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Best of Savannah 2008: Arts and Culture 

Best Local Theatre Production of 2007

Rocky Horror by Cardinal Rep

Actually the company was known as Savannah Actors Theatre when they did this popular audience-participation kitsch classic. Artistic Director Ryan McCurdy gave us some fun facts from this groundbreaking show from the growing troupe:

• Some audience participation props had to be confiscated from patron’s bags. Among the things removed were entire toilet paper rolls, a Richard Nixon Halloween mask, and foot-long wax candles.

• To make sure the look of the show was unique, no costumes or set pieces were rented from the national provider. The costume design team designed every costume (38 of them for the 21-member cast) from scratch, and Badger Rental Services was contracted to supply the scaffolding for the large towers.

• More than one attendee arrived thinking they were going to see Little Shop of Horrors (one made it to intermission under this mistaken impression, wondering when the giant plant was going to enter). Some people called asking for tickets to either “The Rocky Mountain Horror Show” or “Rocky Mountain High.”

• This was the first Cardinal Rep show that featured a cast made up equally of college and community talent, thereby achieving one of the company’s goals. - JM

Runner-up: Return to the ‘50s at Historic Savannah Theatre


Best Local Spoken Word Artists

AWOL

Tony and Davena Jordan continue to spread the word, literally, throughout Savannah’s arts community.

Runner-up: Spitfire


Best Local Hip Hop/Rap Artists

DOPE Sandwich

This popular, relatively new group repeats in this category.

Runner-up: Mr. Meezy


Best Local Electronic Artist

Unsolved Mysteries

Ask Jon Linn, the young songwriter and musician behind Savannah’s most buzzed-about synth-based pop band Unsolved Mysteries, how it feels to be named 2008’s Best Local Electronic Artist, and you’ll get a decidedly unself-conscious reply.

“Holy shit! I’m very excited. That’s very cool!” (Wouldn’t it be funny if all the winners had that same reaction?)

Although the vast majority of our readers likely have no idea who he or his band is, or even pay attention to the type of music they write, record and perform live, those who keep up with that scene see Linn and Co. (including backup singing synth player and beat programmer Adam Burdette and backup singing keyboardist Jessica Collero) as one of the most intriguing and commercially viable groups of their kind to ever emerge from our town.

Although live UM gigs have been few and far between of late (a planned tour from Fl. to NYC was scrapped at the last minute and a regular, pre-dance party Thursday night gig at The Jinx fizzled after a couple of installments), that hasn’t stopped the group from selling close to 100 copies of their homemade, hand-burned and custom-painted CDs at Marc Jacobs clothing stores around the country.

That may not seem like a lot, but when one considers that pricey chain only stocks a handful of titles by Über-hip artists (like Sonic Youth), and rarely —if ever— features unsigned acts with no national profile to speak of, it’s rather impressive. Linn is currently working on the follow up to that hooky, new-wave-inspired debut, which Marc Jacobs has already offered to stock as well. Learn more at: myspace.com/unsolvedmysteries. - JR


Best Local Club DJ

Analog Kid @ BB Billards

The Kid wins another one!

Runner-up: DJ Specs at Club One


Best All Around Local Musician

Tim Burke

“Absolutely surprised,” is how this versatile player and songwriter described his reaction to news of this accolade. Those who pay close attention to local music in bars, restaurants and private shows throughout our area likely won’t be nearly as shocked.

A facile bassist, guitarist and occasional fiddler (“I say ‘violence’ as opposed to ‘violinist’,” he deadpans), Burke’s one of the most in-demand “go-to” guys in a town filled with experienced pickers and singers. He can step up to the plate —often on short notice— and keep a live gig from falling apart.

That’s endeared him to most of the serious country, bluegrass, blues, and Southern rock artists around. At present, Burke can be found singing and playing on a regular basis in the following groups: The Double Diamond Band (bluegrass), The Navigators (electric, Texas-style blues), Hazard County (Southern rock and country), The Chuck Courtenay Band (country and honky-tonk), The Tybee Mountain Boys (bluegrass) and The Denny Philips Band (pop, rock and soul covers).

He also hosts a bi-weekly songwriter showcase at Shamrocks on Wilmington Isl. and just released a CD of his original material. Of this award, Burke says, “I guess it means whatever I’ve been doing for the last 25 years, I’ve been doing something right.” - JR

Runner-up: Ben Tucker


Best Local Blues Artist

Eric Culberson

One of Savannah’s best-regarded musicians recently played a gig with Sean Costello at the Savannah Music Festival, a few days before the Atlanta artist tragically died.


