The Best of Savannah

Best of Savannah 2011: Arts & Entertainment

Best Cultural Event

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

Savannah Music Festival

It was a year of changes for the SMF; the American Traditions vocal competition was jettisoned, the genre-specific series delineations ("Jazz," "Americana," "Worldbeat") dropped in favor of one big, multi-musical palette, and for the first time, there were two huge shows aimed quite specifically at the college crowd (the Avett Brothers, Band of Horses). And although a fair amount of "usual suspects" made appearances (Bela Fleck, Dianne Reeves, Chris Thile, the Clayton Brothers), the 2011 festival felt surprisingly fresh via some new and interesting collaborations (most of them involving African musicians) and breathtaking first-time visits from the likes of Salif Kieta, Stile Antico, Maceo Parker and Robert Randolph.

Runner-up, Cultural: Savannah Film Festival

Runner-up, Not St. Pat's, Greek Festival

Best Film Series

Psychotronic Film Series

Not only has movie geek Jim Reed stayed true to Psychotronic's mission statement - to regularly screen forgotten, lost or notorious cult films - he's expanded it to include the occasional series Movies Savannah Missed, which puts the spotlight on more mainstream fare that slipped through the cracks and never made it to the multiplex. Psychotronic has a weekly screening at the Sentient Bean; Reed sets aside an entire week of weirdness each January for the Psychotronic Film Festival.

Runner-up: Savannah Film Festival

Best Film Festival

Savannah Film Festival

At the 2010 Savannah Film Festival, we got to see Black Swan, Blue Valentine, The Conspirator, 127 Hours, Rabbit Hole and other movies before they opened everywhere else. Add to that a week's worth of top-notch independent films, a student competition, and in-person appearances from the likes of Liam Neeson, Sir Ian McKellen, Zach Gilford and Isabella Rossellini, and late October/early November was one of the most exciting times of the year.

Runner-up: Psychotronic Film Festival

Best Indie Film Venue

The Sentient Bean

A coffeehouse and low-key study-hall that turns into an acoustic music concert venue by night, the Bean - so conveniently across from Forsyth Park - is reserved on Wednesdays for Jim Reed and his Psychotronic Film Series, which is where you'll eventually see every cheesy movie ever made with zombies, beach blankets or William Shatner.
Runner-up: Muse Arts Warehouse

Best Movie Theatre

Victory Square 9

Year after year, the readers (and movie-goers) speak, and they always say this multiplex is their favorite place to see that new Jennifer Aniston rom-com, or Tyler Perry's latest Madea romp.

Runner-up: Carmike 10

Best Local Theatre Production

Savannah Theatre

Rather than elect a specific show, our readers gave the thumbs-up to the 525-seat Savannah Theatre, which is a professional theater (as opposed to a community effort) and runs its shows for months at a stretch.

"If you're just playing to tourists, it doesn't matter if you do the show for 10 years," said president Michael Meece, who ran a similar operation in Branson, Missouri before leasing the Savannah spot in 2002. "They don't know whether you've been doing this show for five years or if you started it yesterday."

Things have changed, however, and the theater's staples - Broadway, pop and country music revues with the titles Southern Nights and The Beat Goes On - are attracting an impressive tally of Savannah locals.

"So at some point they've seen it as many times as they really want to," said Meece. "We were surprised to find that the local market was a big enough group of people that it had to be reckoned with."

The Christmas show, not surprisingly, puts more butts in the seats - tourists and locals alike - than anything else. -- Bill DeYoung

Runner-up: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Best Local Theatre Director

Bridget Tunstall

Tunstall has become the revving motor for Bay Street Theatre; her color-splashed direction of the bizarro rock ‘n' roll musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch last fall raised an already high bar to a new level (Tunstall and Bay Street had premiered Hedwig the year before).

"This year the sound was a little harder," Tunstall says, "and we took inspiration from everyone from Joan Jett to Klaus Nomi to David Bowie to Iggy Pop. The band, under the direction of Christopher Stanley, rocked hard and was a Hedwig super-important part of the show."

Another thrill for cast and crew was taking scenes from to the Savannah Pride Festival.

