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Best of Savannah: Arts & Culture 2013 

Best Local Director

JinHi Soucy Rand

Best Theatrical Production

Rent (Bay Street Theatre)

Savannah's most resilient woman is also its Best Director for 2013.

JinHi Soucy Rand, the proprietress of Muse Arts Warehouse, guest-directed Bay Street Theatre's joyful production of Jonathan Larson's musical Rent last spring. Putting on this particular show had long been a back-burner dream for the city's theater community.

Rent has a very special meaning for those who tread the boards, Rand says, "because it's about a group of artists that found each other, and depend upon each other."

That's also a mantra for Rand; collaboration among all artistic disciplines is what keeps her going. "I think most of my friends and family could tell you that I tend to take things extremely seriously," she says, a smile on her lips.

click to enlarge JinHi Soucy Rand: Best Director for Bay Street Theatre's "Rent." - MEGAN JONES
  • Megan Jones
  • JinHi Soucy Rand: Best Director for Bay Street Theatre's "Rent."

"With that cast, there was a lot of trust going both ways. And a very committed feeling of responsibility for that trust, in each other. I'm very proud of that cast and that show."

Set in New York's Alphabet City in the early 1990s, Rent's subject matter — poverty, social discrimination, alternative arts and the apparent death sentence of AIDS — is tempered by brilliant songs, witty dialogue and a very familial feeling.

"The entire cast took the show, and the bonds that we made in the show, very personally," Rand explains. "Some of the cast members and some of the crew have continually worked with each other on several shows throughout this year. A lot of the people from the cast of Rent were in Avenue Q.

"And Erin Muller, my stage manager, who is a jack-of-all-trades, was introduced to Bay Street Theatre with that show. And has worked on every show there since."

Her praise is also magnanimous for musical director Warren Heilman, costumer Alyssa Couturier-Herndon and choreographer Muriel Miller.

A true collaboration.

click to enlarge Bay Street’s "Rent," 2012: “With that cast, there was a lot of trust going both ways,” says director Rand.
  • Bay Street’s "Rent," 2012: “With that cast, there was a lot of trust going both ways,” says director Rand.

Still, no one in Savannah does more for the arts (performing and otherwise) than the former JinHi Soucy, who arrived here 20 years ago, not long after surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. "Having always been shy, but greatly appreciating great storytellers, I went out and auditioned wearing a big, fat headband," she smiles.

She was, in those days, suffering from frequent grand mal seizures.

"I do think theater saved me," Rand says calmly. "Theater in general, and this community. So it's all tied into each other. Being an Army brat, I did not have a hometown until I came to Savannah. It was the theater that brought me here — I moved to Savannah to work with City Lights theater. And it was Savannah taking me in. I woke up under many a table after a seizure."

She was 14 when bone cancer claimed her left leg. "For 10 years after I lost my leg, it was 'It's been this long since I lost my leg, it's been this long since I lost my leg ...' And it was a very sad anniversary. Closing in on 10 years, I chose to refer to it as 'cancer-free years.' Because when they took my leg, they took the cancer."

And then: Early in 2013, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Doctors removed the top lobe of her right lung in March.

"This July — and I'd been planning a year in advance — it would be 30 years cancer-free," she says. "While I thought I would be celebrating 30 years cancer-free, I'm now celebrating eight weeks cancer-free."

(Doctors have assured JinHi and husband Mark Rand that the disease episodes were not related, and that it's now, definitely, all gone.)

She's working on rehabilitating her mind. "I am still kind of processing the information that I've been given in the last six months, the lung cancer and the cure," Rand says. "And the recovery."

Meanwhile, Muse Arts Warehouse goes on, its significance to the arts community increasing on a daily basis.

JinHi and Mark operate and maintain the space entirely by themselves. Sometimes, she admits, it can all be a bit overwhelming.

But JinHi Soucy Rand, the woman who takes things seriously, knows she's doing a damn good thing.

