A red Christmas

The "Christmas" tree had a tough go of it in the Soviet Union. As in the U.S. and Europe, colorfully decorated Christmas conifers were a part of Russian life until the 1917 revolution. Then they were banned, along with all religious holidays. By the mid-1930s, however, the Soviet birthrate was falling, and Joseph Stalin revived traditions that focused on the family to prove, as he famously claimed, "Life has become better; life has become merrier." Pravda declared it time to end "this wrongful condemnation of the tree." Soon toy factories were turning out ornaments, garlands, red star tree-toppers and figurines of Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden. Now stripped of religious associations, the rehabilitated conifer became the New Year tree. Soviet tree ornaments, holiday decorations and more than 20 related paintings will be on display in "Around the Tree: Holiday Traditions in the Soviet Era," opening Saturday at the Museum of Russian Art in south Minneapolis. Cool Yule!

Mary Abbe

TPT is tops

Nobody loves the Crawley family and Oscar the Grouch more than Minnesotans. For the second year in a row, the Twin Cities has the largest percentage of households watching public television of any U.S. market. Baltimore is second and Portland third. "At a time when all media outlets are facing declining audiences, more and more Minnesotans are not just watching TPT, but joining us as members," TPT's COO Terry O'Reilly told I.W. If we can stay on top for a third year, Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes should be required to solve a case in Burnsville.

Neal Justin

A Case for the Time

Following up their "Wits" taping for Minnesota Public Radio in May, Neko Case and her singing partner Kelly Hogan made themselves at home again during another Twin Cities stayover for last week's pair of First Avenue gigs. "It's nice to play the same place twice," Hogan wittily noted at the Thursday show. "They let you clock in. You feel like you belong." Case showed her familiarity with local music lore by announcing, "I know everyone loves Prince here, but I've always had a soft spot for Morris Day." Hogan one-upped her Time love, though: "I always had a soft spot for Jerome [Benton]."


First Raitt

Minnesotans know that the Twin Cities is sort of a second home for Bonnie Raitt because she recorded her debut album here, and her brother, the late sound engineer Steve Raitt, lived here for three decades. Every one of her Twin Cities concerts seems to have a special wrinkle and Wednesday at the Minneapolis Convention Center may have set a new standard with its parade of guest stars. First, Raitt joined opening act Mavis Staples for "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" in Staples' set. Later, Raitt welcomed singer Lizz Wright, in town for a gig Friday, for a duet on "Angel From Montgomery." The Rock Hall of Famer also brought out two former Minnesota sidemen — keyboardist Ricky Peterson and harmonica player Pat Hayes of Lamont Cranston. Raitt talked about visiting other Minnesota friends this week, including singer/guitarist Spider John Koerner. "I wish I could stay for weeks," she told the faithful. "We could water ski in the winter."

Jon Bream


Why deal with wind, rain and unraked leaves when the kids can show off their costumes and imbibe a bit of culture during a Halloween event at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts? The museum and adjacent Children's Theatre Company are throwing a "Trick-Art-Treat Party" during which kids can look for black cats, pumpkins and prizes on a Halloween gallery hunt. Or create their own bats during an art-making activity. Plus nibble cookies, candy and cider. At a CTC photo booth, they can show off their costumes or try out fun stuff from the theater's hoard of disguises. And for parents and other culture vultures, admission to the MIA's "The Audacious Eye: Japanese Art From the Clark Collections" is also free during the event. Heads up: While costumes are encouraged, for safety and security reasons, full face masks or hoods cannot be worn inside the museum. (5-8 p.m. Thu., free.)


We can work it out

Dark & Stormy Productions — the itinerant Minneapolis theater company that made a big splash last year with its arresting production of David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" — has announced a new production that will star veteran actors Sally Wingert and Harry Waters Jr. The company is producing Adam Bock's "The Receptionist," a play about workers in a seemingly mundane office. The piece will be directed by Benjamin McGovern, who also staged "Speed-the-Plow." "The Receptionist" runs Dec. 11 through Jan. 4 at the Traffic Zone Center for Visual Art in Minneapolis.

Rohan Preston

Only you know & I know

I.W. knew that Dave Mason was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his work in Traffic. We knew about his work with Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac and Delaney & Bonnie. We knew about his hit "We Just Disagree" (Geraldo Rivera recently said it should be the new national anthem, according to Mason). But until we saw his performance at the Dakota Jazz Club last Friday, who knew the British guitarist speaks without a hint of a British accent? Who knew he could do a spot-on impression of Bob Dylan singing a Mason tune? Who knew he was so funny? Who knew he had a Minnesota connection? "I was married to a girl from up here, Alberta Lea," he told the Dakota crowd. "How long?" shouted a fan. Mason: "Too long."J.B.