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Winter Guide 2023: Festive Events, Cool Concerts, Freezing Fests, and More

Your friendly reminder to get out of the house this season.

Provided images|

Just look at all the wintertime fun you could be having.

Yeah yeah yeah, we know we have a few weeks before it’s technically winter. But dates don’t mean shit here in Minnesota. It sure feels like winter these days, and we finally have a tiny bit of snow on the ground. 

While hygge, cuffing season, and winter isolation is definitely a thing here, we’re also pretty dang enthusiastic about getting out and about regardless of what the weather brings. The following is a collection of those things, from holiday bar crawls to parties on frozen lakes to a few comedy shows to take us through the thaw. 

Looking to do some holiday shopping? Check out our holiday pop-up guide, which we’re updating weekly.

This ominous penguin invites you in.Glow Holiday Festival

Holiday Happenings 

A Very Die Hard Christmas

Bryant-Lake Bowl

Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Debatable! Is Die Hard copaganda? Undeniably! It’s a tale of two policemen: an NYPD cop who single handedly takes down a building of terrorists and an LAPD officer who learns to just go with his trigger-happy flow. The true meaning of Christmas! This annual holiday stage production follows John McClane as he re-woos his estranged wife while saving her and her Japanese businessmen from German baddies all via a building’s air duct system. Along the way, audiences will be treated to improv, tunes, local celebrity cameos, and a very special visit from Santa  Claus. Order up a beer (or three) and get ready to watch a large-scale action flick told on BLB’s tiny stage. $25. Shows are generally 8 or 10 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays; check bryantlakebowl.com/theater for the complete schedule. 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis. Through December 23—Jessica Armbruster

Yuletide Cinema Pass

Parkway Theater

Two good things that often get described as “magic”—movies and holiday cheer—will meet, Reese’s-like, at The Parkway through December. The neighborhood movie house’s Yuletide Cinema Pass affords purchasers tickets to five matinee films for one blanket price: 2004's The Polar Express (December 2), 1946's It's a Wonderful Life (December 9), 1990's Home Alone (December 17), 1992's The Muppet Christmas Carol (December 23), and 1996's Jingle All the Way (December 30). (Be sure to revisit our massive 25th anniversary oral history of that latter film.) Bonus: You score a free bag of popcorn at each screening. $25 for kids under 12; $35 for everyone else. 4814 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. Through December 30—Jay Boller

Gingerbread Wonderland

Norway House 

The biggest cookie village in town returns this winter to Norway House. Each year, 250 or so pieces come together, creating a sweet-smelling wonderland for all to explore. Creations range from cozy cabins in the snow to multi-story abodes topped with icing. There will also be familiar Twin Cities structures and incredibly complex recreations of historical landmarks. The neighborhood includes submissions from creative kids, artsy hobbyists, and full time professional bakers, making this wonderland a really cool variety of skill, technique, and imagination. Find tickets and more information online. $15; free for kids under 12. Noon to 4 p.m. Sun. and Tue.; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wed.-Fri.; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sat. 913 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis. Through January 7—Jessica Armbruster

European Christmas Market, Union Depot

European Christmas Market 

Union Depot

Okay, so most of us aren’t going to make it to Germany, Sweden, or Austria this season. We’re more likely heading to pop-up markets at breweries, Target, the Mall, and, if we’re feeling ambitious, maybe Dayton’s downtown. But, should you want to experience a little old school charm, the European Christmas Market has got it in spades. This huge holiday market event features local makers and crafters selling traditional gifts, including knit items to keep us warm, wooden toys for kids, and foodstuffs galore. There will be tons of entertainment, with live music, dance, and local choirs taking the stage each day. Santa will be stopping by, as will Krampus, sled dogs, and reindeer. There will also be plenty of food to snack on, plus traditional hot beverages, beer, and gluhwein. Santa’s post office will be stationed for children who have hand-written requests, and there will also be a new extended holiday market called Santa’s Village. Bonus: Score a free Metro Transit ride to the event at uniondepot.org/holiday. Free. 4-9 p.m. Fri.; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sat.; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sun (11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 8). 214 Fourth St. E., St. Paul. Through December 17—Jessica Armbruster

Glow Holiday Festival 

CHS Field 

At the risk of questioning how The People’s Stadium is used, why doesn’t U.S. Bank Stadium stage seasonal fests like this when the Vikings aren’t bumbling around inside? Anyway, with a $12.75-$20.75 entry fee, the Glow Holiday Festival isn’t exactly an egalitarian use of the commons, though the event does seem fun. We’re talkin’ a loop around CHS Field featuring over a million holiday lights that illuminate something of a wintertime Candyland—enchanted forest, illuminated bikes, glowing critters, a 60-foot Christmas tree, maze, zipline, gift shop, and the so-called penguin playground. (Here’s a drone swoop of last year’s festivities.) Will there be up-charge opportunities? ‘Tis the season! The 150-foot Giant Snowy Slide is extra, as are s'more fixins and other concessions. The highly Instagrammable proof that you loaded up the kids and tapped into a shared sense of holiday magic? That’s priceless*. (*Holiday magic may be extra, we’re not sure.) $20.75 for adults; $12.75 for kids; free for kids under 24 months. 5-9 p.m. Thu.-Sun. 360 N. Broadway St., St. Paul; find more info here. Through December 31—Jay Boller