"Mostly it's overwhelming in a good way, and mostly in a self-critical way," she says. "I have to keep touching base with the mission that I established when we started it, which was to provide a space accessible and affordable, and available.

"So it's difficult for me to turn people away, because if it's available it's available. And I make it as affordable as I can."

No day but today.

Bill DeYoung

Runner-up, Director: Jeff DeVincent

Runner-up, Production: Avenue Q

Best Cultural Event

St. Patrick's Day

We're Number Two! We're Number Two! Only New York City's St. Patrick's Day parade draws more people to the streets to honor the guy who drove the snakes out of Ireland ... or something like that. It's all about the beer. Here's to ya, St. Paddy.

Runner-up: Savannah Music Festival

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

Savannah Music Festival

Ten years in, director Rob Gibson's overhaul of the 18-day celebration of sound has finally achieved world-class status. With Dr. John, the Wailers, Emmylou Harris and Portuguese chanteuse Ana Moura among the top-billed performers, this year's music festival was particularly rich.

Runner-up: Savannah Stopover Festival

Best Film Series

Psychotronic Film Series

Jim Reed and the Sentient Bean are like Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille ... the go-to team for dependably epic bad movies.

Runner-up: Savannah Film Festival

Best Film Festival

Savannah Film Festival

This year's drop-in stars included John Goodman, Diane Lane, James Gandolfini and Geoffrey Fletcher, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Precious.

Runner-up: Psychotronic Film Festival

Best Indie Film Venue

Muse Arts Warehouse

On Mondays, it's improv comedy with the Odd Lot. Theater groups generally block-book weekends, and each season is peppered with art shows, dance performances ... and independent films, the sort of discerning-audience stuff that's simply too good to share the boom-boom multiplex with crap like Transformers 22.

Runner-up: Sentient Bean

Best Movie Theater

Royal Cinemas IMAX, Pooler

Where else can you watch a 40-foot-talll James Tiberius Kirk battle ginormous Klingons? Our first IMAX theater — it opened in 2012 — was a shoo-in for this category.

Runner-up: Carmike 10

Best New Local Book

Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook

Published in the spring of 2012, Cheryl and Griffith Day's tasty tome is all Savannah, pure Savannah. With the recipes for Back in the Day's buttermilk biscones, chocolate bread, cinnamon sticky buns, S'more Pie, Drunk Blondies and more.

Runner-up: Baseball in Savannah

Best Local Author

Jane Fishman

Savannah’s grande dame of the garden garners her second win in a row as our favorite person to read with her foxily funny and achingly poignant “anti-memoir,” The Dirt on Jane.

Like a sturdy jasmine vine, the book’s fan base has blossomed steadily since it was published in 2011, flying off the “local author” shelves of The Book Lady and E. Shavers Booksellers as well as Brighter Day and Victory Feed & Seed.

Within the pages of The Dirt on Jane, the longtime newspaper columnist writes about her now-deceased mother’s decline, some of Savannah’s not-so-savory neighborhoods and of course, what sprouts from the fertile grounds of her multiple garden plots. A favorite at this year’s Savannah Book Festival, the book’s following continues to grow as it also touches on themes of relevance and mortality.

“I think, really, the book is about getting older,” considers Fishman. “What do you do after a certain age? It’s a question that people don’t talk about very much.”

While she sells a few other copies here and there at occasional speaking engagements at garden clubs and other civic groups, she admits that she’d rather be tilling a new patch of sorrel in the driveway or weeding the lilies than self-promoting. “I’m not that proactive,” she deadpans with her characteristic sly grin.

She is currently at work on a new book of longer essays, though her unorthodox writing process often involves trips out to her resplendent and eccentric Boundary Street garden, where she also hosts an epic plant swap twice a year.

Jane lives on a sunny street in the Parkside neighborhood with artist Carmela Allifi, two funny little dogs named Charlie and Frida and a bunch of broody chickens.

