Certain holiday traditions don’t budge. Mistletoe, for instance: that stuff comes out in December and gets retired once Santa returns to the North Pole.  Nobody drinks egg nog in May.  And if a dance company mounts a production of “The Nutcracker,” you know Christmas is right around the corner. 

Hudson County has its own “Nutcracker.” Since 2010, a hyperlocal version of the Tchaikovsky ballet has been a seasonal highlight of the Nimbus Dance calendar.  “Jersey City Nutcracker” adapts the familiar narrative to an urban setting, which means there are streetscapes and images of City Hall, a dip into the sewer system, and a bit more conflict than fans of genteel ballet might be accustomed to.  But the basics are the same: it’s a holiday fantasy aimed straight at children wondering what awaits them on Christmas morning. The Mouse King, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and other familiar figures all report for duty.  

If you’re feeling particularly drawn to the Sugar Plum Fairy, she’ll be present at a special event at Nimbus (329 Warren) on December 11.  Audience members are invited to have hot chocolate with the dancers — in character, of course — before the show.  Otherwise, you can take your pick of nine dates, beginning on December 9 and ending two nights before Christmas.  There’ll be performances at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the 10th, 11th, 17th, 18th and 23rd, and 7 p.m. performances on the 9th, 16th, 21st, and 22nd.  

And if you’ve had enough of The Nutcracker, and Christmas in general, there are quite a few interesting concerts this month that have nothing to do with the holidays.  Including:

Fascinations Grand Chorus @ Pet Shop (Dec. 1)

Even if they never leaned on their schtick, Fascinations Grand Chorus would be a strong contender for the title of the most interesting rock group in town. That said, the schtick is great: organist Stephanie Cupo and drummer Andrew Pierce play nostalgia for the bubblegum pop of the ‘60s and camp culture of the ‘70s to the hilt, dressing and singing the part, and sweating every detail down to their color schemes.  Lately, they’ve been applying their taste for giddy pop melody and Brill Building song architecture to a different kind of throwback.  “Terror in the Night,” their latest project, is a soundtrack to an imaginary slasher movie. Yet there’s nothing spooky about the pure power-pop tunes— Cupo sounds as enthusiastic as ever, even when she’s singing about “Camp Blood” and the last girl standing.  The pair have called their sound “electrical confectionary,” and you can get your sugar fix on the first of the month.  They are, and have always been, a terrific live act. (Pet Shop, 193 Newark Ave., 8 p.m., appearing with Sir Synthesis, The Dracu-Las, and DJ Todd-o-Phonic; free; visit petshopjc.com)

Fascinations Grand Chorus
Fascinations Grand Chorus

NJCU Winter Jazz Festival @ The Brightside (Dec. 1-2)

There are two modest-sized clubs in Jersey City that can claim to be anchors of the local jazz scene.  One is the celebrated Moore’s Place on Monticello, home base for charismatic drummer Winard Harper and the many fine young players who orbit him. The other is The Brightside Tavern, a handsome bar and grill tucked into the southwest corner of the Downtown. Last year’s NJCU Winter Jazz Festival was held on campus at Hepburn Hall; this time around, they’ve gotten hip and moved it to a spot that swings a little more.  Included in the two-day event schedule is a performance by — who else? — Winard Harper, who’ll lead his Collective at 10 p.m. on December 1. Other highlights of a strong pair of bills include percussionist Jeff “Tain” Watts, who is probably best known for his extensive collaboration with the Marsalis siblings (December 2 at 10 p.m.), violist Proyecto VT Cuba (December 1 at 11 p.m.), and several groups affiliated with the University jazz program, including the Jazz Vocal Workshop (December 1 at 7:30 p.m.) and the Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet (December 2 at 8:45 p.m.). (The Brightside Tavern, 141 Bright St., 5 p.m. to midnight; call 917-385-0703 or visit njcu.edu/community/center-arts/music for reservations.)