Winter Lights 

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

It’s no Matt Birk’s house, but we think you’ll find Winter Lights at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum just a little more charming than the 10,000-watt Jesus on display in Mendota Heights. You’re free to wander the walking tour route at your own pace, and new this year, there’s a color-changing tunnel, a Winter Village on Scarecrow Hill, and a field of sunflowers—all, the arboretum promises, with more lights than ever before. $10-$15 members; $25-$30 non-members; $10 for ages 15 and younger. 5-10 p.m. Fri.-Sun., plus additional holiday dates. 3685 Arboretum Dr., Chaska; find more info here. Through December 31—Em Cassel

Fulton Brewing Dose of Minni Dazzle 

Fulton Taproom

Alas, Holidazzle was canceled this year. But this four-day party at Fulton will offer Holidazzle vibes with artists, performers, vendors, and more from the beloved festival. There will be a vendor's mart all three days, with woodworkers, cocktail makers, knit goods, dog treats, soaps, jewelry, and more. There will also be special events, a few highlights include a winter bike ride with the Joyful Riders (Thursday), trapeze artists (Friday), drag bingo (Saturday), and holiday trivia (Sunday), as well as free workouts, choirs, Santa visits, and more. For a complete schedule of events, visit fultonbeer.com. Free. 5-9 p.m. Thu.-Fri.; 2-7 p.m. Sat.; 1-5 p.m. Sun. Fulton Taproom, 414 N. Sixth Ave., Minneapolis. December 14-17—Jessica Armbruster

I have a hangover just looking at this pic.SantaCon

Lowertown SantaCon XVI

Union Depot’s East Plaza

After over a decade of bar hopping, SantaCon was forced to disappear for three years because, well, you know. But hey, the annual holiday party is back this year and pretending that it didn’t miss a beat. Things will kick off at the European Holiday Market, travel to Mears Park for some photo ops, head over to Big River Pizza, and end at MetroNOME. There are no tickets, and you don’t need to sign up for this event; just show up and join the fun. Costumes aren’t just limited to Santa, either. Past events have seen folks in ugly sweaters, a Turducken man, multiple Krampuses (Krampi?), and a variety of dreidels. Follow the action live on Twitter at @santacon55101. Free. 7 p.m. to bar close. 240 E. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul. December 16—Jessica Armbruster

A few more festive things:

Magic of Lights

Drive your car through a winter wonderland filled with twinkling lights riffing on things like dinosaurs, monster trucks, and Barbie. $40-$45 per car; find more info here. Viking Lakes, 730 Vikings Pkwy., Eagan. Through December 31

Schultz Family Lights

Or experience a cool drive-thru DIY light show for free. Bring canned goods to donate to the Merrick Food Shelf. Find more info online. 5-10 p.m. daily. 1526 York Ave., St. Paul. Through December 31

A Christmas Carol

C’mon, you know what this one is about. Find tickets online. Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis. Through December 30

Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy

It’s a classic. Presented by Minnesota Dance Theatre. State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. December 16-23

Festivus at the Fine Line

Featuring tunes from Mae Simpson, Big Delicious, and 120 Minutes; feats of strength from F1rst Wrestling’s Super Atomic Thunder Frog and Brandon Gore; and the airing of grievances hosted by Dru Nustad. 18+. $15-$30; find tickets here. 7:30 p.m. Fine Line, 324 N. First Ave., Minneapolis. December 23

Festivus at Fair State

Featuring feats of strength, the airing of grievances, and beer. Free. 7-10 p.m. Fair State Brewing, 2506 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis. December 23

Elf Trivia

Hosted by Trivia Mafia. Find more info at triviamafia.com/elf. Various Locations. December 10-30

Clockwise: Red Cow, Travail, the Grunch RoomPromo

Holiday Bar Pop-Ups

Nico’s Navidad 

Nico’s Taco and Tequila Bar

They’ve gone and transformed Nico’s into a whole holiday house! With five different themed rooms, holiday cocktails, and more tinsel than you can toss a toboggan at. 2516 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis.

Grinch’s Lair

Hotel Emery 

Hotel Emery gets it: The star of Christmas is the Grinch. Don’t think so? Why are there no iconic tweets about Santa and so many about the Grinch? With a special menu of drinks and snacks inspired by the Grink—sorry, the Grinch—Emery promises to “make your heart grow three sizes with delight.” Bring an unwrapped gift for their toy drive, get a free drink! 215 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis.

Red Nose Room

Red Cow Uptown

Thanks to the Red Nose Room’s menu of 12 holiday-themed drinks (including two NA bevs), it won’t be long until you’ve mustered up the liquid courage to take a photo on Red Cow’s Santa throne. Look for the lights down Hennepin—we gotta imagine this pop-up glows for blocks. 2626 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis.