Our Bridget - by day, she's the events coordinator for the Lucas Theatre for the Arts - didn't stop there. In February, she directed - for the 5th consecutive year - a production of Eve Ensler's always-controversial The Vagina Monologues, at Bay Street. Regional productions go up every year to raise funds for the Ensler-sponsored V-Day campaign ("A Global Movement to End Violence Against Women"). This year, the Bay Street production also raised $1,198 for the Rape Crisis Center of the Coastal Empire.

Runner-up: David Poole

Best Local Actor

Christopher Blair

After many years of acting "normal" in Savannah stage productions, from Shakespeare to Ibsen to Rodgers & Hammerstein, Christopher Blair has found his comfort level - in discomfort.

In 2010, the North Carolina native stunned local audiences as Hedwig Robinson, the transgendered, flamboyant and totally pissed-off protagonist in the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

He also appeared as Dr. Frank N. Furter, the cross-dressing, flamboyant and totally bizarre protagonist in the rock musical The Rocky Horror Show.

He'd performed both these roles in 2009 productions, too. And he'll probably repeat them in 2011.

Blair, who confesses that the idea of carrying an entire show, in character, used to intimidate him, now says he can't imagine doing things any other way (in the intense and relentless Hedwig, he never once leaves the stage).

"If it were safe and easy, what would be the point of that?" Blair explains. "I think that's one of the reasons I enjoy doing it - for two hours a night, you get to be whatever you want to be. And if it didn't have that element of danger, it wouldn't be nearly as exciting. And I think that translates to the audience as well."

Besides the Bay Street productions of Hedwig and Rocky Horror, Blair strutted memorably in the Savannah Children's Theatre's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - he was the Elvis-obsessed Pharaoh - and then he did a total 160 with a relatively straight portrayal of British talk show host David Frost in the drama Frost/Nixon at Muse Arts Warehouse.

That one, he says, was perhaps his biggest challenge.

"I've kind of found this groove with a lot of these outrageous characters," Blair says. "But I like to find at least one or two projects a year that scare me half to death, that I'm not quite sure I can pull off. It keeps me on my toes, it keeps me fresh.

"But in all the characters I play, I like to completely transform myself outside of myself."

A big part of that transformation, he explains, is the "layering" process - putting on the costumes, doing his own makeup, speaking (and singing) everything in the character's voice - and then donning the wig (or wigs, as the role calls for). Blair's own hair made few, if any, appearances onstage over the past year. 

"By the time I hit the stage, I am that character. Which gives me a lot of freedom in an improvisational aspect to create along the way. Now it's almost essential to the way that I do things."

Portraying David Frost, a real-life character in a tightly-scripted play, was a different prospect. "It was harder for me to be subtle with Frost, because I've been playing these over-the-top characters," Blair says. "Playing subtlety was the challenge with that one. But I was kind of stoked to work on it.

"He's still kind of a flamboyant personality, but at the same time not nearly on the scale that say, Hedwig was." -- Bill DeYoung

Runner-up: Sheldon Pinckney

Best Local Actress

Maggie Hart

The saucer-eyed Ms. Maggie - a student in SCAD's performing arts department - was luminous as the tormented Laura Wingfield in the Collective Face production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. Here's what we said in our review: "As the sad storyline proceeds, it's in this one performer's eyes that the audience can clearly see the pain and sorrow of inevitability that Williams put upon his magnificent canvas."

Runner-up: Mary Elizabeth Hawks

Best Local Author

Cavanaugh Lee

Best New Local Book

"Save as Draft"

Cavanaugh Lee's first novel is a three-way love story told through the bumpy vernacular of modern, technology-driven communication. And it's loosely based on her own romance-gone-south:

"It's a cautionary tale," she tells us, "but I have a Facebook account, a Twitter account, I text 20 times a day, I spend most of my day online and I think that's a good thing to use that technology in a good way. It all depends how you use it."

A California native, Lee is a graduate of the UNC School of Law; in Savannah, she's a federal prosecutor with the United States Attorney's office - and a chronic, still-optimistic dater. Lee reports she's well into her second book, which she describes as a "legal drama."

Runner-up, Author: Barry Sheehy

Runner-up: Matt Propst's Savannah Cemeteries

Best Museum

Best Art Gallery

Jepson Center for the Arts

The centerpiece of the Telfair Museum complex, the Jepson Center is where contemporary art and exhibits call home. Now five years old, the Jepson's 7,500 square feet of gallery space is used for major traveling exhibitions of contemporary art, and installations of works from the permanent collection. Latest, coolest traveling show: Psychedelic: Optical and Visionary Art Since the 1960s, on view through the end of May. There's a 220-seat (very comfortable) auditorium, too.

