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Best of SAV: Arts & Culture 


Best Local Theater Production

The Collective Face: Equus


Best Local Theater Director

David I.L. Poole


Best Local Actor

Christopher Blair


Best Local Actress

Maggie Lee Hart

Collective Face artistic director David Poole has won in this category for the first time, and anyone who’s seen his repertory group’s shows—including the recent psychological drama Equus—knows that the Poole-designed sets are a big part of the theatrical allure.

click to enlarge From left: Maggie Lee Hart, David I.L. Poole, Christopher Blair
  • From left: Maggie Lee Hart, David I.L. Poole, Christopher Blair

The Best Director for 2014 is quick to disagree. “I actually think the set is secondary,” Poole says. “For me, it’s really about the story that we’re telling, and the show. I always say that we should be able to do this show if a tornado came and blew the whole set away.”

Nevertheless, Peter Shaffer’s play, about a stable boy who blinds six horses with a metal spike, was told on a deceptively simple stage that actually revolved, as the disturbed boy (Zach Blaylock) engaged in secret moonlight horseback rides.

Mute actors on two-foot stilts wore enormous equine masks, designed by Poole. It was eerie, to say the least.

Equus, Poole explains, had been on his “bucket list” since he began directing. “The show is mostly done by professional theater companies,” says the New York native, a theater instructor and technical director at Savannah State University.

click to enlarge The Collective Face: 'Equus'
  • The Collective Face: 'Equus'

“And when you apply for the rights to it, initially there are a lot of stipulations. One of the demands is that the nudity has to be done. And I literally had to sign my life away. If the nudity wasn’t done, they wouldn’t allow us to even consider the production.

“Also, it’s a daunting task of a show. The piece itself is really challenging for the actors; it isn’t just a picnic. So I had to really be sure we had the people that could do it.”

The cast, which also included Mark Rand, Dandy Barrett and April Hayes, was comprised almost entirely of Collective Face repertory company members. The group holds periodic auditions to fill specific roles in its four-shows-a-year season.

The ultimate goal is to turn the Collective Face into a small Equity (professional) company, part of the League of Resident Theatres. “We’re getting there,” Poole says. “We’re getting there. It’s constantly changing.”

This is Christopher Blair’s fourth consecutive win in the acting category. Although he most recently appeared in the Collective Face’s Fool For Love (alongside Best Actress Maggie Lee Hart), the versatile Blair continues to make use of his many options—notably, he played the title characters in Bay Street Theatre’s 2013 musicals Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Both Blair and Hart teach at the Savannah Children’s Theatre, which keeps them busy ... the fact that they still find time to do “grownup” projects is astonishing. This is the third win in four years for Hart, who also performed in Les Miserables at the Savannah Theatre. —Bill DeYoung
Runner-up (production): Sweeney Todd
Runner-up (director): Jeff DeVincent
Runner-up (actor): Richie Cook
Runner-up (actress): Cecilia Arango

Best Local Author

Best New Local Book

Bill DeYoung and Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down

What can we say? He works at Connect Savannah; in fact, he’s writing this right now.

click to enlarge 'Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay's Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down'
  • 'Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay's Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down'

Thanks very, very much; glad you liked it.
Runner-up: Mary Kay Andrews

Best Cultural Event

Best Festival That's Not St. Patrick's Day

Savannah Music Festival

We thought it was interesting that the 2014 SMF billed itself as the 25th Anniversary season, when the festival as we know it actually began in 2003, when New York’s Rob Gibson was hired to gut and overhaul it. Twenty-five years ago it was “Savannah Onstage,” which bore little resemblance to the well-planned, well-executed, world class festival we know and love today. Ah, but this was a particularly good year, with memorable appearances by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Avett Brothers, an all-star acoustic blues guitar quartet, the Punch Brothers, Jason Isbell, Asif Ali Khan and lots of others from across the world musical spectrum.
Runner-up (cultural event): St. Patrick’s Day
Runner-up (not St. Patrick’s): Savannah Stopover

