An arena-size blast of country pop, some head-shattering guitar rock, a trio of jam bands, a Scottish interlude, two generations of masterful pop songsmiths and the return of a University of Kentucky drum alum. And you thought there was no beating the dead of winter.
Truth to tell, once we get past these first few post-Christmas weeks, when the concert traffic will be on the modest side, Lexington will light up with a lineup of shows every bit as exemplary and diverse as what visits us in the summer and fall.
Some acts, notably Rascal Flatts, are familiar to Central Kentucky through almost annual appearances. Randy Newman, on the other hand, will present his first local concert in nearly 33 years. It'll be like seeing a long-lost friend. They and others are heading our way over the next two months. But mark your calendars now. Old Man Winter officially has those nights off.
Here's the lineup:
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Jan. 27: Rascal Flatts, Luke Bryan and Chris Young at Rupp Arena. The monstrously popular country-pop brigade Rascal Flatts was just about the only big-league Nashville act that didn't play here last year (although it hit Louisville and Cincinnati). So it's only fitting that the trio's Nothing Like This Tour kicks off the new concert year at Rupp. (7:30 p.m. $25-$99. (859) 233-3535 or Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.)
Jan. 28: The Nightmare After Christmas Tour featuring Avenged Sevenfold, Stone Sour, Hollywood Undead and New Medicine at Rupp Arena. Isn't the nightmare after Christmas known as winter? No, sir. Nightmare is the name of the newest album by ear-crunching California rockers Avenged Sevenfold. It's also the band's first recording since the death of drummer James "The Rev" Sullivan. Three — count 'em, three — metal-esque bands round out the bill. (6:30 p.m. $25-$39.75. (859) 233-3535 or Ticketmaster.)
Jan. 29: Nellie McKay at Natasha's Bistro and Bar. Now here's some terrific New Year's news. Natasha's, 112 Esplanade, which has evolved in recent years into one of the city's most appealing sit-down concert environments, is starting 2011 with the local debut of Nellie McKay. The thoroughly original indie-pop songstress creates bright, youthful pop confections but with lyrics full of savage, worldly reflection. (8 p.m. $25 advance, $30 day of show. (859) 259-2754. Beetnik.com.)
Jan. 30: Bang on a Can All-Stars with Glenn Kotche at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Whenever drummer and UK alumnus Kotche returns to the stage where he cut his musical teeth, he is in different company. This time, the inventive percussion voice (and longstanding Wilco member) will team with New York's acclaimed contemporary chamber ensemble, the Bang on a Can All-Stars. (7:30 p.m. $25, $28, $32. (859) 257-4929. Singletarytickets.com.)
Feb. 3: Umphrey's McGee and Orchard Lounge at Buster's Billiards and Backroom. A jam band at heart, Umphrey's McGee sports impressive instrumental chops that often take the Midwestern unit into prog-rock-inspired turf and even suggestions of jazz. As with all jam bands, its fan base is devout. So is the league of all-stars who sometimes sit in, such as Kentucky native Adrian Belew, who toured with the band a few years back. (8:30 p.m. 899 Manchester St. $17.50 advance, $20 day of show. (859) 368-8871. Bustersbb.com.)
Feb. 8: Less Than Jake, The Supervillains, Off With Their Heads and The Dopamines at Buster's. By the second week of February, it's a safe bet that we'll all be up for a blast of sunshine. Enter the Florida loons known as Less Than Jake, a pop/punk brigade with a hearty appetite for ska-like grooves that still kick up a celebratory tidal wave after a touring life that now extends over 16 years. (8 p.m. $15 advance, $17 day of show. (859) 368-8871. Bustersbb.com.)
Feb. 13: Yonder Mountain String Band at Buster's. Amazingly, the Colorado string quartet known as the Yonder Mountain String Band hasn't performed a full headlining gig in Lexington since the days of Lynagh's Music Club nearly a decade ago. In that time, bluegrass instrumentation and groove-directed material have made Yonder Mountain one of the top jam bands in the land. (8:30 p.m. $17.50 advance, $20 day of show. (859) 368-8871. Bustersbb.com.)
Feb. 14: The Tannahill Weavers at the Kentucky Theatre for the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour. Looking for some different sounds to celebrate Valentine's Day with this year? Then spend at least part of your evening by journeying to Scotland, courtesy of WoodSongs and the veteran Scottish folk brigade The Tannahill Weavers, and hear just how romantic the charge of bagpipes can be. (7 p.m. 214 E. Main St. Price TBA. (859) 252-8888. Woodsongs.com.)
Feb. 23: Randy Newman at the Lexington Opera House. A social scholar. An unrepentant romantic. A restless satirist. A master storyteller. Newman has long been all of those things, although in recent years he has spoken mostly through grandly orchestrated film scores. At the Opera House, though, Newman will bring one of pop music's most distinctive song catalogs to life with only a piano. (7:30 p.m. $44.50, $55.50. (859) 233-3535 or Ticketmaster.)
Feb. 23: Cornmeal at Cosmic Charlie's. In a winter already ripe with touring jam bands, we add the name of Cornmeal. As with Yonder Mountain, bluegrass is a prime influence. But the Chicago band regularly mixes in electric accents to color its acoustic-roots inspirations. Cornmeal continues to tour in 2011 behind its recent concert album, Live in Chicago, Il. (8 p.m. 388 Woodland Ave. $10. (859) 309-9499. Cosmic-charlies.com.)