Tinseltown 

O’Donovan’s Irish Pub

Baubles, bows, trees, wreaths—O’Donovan’s is bringing the Christmas spirit to downtown Minneapolis in a big way. Featuring winter warmer drinks and a Christmassy cocktail menu, at Tinseltown, “everyday is Christmas.” 700 N. First Ave., Minneapolis.

Hell-i-Dazzle

Hell’s Kitchen

Hell-i-Dazzle has a great name and a heartwarming story to boot. Hell’s Kitchen’s founding chef, Mitch Omer, always loved the holidays, and to honor his memory and have a hell of a good time in the process, they’ve packed every nook and cranny of the restaurant with lights, kitschy decor, and more. 80 S. Ninth St., Minneapolis.

Travail’s Holiday Vacation

Travail Basement Bar

Travail’s tinseltown is a little more of a prix fixe sitch than the others on this list—tickets to Holiday Vacation start at $69, with a required beverage pairing. But that entry fee gets ya “classic vacation beverages, cherished holiday libations, and inventive cocktails,” plus a multi-course tasting menu of Pan-Asian and Polynesian-inspired cuisine. 4134 Hubbard Ave. N., Robbinsdale.

Minnesota Ice CastleBryan Rowland

FESTIVALS

Winter Warmup

U.S. Bank Stadium 

Back in 2020, we made a pretty convincing (though logistically slight) case for bringing back the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The need has never been greater. Consider this column from reliably great Strib columnist Jennifer Brooks. In it, she waxes nostalgic for the era of the Rollerdome, when Twin Cities families could zip around the Dome’s ol’ concrete concourses on the cheap. A true hoot! Then, Brooks revealed the pricing for U.S. Bank Stadium’s so-called Winter Warm-Up skating/running hours—$15 fuckin’ dollars after fees! Through Ticketmaster! At the risk of editorializing, what absolute money-grubbing, deranged horseshit. Brooks notes that state and Minneapolis taxpayers collectively coughed up about half the cost to build the (already crumbling) $1 billion shrine to concussions and dead birds, which is still, somehow, laughably billed as “The People’s Stadium” by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. Minnesota’s all-time greatest photo proves more prophetic by the year. In any case, scooting around the stadium might be fun if you can afford it. $15. 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. 401 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. Through January 25—Jay Boller

Minnesota Ice Castle

Maple Grove

Ice dams? Not cool. Black ice on sidewalks? Super un-fun. Buildings made of ice, on the other hand? Totally rad. For this epic annual ice castle, over 12,000 icicles are “grown” each day, then applied to the structure, which weighs over 20 million tons. Water will be turned into giant ice slides, magical caverns, and tunnels you can travel through. Icy wintertime things to explore include twinkling trails filled with lights, a snow tubing hill guests can zoom down, a polar pub serving up warm drinks, and ice sculptures created by artists both local and international. Find dates, times, and tickets at icecastles.com/minnesota. $16-$23. Thursdays through Mondays. 12500 82nd Ave. N., Maple Grove. January 13 through February 14—Jessica Armbruster

U.S. Pond Hockey Championships

Lake Nokomis

In a land of extreme weather it’s not surprising that our winter sporting events are extreme too. Now in its 17th year, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships take place in the dead of winter on a frozen lake, with teams battling it out for the right to put their name on the Golden Shovel. This ain’t no rinky-dink tourney: Folks from all over the U.S. and Canada flock here for 10 days of team games in a variety of divisions. There’s a division for folks over 50, one for players who are newish to ice hockey, and one for seasoned athletes dealing with injuries. Folks are welcome to watch games, with areas for open skating, a warming tent, and a beer garden keeping the party going between matches. For complete game schedules and more info, visit uspondhockey.com. Free. 5001 Lake Nokomis Pkwy. W., Minneapolis. January 18-28—Jessica Armbruster

Art Shanty Projects

Bdé Umáŋ/Lake Harriet

Once again the Art Shanty Project is taking over a frozen lake for weekends of hands-on happenings, live music and performances, and wholesome fun. And for the first time since the pandemic, people can again go inside some of the shanties, with activities taking place both inside and out. “We've got a 50/50 mix,” says artistic director Erin Lavelle. “So if you've been waiting to cozy up inside with us again, this is your year! And if you're still not comfortable with that, we got you!” Shanties include the Free Store Shanty, where you can donate a warm winter item or pick one up; Hot Box: Disco Inferno aimed to get people warmed up via dancing; and the Time.Light.Color. installation, which works as a unique sundial. The outdoor performance stage will host a variety of entertainment, from klezmer jams to yoga classes to Ice Pirate Radio broadcasts. In total, 18 different shanties will be heading back to Lake Harriet. Find more deets at artshantyprojects.org. Free; $10-$20 suggested donation. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., Minneapolis. January 20 through February 11—Jessica Armbruster

