Madison's seasonal spirit delivers this weekend with the MSO Holiday Spectacular, the Upside Down Xmas Tree Party, a talk by University Avenue lights maestro Dr. Jack Kammer, and the Capitol Holiday Pageant. The calendar also includes: First Fridays at MMoCA; an "abridged" Shakespeare production; performances by Music Theatre of Madison, Simone Dinnerstein, Step Afrika!, Ken Lonnquist, the UW All University String Orchestra with Despite the Chaos, and Redefined; more live music from The Chairs, CunninLynguists, Tom Thumb, Colbie Caillat, Al Rose, Mark Harrod, the Zac Brown Band, and Indentity Crises, Inc.
NOTEWORTHY: Chicago cops gun down Black Panthers Fred Hampton & Mark Clark, 1969.
BIRTHDAY: Oscar-winning actress Marisa Tomei, 1964.
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 5:30 pm
Time for another of these chic events, where you can enjoy music of Jazz Orgy and a talk with artist Nicolas Lampert, whose Then and Again is a citywide art installation that runs through May 9.
First United Methodist Church, 7 pm
The local company presents an evening of songs sung by unlikely performers -- "On My Own" from Les Miserables sung by a baritone, presumably with pronoun genders intact, that sort of thing. Another element: a preview of next year's season.
Overture Hall, 7:30 pm. Also Saturday (8 pm) & Sunday (2:30 pm), Dec. 5-6
For the annual Christmas Spectacular, the big sound of John DeMain's MSO is made even bigger by soprano Sylvia McNair, the Madison Symphony Chorus, Madison Youth Choirs, and Mount Zion Gospel Choir.
Overture Center's Playhouse, 8 pm. Also Thursday (7:30 pm), Saturday (2 & 8 pm), Sunday (2 pm) & Tuesday-Thursday (8 pm), Dec. 3, 5-6 & 8-10
Reduced Shakespeare Company presents its signature work, which has three actors frenetically performing a version of the Bard's entire corpus in just over an hour and a half. Highbrow comedy, yessiree Bob.
Wisconsin Union Theater, 8 pm
In 2007, young pianist Dinnerstein made a big splash, and several year's-best lists, when she released her recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Yes, classical music can still make a big splash, and hooray. There's Bach on the program tonight, as well as music of Copland, Schubert, Webern and Lasser.
Overture Center's Capitol Theater, 8 pm The Washington, D.C.-based troupe melds the black-fraternity tradition of step dancing with South African influences (see Dance).
Project Lodge, 7:30 pm
It's hard to talk about the Project Lodge without uttering the word "indie," so a trifecta of indie bands on the bill shouldn't raise any eyebrows. However, these three Wisconsin bands -- Appleton's the Chairs, Milwaukee's the Fatty Acids and Madison's Meteorade -- make tunes that are catchy and edgy enough to snag fans of old-school alt-rock, melodic punk and good, old-fashioned pop, too.
High Noon Saloon, 10 pm
The Lexington, Ky. hip-hop trio teams up with Looptroop Rockers, a group from Västers, Sweden that's been bearing the hip-hop torch since 1991 (see Tour Stop). Also playing: Grieves with Budo, Looptroop Rockers and Tunji.
NOTEWORTHY: Madison temperature reaches 64 degrees to set record December high for the city, 2001.
BIRTHDAY: Comedian-actress Margaret Cho, 1968.
Overture Center's Rotunda Stage, 9:30 & 11 am, 1 pm
Here's the perfect way to start off the holiday weekend. The local singer-guitarist will have the kids singing and laughing in his appearance at the free Kids in the Rotunda series. The show is called "Songs With All the Trimmings," featuring traditional carols and songs from various traditions.
Mills Hall, UW Humanities Building, 4 pm The string ensemble joins forces with the Milwaukee rock combo to make, yes, orchestral rock. Sleeper gig of the week (see Music).
Wisconsin Union Theater, 7:30 pm
Would it be college without a cappella singing? No. The UW's all-voice ensemble presents its fall concert.
Project Lodge, 7:30 pm
Maine's Andy Arch (a.k.a. Tom Thumb) uses production savvy to make magic on his recordings, blending xylophone, banjo, mellotron and other instruments with drum loops and introspective vocals. See how his latest folk album, The Taxidermist, translates onstage. Local songstress Anna Vogelzang will open the show with a set of her piano-meets-glockenspiel-meets-tambourine tunes, which may include a glimpse of the new album she began making during a recent trip to her Massachusetts hometown.
Barrymore Theatre, 8 pm
Over the last couple of years Caillat has made her name with high-charting songs like "Bubbly" and "Falling For You," irrestible pop-rock confections. Caillat's 2008 duet with Jason Mraz, "Lucky," is likewise a charmer.
Mother Fool's Coffeehouse, 8 pm
The Chicago singer-songwriter blends country, folk and rock in a way that Willie Nelson or Steve Earle might, with as much heart as there is cheek.
Majestic Theatre, 8 pm
Decorate yourself with tinsel or give your Santa Con costume a test run as you mingle and jingle to DJ Nick Nice's holiday mix.
NOTEWORTHY: Altamont, 1969.
BIRTHDAY: R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, 1956.
University Book Store-Hilldale, 1 pm
Every holiday season you drive by that long line of illuminated trees along University Avenue near the U-Pump. Pretty, you think, but what's it all about? Find out from retired dentist Kammer, who's responsible for the lights and wrote about them in his engagingly quirky book The Story of the University Avenue Holiday Lights.
A Room of One's Own, 2 pm
Journalist Aronowitz and photographer Emma Bee Bernstein trekked around the country and interviewed numerous young women, including some Madisonians, for their book, Girldrive: Criss-crossing America, Redefining Feminism. Whither feminism? Aronowitz has some thoughts.
High Noon Saloon, 4 pm
Two contestants from Triple M's recent songwriting contest show off creations from the competition and celebrate the release of Harrod's brand-new album, Quietly Marching.
Capitol Rotunda, 4:15 & 5:15 pm
The Madison West Kiwanis Club presents its annual event, featuring Christmas music around the big tree, the birth of Jesus, etc. It's not the extravaganza the Rockettes Nativity is, but who has that kind of budget?
Coliseum at Alliant Energy Center, 7 pm
Blending country music with a bit of hippie flair, the band's found a formula for success, especially here in Madison. Over the past year and a half, the group's played Bonnaroo, released three chart-topping singles and unveiled a new full-length album (2008's The Foundation).
High Noon Saloon, 8 pm
The Chicago band that loves classical music almost as much as emo shows off its newest fusion of jazz creativity and rock 'n' roll soul. With I'm Not a Pilot and Control.