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Runner-up: Mary Kay Andrews

Best Local Actress

Cecilia Tran Arango

Over the last 12 months, it might have seemed like Cecilia Tran Arango lived at Bay Street Theatre. She played Mimi, one of the central characters in

Rent (this year's winner for Best Theatrical Production), and followed that up with Avenue Q, The Rocky Horror Show, The Reindeer Monologues and, just a month ago, Reefer Madness.

She's in rehearsals now for the Bangers & Mash production of Falsettos, at Muse.

Ah, but this Georgia native, of Vietnamese descent, has a demanding day job (she's the marketing coordinator for the Thomas & Hutton civil engineering firm), a loving husband and a couple of growing kids.

Arango has discovered a second home in the theater. "I'm so, so, so addicted," she reports. "But thankfully I have a family that's super-supportive to let me do this. I have a full-time job, and my kids are super-active.

"My family supports me and allows me to do this, because they know that I love it. I would be so sad if I had to stop! Sometimes I think I need a break, but I would be so sad."

Born in Columbus, Arango moved with her family to Savannah as a child. Her father, Tin Tran, named his shrimp boat the Cecilia Tran, and it was a frequent participant (and winner) in Thunderbolt's annual Blessing of the Fleet.

She sang in school, fronted a band for a little while, and worked in a play at AASU. But it wasn't until Bay Street's 2010 Vagina Monologues that Arango — through her association with Rape Crisis Center, the beneficiary of that year's production — got the serious theater bug.

It was her friend Christopher Stanley who suggested she audition for Rent.

"I had the soundtrack," Arango says. "I knew the songs, but I couldn't sing along to them or anything like that. That weekend, my son had a soccer tournament in Atlanta, so we drove up there and I listened to that soundtrack over and over again. Trying to figure out what role I would want to audition for.

"I'd never been given a lead role. I'd always been in a supporting role, or in the ensemble. So I didn't have high hopes."

Trying out for Mimi, the HIV-positive sexpot in Jonathan Larson's Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, was nerve-wracking.

"The only people I knew at the audition were Travis Coles, Chris Blair and Chris Stanley," she explains. "Seeing them out there in the audience took a lot of pressure and stress off, the stress of singing to new faces.

"There were 12 or 13 Mimis. They just kept coming. I remember sitting in that room and thinking I'd been out of the game for so long ... that whole confidence was not there. There was so much talent in that room, it was very intimidating."

She has become a key chemical in Savannah's talent pool. "It's addicting," Arango beams. "And the relationships that you build with people in the theater, that's like fresh air. It's like an escape from everything."

Bill DeYoung

Runner-up: Maggie Lee Hart

Best Local Actor

Christopher Blair

It’s the third consecutive win for Savannah’s most versatile thespian, who — in the last 12 months — has appeared in Rent, The Rocky Horror Show, Willy Wonka and Shadowlands. Says JinHi Soucy Rand, who directed him in Rent: “To have Chris Blair playing Tom Collins was so important … he was, as that character is, the papa. He’s the professor. He’s the ‘It’s going to be OK’ guy. I was thrilled every night, when Tom Collins showed up onstage, I could feel the feeling coming over the audience that ‘Everything’s going to be all right.’”

Runner-up: John Sandifer

Best Museum

Best Art Gallery

Jepson Center for the Arts

The Telfair complex maintains its royal status as the center of Savannah's upscale art universe; after Offering of the Angels: Paintings and Tapestries from the Uffizi Gallery, the PULSE Festival, the Art Fair, book fest events and countless other cool stuff, nobody could come close this year.

Runner-up, Museum:> SCAD Museum of Art

Runner-up, Gallery: Butcher Tattoo Shop

Best Art Show

Best Performance Art Event

SCAD Sidewalk Arts Festival

You go walkin' while everyone's chalkin.' That's the fun of a warm April Saturday in Forsyth Park, as SCAD celebrates the so-close-you-can-touch-it end of the school year with a massive, multi-colored scrawling contest.