Krewe and Vulcanus Rex LXXXVISaint Paul Winter Carnival

Saint Paul Winter Carnival

Various Locations 

While our hearts may lie with the Minnesota State Fair, the Saint Paul Winter Carnival might be the fest that we’re best known for outside the state. And that’s for good reason: Minnesotans have been freaking out the rest of the nation with our enthusiasm for subzero temps for 138 years. This year’s installment is as epic as ever, with ice and snow sculpting competitions, an ice fishing tourney, hockey games, winter runs, huge parades, and music in a heated tent in Rice Park. There will be less traditional winter fun to be had too, including the Saintly City Cat Show, a dog party at the Depot, a beer release party at Saint Paul Brewing, and an orchid installation at Como Conservatory. For a complete schedule of events, see wintercarnival.com. January 25 through February 3—Jessica Armbruster

The Great Northern

Various Locations

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival isn’t the only sprawling festival that celebrates the coldest season. The newer kid on the block, the Great Northern, also offers a ton of things to see and do regardless of the windchill, with events highlighting cold-weather wellness, outlining climate change causes, and celebrating Indigenous artists, makers, and minds. A few highlights: Broken Ice, a First Ave showcase of Indigenous bands; a sauna village at Malcolm Yards and a BIPOC bathing event at Watershed Spa; and an ice bar in downtown Minneapolis. Other happenings include special film screenings, gallery shows and opening receptions, dining pop-ups, and nature walks. Find the complete schedule at thegreatnorthernfestival.com. January 25 through February 4—Jessica Armbruster

Powderhorn Art Sled Rally

Powderhorn Park

While the winter carnivals go big, sometimes it’s the smaller events that really bring the fun. Enter the Powderhorn Art Sled Rally, one of the most charming neighborhood happenings in town. Each year, kids and kids-at-heart create a variety of artsy sleds that they bring to the park and send down a hill. Who will make it to the bottom? Who will fall apart? Past entrants include sleds fashioned after fly swatters, a swarm of bees, and a gingerbread house sled. No matter what the outcome, you’re gonna have a lot of fun whether you participate or simply cheer friends on. You can find updates, including sled building sessions, at artsledrally.com. Free. 2 p.m. 3400 15th Ave. S., Minneapolis. January 27—Jessica Armbruster 

Powderhorn Art Sled Rally

The Official 2023 Flyfest Ski Jumping Event

Minneapolis Ski Jumping Club

Strapping on skis and sending yourself down a giant ramp with the expectation of landing safely is no easy feat. But every year, folks do it at Bush Lake’s ski jump in hopes of taking home a trophy. Past Olympians, Olympic hopefuls, and other high-level athletes will soar up to 300 feet in the air, dazzling crowds with their fearlessness. Folks on the ground will want to dress in their winter best, with bonfires, food trucks, and more to keep them warm. $10; kids under 12 free. 5-9 p.m. 8401 E. Bush Lake Rd., Bloomington. February 3—Jessica Armbruster 

Also worth checking out:

Winter Skolstice at Viking Lakes

Featuring pop-up vendors, seasonal cocktails, food trucks, free live music, outdoor activities for kids, and more. While some events have cover charges, many happenings are free admission. 4-9 p.m. Mon.-Wed.; 4-10 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; 3-10 p.m. Sun. through Feb. 24. Viking Lakes, 730 Vikings Pkwy., Eagan; find a complete schedule at explorevikinglakes.com. Now through February 24

Found Footage Festival 10

Get ready to watch some awesome old crap on VHS, including a dating guide from 1987, a new age seminar, and something called “Males in Motion.” Find tickets online. $15. 4 and 7 p.m. Heights Theater, 3951 Central Ave. NE, Columbia Heights. December 17

Out There 2024: A Plot/A Scandal 

Berlin-based conceptual choreographer Ligia Lewis explores the space where scandal-induced feelings of pleasure and distress meet. $15. 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Walker Art Center, 725 Vineland Place, Minneapolis. January 11-13

Out There 2024: The Nosebleed

Aya Ogawa explores if and how we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our parents. $15. 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Walker Art Center, 725 Vineland Place, Minneapolis. January 25-27

2024 Lake Minnetonka Klondike Dog Derby

Hang out with dogs from 1 to 6 p.m. on Friday, and enjoy the big race from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday. Find more details here. Downtown Excelsior & Lower Lake Minnetonka. February 2-3

City of the Lakes Loppet Winter Festival

This weekend-long event features a variety of ski races, dog races, winter games, and cool art installations. For a complete list of events or to sign up, visit loppet.org/events/festival. Theodore Wirth Park, 1301 Theodore Wirth Pkwy., Minneapolis. February 3-4

Out There 2024: The Mood Room

Big Dance Theater presents a ‘70s family reunion featuring five sisters. $15. 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat. 725 Walker Art Center, Vineland Place, Minneapolis. February 8-10

Out There 2024: Honor, an Artist Lecture by Suzanne Bocanegra

Lili Taylor stars in this fake presentation about a non-existent woman. $15. 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Walker Art Center, 725 Vineland Place, Minneapolis. February 22-24