Best Film Series

Psychotronic Film Society

Savannah movie maven Jim Reed has yet to let anyone down with his Sentient Bean series of weirdo, wacko and just plain bad cinematic selections (William Shatner makes frequent appearances). Reed and Psychotronic are also joining forces with CinemaSavannah to bring in the regional premieres of highly-anticipated independent and foreign films (to wit: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality, screening May 31 at Muse Arts Warehouse).
Runner-up: Savannah Film Festival

Best Film Festival

Savannah Film Festival

Hot-celeb-wise, the 2013 was almost totally TV (Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead, Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones), and a couple of the premieres (August: Osage County, The Book Thief) were widely reckoned to be stinkers. But Oscar-nominated Nebraska premiered here (with filmmaker Alexander Payne and star Bruce Dern in attendance), and Jeremy Irons showed up. Not SCAD’s best film fest, but our readers certainly ate it up nevertheless.
Runner-up: Psychotronic Film Society

Best Indie Film Venue

Muse Arts Warehouse

Incredible that some people still don’t know where Muse is located (703 Louisville Road, 3/4 of a mile past MLK on the west side of town), because it’s been the busiest multi-purpose arts venue in Savannah almost since the day Mark and JinHi Soucy Rand opened the doors in late 2009. CinemaSavannah, the Psychotronic Film Society, plus the Collective Face, Savannah Community Theatre, the Odd Lot and Spitfire Poetry Group are among those who keep things hopping at Muse on a regular basis. The big, big screen and intimate atmosphere make it a sweet spot for indie and foreign films.
Runner-up: The Sentient Bean

Best Local Photographer

Jon Waits

You may have glimpsed this gentleman cruising the edges of the crowd with his camera, and you’ve definitely seen his fine images in the pages of Connect—as well as pretty much every other local publication this year.

If Jon Waits seems to have come out of nowhere to be practically everywhere, it’s because that’s kind of how it happened.

click to enlarge Jon Waits
  • Jon Waits

Born and raised in Atlanta, this “stereotypical preacher’s kid” spent his 20s and 30s clawing his way through a professional career in rock ‘n’ roll—and its attendant dangers. Three years ago Waits found himself in a long-term recovery program in Statesboro, and afterwards found his way to Savannah to make a fresh start.

“The year I got sober, everything was in Technicolor,” he describes. “I’d been anesthetized for a decade.”

Looking for a way to fill the abstemious hours, he began taking pictures of architecture and landscapes with his iPhone. They turned out to be pretty good, so he bought a DSL-R kit, and sought out advice from Jabberpics photographer Josh Branstetter.

“Josh really encouraged me even before I bought a camera,” recalls Waits, sitting on the back patio of Foxy Loxy, where he pulls the morning espresso shift a couple of times a week. “He gave me the big push and spent time with me.”

He also tagged along on other photographer’s shoots, assisting Susan Laney, Adriana Iris Boatwright and Cedric Smith. He’s honored by his Best of Savannah win, shaking his head that “there are so many fantastic photographers, artists and creative people in Savannah. I’m such the new kid on the block.”

Though he confesses he often feels timid about approaching people to take their pictures, portraiture work now makes up most of his subject matter. He’s also on the forefront of Savannah’s simmering music scene and served as official photographer for the most recent Savannah Stopover. That gives him an opportunity (and excuse) to play around with new equipment, and he recently acquired a Rebel T-3 and 1740 Canon wide angle lens for concerts.

Not that he’s given up the stage: The singer/songwriter still wields a guitar with musical partners Markus Kuhlmann and Coy Campbell as Waits & Co., gigging regularly with a brand of Americana he characterizes as “old school country plus some Stones and the Who, with a little soul thrown in for good measure.”

It appears that both sobriety and Savannah have given Jon Waits new life, not to mention a chance to turn a creative outlet into a career.

