The nights won't be silent this month in Bay City as music takes center stage at local venues

With the COVID-19 dance still swaying the balance, the fall has brought a hokey pokey of sorts to entertainment to the Great Lakes Bay Area. Some venues are in and some are out, some people have returned to seeing shows, and others still don’t go out.

The change of weather also impacts the area's social activity as well as outdoor entertainment. As always, though, the annual Christmas Tree lighting and visit from Santa on Nov. 26, signaled what is typically an event-filled season.

Holiday music begins tonight at the State Theatre with Grammy Award-winning performer Jim Brickman. December can be a tricky month – even without a global pandemic – due to the time of year itself and family gatherings, but there are some standout performances early in the month that may spark some holiday joy for the whole family.

In addition to offering traditional holiday movies all month long, the State Theatre, 913 Washington Ave., has two events straight out of the gate to make spirits bright.

“I've got Grammy Award-winning Jim Brickman on Dec. 2,” says Mike Bacigalupo, grand curator of the events at the State and World Friendship Shell. The show is billed as "The Gift of Christmas" and kicks off at 7 p.m.

“If you know anything about Brickman, he's a freaking phenomenal piano player,” Bacigalupo says. “Then on the 4th of December, we’ve got Jennifer Naegele and Friends doing her Christmas CD release show (‘Making Spirits Bright’).” This will be the debut release date of Naegele’s holiday album and live showcase all in one.

Baciagalupo also noted The Bay Chorale, "A Joyful Christmas Celebration" on Dec. 10, featuring the Scott Tuttle Band. “They’re making their State Theater debut. They're pretty excited about that. So excellent. That's all on the website.”

There's music all month at Scotty's Sandbar, but the only holiday themed show takes place on Dec. 17.Known for its regional showcases as well as local artists, Scott Causley at Scotty’s Sandbar, 1201 Evergreen Drive on the Middlegrounds of Bay City, has a handful of big shows coming up that fall right into the season. 

“Dec. 3, we have the 23 North Band playing,” Causley says. “On the 4th, we have Brett Lucas out of Detroit. He’s the world-class guitarist for Bettye LaVette and Thornetta Davis. The 10th, we have The Instigators and on the 11th, we have a band called Stranger from the Thumb area.”

The middle of the month highlights The Sandbar’s only seasonal themed event. 

“Dec. 17th we have the Hellbound Drifters and Marsupial Creampie – that’s a holiday show. On the 18th, we have the Mitchell/Parks Project with Brett Mitchell. We are closed for Christmas.”

Brooklyn Boyz plans to highlight more jazz, roots, and blues music.Another mid-December holiday event comes via Brooklyn Boyz, 507 E. Midland St., who have been riding the success of Wednesday night showcases throughout the year. Owner Kevin Novellino is bringing in music on weekends now as well, attempting to go in the blues, jazz and roots music vein.

“On the 18th, I have a Very Jazzy Christmas with Lauren Rongo and Guests,” says Novellino.

“I'm going to keep Wednesdays going, that's for sure. Saturday the 11th, will be The William Hystad Blues Trio. We kicked off a Grateful Dead night in November which I plan to do one Saturday a month. I will bring that back in January.”

Mode's Tavern became a staple for live music throughout the summer. In the winter, space constraints mean Matt Nemode has to scale back a little. But you'll still find plenty of live musicians at this West Side hot spot.Just around the corner at Modes Tavern, 108 N. Linn St., owner Matt Nemode has begun showcasing local talent as well as Nashville and regional artists throughout the summer. As the winter months approach, Nemode will be slowing down the sounds to two or three days per week, due to space constraints and outside weather. His plan is to line up music with food or drink pairings throughout the cold months until his full schedule can resume in May 2022.

“We've got Matt Ferranti playing on the 10th,” says Nemode. “Dec. 17 is the last day of school for a lot of teachers, so we've got Bob Hughes for Friday Happy Hour. We’re going to try and tie in a little bit of Christmas theme onto that.”

Having just opened during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Nemode ramped up and offered multiple music acts daily for much of the spring and summer. He plans to continue that tradition next spring, beginning in May.

“We were open last year with outdoor dining only. We're not open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, or New Year's Day. We ran music six days a week because we had Cornhole on Thursday. It's really interesting. So right now we're booked Friday and Saturday nights. We're trying to incorporate some live music with some tastings that we're trying to do once or twice a month.”

For more than a decade, Bemo's has offered live music every day of the week.Over at Bemo’s Bar, 701 S. Madison Ave., live music has continued to run every day of the week for over a decade and remains the only venue to continue to do so. There are no holiday plans right now there.

“We don’t really want to highlight a single night, because it’s all great music,” said owner Luann Ervin. “Seven nights a week.” As for the end of the month, Ervin shared, “I do not have a band yet for New Years.”

New Years Eve has become a major event that will also be a tough call locally again this year. Some venues are set, while others aren’t sure if they should close or see what the month brings. Typically booked months in advance, artists have also been on the fence during the second year of the pandemic, with many pulling the plug at the last minute with dwindling attendance.

If you want to make your plans now, there are several options. 
The holiday lineup at the State Theatre includes movies and music.“New Year's Eve we have comedian Mike Ball and his friends,” says Bacigalupo for the State Theatre. The show is $25 per ticket. 

“Again, a lot of people are not doing a whole lot of stuff this holiday season. Typically I'm doing something every weekend and almost every night and I can't get artists to come yet. I mean, it's starting up a little bit better right now. It's all going to be in 2022. The next four months are already starting out shallow compared to other years. Typically I have 20 events going on. I have like seven. Then when it comes to summertime, I don't have a night off. It's a big change.”

Scotty’s Sandbar also has a firm plan for food and music on Dec. 31. “On New Years, we have the J West Special for $35 a head, including food,” says Causley. “Tickets are on sale at the bar right now.

Matt Nemode hopes to offer live music every day in the spring of 2022.“Last year we were closed pretty tight on lockdown,” added Causley. “We did a few things on the deck under the tent, but there wasn’t a lot going on.”

Both Mode's Tavern and Brooklyn Boyz plan to be closed for New Years Eve. However, Novellino is looking ahead at 2022 entertainment with enthusiasm.

“It'll all come together,” he says. “I'm excited about it.”

Bacigalupo also remains positive for the new year.
“We’ve got very little happening, but we are trying to keep the doors open right now, that’s for sure.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.