Otoboke BeaverPromo pic

Music

Doja Cat and Ice Spice

Target Center

Bad bitches rarely play as nice as Doja Cat did on Planet Her. Mimicking hyperpop, asking “When can we take off all our clothes?,” and making nice with guests as varied as Ariana Grande and Young Thug, the woman born Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini (really, why even bother with a stage name?) embodies a plastic sexuality with cyborg elements but human responses, far from fragile but never engaged in battle bot mode. Doja’s follow up, Scarlet, released in September, has offered the Dionne Warwick-jacking single "Paint the Town Red," the sultry “Attention,” and “Demons,” a braggadocious wink from “the fastest growing bitch on all your apps now.” I suspect plenty in attendance will be just as excited to see Ice Spice, who, with just one juicy EP to her name, has summoned up her own world of slang, a vocabulary for dissing men, rizzing them, and sealing the deal. 7:30 p.m. 600 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; find more info here. December 7—Keith Harris

Los Lobos

First Avenue

These Mexican-American roots-rockers blasted out of East L.A. in the ’80s with a soulful Chicano-rock sound that made lots of the heartland rockers then in vogue sound kinda wimpy and strained. Rather than resign themselves to being “that ‘La Bamba’ band” after a fluke Richie Valens cover landed them on the pop charts, they swerved into more experimental ventures in the ’90s with producer Tchad Blake. (Think of them as progenitors of Wilco in that way.) It wasn’t quite like old times when they returned to straight-up rocking in the ’00s, so it was heartening that their 2021 album, Native Sons, which collected covers of Los Angeles bands from the ’60s and ’70s such as Buffalo Springfield and War, had a bit of the old spark. But albums hardly tell the full story of Los Lobos. This tour marks 50 years that the four original members have been playing together, and they’ve barely lost a step live. $39.50. 8 p.m. 701 N. First Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. December 9—Keith Harris

Robert Glasper

Dakota

A jazz pianist born late enough (1978) to come up on hip-hop and neo-soul, Glasper is probably best known outside of jazz for his keyboard work on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, which was integral in defining that album’s sound. In the past two decades, he’s achieved crossover success at Blue Note with his feature-heavy Black Radio releases, the third of which, released last year, offered Killer Mike, Jennifer Hudson, Me'Shell Ndegéocello, Q-Tip, Esperanza Spalding, and many, many—many—more guests. It’s tempting to call Glasper’s music “fusion,” but that term implies the forced yoking of disparate styles; instead, Glasper  treats contemporary Black music as a smooth confluence of genres. He just played a three-night stand at the Dakota in January, and he must have liked it because he’s back for another three nights. $55-$75. 7 & 9:30 p.m. 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; find more info here. December 15-17—Keith Harris

Durry

First Avenue

Racket had the scoop on Durry’s wildly viral 2021 rise, when the brother-sister local band blew up with 200,000 plays on TikTok (that figure now soars past 1 million). A grunge-pop shoutalong with vocals that alternately summon My Chemical Romance and Post Malone, the song “Who’s Laughing Now” stirred up attention from “very big name” management firms; the band was booked solid with industry Zoom meetings, and the single scored placement on Spotify-curated playlists. Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit and Chris Riemenschneider of the Star Tribune are fans. Durry debuted that July at a sold-out 7th St. Entry, just as live music began its comeback, with singer-songwriter Austin Durry predicting the “post-TikTok” concerts will be wild. He wasn’t wrong: Durry has since graduated to the Mainroom. DNM opens. $20-$22. 8 p.m. 701 N. First Ave., Minneapolis; more info here. December 16—Jay Boller

Motion City Soundtrack

Uptown Theater

When we interviewed Motion City frontman Justin Pierre last year, he was eager to reflectively stroke his pop-punk beard, so to speak, about being an elder statesman of a bygone scene. “We’re like a mid-level nostalgic act now, for all intents and purposes… shit man, I feel grateful for being able to do this as long as I have.” So are fans of the synthy locals who blew up at the height of the ’00s emo boom. MCS treated back-to-back Mainroom audiences to their 2005 sophomore album, Commit This to Memory, in the summer of 2022. The MOOG handstands and fist-pumping that runs through “Everything Is Alright” carried extra oomph, considering Motion City broke up from 2016 through 2019, only to shelve comeback plans as the pandemic locked things down. Tonight, at the even larger Uptown Theater, the group will celebrate the end of 2023 and the 20th anniversary of their official debut, I Am the Movie, by playing their best album (IMO) all the way through. Perhaps we’ll find out if the future, which now, it stands to reason, represents the present, still freaks Pierre out. Gully Boys open. $65-$166. 7 p.m. 2900 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. December 31—Jay Boller 

Rosanne Cash 

Dakota 

Last month, Cash celebrated the 30th anniversary of her eighth album, The Wheel, with an expanded rerelease, packaged with some live performances from the period. (Among the new tracks is a moving revamp of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from My Fair Lady, reminding us that before she was known as an acutely personal singer-songwriter, Cash’s rep was as a brilliant interpreter of other people’s material.) The Wheel was a watershed album for Cash, her first since moving to New York and making a break with Nashville and her first husband and regular collaborator Rodney Crowell. The transition now feels inevitable—Cash had already begun to leave country-pop stardom behind with her 1990 album, the unrelentingly introspective Interiors—but all changes seem that way in retrospect. The Wheel is also the first Cash album co-produced by John Leventhal, who’d soon become her new husband, and he’s performing with her on this tour. It’ll be great to hear her revisit these songs, and that moment in her career, in as intimate a setting as the Dakota. $105-$135. 7 p.m. 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; find more info here. January 9-10—Keith Harris