El Cherry Scom

El Cherry Scom @ The Factory (Dec. 2) 

If you follow Latin pop and hip-hop, there’s a very good chance that you know El Cherry Scom as the green-haired gremlin who accompanied Puerto Rican reggaeton superstar Ozuna on the relentless 2019 dembow single “Baje Con Trenza.” American clubs and radio stations picked it up; Rolling Stone made it a “Song You Need to Know.”  But the pleasantly abrasive “Trenza” had already been a Dominican hit for El Cherry Scom and his compatriot Kiko El Crazy before Ozuna recognized a good thing and jumped on the remix.  Since the Ozuna hookup, the quick-spitting rapper has barely slowed down — he continues to fire out verses at speedboat velocity over skeletal dembow arrangements. I particularly liked “Mariachi,” a shotgun marriage of Dominican rhythms and Mexican traditional music. Oh, and that ectoplasm-green ‘do has only gotten louder, too. He’s the latest in a series of incendiary Dominican artists who’ve come to the Communipaw Ave. nightclub and restaurant in the past twelve months. (The Factory, 451 Communipaw Ave., 9 p.m.; $40;  call 646-804-3236 or visit boletosexpress.com.) 

LaFolie Austral @ Fox & Crow (Dec. 3)

Even in Colombia, Barranquilla has a reputation for fun. Heat, too — it’s right on the Caribbean coast, which means there’s a good chance of oppressive humidity all year round. Its location at the extreme top of the South American continent makes it an interface between hemispheres, and the focus of a party scene that transcends cultures.  The singer-songwriter who calls herself LaFolie Austral was born in Barranquilla, and her music shares many of the virtues of her bustling birthplace. “Ya Me Canse,” her innovative 2021 full-length, is open-minded, gently hedonistic, warm as a tropical breeze, and buoyed by a harmonious blend of influences. It’s extremely comparable to the work of Giovanna “La La” Nunez, the Peruvian soundscaper whose music also fuses jazz and North American indie pop with South American folk and Afro-Caribbean rhythms.  LaFolie Austral leads a pretty big combo; they’ll all squeeze into the Parlor in the Heights that was designed for transcultural conversations and world parties like this one. (Fox & Crow, 594 Palisade Ave., 8 p.m.; $10; visit foxandcrowjc.com)

LaFolie Austral

NRBQ @ White Eagle Hall (Dec. 10)

The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet first started their amiable ramble through American popular music in the mid-‘60s, playing a loose amalgam of commercial pop, raucous rockabilly, improvisatory jazz, Tin Pan Alley ditties of the silliest kind, and sheer backwoods nonsense. All of that cohered into a style that remains theirs alone. The casual quality of their approach was the unifying hallmark: they didn’t take themselves too seriously, and they didn’t expect their audience to, either.  Perhaps because of that, the group didn’t hit its stride until a decade and a half after their foundation. Sixth album “At Yankee Stadium” is a zonked underground classic, featuring ramshackle covers of Johnny Cash songs and rock and roll standards alongside goofily endearing originals. Most of the lineup that made “Yankee Stadium” is long gone, but as long as chief prankster Terry Adams is still in control of the group, the spirit of NRBQ remains alive and well. This is a seated show at a venue that doesn’t do too many of those. (White Eagle Hall, 337 Newark Ave, 8 p.m.; $30; visit whiteeaglehalljc.com)

Jersey City Nutcracker @ Nimbus Arts Center (Dec. 9-23)

A funny thing about “The Nutcracker”: Tchaikovsky wasn’t too keen on it.   It was a commissioned work, not a passion project, and he felt that it didn’t represent the best he could do.  It is indeed ironic that the composer of the ambitious opera “Eugene Onegin” should be best remembered — especially around Christmas — for “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”  Posterity does prefer pop songs, though, and it’s Tchaikovsky the tunesmith who has become synonymous with Christmas ballet.  And even if you think “The Nutcracker” has been done to death, it’s always worth engaging with the talented and imaginative Nimbus dancers.  Then there’s the price of carrying on tradition: nosebleed seats for the Balanchine version at the New York City Ballet will put you back a hundred bucks.  Our own homegrown version is an easier, and cheaper, nut to crack.  (Nimbus Dance, 329 Warren St., shows at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; $18-$40; visit nimbusdance.org.)

Featured photo: NRBQ

Avatar photo

Tris McCall

Tris McCall has written about art, architecture, performance, politics, and public culture for many publications, including the Newark Star-Ledger, the Bergen Record, Jersey Beat, the Jersey City Reporter,...