“Music is cathartic, but photography is the first time I’ve had a way for other people to see how I see the world.” — Jessica Leigh Lebos
Runner-up: Geoff L. Johnson

Best Visual Artist
Best DJ

Jose Ray

Savannah’s favorite visual artist and DJ? Who is this impossibly cool Renaissance man? Why, it’s Jose Ray, from the great state of Kansas, who’s been in the SAV since 2007, and before he could say “Toto, I don’t think we’re in the dark any more,” people were raving about his paintings and drawings.

click to enlarge Jose Ray
  • Jose Ray

A punk musician at heart, Ray gravitated towards the music scene and began illustrating posters for his new buds. “I think that’s why I do a lot of collaborative and live event things,” Ray says. “Because I do miss live performance, and the collaboration that you get with music.” That’s how he got mixed up with the guys who do the monthly “Vinyl Appreciation” DJ thing—now at Foxy Loxy—and soon Ray turned his love of old-school soul and funk into a several-nights-a-week DJ gig. He was chosen this year for his Monday nights at the Sparetime, which has since closed. But Jose Ray, who has one hand on the palette and the other on the turntable, has no intention of slowing down.
Runner-up (artist): Rob Hessler
Runner-up (DJ): Basik Lee

Best Movie Theatre

Royal Cinemas & IMAX

Two years into its existence at 5 Town Center Court in Pooler (right off I-95!), the ginormous IMAX screen is the thriller to beat—especially if you like your Captain Americas and Spider-Men as big as buildings. It’s kind of like a theme park ride—especially when the movie’s also in 3D.
Runner-up: Carmike 10

Best Museum

Best Art Gallery

Jepson Center for the Arts

Savannah’s creative heart beats here, in the contemporary wing of the Telfair Museums complex. At 64,000 square feet, it’s the most spacious museum space in the area, and it’s bumper-to-bumper with art, music, film and fashion pretty much year-round. The Tibetan monks of Drepung Loseling monastery build their annual sand mandala here, the Savannah Book Festival has writers, readers and speakers here, and early each year the Jepson walls come alive with the sights (and reverberating sounds) of the PULSE Art + Technology Festival.
Runner-up (gallery): Butcher Tattoo Studio

click to enlarge The Odd Lot
  • The Odd Lot

Best Local Comedian/Comedy Team

The Odd Lot

There’s been a nice run on comedy performance in Savannah over the last couple of years, and so this category makes its debut. The prize goes to the 14-member improv troupe the Odd Lot, whose popular Monday-night residencies at Muse Arts Warehouse have recently been appendaged with several interactive murder mysteries, a kids’ production and some pan-Savannah dinner theater shows.
Runner-up: Phil Keeling

Best Art Show

First Friday Art March

In its May 7 story “An Incubator For Creativity in Savannah, Ga.,” no less an arbiter of cool than the New York Times sang the praises of the Starland district and its “refreshingly rough-around-the-edges respite from Savannah’s polished, Old South charm.” Spoken like someone who doesn’t live here, of course, but we’ll take the praise for the fun and forward-thinking Starland galleries, all of whom participate in the monthly First Friday Art March. A collective confab in which “marchers” (that’s you and me) travel between the participating art venues, all in one night. The idea is to see what everyone’s got going, hear some music, taste a bit of wine (or otherwise), nibble some food and enjoy incredible weather and creative camaraderie. Bohemian and friendly, First Friday may not exactly be polished, but it has Old South charm to spare.

Best Fashion Event

SCAD Fashion Show

Is Savannah becoming a fashion mecca? Stephen Burrows was the André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree at the 2014 event, which took place May 17 at the SCAD Museum of Art. The annual SCAD Fashion show is a high-tech juried collection of undergraduate and graduate work, as students in the college’s fashion program prepare to meet the marketplace.
Runner-up: Savannah Fashion Week

Best Performance Art Event

Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque Revue

Blending scantily-clad peekaboo girls and ersatz vaudeville stage shenanigans, the Savannah Sweet Tease premiered last September. It wasn’t long before the city had two or three more “troupes” practicing the high art of burlesque, “boylesque” and va-va-voom.

click to enlarge Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque Revue
  • Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque Revue

“When you do something and it becomes successful, maybe people get the guts to do it, too,” says Sweet Tease co-founder Wendy “Rebel Belle” Denney (the others are Jessica Knapp and Anita Narcisse). “Maybe they were already thinking about it. Maybe it’s a coincidence. I’m not sure.”