Runner-up, museum: Mighty 8th

Runner-up, gallery: Chroma

Best Art Show

Sidewalk Arts Festival

Even though some 800 people participate in SCAD's annual chalk-art gathering in Forsyth Park, Mother Nature is the most impressive artist - for 35 years now, it's been Savannah's official doorway to breathtaking spring weather. Even when it rains, and the concrete canvases smear beyond recognition, everyone has a swell time.

Runner-up: Taste II

Best Multimedia Art Event

Pulse Art + Technology Festival

Held over nine days in January, at various portals inside the Telfair Museums complex, Pulse is a celebration of art and creativity, as processed through technology. For example: The most recent Pulse included robotic, interactive video installations, algorithmic kinetic light paintings, music made by Wiimotes and iPhones, and a musical innovator (New York's Bora Yoon) who creates live soundscapes with her voice, percussion, tape loops, electronic looping effects ... and her cell phone.

Runner-up: Taste II

Best Visual Artist

Matt Hebermehl

He started out doing graphic design for skateboards and making cool posters for his friends' bands, but Hebermehl really made his mark with "public" art, including a series of fluid images projected onto the sides of downtown buildings, and with fixed murals (created with the proper permissions) on walls at places like the Meddin Studios facility. Then there was Birds in Flight, a series of three-dimensional bird images suspended high above the floor of the Jepson Center from last September until just a month or so ago. His work is unavoidable.

Runner-up: Marcus Kenney

Best Local Photographer

Geoff L. Johnson

OK, so maybe we're a little biased - Geoff has shot more Connect Savannah covers than just about anyone - but the readers seem to agree that his musical portraiture - particularly the stuff of metal musicians - captures an elusively human element. Psst: He does weddings, too.

Runner-up: Christine Hall

Best Fashion Event

SCAD Fashion Show

Fashion design is a degree at SCAD, and subsequently it's serious business around here. Presenting the collections of the top graduating seniors, this year's show - May 21 in the Trustees Theater - will honor footwear designer Manolo Blahnik with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The SCAD event has become one of the premiere student fashion shows in the country.

Runner-up: Savannah Fashion Week

Best Live Music Concert

SCAD New Alumni Concert

It's always free, it's always in Forsyth Park, and it's always right after Memorial Day. Oh, yeah - it's always really, really packed. In 2010, G. Love & Special Sauce played the SCAD graduation concert, open to the (grateful) public. This year, Cold War Kids will rock the park on June 3.

Runner-up: Avett Brothers

Best Live Music Club

The Jinx

Metal, Americana, pop, punk, if you wait around long enough, it'll be onstage at the Jinx. Inside, the place isn't much to look at - there's a bar, a stage and a dance floor - but the vibe is seriously cool. Tuesdays, it's the best hip hop night in Savannah.

Runner-up: Live Wire Music Hall

Best Savannah Music Festival Concert

Band of Horses

It was a Monday night, a school night, and it seemed as if every college-aged music fan in town was at the Johnny Mercer Theatre to see Band of Horses, indie darlings making their local debut. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Ben Bridwell and company put on an energetic, emotionally-charged show that bounced like a pinball between the touchstones of old-school country-rock and the widescreen panoramic vista of bands like U2 and Coldplay. BOH is a rock ‘n' roll band, with no affiliation whatsoever to electronica, flash or gimmick (drenchy reverb is Bridwell's sole electric vice) and the rootsy, harmony-rich music had the nearly sold-out audience at full gallop from the opening bell.

Runner-up: Avett Brothers

Best New Local Festival

Savannah Stopover

Anything that brings 50 bands to town over five days – the majority of them first–time visitors to Savannah – is fine by us. If 2011 was the year of the Stopover, courtesy of founder Kayne Lanahan and director Summer Simpson, bring on 2012!

Runner-up: Savannah Urban Arts Festival

Best Local Punk Band

Best Local Rock Band


Best Local Vocalist

Angel Bond

The full-court-slam of Cusses didn't exist in the early weeks of 2010, but by May the trio was voted the city's top punk band in our Best of Savannah readers' poll. They were so new that a lot of people had literally never heard of them until the poll was made public.

What a difference a year makes.