Runner-up, Art show: Telfair Art Fair

Runner-up, Performance art: Junk2Funk

Best Visual Artist

Jose Ray

A charter member of SeeSaw (See Savannah Art Walls), whose murals brighten many an otherwise-drab streetcorner, Ray is not only a brilliantly impressionistic painter, he's a busy arts activist who participates in just about every public art event. And he spins records at the monthly Vinyl Appreciation shows. How cool is he? Jose Ray is the man.

Runner-up: Rob Hessler

Best Local Photographer

Best Photography Service

Geoff L. Johnson

Along with running a busy photography business, Geoff is the stuff of legend, primarily for his band photos, which appear in Connect on a regular basis. We're lucky to have him.

Runner-up: Megan Jones

Best Fashion Event

Fashion's Night Out

The Broughton Street runway was open for business on September 6, when Savannah designers and boutiques went on live view before hundreds of people. Bands played, balloons flew, and for a couple of hours downtown was more fashionable than ever.

Runner-up: SCAD Fashion Show

Best Live Music Concert

Savannah Stopover: of Montreal

Athens' bizarre-pop stars made their first-ever local appearance March 8 of this year in Forsyth Park. Bandleader Kevin Barnes insisted the show be free, in the big space, "where people can just drift in and check out what's going on."

Runner-up: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals

Best Savannah Music Festival Concert

Dr. John

Despite the dodgy sound on this night — DJ's piano was painfully hard to hear — the readers pulled for the old Night Tripper's Cajun-boogie-flavored set at the Trustees Theater. Said Jim Morekis in his review: "Dr. John's signature scat-cat growl and funky songwriting never failed to please. Voodoo-tinged gutbucket numbers like 'The Monkey Speaks His Mind,' 'St. James Infirmary Blues' and 'Right Place, Wrong Time' had the crowd bopping."

Runner-up: Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires

Best New Local Festival

Savannah Stopover

We're not sure that three years qualifies as "new," but OK, we certainly agree that the every-March indie band fest is pretty sweet. This year, we got Thurston Moore and Chelsea Light Moving, the Whigs and something like 80 more. Over three days.

Runner-up: Graveface Fest

click to enlarge The band Cusses (Bryan Harder, Angel Bond and Brian Lackey) won in four categories. - BILL DEYOUNG
  • Bill DeYoung
  • The band Cusses (Bryan Harder, Angel Bond and Brian Lackey) won in four categories.

Best Local Punk Band

Best Local Rock Band

Best Local Music Video

Cusses

Best Local Vocalist

Angel Bond

A wild and wooly year for Angel Bond, Brian Lackey (drums) and Bryan Harder (guitar). The vivacious three-piece put out a debut (on vinyl, CD and download) that got a load of national attention, they went across country on a 56-date tour, and their Joe Page-directed video for "Don't Give In" was added by MTV online.

Runner-up, Punk: Dead Yet?

Runner-up,Rock: Liquid Ginger

Runner-up, Video: "Freak" by Super Bob (a band from Washington, D.C.)

Runner-up, Vocalist: Laiken Williams

Best All-Around Musician

Eric Culberson

King of the Savannah electric guitar for more than two decades, bluesmaster Culberson — you might remember him from the days he called himself EROK — has dominated this category for more years than we can remember.

Runner-up: Ricardo Ochoa

Best Local Country/America Band

Train Wrecks

With a third album on the way, the longtime winners in this category show no sign of slowing down. Jason Bible, Eric Dunn, Stuart Harmening and Paxton Willis (and sometime member Ricardo Ochoa) combine acoustic and electric twang with awesome results.

Runner-up: Damon & the Shitkickers

Best Local Acoustic Band/Artist

City Hotel

Aaron Zimmer sings and plays guitar and harmonica, Cory Chambers sings and plays mandolin, Anthony Textiera sings and plays upright bass, and Jay Rudd sings and plays banjo. Guest fiddler Colleen Heine adds the icing to an already delightful acoustic cake.

Runner-up: Whiskey Dick

Best Local Metal Band

Black Tusk

Tend No Wounds, a new EP produced by Kylesa's Philip Cope (another Savannah metal musician), drops any day. Athon, Andrew and James have deservedly won in this category for the last four years. Keep on slamming, boys.

