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10 must-see events

Whether it's a Taylor Swift concert, African-American art or Broadway shows, the arts has a lot to offer in the next few months

The 2009-10 arts season, which began in August, continues through June. Here are 10 events you shouldn't miss in the first half of 2010.

1. COLOSSAL WEEKEND

The leading men of country music - Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts - have perennially had the biggest shows at the Colonial Life Arena.

But on three consecutive days this year, the women will get their turn. Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride will perform at the arena April 30 through May 2.

Saying it will be a busy weekend for music fans - is it more accurate to say a busy weekend for country-music-loving women and the men who get dragged along? - is an understatement.

- On April 30, Swift, who at 19 became the youngest person to win the CMA entertainer of the year and the first woman since Shania Twain, will bring her "Fearless 2010" tour to Columbia.

Swift has supplanted Chesney as country's - and maybe also pop music's - biggest star. Not only did she claim entertainer of the year at the CMAs, but she also took home awards for album of the year, music video of the year and female vocalist of the year.

And she straightened her hair last month, giving TMZ and other celebrity publications something to report on other than Tiger Woods' infidelity.

How big has Swift gotten since she opened for Rascal Flatts at the arena in October 2008? Her second album, "Fearless," was released in November of that year, and it's still on the charts, selling more than 3 million copies. It will probably still be on the charts in April.

Tickets for the concert, which will feature openers Kellie Pickler and Gloriana, have already sold out. You can try secondary ticket sellers, but the prices will be ridiculously marked up.

- Underwood, the former "American Idol," returns to the arena on May 1 for the first time since opening for Paisley in November 2006. She recently released her third No. 1 album, "Play On," and, more importantly, her "Idol" star hasn't waned. She's an efficient singer, one who commands attention because of her voice, not because of a fiery stage persona or fiery, jilted-lover country-pop songs, the model that has made Swift so undeniably hot. Craig Morgan and Sons of Sylvia will open.

- If Swift has the sass and Underwood the cool, then McBride, who will perform May 2, has the class. She has a big voice with range and her songs aren't the life of the party. They're just about life.

McBride's concert, originally scheduled for Dec. 11, was moved. Will she be the odd woman out? Probably not, as Swift is already sold out and Underwood will most likely do the same.

If a seat at McBride's concert, which will feature opener Luke Bryan, is what you can get, don't think of it as a consolation. She's been doing this longer than Swift and Underwood combined. And she has four CMA female vocalist of the year awards to prove it.

At first glance, this looks like a courageous move for the arena to book three female country singers in consecutive days. While some of their listeners overlap, each has a distinctive enough draw for concertgoers.

2. COLORS

"The Chemistry of Color: Contemporary African-American Artists" opens at the Columbia Museum of Art on Feb. 5.

The exhibition, which examines the struggles of black artists in the last part of the 20th century, will feature 72 works by notable artists such as Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold and Betye Saar. The exhibition will also include 41 pieces from other artists.

The art - paintings, sculptures, works on paper and textiles - is being touted by the museum as the most important African-American art to be exhibited in the state in quite awhile.

The exhibition ends May 9.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the South Carolina Contemporary Dance Company, led by the expressive choreography of Miriam Barbosa, will perform a dance titled "The Chemistry of Color" at the museum on Feb. 21 and 28.

USC's McKissick Museum also will open an African-centric exhibition titled "Grass Roots: African Origins of American Art" on Feb. 13.

3. BOOK SHELVES

The S.C. Book Festival, the 14th annual event, will be held Feb. 26-28 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. For a list of authors appearing and more information, visit www.scbookfestival.org.

4. UNVEILING

The Township, which turns 80 this year, is on schedule - barely - to open in May.

The last show at the 3,000-seat venue was Keyshia Cole in May, and Sally Roach, the Township's executive director, is eager to show off the new place.

If only it would stop raining.

When we talked in mid-December, Roach said the frequent rain was slowing down the remodeling process.

"The rain is killing us," she said. "The weather is wreaking havoc on our schedule right now."

The Taylor Street venue began its $12 million renovation in June. Here's some things to expect when it reopens:

- The front of the building will be removed and moved forward, adding 20 feet to the Township's lobby.

- In back, a warehouse will be added, which will allow two trucks to be off-loaded at the same time. The warehouse will also provide storage so "dead" boxes don't have to go back onto the trucks.

