December is a big month for most of us, on the run and juggling lots of events and work or school obligations. Every year, the Toy Drive for Pine Ridge and other local events focused on giving rather than getting, put the season in perspective. Since 2003, organizer and longtime local musician Lash LaRue (aka Larry Dunn) has motivated the community and kept the event growing to bring holiday cheer to children and families on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Just a day’s drive from the Omaha metro, the reservation is sadly one of the poorest districts in the U.S.
This year’s Toy Drive events happen early in the month with the P.S. Blues simulcast on 89.7 FM, The River, moved to Dec. 1 due to Iowa Western’s football team making the playoffs. Thursday, Dec. 5, 6-9 p.m., the BSO Presents show at Stocks ‘n’ Bonds features Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal and benefits the Toy Drive. Saturday, Dec. 7, The Waiting Room hosts another event for the Toy Drive with Satchel Grande, Pony Creek, Garst and Vago. Admission to each show is $10 or a new, unwrapped toy.
If you missed the events, you can still participate. In addition to the toy delivery, the Toy Drive is a 501(c)(3) that provides emergency propane for elders and families during the bitter winter months on the reservation. Donations can be made anytime at ToyDriveForPineRidge.org.
LaRue’s commitment has shown how the power of one person to make a difference can rally others and become a force for good. What started at the now-closed Mick’s in Benson with a gathering of friends that produced a pickup-load of toys, the drive has grown exponentially each year. Every holiday, this effort reminds me that if you wonder what you can do in the face of any difficult situation, just take action. You may be surprised at how many people rise to help your efforts.
Despite the media blitz of holiday cheer, the holiday season can be a time of struggle and sadness for many. Just taking time to make a simple act of kindness in your neighborhood or in your community can bring some light to someone who really needs it. And if your holiday could use some brightening, one way to do it may be to do something for someone else.
Blues Society of Omaha Presents
The Thursday BSO Presents 6 p.m. shows hit a couple of venues this month. In addition to the Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal show at Stocks ‘n’ Bonds Dec. 5, the Rev. Jimmie Bratcher’s blues Christmas show is at Stocks ‘n’ Bonds Thursday, Dec. 19. Follow BSO events at Facebook.com/BluesSocietyOfOmaha.
BSO Presents returns to The Jewell in the Capitol District Marriott with Minneapolis-based jazz-blues-R&B vocalist Joyann Parker and her band on Thursday, Dec. 12.
The BSO also hosts the Friday, Dec. 20, 5:30 p.m. show at the B. Bar with Lincoln’s rockabilly royalty, the Mezcal Brothers. The B. Bar presents a regular Friday after-work early show and other shows with varying styles of music — keep up with their schedule on the events tab at Facebook.com/TheB.BarOmaha.
Zoo Bar Blues
Keep track of late-breaking additions to Lincoln’s historic Zoo Bar’s schedule at ZooBar.com. The groove-laden roots-rock, vintage R&B and blues of The Bel Airs is up for a 6-9 p.m. early New Year’s Eve show. Acclaimed guitarist and bandleader Bobby Messano is back Wednesday, Dec. 18, 6-9 p.m. The Tony Holiday Blues Band plays Tuesday, Dec. 10, 6-9 p.m.
There are plenty of opportunities to check out homegrown talent from the Monday 5:30 p.m. piano happy hours with Emily Bass and friends to the Zoo Bar House Band Monday shows 7-10 p.m. and the jazz showcase with Jazzocracy Tuesdays 6-9 p.m. Josh Hoyer and Benjamin Kushner play a special duo show Thursday, Dec. 19, 6-9 p.m. Hector Anchondo Band performs Friday, Dec. 27, 5-7 p.m., and Kris Lager Band plays after 9 p.m. on Dec. 27. Matt Cox Band is set for Saturday, Dec. 28, 6-9 p.m. You can also find late-breaking info at Facebook.com/ZooBarBlues.
There’s a lot more music in the area than I can cover in this column every month. Music fans know the major ones. Here are a few other gems. Buck’s in Venice, Nebraska, straight out west at 27849 W. Center Rd., continues to book notable local country and occasional blues acts with the emphasis on true rising stars on the national scene who seem to be quickly moving on up to big venues and big tour buses. Buck’s promotes a listening room environment during performances and also serves some tasty-looking food. Follow the schedule at Facebook.com/bucks.barandgrill.
Then there’s The Corner Bar in Fremont, which consistently books touring blues acts and is sometimes the artists’ only Nebraska stop. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for show listings at Facebook.com/cornerbarfremontne.
In Omaha, there are more venues than I can reasonably list that are promoting original live music and giving local and touring artists a place to play.
Check out the curated listings at OmahaBlues.com for the BSO’s guide to blues shows and venues in the area, which includes shows such as Kris Lager Band and Friends Holiday Jam Sunday, Dec. 29, at The Waiting Room.
The Jewell in the Capitol District Marriott is a new player on the scene this year. If you haven’t been there yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out and support this great venue. The sound system is exquisite, the ambiance is elegant, and the food and beverage service round out a great experience. Follow the show listings at JewellOmaha.com. Roots fans can check out veteran Kansas City blues-soul vocalist and songwriter Kelley Hunt at The Jewell Sunday, Dec. 15. Hunt will perform two shows at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.