Several well-known stars of country music will be leaving relatively moderate Nashville to travel to the snows of the Salt Lake City area in February to entertain during the Winter Olympics. The news provider country.com says that Brooks & Dunn and Martina McBride are among those scheduled to do nightly concerts during the run of the contests. Brooks & Dunn's concerts will be in a venue called the Olympic Medals Plaza. That arena can accommodate up to 20,000 people. Others who have already accepted invitations to perform are the Dave Matthews Band and Sheryl Crow. Creed and 'N Sync will also be there. In many foreign nations, American country stars are among the biggest draws.
ARAFAT BANNED FROM BETHLEHEM
For the first time in seven years the head of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat, was denied access to Bethlehem to join in the celebration of Christmas. The Israeli government said that Arafat would not be allowed in, even though the controversial leader had vowed to walk there, if necessary. Arafat did address his people in a pre-recorded speech on TV and radio. He called Christmas a "divine and blessed occasion," blaming the Jerusalem government for keeping him out. "The Israeli tanks, the barriers and the rifles of the oppressors have prevented me from sharing with you our annual celebration," he said. Crowds were thin in Bethlehem this Christmas. One Seattle tourist who did attend services told CBS News that he wasn't worried. "Security is the tightest it's ever been," he told a reporter for the network.
CYCLING STUNT PROVES FATAL FOR BIKER
Tragedy struck at Christmastime for a Renton, Wash., family. A 19-year-old died while hot-rodding his motorcycle on a city street in a bizarre accident in that city. The incident happened when more than 150 people were watching. The King Country Medical Examiner's Office confirms that the victim was going at more than 70 mph on a city street and suddenly raised the front wheel of his cycle in a common trick called a wheelie. Just as he was racing with the front of the cycle elevated, a vehicle pulled from a nearby parking lot into his path.
Because of the excessive rate of speed and the time it took to get the back down to ground level before he could stop, the resulting collision was fatal for the biker.
Local police say the accident happened in an area that has been plagued by illegal street racing in recent months.
Coincidentally, Miami police have just conducted a major crackdown on street drag racing, arresting more than 160 people. An accident in that state last week took the life of a woman and a companion. Her son, driving at more than 120 mph in a drag race on a state highway, plowed into the back of her car.
SPIRIT OF WWII USO SHOWS REVIVED
In a major cover article, People magazine reports that many of today's young Hollywood stars are following in the footsteps of their counterparts who traveled around the world doing USO shows during World War II. Julia Roberts joined many in the cast of the new movie "Ocean's 11" recently, including leading man George Clooney, to take holiday cheer to fliers at an Air Force Base in Turkey. Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Andy Garcia were also there. The publication says that many stars, and not just from Hollywood, have quietly gone to entertain the troops in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Many went with little fanfare or press reports. They "donned the Bob Hope mantle" in doing so. By the way, the venerable comedian, now 100 according to some reports, last went on the road with his "gypsies" during the Gulf War. During the holidays, a plethora of country stars, including Dwight Yoakam and Neal McCoy, have gone overseas to entertain. They went to what the Pentagon calls "undisclosed locations."
BRAND NEW 'NUTCRACKER' BIG HIT IN VEGAS
You wouldn't necessarily think of Las Vegas as being a hotbed of classical music and ballet. After all, it's usually called "Sin City" and is more famous for its gambling halls and showgirls than it is for symphony and dance. But, during the past few weeks an extraordinary version of "Nutcracker" has been packing them in. And the place patrons went to see it was the Samba Hall, a venue in the Rio casino, just off the famous Vegas Strip, usually the home of comedians. The popular holiday dance event was made possible by a quarter-of-a-million-dollar grant from a Reno-based company and contributions from the local phone company, Sprint. More than 150 new costumes were commissioned for the spectacular, set in a dance hall a hundred years ago in St. Petersburg, Russia. A cast of more than 100 dancers was assembled, including 70 children. A Paris-based design company created new sets. The production played four performances, the final one just before Christmas.
RISING VIOLINIST TO STAR WITH ISRAELI IN NYC
One of the world's most popular young violinists, Maxim Vengerov, is due to "invade" the United States in the coming weeks when he makes an appearance with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall for two performances. The orchestra says that the group, under the direction of Zubin Mehta, will perform on Jan. 14 and 15, then move on to concert dates in Philadelphia and at Long Island University. Vengerov, who is only 27, is becoming known around the world for his flashy playing style and his ability to interpret the romantic composers, such as Brahms. One of the concerts is being held as a benefit for the family of the late president of the Board of the American Friends of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, Herman Sandler. He was among those killed in the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. More information on the New York City concerts is available at carnegiehall.org on the Internet.
UPI DAILY SURVEY QUESTION NO. 232
Lots of eating going on Tuesday on this First Day of Christmas. But, for those of us who can't eat sugar or have other dietary restrictions it can be tough sledding. So, in light of that: Do any of you have any neat sugar-free holiday treat recipes? Put SUGARFREE in the subject line and send to firstname.lastname@example.org via the Internet.
RESULTS OF QUESTION NO. 227 (LETTER)
Last week we wondered if you enclose a special letter in your Christmas cards or have any other holiday writing tradition. Here are some of the replies: Richard R. says that he likes to pick out special cards that fit the personality of each recipient. He's among those who don't buy generic boxed cards. WW sent out Christmas letters this time around. Robert says he uses his Christmas cards to say "HI" to people he seldom sees during the year. He also says that some people think of a form letter sent out at Christmastime as an insult. LL says that sending out a letter this year had a hidden agenda, telling people of a new address. Brenda T brings up an interesting point. Many people are skeptical of opening mail because of the anthrax scare. Tish never sends out letters or tapes, she thinks it's tacky. Myself? I had big plans of taking a special Christmas picture and sending it through the Internet. But, as many things, I put it on the back burner. Maybe next week. Maybe a New Year's photo. Happy Christmas. GBA.