Cusses shows - and there are a lot of them - are rarely anything but elbow-to-shoulder affairs. The band's high-octane hybrid of punk, grunge, R&B and dancetronica has made believers out of the most hard-to-please.

It doesn't hurt that Angel Bond (vocals), Bryan Harder (guitar) and Brian Lackey (drums) are also really nice people.

"We're honest, hardworking individuals," Bond laughs, "that try to do things for our community and not just for our band.

"A lot of bands hit us up, daily, from out of town that are trying to book shows with us in Savannah. And obviously we can't play with everybody, so we do our very best to put them in the right direction. I give them 10 local bands to play with, four different venues to play at. We try hard to make that happen for out of town people, as well as connect all the local people."

Incredibly, Bond had never sung in public before Cusses. "I've done every job under the sun, and I've always wanted to sing," she says. "But I thought being a singer was the most selfish thing I could ever do. But I realized that the older I got, and the more turns I took, music kept coming back at me. People kept shoving it in my face, saying ‘You should do this! You don't have a bad voice!'"

The band has recorded a track here and a track there, but is currently assembling new material for its first full-length project. Bond says they've been approached by several nationally-known producers, with offers to take them into the studio.

"We're looking for the person who can really capture our live sound," she explains. "Because the only way you can really feel us is if you see us live. And we don't have anything recorded, I think, that really captures that yet. So that's one of the biggest steps we need to take this summer."

In the meantime, she says, she's getting back as much as she gives. And she's grateful.

"Through this whole process, I'm growing, I'm getting more in touch with myself, I'm not afraid of where I come from, who I was or who I am, and I'm able to let go onstage, and let it all out.

"I think that's why people say to me ‘You look really angry up there,' or ‘I don't see that you have any stage fright.' It's really just an amazing release that I've never been able to experience. Through this, I'm getting the best therapy I've ever had." (BDY)

Runner-up, Punk: Dead Yet?

Runner-up, Rock: Liquid Ginger

Runner-up, Vocalist: Trae Gurley

Best All-Around Local Musician

Best Local Blues Band/Artist

Eric Culberson

Even as he removed the word "blues" from his band's name, to focus more on rock ‘n' roll songcraft, Culberson still gets voted the best blues player in town. That's because he's got the touch - no one else ‘round here can coax such emotion, such pain and pathos, from their electric guitar.

And check out the new CD In the Outside - it's leaps and bounds from yer run-of-the-mill bunch of four-in-the-bar blooz tunes. The guy, a Savannah native and a fixture on the stage scene for more than 20 years, is a major talent.

Runner-up, Musician: Ricardo Ochoa

Runner-up, Blues: Bottles & Cans

Best Local Country/Americana Rock Band

The Train Wrecks

A perennial winner in this category, and that's because the band's live shows are still as raw and raucous as ever. It's been a particularly good year: After way too long, Jason Bible and his three compadres finished the second Train Wrecks album, Saddle Up. It's a mighty array of original cowboy-tinged tunes, soaked in rotgut whiskey and left to ferment in the southern sun. In short, it was worth every minute of the wait. The band's not-s-secret weapon continues to be the tightly-wound firepower of slide guitarist Stuart Harmening.

Runner-up: Damon & the Shitkickers

Best Local Acoustic Band/Artist

Dare Dukes

Work continues on singer/songwriter Dukes' second full-length recording, which he is tentatively calling Thugs & China Dolls.

"I have no date yet for the record," he reports. "Man, these records are hard! But I'm crossing my fingers for the fall. I want to have a big and sparkly CD release party here, somewhere, in some interesting and non-traditional venue. But I haven't figured any of that out yet."

Dukes has been tracking in Athens with members of his Blackstock Collection band (including Anna "General Oglethorpe & the Panhandlers" Chandler, Blake Helton and Chris Van Brackle), with contributions from "TV on the Radio's horn section, JoJo Glidewill of the Modern Skirts, Thayer Serrano from Of Montreal, and various other talented creatures - not least of which is my wife, Susan Falls, playing her grandma's piano!"

Runner-up: Whiskey Dick

Best Local Metal Band

Black Tusk

The swampy stomp of the mastodon reverberates like the bowels of hell with the gritty metal made by Andrew Fidler (guitar), James May (drums) and Jonathan Athon (thunder-bass). Baroness made it out of Savannah; Kylesa made it out of Savannah. These guys are next.