Arcwelder

Turf Club 

Everybody loves a comeback, but the Twin Cities really love a comeback. So the news that brothers Rob and Bill Graber and drummer Scott Macdonald were releasing their first music in nearly a quarter-century even excited folks who weren’t around for Arcwelder’s first act. The noisily tuneful trio that began life in the ’80s as Tilt-a-Whirl, then made noise nationwide in the ’90s recording for Touch & Go Records, and released their last album in 1999, though they had still played out occasionally in the interim. They’ll release their new full-length, produced by J. Robbins of Jawbox, at the start of 2024, and two new tracks give us a sense of what’s in store: the yowling “Lafayette” and the harmony-buoyed “Take It Slow.” And they told Chris Riemenschneider they may release even more songs later in the year; maybe they’ll preview a few of those at the Turf. Arcwelder will play two sets tonight—one of the new material, and one of the oldies. With Eleganza! $20. 8 p.m. 1601 University Ave W., St. Paul; find more info here. January 13—Keith Harris

Digable PlanetsPromo pic

Digable Planets 

Varsity Theater 

One of my great “history will prove me right” moments was preferring this spacey, jazzy hip-hop trio to conscious pop-rap chart toppers Arrested Development, and I swear, this was a choice some of us felt we had to make in the ’90s. With their trippy names (Butterfly, Doodlebug, and Ladybug), laidback flow, and cool-jazz samples, the group that released Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) felt like they lived in a world all their own, or were at least in search of one, yet they also released what’s probably the only great pro-choice rap song. The rhymes and attitude firmed up a bit on Blowout Comb without losing any of their cool. And then that was that. Rap had no shortage of such beautiful dead ends in those days, bursts of creativity that brought forth no stylistic descendents or future echoes. Still, Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler did go on to become the prolific abstract rapper Shabazz Palaces. A nostalgia show, yes (trust, I did not pay $100 to see them in 1994) but nostalgia for a moment that’s easy for the writers of history to overlook. With Kassa Overall. $102.56. 7 p.m. 1308 SE Fourth St., Minneapolis; find more info here. January 27—Keith Harris

Armand Hammer

Fine Line

Is billy woods the absolute best at what he does right now? His rhymes are somehow both allusive and concrete, never crystalizing into a linear narrative but rarely drifting into the ether. With We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, he and his partner in Armand Hammer, Elucid, are responsible for the album title of the year (sorry, Lana), which includes song titles like “Woke Up and Asked Siri How I’m Gonna Die.” The production on a few of these tracks are a little, well, out, as they say in jazz, the rhymes tending toward the abstract, but whenever you get a bit woozy they yank you back in with a line like “Don't invite me to your house, ask me to remove my shoes and your floors ain't clean.” And yet, the Armand Hammer is probably woods’s second-best album of the year, after maps, a collaboration with producer Kenny Segal. Damn. Recently, woods has swung through here a few times, both solo and with Armand Hammer, playing venues as varied as the Green Room and Dakota. You can’t say you haven’t had plenty of chances to catch him live. $25-$45. 9 p.m. 318 N. First Ave., Minneapolis; find more info hereJanuary 27—Keith Harris

Thursday 

First Avenue

Contrary to popular belief, 2003’s War All the Time was not intended to protest the Iraq War. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly coming from a screamo band like Thursday, about the internal warring inside every 20-something in post-9/11 America. To call this New Jersey group “screamo,” however, sells ‘em a bit short; Geoff Rickly & Co. were always more indebted to Joy Division than Hot Topic, and that artistic depth permeates their whole discography, which holds the hell up. On War, their major-label debut, Thursday screamed a little less, grew more musically muscular, and trended in more complex directions than their peers. (That didn’t stop an Island Mercury label boss from publicly commenting on Rickly’s cute lil butt at the time.) It remains a visceral wallop of Bush-era malaise, and it’ll get the 20th anniversary front-to-back treatment tonight in the Mainroom. Opening are Rival Schools and Many Eyes. $30-$35. 7 p.m. 701 N. First Ave., Minneapolis; more info here. January 31—Jay Boller

Madonna  

Xcel Energy Center

Admirably if perhaps futilely, Madonna has long refused to become an oldies act. Her tours have stressed her relevance, which is of course questionable, and her artistic vitality, which really isn’t—anyone who released Madame X would have reason to be proud and an understandable   desire to perform that music live. So the Celebration Tour is her long-delayed victory lap, glancing back over her shoulder at what she’s accomplished over the past (gosh) 40 years, even if, like most pop stars, the commercial and artistic peaks are frontloaded. As if to remind us she might not be around forever, a serious bacterial infection delayed this tour (this show was originally scheduled for last July). And as dotty or problematic she might seem to online puriteens, she remains incomparable, if only because we’ve quite simply never seen what a 65-year-old dance-pop superstar can do. With Bob the Drag Queen. $70-$1750. 8:30 p.m. 199 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul; find more info here. February 13—Keith Harris