Best Local Jazz Artist

Ben Tucker

Mick Jagger ain’t got nothin’ on Mr. Tucker, a legend who is still swinging strong at 75.

Runner-up: Silver Lining


Best Local Funk/R&B Band

Nickel Bag of Funk

Dance-oriented, female-fronted soul/R & B combo with strong, gospel-influenced vocals.

Runner-up: Permanent Tourists


Best Local Rock Band

Liquid Ginger

Closing in on their tenth year together as a band, Liquid Ginger is still in high regional and local demand.

Runner-up: Turtle Folk


Best Local Southern Rock Band

Whiskey Dick

Tony Beasley is perhaps best known as a highly visible and memorable bartender at local punk, metal, alt.country and indie-rock venue The Jinx. Tall, stout and pony tailed, with a longish beard, a utilitarian wardrobe and a steely flint in his eye, he cuts a rather imposing figure.

He’s also known by many as a laid-back and good-natured singer/songwriter who occasionally performs sparse acoustic guitar ballads locally under his own name, but just as often (if not more so) gigs and tours as Whiskey Dick. Under that pseudonym, he specializes in laconically delivered outlaw country peppered with ribald language.

Whiskey Dick also does double duty as the name of his road band, which has in the past featured not only various members of the local punk and metal scenes, but the seemingly omnipresent multi-instrumentalist Joe Nelson. They’ve opened for legendary C & W tunesmith (and famously whacked-out) David Allan Coe, and Beasley says that he and the group —along with some additional guest players— will soon cut a full studio album of original material with Kylesa’s Phillip Cope acting as producer.

As for his first-ever win in this category, Beasley says, “It’s about damn time!” Learn more at: myspace.com/thewhiskeydick. - JR

Runner-up: Jason Courtney


Best Local Vocalist

Roger Moss

Raised in Tennessee, this classically-trained singer and actor has enjoyed a high profile in our area for some time now. Within weeks of relocating to Savannah for work, he had auditioned for the Savannah Symphony and was quickly offered a recurring slot as one of their guest soloists. That led to him entering the famed American Traditions vocal competition (now part of the Savannah Music Festival), where he’d eventually make it to the semi-finals.

He auditioned and was accepted to take part in the first-ever Cabaret Workshop with the legendary diva Andrea Marcovicci, and also nabbed a major role in the Memphis Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess, which he describes as “a dream since childhood.”

Moss claims the distinction of being one of the few black actors cast in principal roles in two Neil Simon plays (Proposals and The Odd Couple). When not privately tutoring up-and-coming vocalists and helping them prep for high-profile auditions —including American Idol’s Stephanie Edwards and Chelsea from TV’s Making The Band— he regularly performs an eclectic mix of American Standards and jazzy interpretations of pop and show tunes with The Roger Moss Quintet. He also helped found and directs The Savannah Children’s Choir, which he calls his “proudest moment.”

Says Moss, “I cannot tell you how grateful I am to receive this honor in my adopted hometown.” Learn more at: newartsensembles.com. - JR

Runner-up: Kim Polote


Best Local Classical Musician

Ricardo Ochoa

A nice guy as well as a talented and well-rounded musician, Ochoa’s main ax is a violin, but he’s been known to tear up a theremin as well.

Runner-up: Margo Ames

Best Gallery Show of 2007

Loop Link & Tangle at Dimensions Gallery

Cryselle Stewart opened the Dimensions Art Gallery to showcase the work of emerging artists.

“When I was a student, there were many times I tried to display my work,” Stewart says. “I found that most galleries are open only to showing more established artists.

“I had go all the way to New York to get myself established,” she says. “A lot of galleries there are looking for new talent.”

It’s important to pay attention to the work of emerging artists, Stewart says. “After the established artists are all gone, who’s going to come up next?” she asks.

“That’s my goal for Savannah, to help artists,” Stewart says. “Catch them while they’re in school and display their work properly.”

When a fibers show by Savannah College of Art and Design students was suggested to Stewart, she knew it would be good. “It was such a good idea, illustration, painting and design wanted be part of it, too,” she says.

The result was a juried show with the best work by SCAD seniors in fiber, fashion, painting and illustration. In all, 13 students participated in the exhibition, which went up last October.

Visitors to the gallery loved the show. “There was stuff on the walls, the ceiling, the columns that hold up the building, the ledges -- everywhere they could find a space, they put work up,” Stewart says. “It was the most creatively designed show I’ve ever seen. I think it was the best attended show, as well.” - LS

Runner-up: Marcus Kenney at Jepson


Best Visual Arts Gallery

Chroma Gallery

In the City Market area, Lori Keith Robinson’s and Jan Clayton Pagratis’s gallery expertly treads that fine line between cutting-edge and more commercial art.