The proliferation of homegrown burlesque shows, Denney says, can only be a good thing. “We don’t view it as competition, because we’re all so different,” she explains. “We all bring something different to the table, so it works.”

Denney, a professional choreographer and dancer, moved here with her husband Dean in 2011. “I’d been wanting to form a burlesque troupe for a really long time,” she says. “I was working full-time, and then when I got to a point in my life where I could work part-time I was able to do it.

“And I knew Savannah would eat it up. I was so surprised, when I moved here, that they didn’t already have a burlesque troupe. Because you’ve got this great group of artists in this town, and a really good support group of people who enjoy performance art and visual art.

“Of course, I’m passionate about it, being a dancer, and I heard of other people who were interested in doing it ... so, I said ‘This could work.’”

The current troupe includes 17 members, 12 of which are original. Their next local show will be at the Jinx July 12.

“It’s about once every other month,” Denney explains, “and we’ve also started traveling. A lot of us are moms and have full-time jobs and things like that, so we’re planning little weekend tours, where we try to do two or three cities on a weekend. And then come back.”

(Already booked for summer and fall are visits to Asheville, Atlanta and points in between.)

“I’m overwhelmed with pride,” Denney gushes. “I can’t believe that it’s been as successful as it has. And how supportive everyone in the troupe is towards each other, and how supportive our fans are – they’ll stand out in the rain and wait in line for us. I can’t tell you how appreciative I feel that the universe has granted this awesome opportunity.” Bill DeYoung
Runner-up: SCAD Sidewalk Arts Festival

Best Local Recording Studio

Dollhouse Studios

Dollhouse Studios takes up slightly less than half of the 5,600 square feet of 980 Industry Drive, a more or less nondescript brick building on the extreme western edge of Savannah.

The rest of the old factory structure consists of Dollhouse Productions, a mid-sized performance venue (with lounge) that’s quickly becoming a go-to spot for envelope-pushing live music, and the offices of Dollhouse Public Relations.

click to enlarge Dollhouse Studios
  • Dollhouse Studios

The studio, however, was the raison d’etre, at least when Peter Mavorgeorgis and his wife Blake took over the lease in 2011.

Mavorgeorgis was a Long Island kid playing in punk and hardcore bands when he had his first studio experience in the early 1990s. “We’d go into these recording studios, where this guy with a ponytail and a fanny pack and a Supertramp shirt on would basically tell us we were doing everything wrong,” he recalls. “And make fun of us, and try to make us listen to ‘Wonderful Tonight’ by Eric Clapton. Basically treat us like hell.

“So my friends and I just started amassing gear, saying ‘To hell with this. We’re going to do it ourselves.’” They had no choice, they figured. “To save up money to go to a studio and then get treated like that ... that’s not gonna fly,” Mavorgeorgis says.

While studying at Fordham University, Mavorgeorgis started hanging around the semi-famous Soho studio Green Street. He volunteered to help any way he could, and eventually graduated from making coffee and cleaning bathrooms to making dubs, then mixing, then assisting on productions.

He and Blake Olmstead met in New York but were married in Savannah, where she had family connections. Once they decided to get out of the city, coming here permanently was the clear choice.

That was a bit less than four years ago. Blake Mavorgeorgis runs the Dollhouse PR company and the day-to-day venue operations.

The studio is Peter’s territory. The console is a combination of ProTools 11 HD and analog-to-tape recording. “We treat digital like it’s analog,” he explains. “Which means rather than mixing on a screen, we’re mixing on a big old recording console, like you’d see in a picture book of ‘choose your recording session of the past.’ As a result, we’re using all the conveniences of digital, and trying to eke the last bit of sonic buttery-ness by employing vintage analog equipment in the signal chain and in the mixing process.”