Jess WilliamsonPromo pic

Jess Williamson 

Parkway Theater

Various gems are scattered in the discography of Jess Williamson, though the L.A.-based singer-songwriter evolved into her finest form with June’s Time Ain't Accidental. On it, the Texas-born indie vet embraces twang, constructs a cohesive universe of cosmic heartache, and cements herself as an S-tier lyricist. Top to bottom, it’s far and away my favorite album of 2023. Williamson, similar to her Plains bandmate Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee), is able to deliver emotional haymakers via expert inflection and detail—find me a more devastating song than “Stampede.” But she’s also funny, paging through Raymond Carver at a poolside bar during a doomed romantic rendezvous, and musically adventurous, deploying drum machines and horns to liven up the country-folk foundation of her songs. Fans of Townes and Lucinda should run—not walk!—to The Parkway. $25-$35. 7 p.m. 4814 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. March 2—Jay Boller

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Palace Theatre

I guess Isbell’s a movie star now—his reserved turn as Bill Smith in Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon was pretty impressive. Back at his day job (well, night job) he’s touring behind his latest, Weathervanes, which is grim and desperate even by Isbell’s gritty standards, with even the softer moments regretful. “Cast Iron Skillet” sprinkles homey aphorisms in a tale of doomed interracial love, “Save the World” grapples with parental anxiety in the age of school shootings, and several songs about splintering or busted relationships acknowledge the strain of a harshening world outside. If Isbell sometimes seems ready to succumb to the fatalism that lesser songwriters begin with as a tenet of faith, he travels an honest path to get there. Opening is Palehound, whose album Eye on the Bat, showcases El Kempner’s deepening songcraft and muscular guitars that spiral upward like a power-pop Built to Spill. $69.59-$135. 8 p.m. 17 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul; find more info here. March 2-3—Keith Harris

Otoboke Beaver 

First Ave

These four hyper stylish Japanese women blew my damn mind when they played the Fine Line last February, and here they are again barely a year later in a bigger room—let’s hope this becomes an annual late-winter tradition. Excuse me for quoting myself: “Otoboke Beaver frolic with the collective ferocity you can only harness when you know, you just know, that what’s best in life is to be way cooler than the losers you hate,” I wrote in my review, and that’s just a hint of what their thrashy noise-punk does. Their lyrics and song titles are a giddy bilingual mess; here’s a bit of the translated Japanese lyrics to the English-titled “I Am Not Maternal”: “Having let my parents meet their grandkid/Their grandkid, their grandkid/I immediately put it back in my belly." My only regret is that I couldn’t see as much of drummer Kahokiss as I should have. (Look. At. Her.) Learn from my mistake and get there early to secure a good spot. As a bonus you’ll also get to catch the openers, Korea’s fun-as-hell Drinking Boys and Girls Choir. $25. 8 p.m. 701 N. First Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. March 7—Keith Harris

Hurray for the Riff Raff Promo pic

Hurray for the Riff Raff 

Amsterdam Bar & Hall

Aging punks still awaiting the second coming of Joe Strummer probably weren’t expecting a queer Puerto Rican non-dude from the Bronx with an acoustic guitar to come closer to fitting the bill than any mere man, but it ain’t 1977 no more, pal. Not to saddle Alynda Segarra, very much their own artist, with that sort of baggage, but Segarra does embrace rock heroics and political purpose with a verve few younger songwriters dare today. On Hurray for the Riff Raff’s latest album, Life on Earth, Segarra’s lyrics have a more personal thrust, but the scope of their vision remains just as broad. The Past Is Still Alive, due in February, features guest spots from Conor Oberst and S.G. Goodman, and its lead single, “Alibi,” is a keeper, with Segarra pledging “I love you very much/And all that other stuff.” Come early for the tremendous experimental pop/R&B artist NNAMDÏ. $21-$26. 8 p.m. 6 W. Sixth St., St. Paul; find more info here. March 15—Keith Harris

Olivia Rodrigo 

Xcel Energy Center

What I love most about Rodrigo and her second album, Guts, is the way her self-awareness never undercuts her impulsiveness, but never justifies it either. On “Bad Idea, Right?” and “Get Him Back!” she’s hilariously analytical about her bad decisions, sometimes even before she makes them. She autopsies past relationships unsparingly on “Vampire” and “Logical,” and she understands stardom from the inside (“Teenage Dream”) and out ( “All-American Bitch”). And she does this all with the “let’s try this” confidence of a star making the most of her moment. I’m not sold on some of the ballads, which aren’t meant for me anyway, but I suspect a full-arena singalong might demolish my reservations. No one in 2023 is transmuting heartbreak, jealousy, insecurity, and angst into pure pop pleasure anywhere near on her level. With Chappell Roan. 7:30 p.m. 199 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul; find more info here. March 15—Keith Harris

