Sure, there are heartwarming church concerts and inspiring holiday performances by the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops orchestras. But that's just the beginning. The Tristate music scene offers plenty of other holiday traditions that include rock, jazz and choral performances, ranging from barbershop singing to Christmas music done up as arena rock.

Local Music

Here's a look at holiday music happenings, with an emphasis on homegrown artists.

psychodots rock

Bar owners will tell you that Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest time of the year for club hopping. And, for many local rock fans, the holiday party season doesn't really start until the psychodots crank it up with their mesmerizing power chords at the Southgate House in Newport. The 'dots "” Rob Fetters, Bob Nyswonger, Chris Arduser "” have been playing feel-good power pop for nearly 25 years, and they have been throwing their annual Thanksgiving weekend show for almost two decades.

"We started doing it because it was a highly requested time to play," Fetters says. "People came home for the holiday and wanted something to do, maybe one night to get away from the family. We were a good excuse."

Since the band stopped playing regular gigs several years ago, the Thanksgiving concert has been one of its only concerts each year. Fetters said fans come from as far away as Hawaii, Florida and the East Coast for the annual show that has taken on a rock 'n' roll family reunion feel.

"It's a love fest," Fetters says. "As time goes on, a lot of those fans who needed a break from their families now show up and bring their kids."

The psychodots play Nov. 26 at the Southgate House, Newport; Dayton's Canal Street, Nov. 24.

Over The Rhine

It's a similar musical family feel for the annual Over the Rhine Christmas Homecoming Concert, Dec. 18 at the Taft Theatre ( For a dozen years the elegant, pensive folk-rock of Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler has been the perfect soothing touch for the season. Expect the husband-wife team to perform several selections from their new album, The Long Surrender, scheduled for release Jan. 11.

Steve Schmidt

For more than 10 years, jazz pianist Steve Schmidt has polished off his Hammond B3 organ for a holiday music set. Schmidt formerly accompanied the late crooner Bill Caffie. Now, Eugene Goss is the featured vocalist. His cozy baritone and Schmidt's warm organ stylings strike the perfect mood for holiday tunes. He performs Dec. 20 and 21 at the Comet, Northside.

Hillbilly Christmas

The honkytonk specialists in Straw Boss, the pride of Peach Grove, Ky., gather their fellow mountain music minstrels for the "Straw Boss Hillbilly Christmas Pageant," Dec. 23 at the Southgate House, Newport.

Mighty Wurlitzer

The Society for the Preservation of Music Hall is offering a holiday treat with a concert featuring the restored Wurlitzer organ from the Albee Theater. Happy Holidays with the Mighty Wurlitzer, 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 16 at Music Hall Ballroom, features internationally noted theater organist Jelani Eddington working all the magical bells and whistles on the Wurlitzer. Proceeds benefit the SPMH.

Specialty Shows

There are several excellent church-related choral events during the holidays, including the annual Lessons and Carols Dec. 5 at Covington's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption and the New Year's Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival at Christ Church Jan 1 and Jan. 2. But don't overlook the region's unique, but lesser known, holiday concerts.

Southern Gateway Chorus, the region's leading vocal group devoted to preserving a cappella, barbershop-style, four-part harmony performs its annual Christmas shows 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at Lakota East Freshman School and 2 p.m. Dec. 12 at Harrison High School. Proceeds benefit the Neediest Kids of All. The 70-member choir, with a 53-year history in Cincinnati, has consistently been rated one of the top 20 barbershop singing groups in the world.

Muse, the Cincinnati women's choir "singing for peace and social justice" holds its annual holiday sing-a-longs at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Boone County Library and Dec. 17 at the College Hill Coffee Company. The choir also has a new CD available this season, We Who Make Our Meaning Clear.

National Tours

Four nationally touring shows are performing here this holiday season:

For those who like their holiday concerts with pyrotechnics, lasers, a synchronized light show and elaborate staging with a dozen vocalists and 60-piece orchestra, there is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Apparently, enough people do. The TSO has become a holiday tradition in these parts booked at the U.S. Bank Arena four years in a row, after outgrowing the confines of the Taft Theatre, where it frequently played. British prog-rock musician/producer Paul O'Neill pioneered the idea of merging the bombastic rock opera concept with a Christmas theme. It worked. The TSO production is among the top-grossing concert tours each year. TSO plays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 24.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Garrison Keillor broadcasts his weekly "Prairie Home Companion" radio show from Music Hall on Nov. 27. While not a holiday show per se, Keillor will no doubt have his folksy take on Thanksgiving traditions from Cincinnati to Lake Wobegon. It's the third time in the last four years Keillor has hosted his show from Cincinnati.

It's the "25th Anniversary Spectacular" from Mannheim Steamroller, playing the Aronoff Center on Dec. 12. Created by Toledo, Ohio, native Chip Davis, his Mannheim CDs are perennially among the top-selling holiday albums with their contemporary pop take on Yuletide favorites.

Contemporary Christian music superstar Michael W. Smith brings his "It's a Wonderful Christmas" tour to the Aronoff on Dec. 9, complete with a full orchestra.

Offbeat Locals

If the holidays are the time to appreciate and renew traditions, you can certainly do that on the local music scene.

Take time to treasure these sometimes-neglected musical institutions where legendary local artists are guaranteed to impress out-of-town visitors and remind you of the strength of the local music community.

For more than 30 years, the Blue Wisp Big Band has played at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club every Wednesday, hardly missing a week in the history of the club's three locations. It is the longest-running progressive jazz big band in the country, still with original members making up a majority of the band's 16 players.

For more than 15 years, the Bluebirds Big Band, the area's premier rock 'n' soul outfit, has held court Sunday nights at Allyn's Café in Columbia-Tusculum. Anchored by Marcos Sastre's growling vocals and searing guitar, there's a three-piece horn section, and some of the finest musicians in town often sit in.

Some of the area's most talented multi-instrumentalists and mountain music practitioners have gathered each week for over a decade for Sunday night jams at the Comet in Northside.

The Comet Bluegrass All-Stars stack up with any bluegrass outfit in the country. Bandleader Ed Cunningham devotes the Sunday before Christmas to holiday tunes, digging deep into Celtic and old-time Yule musical traditions.

Looking for the Great American Songbook? Vocalist Mary Ellen Tanner has been entertaining local fans for four decades, performing for several years now every Sunday at Chez Nora in Covington. She's guaranteed to toss in some seasonal selections.