Mavrogeorgis likes blending both systems (analog and digital) to create a final production master. “There’s some things tape can do that digital just can’t do, no matter what,” he says. “A lot of it has to do with getting that nostalgic sound that we all love when we hear a recording.”

Along with several national and regional clients, local bands including Triathalon, Whaleboat, Sauna Heat and A Nickel Bag of Funk have recorded at Dollhouse. The Royal Noise’s new This is the Funky Part is a Dollhouse production.

Having the nightclub and the studio in the same compound, Mavrogeorgis says, has its benefits. “They work together nicely. Because people will come and play the venue and see the studio, and then all of a sudden—we have a booking.” Bill DeYoung
Runner-up: Elevated Basement

Best Local Electronic Artist

Sunglow

And Daniel Brady Lynch does it again! Download the frenetic new 10-track Sunglow album, Nothing Doing, at sunglow.bandcamp.com.
Runner-up: DJ Darkopz

click to enlarge Kylesa
  • Kylesa

Best Local Metal Band

Kylesa

One wonders if calling Kylesa “local” is actually on point, because the band is HUGE in Europe and the Far East, and they always seem to be off touring somewhere (in fact, they were gigging in Norway when we e-mailed to tell them they’d won). Ah, but band founders Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants are hometown folk, and when they’re not world-traipsing, they’re here and running their new label, Retro Futurist Records, from Savannah. And now that we think about it, it seems as if Kylesa played lots more hometown shows over the last year, which is a good thing.
Runner-up: Black Tusk

Best Live Music Concert

The Avett Brothers

Scott Avett, Seth Avett and Bob Campbell returned to the Johnny Mercer Theatre March 20 and 21 with sets that paired highly-harmonic acoustic balladry with energetic, full-band rock ‘n’ roll. With longtime compatriot Joe Kwon on cello, pedal steel player Paul Delfigia and drummer Mike Marsh, the North Carolina bros pulled from their own extensive catalog (“Morning Song,” “The Weight of Lies,” “Slight Figure of Speech,” “Head Full of Doubt”) and covered numerous country and folk classics for what many people considered a highlight of the 2014 Savannah Music Festival.
Runner-up: A-Town Get Down

Best Live Music Club

The Jinx

For many, the Jinx—an otherwise nondescript hole in the wall across from Ellis Square—is the center of Savannah’s musical universe. And it has been thus for a decade. Look under the “Night Life” section for more Jinx wins (it happens every year!).
Runner-up: Jazz’d Tapas Bar

Best Local Rock Band
Best Local Punk Band
Best Local Vocalist
Best Local Video

Cusses

click to enlarge Cusses
  • Cusses

Another sweep for the punky power trio and their magenta-haired singer Angel Bond. AND their 2012 video for “Don’t Give In,” which took this same prize in last year’s voting. Expect the band’s second album any time now.
Runner-up (rock): Crazy Bag Lady
Runner-up (punk): Crazy Bag Lady
Runner-up (vocalist): Thomas Claxton
Runner-up (video): Black Tusk, “Truth Untold”

Best Local Country/Americana Band

Damon & the Shitkickers

Once the pride of rural Harlem, Montana, Damon Mailand comes from parents who were all about classic country music—Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and those guys. Damon’s dad, Dale Mailand, is a “cowboy poet” and author well known to Western-lore aficionados and re-enactors.

click to enlarge Damon & the Shitkickers
  • Damon & the Shitkickers

Damon Mailand had a rock ‘n’ roll phase, but shitkicking — it directly refers to hardscrabble country music—is in his blood. “I played a lot with older pickers around where I grew up,” he says. “Playing at the local diner and stuff like that. That’s really where I cut my teeth on the country side of things.”

