December 2023 Concert Guide: Mariah Carey, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Travis Scott, Billy Strings, and Tropidelic

Mariah Carey performing her Merry Christmas to All concert at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada, in 2022. (Photo: Heartfox and Wikipedia)

Mariah Carey performing her Merry Christmas to All concert at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada, in 2022. (Photo: Heartfox and Wikipedia)

This December the Pittsburgh concert scene has many diverse musical sugarplums in our collective stocking. First and foremost this holiday season is the official (or unofficial) Queen of Christmas, Mariah Carey. An annual treat every year is the Trans-Siberian Concert spectacular at PPG Paints Arena. And for New Year’s Eve, Tropidelic continues the tradition of bringing in the new year with a hot jam band. In the mood for some hard rock and a hearty laugh? Then Steel Panther is just the ticket.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real and Robert Jon & the Wreck  bring some southern-tinged rock flavor to the month. Americana artist Billy Strings plays two nights at the Pete. One of the nation’s top rap musicians, Travis Scott, will shake the holly at PPG. This month is chock-full of shows from hometown heroes. Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers, Billy Price, and Bill Deasy—among many others—have holiday season concerts.

This Guide features (in chronological order) Spotlight Picks, Other Shows of Interest, and Big Shows on the Horizon. Get out and see what pleases you, whether it’s one of our concert picks or something entirely different. Mike Vargo (M.V.) also contributed to this guide.

Spotlight Picks

Friday, December 1

Lukas Nelson met drummer Anthony LoGerfo at a Neil Young concert in 2008 and they started playing gigs together around Los Angeles, California. Soon thereafter, Nelson left his studies at Loyola Marymount University to pursue his music dreams full-time. He added several other musicians to form Promise of the Real. The versatile band has a sound that can range from rock, to country, to Americana. In 2009 they opened for Lukas’ dad, the legendary country singer/songwriter Willie Nelson, for a nine show tour. Since then Nelson and the band have released eight studio albums with 2017’s self-titled album reaching no. 2 on Billboard’s country chart. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real have also backed  Neil Young several times since 2015 and have even recorded two albums with him. Lukas Nelson & Promise of The Real were also in the 2018 remake of the film A Star is Born with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. They appear as Bradley Cooper’s band. Nelson co-produced the music and even wrote some songs for the movie with Gaga. Nelson and his band headlined a concert at the 2018 Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. The group’s latest album is this year’s Sticks and Stones. Doors open 7 p.m. Stage AE, 400 North Shore Dr., North Shore. (R.H.)

Lukas Nelson jamming on his guitar. (Photo: Rick Handler).

Lukas Nelson jamming on his guitar at a headlining performance at the 2018 Three Rivers Arts Festival. (Photo: Rick Handler).

Saturday, December 2

Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers are Pittsburgh rock royalty that have risen through several incarnations—from the Brick Alley Band to Joe Grushecky and the Iron City Houserockers to the unit’s present day form—Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers—to become one of Pittsburgh’s top bands. Over the years Grushecky’s sound is one of both hard-driving rock and roll and insightful ballads. The lyrics and music seek higher ground, and find it. Top songs include “Pumping Iron,” “Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive),” and “Rock and Real.” Joe Grushecky’s latest album is 2018’s More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows. There is also a 25th Anniversary edition reissue of Grushecky and The Houserockers’ classic, American Babylon, which was produced by Grushecky’s friend and associate, Bruce Springsteen. Hear Grushecky classics and newer tunes tonight at Crafthouse Stage & Grill.  Special guest is Royal Honey. 8:30 p.m. 5024 Curry Rd., Whitehall. (R.H.)

Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers.

Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers.