- There will be new concession stands and dressing rooms.

But the auditorium will have the same seating, a blending of the past with the future.

5. OFF BROADWAY

Broadway in Columbia has become a staple on the arts scene, and there are three shows to check out in the coming months: "The Wizard of Oz" Jan. 11-12; "Cabaret" Feb. 10-11; and "Mamma Mia!" April 6-8.

6. DANCE STEPS

The Columbia City Ballet will have a busy first half of the year.

The company will perform "Cleopatra" Feb. 5-6 at the Koger Center. During "Cleopatra's" run, the ballet will also produce morning runs of "The Lion King of Mali." In March, Columbia City Ballet will perform "The Little Mermaid" on the 12th and 13th. With the production, William Starrett, the company's artistic director, will debut his interpretation of the under-the-sea tale about the boundaries of love.

Isn't there something else? That's right, the ballet will travel to Chicago to perform "Off the Wall & Onto the Stage: Dancing the Art of Jonathan Green" at the Harris Theater Feb. 26-27.

- The Columbia Classical Ballet has two significant performances in the coming months. The first is LifeChance "Gala of the Stars" on Jan. 23 at the Koger Center. International performers and dancers from national companies such as Boston Ballet will perform on the program, saluting the Palmetto Health Children's Hospital Special Care Center. On March 5, the classical company will perform "Aladdin" at the Koger Center.

- USC Dance will host the fifth annual "Ballet Stars of New York" performance March 20 at the Koger Center. The concert will feature principal dancers from the New York City Ballet and the USC Symphony. For local dancegoers, this date should be marked in ink.

7. TOP PERFORMANCES

What can the S.C. Philharmonic do at the end of its season that can top the performances of Wu Man and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones? Looking at the schedule, apparently there's plenty.

- "Beethoven and Blue Jeans," Jan. 16: The program will include compositions by Glinka, Delius, Prokofiev and, of course, Beethoven. Erin Freeman will guest conduct, and the concert will feature Baron Fenwick and Joseph Mohan, prize winners from the 2009 Southeastern Piano Festival's Arthur Fraser International Concerto Competition.

- "From Russia, with Love," Feb. 13: The orchestra's Valentine's Day concert will feature works by Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Rachmaninoff, as well as pianist Sean Yeh, first-prize winner of the Fraser competition.

- "Dance, Dance, Dance," March 27: Will there be dancing in the aisles? Maybe to three dance episodes from Bernstein's "On the Town." Violinist Michi Wiancko will be featured.

- "Shadow and Light," April 24: Martina Filjak, the 2009 Cleveland International Piano Competition gold medalist will perform. The concert's repertoire includes Wagner, Bartok and Dvorak.

All performances are at the Koger Center.

8. KEY STROKES

The Southeastern Piano Festival, which nurtures aspiring pianists during week-long workshops and showcases open to the public, will begin June 13.

The guest pianists the festival attracts keep getting better. Marina Lomazov, the festival's founder and director, was surprised with an overwhelming gift at the close of 2009's festival: a 1976 Steinway M, a medium grand piano.

The festival is held at the USC School of Music Recital Hall.

9. CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT

"Crowns," a musical that is returning to Trustus Theatre's main stage, has deep cultural relevance.

Hats once said a lot about a person, be it their social or financial status. Particular hats were once worn for special occasions. The tradition of the hats, as it relates to African-American culture, is an interesting subject for a musical production.

The actors and directors better not play with this one.

"Crowns" opens Feb. 12.

10. AUNTIE'S SHOW

Ashford & Simpson will join the list of legendary performers who have performed at the "Legends Of ..." concert, the annual fundraising show for the Auntie Karen Foundation.

The concert will be held Feb. 26 at the Koger Center, and Ashford & Simpson will host a master class at the USC School of Music on Feb. 25.

Nickolas Ashford, who was born in Fairfield, and Valerie Simpson are a successful husband-and-wife song-writing team, writing some of Motown's most-recognized hits.

The duo wrote "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "You're All I Need To Get By," which were recorded by the premiere 1960s R&B duo Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

They also wrote "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)," Diana Ross' debut solo single after leaving the Supremes.

As performers, Ashford & Simpson's most widely known song is "Solid," an early 1980s crossover hit.

For more information, visit www.AuntieKaren.org.

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