A luthier (guitar making and repair) by trade, Mailand came to Savannah to work for Benedetto Guitars, where he is now Production Manager.

He’s the band’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist; his fellow Shitkickers are Anders Thomsen (lead guitar), Charlie Hodge (bass), Matt Collett (drums) and the amazing pedal steel player Igor Fiksman.

Originally from Ukraine, Fiksman emigrated in the early 1990s to study classical guitar at Armstrong Atlantic State University. After a couple of years playing electric guitar in a punk band, he fell head over heels for classic country, and switched to pedal steel.

“It was a little surprising,” Mailand says of his bandmate’s unlikely country music pedigree. “I didn’t even know there was a pedal steel player in Savannah. So I was shocked on a couple different counts—but it’s true that he knew every classic country song, and maybe even more than me, by the time he joined the band. So it was an excellent fit.”

Mailand and his boys perform frequently, although some clubowners and event promoters shorten or change the band name to avoid offending anyone. “If they want to leave off a portion of the name, that works for me,” Mailand says. “We’re not trying to make it big with this, we have day jobs, and we play music we like when we’re able and when we want to.

“So the name isn’t really an issue for me. It may be for certain venues. But that hasn’t really gotten in our way.”

In truth, calling his band the Shitkickers probably has its benefits. “If you just say ‘country music’ these days, people might get a skewed impression of what we do,” Mailand explains. “The name might help define that a little better.” – Bill DeYoung
Runner-up: The Accomplices

Best Local Jazz Band/Artist

Velvet Caravan

When Ricardo Ochoa (violin) and Sasha Strunjas (guitar) began playing together in 2011, their common denominator was Hot Club-style gypsy jazz music. “But when we started adding guys,” Ochoa told us, “and everybody started bringing their own personality into it, we didn’t want to force them and say ‘No, you need to learn that language.’ Instead, we learned to adapt to what the guy has to say and see how we can make it work.” So, while the spirits of Reinhardt and Grappelli are always in the room, Velvet Caravan— which also includes Jared Hall (piano), Jesse Monkman (cajon) and Eric Dunn (standup bass) makes jazz that incorporates diverse elements including Texas Swing, rock, blues and bluegrass.
Runner-up: Teddy Adams

Best All-Around Musician

Ricardo Ochoa

The Venezuela-born Ochoa came to the SAV 14 years ago, to play with the city’s now-defunct symphony orchestra. Oh, he’s first principal second violin with the relatively new Savannah Philharmonic, but he’s most visible these days as the anchor for the gypsy jazz quintet Velvet Caravan. Ricardo sometimes saws with the Train Wrecks—and pretty much anybody else who asks (nicely).
Runner-up: Eric Culberson

click to enlarge A Nickel Bag of Funk
  • A Nickel Bag of Funk

Best Local Soul/Funk/R&B Group/Artist

A Nickel Bag of Funk

Last November’s release of the long-gestating Melodic Schizophrenic showed the doubters that Nickel Bag, which has taken this award for six consecutive years, is one of Savannah’s coolest bands in any category. Songwriter and lead vocalist Leslie Adele, ably aided and abetted by Willie Jones, Jermaine Baker and Tre Moore, knows how to create the groove, lock it and ride it. Amar Wilkins recently joined the Bag on keyboards.
Runner-up: Ambrose

Best Local Hip Hop/Rap Artist

Basik Lee

In many ways, Steve Baumgardner has become the face of Savannah arts and culture, because he’s involved in so many things at once. Although he’s too busy these days to anchor the Jinx’s Tuesday Hip Hip Night (which he did for years), he’ll still drop by when he can to show support—to rap, sing, break dance, and otherwise show you how it’s done. He’s a busy DJ—focusing on classic rock ‘n’ soul, don’t you know—AND a singer/songwriter, AND the lead singer (and rapper) with the rock-meets-soul-meets-hip hop group Ambrose.
Runner-up: KidSyc@Brandywine

click to enlarge Basik Lee
  • Basik Lee

Previous Winners

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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