradition: Presented by Artz 4 Life Academy. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8. Mahaffey Theater. $22 and up.

Big Band Christmas: With the 10 O'Clock Big Band. 2 p.m. Dec. 9. Central Park Performing Arts Center, Largo. $19.50 and up. (727) 587-6751.

Patel Conservatory's Vocal Arts Choral Ensemble: 7 p.m. Dec. 11. Straz Center. $15 and up.

An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas starring Evan Tyrone Martin: Dec. 13-16. Straz Center. $60 and up.

J3 Vocal Showband: Jolly Holiday: 7 p.m. Dec. 14. Palladium. $25 and up.

Alex Harris: Got Soul Holiday Tour: 8 p.m. Dec. 15. Palladium. $30 and up.

An Elvis Christmas Special: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16. Central Park Performing Arts Center. $19.50 and up.

Erica DiCeglie Band: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20. Central Park Performing Arts Center. $14.50 and up.

Contact Jay Cridlin at or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.