Bad Bunny

Target Center

It’s hard not to talk about Benito Ocasio in superlatives these days. He first established his name as the biggest star in Latin trap, but in recent years he’s leapfrogged over that title to become the world’s biggest pop star en español period. And with his 2022 smash Un Verano Sin Ti, he began to dominate the anglo world as well, His October release, Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana, is less stylistically diverse, but for a “back to basics” record, it still mixes up its beat plenty, with tastes of Jersey club, drill, and house. Since I shamefully no habla, I’m hardly the guy to catalog Bad Bunny’s strengths, but even across the language barrier I can hear a swagger in his voice, and I often get a laugh or two when I check out the translations. And while I don’t believe that music is a universal language, the beats sure don’t get lost in translation. $151.95-$685.95. 8 p.m. 600 N. First Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. March 23—Keith Harris

Sleater-Kinney

Palace Theatre

Look, I miss Janet Weiss as much as anyone (I didn’t see you at the Quasi show at the Entry in September) and if you want to put an asterisk next to the band name and consider all subsequent Tucker/Brownstein output non-canon, split any hairs you desire. But art is messy, so are interpersonal band relations, and Sleater-Kinney are moving in directions they couldn't or wouldn't before, at a time in their career when the alternatives were calcification or second retirement. Little Rope, due in January, is reportedly steeped in grief after Carrie Brownstein’s mother and stepfather died in a car accident last year, and the guitars on the two album cuts released so far, the anthemic “Say It Like You Mean It” and the flagellating “Hell,” make me eager to hear the rest. With Black Belt Eagle Scout. $39.50-$75. 8 p.m. 17 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul, find more info here. March 23—Keith Harris

Chloe Radcliffe Promo pic

Comedy

Pete Davidson

Is Pete Davidson annoying? Yes. Is Pete Davidson funny? Also yes. Accepting those terms makes the 30-year-old comic/ex-SNL star/tabloid fixture more digestible and, based on ticket sales for this suburban casino gig, demand appears quite high. Mystic Lake Casino, 2400 Mystic Lake Blvd. NW, Prior Lake; find more info here. December 10

Josh Thomas 

The Aussie comic behind the TV show Please Like Me earned a New Yorker profile for highlighting autism through comedy. The Fillmore, 525 N. Fifth St., Minneapolis; find more info here. December 10

Chloe Radcliffe

The locally launched, NYC-based writer (The Tonight Show) and performer (Steven Soderbergh’s Command Z) is, put simply, hilarious. The Comedy Corner Underground, 1501 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. December 22-23

Lizz Winstead 

The local Daily Show co-creator is back with another year-in-review through a very funny feminist lens, this one titled “2023andMe: Breaking Down The Year in DNA-Holes.” Parkway Theater, 4814 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. December 30-31

Brian Regan

The mega-popular king of clean comedy boasts endless peer respect, even from his raunchiest contemporaries. State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. December 31

Jeremiah Watkins 

According to the L.A. comedian’s bio: “Jeremiah Watkins is heralded as the comedian for making Judd Apatow fall in love with comedy again, and that’s a direct quote from Judd himself!” Commendable if true! Acme Comedy Co., 708 N. First St., Minneapolis; find more info here. January 4-6

Myq Kaplan 

This brainy, Boston-based stand-up vet loves toying with language and, considering you’re reading words right now, you might find a lot to like. Acme Comedy Co., 708 N. First St., Minneapolis; find more info here. January 10-13

Joe Mande 

It’s a homecoming celebration for Mande, the extremely funny St. Paul-raised writer (Parks and Rec, Master of None) who’ll be recording a new standup special inside The Parkway—mere miles from where his beloved Timberwolves play. Parkway Theater, 4814 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. January 14

Jessimae Peluso 

Remember MTV’s Girl Code? Rick Bronson's House of Comedy, Mall of America, 408 E. Broadway, Bloomington; find more info here. January 18-20

Martin Urbano 

The New York Times called Urbano “sincerely subversive,” and his mining of cancel culture for material might make some Racket readers uncomfortable. But then again he’s buddies with Chris Gethard, so how bad could he be? Rick Bronson's House of Comedy, Mall of America, 408 E. Broadway, Bloomington; find more info here. February 1-4

We Them One’s Tour

Where else are you gonna find Mike Epps, DC Young Fly, Chico Bean, Lil Duval, and Mojo Brookzz under one large roof? The Armory; 500 S. Sixth St., Minneapolis; more info here. February 2

Roy Wood Jr. 

Lotta folks believed Wood Jr., a Daily Show staple for nearly a decade, was the rightful heir to Trevor Noah’s host seat. Instead, the latest White House Correspondents' Dinner host bailed from the show in October. The charismatic New Yorker, 44, has hinted he’d return for the main gig. The Fillmore, 525 N. Fifth St., Minneapolis; find more info here. February 9

Brian Posehn 

Fans of Mr. Show, Just Shoot Me!, and The Sarah Silverman Program know Posehn has remained hilarious through the decades. Parkway Theater, 4814 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. February 16

Ronny Chieng 

Senior Daily Show correspondents reliably fill theaters in our town, and this Malaysian-born talent who came up alongside Trevor Noah is no exception. State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; find more info here. March 8

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