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RED BANK: SANTA BASIE, HURRY DOWN

tim-kirk-love-bob-1364201Clockwise from top left: Jinglebell fundraiser concerts featuring Tim McLoone’s Holiday Express (December 18), Brian Kirk and the Jirks (December 20), Darlene Love (December 21) and Bobby Bandiera (December 22) provide the driving soundtrack to the holiday homestretch in the nights ahead.

The countdown to Christmas 2015 represents anything but a wind-down at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre, where a fast-moving flurry of high-profile benefit concerts promises to keep the place buzzing like Santa’s workshop-slash-fulfillment center during the holiday homestretch.

From the most big-hearted of local music mainstays, to the vintage hitmakers whose records landed on many a Boomer-era wish list — and on into the next generation of Shore scene stalwarts — the Basie boards will resound with a Wall of seasonal Sound, every note of it dedicated to a great cause and an all-’round generosity of spirit.

It all gets going on Thursday, December 18, when Tim McLoone takes the helm of the jinglebell juggernaut known as Holiday Express for a 23rd annual public-welcome concert on the Basie stage. A fundraiser for the ongoing programs of the nonprofit Express — the non-denominational, all-volunteer organization of which the big band is merely “that part that makes the most noise” — the 7:30 pm show represents the season’s last opportunity for the general public to enjoy the joyous sounds of the touring musicians who maintain a schedule of nearly 70 free performances in three states (for the mentally and physically ill, the homeless, the hungry, the physically disabled, and the forgotten), most of them at what maestro McLoone describes as “places that no one else wants to go to.” Expect Frosty, the Grinch and Santa to make their customary appearances onstage, even as hundreds of Holiday Express support-staff volunteers continue to collect, package and distribute donations of new toys, clothing, toiletries and food for the org’s famous gift bags.

Take it here for available tickets ($50 – $125) to Thursday’s show — and take it around the corner for more holiday hurrah.

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He playfully refers to the event as “a night of awesome music and offensive jokes,” but for the past three years, Brian Kirk has been serious about “playing Santa for somebody or something” in a loose but love-infused setting that’s quickly taken its place among Red Bank’s many seasonal traditions. The longtime frontman of partystarter paladins Brian Kirk & the Jirks kickstarted the now-yearly fundraiser concert with a post-Sandy “Santa for Sea Bright” event in 2012 — and now, Kirk, Jirks and special guests return with an encore engagement of last year’s Santa for Lunch Break show on Saturday, December 20.

Net proceeds from the three-hour event will benefit the many year-round programs and facilities of the borough-based Lunch Break nonprofit — and Kirk’s coverband kings will be playing “house band” to a lustrous lineup that includes local legend Pat Guadagno, Jersey-bred pop songwriter supreme Franke Previte (“Hungry Eyes,” “I’ve Had the Time of My Life”), and the return of Elliot Lurie, the voice and composer behind one of the most immortal of all bar-band anthems, the 1970s Looking Glass hit “Brandy.” Take it here for tickets to the 8 pm concert ($35, $45, $69), and be sure to bring non-perishable food items that will be collected at the Count Basie and delivered to Lunch Break.

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She may have just delivered her final performance of the soaring “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” for the retiring David Letterman, but Darlene Love —is scarcely slowing down the sleighride when it comes to keeping the Wall of Sound strong and sure. As a major contributor to the landmark 1963 album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (“White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “It’s a Marshmallow World”), the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and Spector studio session stalwart is the one true steward of a Boomer-era musical milestone that refuses to be tainted by association with the Bad Santa who brought it into this world (as lousy luck would have it, on the day of JFK’s assassination).

For her second annual Souled Out Christmas concert at the Count Basie, Miss Love returns to Red Bank on Sunday, December 21 on a jingle-bill that’s co-headlined by a fellow hitmaking heavyweight of the transistor-radio decade: Felix Cavaliere, who brings his 21st century edition of The Rascals (“Groovin’,” “Good Lovin’,” “A Beautiful Morning,” “People Got to Be Free”). It’s produced by Asbury Park-based promoter Sammy Boyd, and it’s an event from which proceeds serve to benefit the music education programs of the nonprofit Little Kids Rock foundation. Tickets for the 7 pm show ($39 – $99) can be reserved right here.

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In a busy Basie holiday season of entertainments, one event caps the figurative tree with the most glittering star — and while it’s skipped a year or two along the way, the Hope Concert returns to Red Bank for its seventh edition on the evening of Monday, December 22. Produced by and starring Bob Bandiera — the Hardest Working Man in the Shore Music Business, and ringmaster of the Basie’s ongoing Jersey Shore Rock ‘N Soul Revue events — this is the one that’s regularly attracted the participation of local-dude talents like Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi (Bandiera’s occasional employer in a longstanding tour-guitarist gig) and Southside Johnny Lyon (introduced onstage as “the Grinch” by the Boss a few seasons back).

Southside — who’s moved his annual New Year’s Eve concert with the Jukes from the Basie to New Brunswick this year — is among the scheduled returning guests on a program that also boasts a couple of honorary Shoreguys with frankly awesome and decades-spanning pedigrees (John Cafferty, Gary U.S. Bonds), the most celebrated of millennial Monmouth County musical breakout acts (Nicole Atkins), and a relative newcomer with a solid local fanbase and an encyclopedic musical memory (Marshall Crenshaw). They’ll be joined by an All-Shore ace backup band and, you know, special guests, in an 8 pm program that promises to be a potential sellout — and which dedicates proceeds to the Count Basie’s own education and outreach programs, as well as Horizons at Rumson Country Day School. Take it here for tickets, starting at $75.

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank business owner happier than to hear "I saw your ad on Red Bank Green!"
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