Runner-up: Jepson Center


Best Orchestra

Savannah Sinfonietta

Founded in Spring 2006 under the leadership of Bill Keith, the Sinfonietta has grown from a group of just two dozen professional musicians floundering after the 2003 demise of the old Savannah Symphony into what is arguably the most prominent and viable local classical group of its size and scope.

Focusing on playing multiple performances of their programs in smaller, less expensive venues throughout the greater Savannah area, such as churches and synagogues (as opposed to one large concert in a centralized location like the Johnny Mercer Theater, as was the case in the past), and drawing from a pool of talented regional players, the Savannah Sinfonietta has proven itself both versatile and consistent. This was perhaps never more evident than when they recently joined forces with the Savannah Choral Society for a daunting production of Verdi’s opera La Traviata.

The group is currently mulling over a proposed name change to the Savannah Orchestra, as further evidence of its commitment to the future. Learn more at: savannahorchestra.org. - JR

Runner-up: SkyLite Jazz Band


Best Museum

Jepson Center for the Arts

Designed by Moshe Safdie, the Jepson opened two years ago in March, says Kristin Boylston, director of marketing and public relations. “It’s connected to the same organization as the Telfair Academy and the Owens-Thomas House,” she says.

In addition to its modern art and its kid’s area, the Artzeum, the Jepson presents rotating exhibitions and hosts several community events. “When we opened, this building allowed us the ability to expand those programs,” Boylston says. “It’s really given us a lot of freedom to do educational programs. The atrium, as large as it is, serves as a meeting place, a community center, a place embedded in the community.”

The Jepson even has its own cafe, and it isn’t necessary to pay admission to the museum to eat there. There also is a museum gift shop.

“What’s nice about it is that people can shop there for free. They don’t have to pay admission. It’s accessible to all -- members, non-members, tourists,” Boylston says.

Lisa Ocampo is the director of retail at the Jepson gift shop. “We have a great variety of books,” she says. “Most museum stores are book-driven. We have beautiful jewelry. A lot of it is one-of-a-kind, from regional and national artists.”

Ocampo currently is expanding the shop’s line of environmentally friendly products. “We have green products made of recycled beer and soda can tops,” she says. “They are crocheted and made into beautiful, elegant bags called Escama, which means ‘fish scales,’ from Brazil.

“There’s a candy-wrapper bag that also is a very hot seller,” Ocampo says. “Our art glass kisses are our number one best-seller.”

The shop attracts more tourists than locals, but once locals visit, they return. “Our downtowners realize they can shop and not do the whole museum thing,” Ocampo says. “They can come for lunch and shop, which is what want them to do. - LS

Runner-up, Museum Ft. Pulaski

Runner-up, Gift Shop: Owens Thomas House


Best Live Concert of 2007

Elton John

So you picked a concert that happened not in 2007 but in March 2008, when voting for this year’s Best of Savannah issue had just begun. In any case, The Rocket Man was impressive, playing a nearly three-hour one-man show without intermission.

Runner-up: Guitar Pull


Best Local Actor/Actress

Sheldon Pinckney

A longtime member of the pro company at Historic Savannah Theatre. Their current show is Return to the ‘50s.

Runner-up: Ryan McCurdy


Best Local Author

William Harris Jr.

A regular winner in this category, Harris has just released his version of the fabled local legend about the “Tybee Bomb,” Wassaw Sound.

Runner-up: James Caskey


Best Local Theatre Director

D.J. Queenan

He begins teaching theatre at Savannah Country Day in the fall, but as the director of the City of Savannah’s productions, Queenan has breathed new life into the local theatre scene by combining professionalism with positive reinforcement. Runner-up: Kellie Miley


Best Movie Theatre

Carmike

A regular winner in this category, Carmike offers a moviegoing experience a step above the typical multiplex.

Runner-up: Victory Square 9


Best Indie Film Venue

Sentient Bean

Whether it’s the regular Wednesday night Psychotronic Film Series or one-off political docs, the Bean is the place to go for socially relevant film as well as kitsch.

Runner-up: Lucas


Best Cultural Event and Best Festival That Isn't St. Patrick's Day

Savannah Music Festival

This year’s edition of the Festival shattered all previous sales and revenue records for the event, with an estimated local impact of at least $25 million. In all, revenue was up ten percent, and ticket sales were up 16 percent.

Perhaps most importantly in the big economic picture, however, was the fact that hotel rooms used by visitors were up a whopping 24 percent over 2007’s Festival.

Runner-up, Cultural Event: Picnic in the Park

Runner-up, Not St. Patrick’s Day: Savannah Film Festival

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

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