Runner-up: Kylesa

click to enlarge Leslie Adele, Jermaine Baker and Anthony Jones, A Nickel Bag of Funk, Best Local Funk/R&B/Soul Group or Artist
  • Leslie Adele, Jermaine Baker and Anthony Jones, A Nickel Bag of Funk, Best Local Funk/R&B/Soul Group or Artist

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

A Nickel Bag of Funk

After storming this category for almost half a dozen years, vocalist Leslie Adele and her sweet 'n' funky cohorts — Jermaine Baker and Anthony Jones — have finally made their debut recording. Redux: Melodic Schizophrenic comes out in late summer.

Runner-up: Voodoo Soup

Best Local Jazz Band/Artist

Ben Tucker

You youngsters can call him B-TUCK, if you dare, but if you wish to give him the respect he deserves, make it Mr. Tucker, Sir. A legendary bassist who played with Herbie Mann, Billy Taylor, Buddy Rich, Peggy Lee, Cy Coleman, Red Norvel, Tommy Flanagan, Quincy Jones, Gerry Mulligan and Ellis Marsalis, Ben Tucker wrote "Comin' Home Baby," "Right Here Right Now" and around 300 others that have enriched the pantheon of jazz.

Tucker has been a Savannahian for 40 years, co-founded the Coastal Jazz Association, and performs with musicians his age (82), half his age, and even with bearded young hipsters — as long as they got the chops. "I don't care who I play to," he told us with a smile a few months ago, "as long as you can sit there and listen, and appreciate, understand what I'm playing."

Runner-up: Velvet Caravan

Best Local Club DJ

Basik Lee

Steve Baumgardner has the coolest stage name in Savannah. This multi-talented young man from New Jersey is a poet and rapper (and a charter member of Dope Sandwich), an awe-inspiring break dancer, and a guitar-strumming singer/songwriter. He's a versatile DJ too, as you might have guessed, and an in-demand club jock at that.

Runner-up: DJ Skypager

Best Local Electronic Artist

Sunglow

Sunglow is Daniel Lynch, whose nine-track wonderland of experimental electronica Jalopy is available now on bandcamp.com. Most recently, Sunglow shared a mesmerizing Dollhouse Productions bill with Gravies and the Main Dish Sauce.

Runner-up: Electric Grandma

Best Local Hip Hop/Rap Artist

KidSyc@Brandywine

The combination of Brandywine, a crackling jazz, funk and hop quartet, with Lloyd "KidSyc" Harold is nothing less than combustible. With Syc's polysyllabic spew, and the bubbling hot brew created by Lane Gardner, Dan Butler, Derrick Larry and Charles Hodge, this band puts on a frenzied show that will leave you gasping for breath.

Runner-up: Basik Lee

Best Local Spoken Word Artist/Group

Spitfire Poetry Group

Marquice Williams and Joshua Davis are the co-directors of Savannah's spitting centro-verse, founded more than a dozen years ago by "RenaZance" and the late Clinton D. Powell. Spitfire is active in all disciplines of art in the city, and encourages young people to discover and work the catharsis that is spoken word performance.

Runner-up: AWOL

Best Live Music Club

The Jinx

And the venue formerly known as Velvet Elvis continues to pack 'em in for rock, metal and hip hop shows. Susanne and the tattooed gang have created a fun and funky home for all things musical, six nights of the week.

Runner-up: Wormhole

Best Local Recording Studio

Elevated Basement

Let's cut right to the chase: Nearly every local artist records at Kevin Rose's place, and Gregg Allman (technically, he's a "local artist" as well) has cut a few sides there. "Some of the best performances happen by just staying out of the way," Rose (who happens to be an accomplished musician, an architect and a fishing boat captain) told us in 2012. "The technical stuff will take care of itself. That's all Creampuff 101. To me, the inspiration is everything."

Runner-up: 3180 Media Group

Previous Winners

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

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