Tuesday, December 5

Mariah Carey is an amazing American pop vocalist. Having been blessed with a five-octave vocal range singing voice, she has had fantastic success on the song charts. Among Carey’s many accomplishments: Her first album topped the US Billboard 200 for 11 consecutive weeks. She was the first and only artist to have their first five singles reach number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, and her “One Sweet Day” (with Boyz II Men) became the longest-running U.S. number-one single in history. Carey has won five Grammy Awards, eight American Music Awards, 14 World Music Awards, and a staggering 20 Billboard Music Awards. She also has overcome obstacles, including a period of emotional exhaustion from her bipolar II disorder. Nor is Carey the least bit shy about extending her legacy. Her autobiography is titled The Meaning of Mariah Carey. She’s known as a gay icon and a femininity (as distinct from feminist) icon, and in 2021 she tried (unsuccessfully) to trademark her unofficial title as the “Queen of Christmas.” Mariah Carey visits Pittsburgh on her Merry Christmas One and All! Tour. PPG Paints Arena, 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown. (R.H., M.V.)

Wednesday, December 6

Shortly after forming his southern rock influenced band in 2011, Robert Jon (Burrison) had a few dates lined up across America and took off on a tour. He said they didn’t quite have everything down pat, but learned more as they went along.  One of his tour stops he recalled in the early years of Robert Jon & The Wreck was a Pittsburgh performance at a bar and brewery. He and The Wreck will be performing at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille. Robert Jon is the lead singer and guitarist. He grew up in Orange County, California. In an interview earlier this month with Entertainment Central he said of of his musical influences, “Oh man, the Allman Brothers are up there, that’s an obvious one. I tend to listen to them quite a bit, even Gregg Allman’s solo stuff. The Black Crowes would be up there quite a bit as well. I grew up on the classic rock side of things, my first concert was Boston. I listen to a lot of singer/songwriters…Ray Lamontagne, he’s one of my favorites.” Robert Jon & The Wreck have played large concerts with big names such as Peter Frampton, Buddy Guy, Rival Sons, and Joe Bonamassa. Robert Jon & The Wreck signed with Bonamassa’s Journeyman record label in 2011. For their latest album, 2023’s Ride Into the Light, they had several all-star producers. Some tracks were recorded at the noted Henson Studios in Los Angeles with legendary producer Don Was. Other tracks were recorded in Nashville at RCA Studios with Dave Cobb producing.

The recording sessions were very successful, producing hot tracks from like “Come at Me,” “Pain No More,” not to mention the incredible title song. The tunes feature a fantastic rock/southern rock sound with all the accouterments including harmonic vocals, strong lead guitars, steady drums and bass guitar, and melodic keys. Since releasing Ride Into the Light in 2023, the group has delivered two additional singles: ”Stone Cold Killer” and “Hold On.” A new single is set to drop in December. 8 p.m. 285 Northgate Dr., Warrendale. (R.H.)

Robert Jon & The Wreck.

Robert Jon & The Wreck.

Friday, December 8

Is Travis Scott a modern-day Renaissance Man? His sneaker collection is state-of-the-art. He’s had a McDonald’s burger named after him. But above all—and aside from such mass-market markers of fame—this hip-hop artist, video artist, and mega-producer is in the vanguard of a new generation proving, once more, that mass-market pop culture can be seriously good culture, period. (For a sample of how Scott can blend roots signifiers with the avant-garde, try his “Hyaena” video.) But Scott also has been at the center of controversy and tragedy. The saddest incident occurred on November 5, 2021, when 10 young concertgoers died in a crowd crush during his set at the outdoor Astroworld Festival in Houston. Scott was criticized for not stopping the show when early signs of trouble emerged; the whole scene was chaotic, and one can only hope that costly lessons were learned all around. Currently Scott is on his first tour since the calamity. It’s the Circus Maximus Tour, tied to his Billboard #1 album Utopia. Bring your best behavior to PPG Paints Arena for Travis Scott’s Pittsburgh visit. Teezo Touchdown is slated to open. 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown. (M.V.) 