Runner-up: Kylesa

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

A Nickel Bag of Funk

The fourth win in this category for vocalist Leslie Adele and her bangin', genre-jumping funky crew. Even after the 2010 departure of guitar wiz Johan Harvey (to form the Royal Noise), the versatile Adele never missed a beat.

Runner-up: Soap

Best Local Jazz Band/Artist

Ben Tucker

Savannah's one true living legend has been a fixture here since 1972. An extraordinarily gifted musician, arranger and composer ("Comin' Home Baby," "Right Here Right Now"), the 80-year-old Tucker still brings his bass out to play when there's a good gig on the wind. He is one of Savannah's treasures.

Runner-up: Britt Scott

Best Local Electronic Artist

Electric Park

Husband-and-wife Ryan and Brandy Koch brought their hip hop/electronica act down from their native Detroit in 2009 Brandy could get her Masters from SCAD (Ryan is the band-booker for the Rock House on Tybee Island).

"I call it electro-punk," he explains. "Our raw stage antics, that's punk, but there's big electro synths and beats, stuff like that. It's got hip hop and rock in it - a fusion of all kinds of stuff, really."

Runner-up: Sunglasses

Best Local Spoken Word Artist or Group

Clinton D. Powell

Poet, dramatist, teacher, friend, co-founder of the Spitfire Poetry Group and the tireless machine behind the Savannah Spoken Word Festival, Clinton D. Powell - a native and longtime local artistic activist - died Jan. 2 after a long illness. He was a man of words - and deeds.

Eulogized his frequent collaborator, RenaZance, with whom Powell started the Spitfire Poetry Group: "The spontaneity of spoken word and the genuine quality of people's poetry - digging deep within themselves to think about things they probably hadn't considered before sitting down with a pen and pad - that was where the passion lay for Clinton."

Runner-up: AWOL

Best Local Club DJ

Javi Ramirez at Seed Eco-lounge


“The first time I started messing around with turntables was 1993, when I was 13,” says Javi Ramirez, who’s an art director in the SCAD communications department. “So it’s something I’ve always played around with on the side.”

            Born and raised in Miami, Ramirez graduated from SCAD in 2003 with a degree in graphic design. He moved back home and took a cushy job with an advertising agency. On the weekends, he brought his collection of techno, house and electronic vinyl to the clubs.

            Last year, he came back to SCAD. Immediately he went looking to scratch his spinning itch.

“It’s a tough thing, moving to a new city and people not knowing who you are,” Ramirez says. “So I guess I had to self-promote a little bit. Usually I just go around clubs, see if anybody wants DJs, or if they need somebody. And at first it’s like ‘Uh, you’re not a DJ. You don’t look like a DJ.’”

He knew someone who knew someone at Seed Eco-lounge. “Seed actually just gave me a chance, where I DJ’d on a Monday or a Tuesday,” Ramirez explains. “And they were like ‘Dude, you’re awesome. We want you to come back.’ I started doing Tuesdays and Saturdays, and it just kind of blew up from there.”

He rules the roost at Seed every Friday night (on Saturday, he spins at Roguewater Taphouse, the former Venus de Milo). (BDY)

Runner-up: DJ Envision

Best Local Hip Hop/Rap Group or Artist

KidSyc & Brandywine

It's been a good year for KidSyc@Brandywine, and winning "Best Local Hip Hop Group" is the cherry on top of a sundae that was already pretty sweet.

"It's cool to get recognized for something you do and something you put a lot of work into," says Lane Gardner, the band's keyboard and part-time guitarist. "To come up in the last year and do what we've done and get recognized for it in our hometown is nice."

The group was founded last spring out of a casual collaboration, but has since expanded into a full-time five piece that fluidly blends hip hop, reggae, jazz and funk.

"I don't think most people have ever seen where a rapper and musicians are of equal caliber all across the board," says Lloyd "KidSyc" Harold. "Everyone really carries their own weight."

Having played a ton of shows locally over the past few months, including appearances at Stopover, the Urban Arts Festival and Taste II, the band is slowing down to concentrate on writing some new material for an upcoming full length.

Until the new material is ready, KidSyc@Brandywine will tide over fans with a couple of EPs, including one featuring material they recorded at Capitol Records earlier this year, and a re-release of their debut EP, The Rapper Next Door. (PR)

Runner-up: Dope Sandwich









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