Sunday, December 10

There’s musical comedy, and then there is comical music. The latter has a long tradition and comes in many varieties. Classical pianist Victor Borge performed stunts like playing “The William Tell Overture” backwards. Weird Al—well, everybody knows Weird Al. But only hardcore comical music fans know Steel Panther. The boys from L.A., led by founder and longtime front man Michael Starr, are glam-metal rockers who parody the genre while doing a pretty mean job of playing it. With songs like “Gods of Pussy” and “Fuck Everybody,” their humor is obscene, politically incorrect, and unashamedly sophomoric … because hey, when it comes to glam metal, what do you expect, a PhD dissertation? The band’s landmark single “Death to All But Metal” makes the case vividly. Lately the guys have even added a subtler brand of social commentary, as in the plaintive ballad “On Your Instagram.” They’re now touring in support of their sixth studio album, On the Prowl. Reserve promptly to catch Steel Panther live and in throbbing personhood at the Roxian Theatre.  425 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks. (M.V.) 

Tuesday, December 12 & Wednesday, December 13

A Billy Strings concert in Pittsburgh was an early casualty when the Covid lockdown hit in March of 2020. Happily Strings has been back on the road and stopping at the Petersen Events Center. Strings (born William Lee Apostol) in 1992, and has overcome many obstacles in his young life. Growing up in Michigan and then Kentucky, his father died of a drug overdose when he was two and drugs continued to be a part of his family’s life and eventually his as well. His family and his stepfather Terry Barber also had a taste for bluegrass music. His stepfather introduced him to bluegrass music. Luckily everyone got sober and Strings concentration on music saw him become very successful. He received the moniker Strings from his aunt who was amazed by his performance on several different traditional bluegrass instruments. For his latest album Me/And/Dad he teamed up with Barber. Although Barber is not his biological father, Strings considers him his dad. Strings has won a Grammy and a slew of other awards for his music. 7:30 p.m. 3719 Terrace St., Oakland. (R.H.)

Saturday, December 16

In 1996, musician/rock band manager Paul O’Neill hit upon the idea that Christmas tunes could be totally progressive and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was born. The TSO plays holiday music, traditional and originals, with a Rush level of elaboration and technical skill, all of which has racked up millions of album sales. You probably know the band’s wailing, synth-infused version of “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo,” a.k.a. “Carol of the Bells.” It’s one of the most hardcore tracks that DJs pull out every December. Music like this deserves the arena treatment, with a great light show and all, so the TSO has been touring major venues at the holiday season annually. Paul O’Neill passed away from chronic health problems in 2017, and bassist Dave Z (David Zablidowsky) died that year too, in a motor vehicle accident. But the band plays on—surely, as these men would have wished—and the TSO visits PPG Paints Arena for matinee and evening performances, with a cast of dozens performing. The show is billed as The Ghosts of Christmas Eve: The Best of TSO and More. 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown. (R.H./M.V.) 

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra performing at the Hershey Giant Center in 2004. (photo: Matt, TSO, and Wikipedia)

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra performing at the Hershey Giant Center in 2004. (photo: Matt, TSO, and Wikipedia)


Pittsburgh blues/soul/rock legend Billy Price is celebrating 50+ years as a performer in the music industry. Price was nominated for the 2023 BMA (Blues Music Awards) for Soul Blues Male Artist award. Price cut his teeth as a vocalist for the late, great guitarist Roy Buchanan. He then started Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band, best known for songs like “Eldorado Cafe” and “Lickin’ Stick” and albums like Free At Last. In addition to Price, the band featured legendary musicians such as the late Glenn Pavone, Eric Leeds, and others. He’s also leads the Billy Price Band and works as a solo artist. Price’s album with the late Chicago soul singer Otis Clay, This Time for Real, won a 2016 Blues Music Award. His next two albums, Reckoning and Dog Eat Dog were both nominated for Blues Music Awards. And in 2020 Price was nominated for BMA’s Best Male Soul Blues Artist. If all those accolades are not enough, he was also inducted into the Pittsburgh Rock Legends Hall in 2016. Price released a new 3-CD compilation, 50+Years of Soul, on Get Hip Recordings last September and is working on a new album in Los Angeles that’s due out in coming months. 8 p.m. Club Cafe, 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (R.H.)

Legendary blues and soul singer Billy Price. (photo: David Aschkenas)

Legendary blues and soul singer Billy Price. (photo: David Aschkenas)

Tuesday, December 26

Bill Deasy’s musical career had been successful with the Penn Hills native performing solo shows and in a band called Shiloh. It took off to a higher level in a Grove City apartment when he and a few locals got together for a jam session. Those guys, and Deasy became The Gathering Field, the ’90s-era regional favorite with the big hit “Lost in America.” Since that humble beginning, Deasy has stacked up a résumé that would help him “make it” in a place like New York or L.A. He’s had a contract with Atlantic Records, opened for Springsteen and Dylan, and his “Good Things Are Happening” was a theme song for a “Good Morning America” video. Yet he’s remained rooted in Pittsburgh. In particular, Deasy likes to celebrate the day after Christmas here with his annual Boxing Day show—that’s an official holiday in the United Kingdom, Canada, and other British-related countries, as you may know—so join him for a tuneful Boxing Day at Club Cafe. 8 p.m. 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. (R.H.)

Sunday, December 31

If your visions of a sugar-plummy holiday season include a desire for a musical New Year’s Eve, consider cruising to the sounds of Tropidelic. This Cleveland-based band—cofounded and fronted by Pittsburgh native Matthew Roads—plays a mellow but lively repertoire infused or least inspired by reggae. Listening to Tropidelic, you get the feeling that rock just isn’t complete without a trombone. Or a trumpet or other such horns. You’ve also got to love songs like “Alcoholic,” a whimsically honky-tonk-ish treatment of a serious subject, composed by a certain band member after his grateful segue into recovery. Tropidelic’s latest album is last year’s All the Colors. For a totally upbeat way to beat the old year out the door, catch Tropidelic at Mr. Smalls Theatre. Special guests are Mike Pinto, Jarv, and Fubar. 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. (M.V.) 

Other Shows of Note

Friday, December 1
Bill Toms and Hard Rain (Moondog’s Pub)

Saturday, December 2
The Cadillac Three (Mr. Smalls Theatre)
Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers (Crafthouse Stage & Grill)
Justin Fabus (Rivers Casino)
Jimmy Adler’s Blue Christmas (Moondog’s Pub)
Good Brother Earl (Pittsburgh Winery)

Tuesday, December 5
Kenny G. Christmas Show (Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall)
Celtic Women Christmas (Heinz Hall)

Wednesday, December 6
Over the Rhine (City Winery)
Billy Raffoul (Club Cafe)

Thursday, December 7
Barbara Blue (Jergel’s Rhythm Grille)

Friday, December 8
Jeffrey Osborne and Average White Band (August Wilson African American Cultural Center)
GA-20 and Black Joe Lewis (City Winery)
Justin Fabus (Jergel’s Rhythm Grille)

Sunday, December 10
Joan Osborne (City Winery)
Il Divo (Heinz Hall)

Tuesday, December 12
Straight No Chaser (Benedum Center)
Lynn Speakman Quintet (Greer Cabaret Theater)

Wednesday, December 13
Reb Beach Band (Jergel’s Rhythm Grille)

Friday, December 15
Sara Evans (Palace Theatre)

Saturday, December 16
Gerald Albright (MCG Jazz)
Chris Higbee (Rivers Casino)
Jimbo Jackson (Pittsburgh Winery)

Tuesday December 26
Dwayne Dolphin Fo’tet (Greer Cabaret Theater)

Friday, December 29
The Commonheart (Mr. Smalls Theatre)
Jeff Jimmerson & Airborne (Rivers Casino)

Big Shows on the Horizon

Saturday, January 13 & Sunday, January 14
Lotus (Stage AE)

Wednesday, January 17
Grace Potter (Stage AE)

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.


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