The Best of Savannah

Best of Savannah 2012: Arts & Culture

Best Museum

Best Art Gallery

Jepson Center for the Arts

The Jepson Center for the Arts, part of the Telfair Museums, routinely wins several categories in each year’s Best of Savannah Readers Poll.

But it’s not every year that the Telfair sports a new director. So this year we decided to chat with Telfair Museums Executive Director Lisa Grove about her experience so far since coming on board in January and her plans for the future.

“I’ve been talking to the staff about two simultaneous guiding principles: I want us to be a museum of national excellence, with local relevance,” Grove says. “All projects we’re working on and trying to bring here and produce here should resonate on both fronts.”

Grove says the Telfair can attract national recognition for the museum by building on the strengths of its collection and by bringing in nationally recognized artists who’ve never been seen in Savannah.

“At the same time we’re working to make sure that the programs and exhibitions we offer are relevant to the local community, that they’re things local residents will be excited about bringing friends and family to.”

Grove says some projects this fall are particularly significant.

“At the Jepson, we’ll be showing an exhibition of photography by Dan Winters. His images have been on the cover of national magazines,” says Grove.

“He’s one of the best editorial photographers in world. He’s shot Leo DiCaprio, Sandra Bullock, people like that. But he’s never been seen in a museum as an artist. He has a Savannah tie because he has a house on Tybee. There are a lot of fun celebrity aspects to the show.

Opening in December will be works from the legendary Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. “We’re one of only four museums in the U.S. that were chosen to host this unique exhibit,” says Grove. “That’s another great example of us playing on a national stage.”

And opening very soon is an exhibit by beloved Georgia folk artist Howard Finster, who came to national prominence when his work was featured on R.E.M. and Talking Heads album covers.

“He’s very popular, and a donor actually just gave the museum two works by Howard Finster to add to our permanent collection. That’s another way we have a local tie to what we’re doing here,” Grove says.

The director says another priority is leveraging relationships with other museums, a hallmark of her last gig as associate director with the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. “We can can move forward by getting involved with more partnerships, by getting in early and coproducing shows with other museums. You can share the work, and also share the expenses.”

One thing that’s a little different from Grove’s previous experience is the fact that the Telfair Museums comprise three varied entities: The Jepson, the adjacent Telfair Academy, and the Owens–Thomas House.

“It’s a challenge but it’s also an opportunity. Having those three properties enables us to serve a broader audience and feature experiences that appeal to many kinds of people,” she says.

“The real challenge is how to make each property really shine at what it does best, and how to enable each one to do even more,” Grove muses.

“We have to constantly find ways to reinforce that a museum is relevant to people’s lives. We’re competing for time and attention in everything we do. We must make the case why a museum visit is worth people’s time and money.” — JM

Runner–up (museum): SCAD Museum of Art

Runner–up (art gallery): Little Beasts

Best Cultural Event

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

Savannah Music Festival

Extra-pleasant surprises in early 2012 included Pink Martini, Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt, and Bela Fleck & the original Flecktones. Even the usual suspects — the players that seem to turn up every year — were first rate, and we would expect nothing less! MVP: Daniel Hope.

Runner–up (cultural event): St Patrick’s Day

Runner–up (festival): Oktoberfest

Best Film Series

Psychotronic Film Series

Jim Reed’s fondness for B–movies (and C–movies, and even the occasional D) has kept the fun flying every Wednesday night at the Sentient Bean, plus the “Movies Savannah Missed” series (consisting of generally more serious fare) at Muse Arts Warehouse, a yearly wacky–film festival, and the new Friday Night Frights midnight horror series at Muse.

Runner–up: Savannah Film Festival

Best Film Festival

Savannah Film Festival

Last year, we were visited by Oliver Stone, Lily Tomlin, Alec Baldwin and Aaron Eckhart, and we got to see We Need to Talk About Kevin, Like Crazy, Carnage, A Dangerous Method and In Darkness before the rest of the country. Oh, yes, and The Muppets, but let’s keep that fact to ourselves, OK?
Runner–up: Psychotronic Film Festival

Best Indie Film Venue

Muse Arts Warehouse

It’s mostly used for community theater — some of the best, in the opinion of many — but there are art openings, concerts and other special events at the Louisville Road locale. And boy oh boy, they’ve got a swell wall–sized movie screen, where the Psychotronic Film Society proudly projects its “Movies Savannah Missed” and “Friday Night Frights” series.

Runner–up: The Sentient Bean

Best Movie Theatre

Victory Square

Once again, readers proclaimed their preference for this 10–screen multiplex at Skidaway and Victory, where you can see The Avengers in 1, 2, or 3D.

Runner–up: Carmike 10

Best Local Theater Production

Cabaret (Bay Street Theatre)

Director Jeff DeVincent and company did the “deconstructed” version of the classic Kander & Ebb musical, with more emphasis placed on the dirt and decadence of pre–war Berlin. With long–legged Courtney Flood as Sally Bowles, Christopher Blair as the creepily androgynous Emcee, and lots of red velvet and black underwear, DeVincent created an unmatchable atmosphere of debauchery.

Runner–up: Savannah Children’s Theatre

Best Local Theater Director

Jeff DeVincent

Best Local Actor

Christopher Blair

Best Local Actress

Maggie Lee Hart

It might seem that Christopher Blair has been in a dozen stage shows since the Spring of 2011, when he was named Best Actor in the Best of Savannah readers’ poll. But there were only two: Cabaret and The Rocky Horror Show (he also directed the latter).

It’s just that Blair, a Savannah resident since 1993, is sort of unforgettable once you’ve seen him onstage. Whether it’s his drag work in rock musicals (Rocky Horror or Hedwig and the Angry Inch), his (relatively) straight performances in the current Rent, or 2011’s Frost/Nixon, or his delightfully decadent turn as the comic/tragic Emcee in Cabaret.

Christopher Blair: “I’m from the last community theater generation that has come and gone. A lot of those old companies had benefactors and boards and donation money and grant money coming in, and that doesn’t really exist any more. When that started to go away, and the community theater scene started to dwindle, it brought out a new element: Self–production. The Collective Face, KimSam, Fair Weather Productions. I think now we’re far more vibrant and more contemporary than we were back then, because with those boards came the responsibility to please an older crowd. They wanted Rodgers & Hammerstein, and they felt that if they were giving money to these organizations, they should have a lot of say. With this new way of doing things, it’s really up to the directors to decide what they want to produce. Because it’s their own money.”

Voted the city’s best actress for the second year in a row, Maggie Lee Hart has been in Savannah since 2009. After a less–than–profitable acting stint in New York City, the Missouri native came here to earn a Masters in theater from SCAD. Since the 2011 awards, she’s been in Angels in America – Part One, Into the Woods and No Exit.

Hart recently signed on with the Collective Face, as part of its newly–formed repertory company.

Maggie Lee Hart: “The first community show I did, outside of SCAD, was The Glass Menagerie with the Collective Face. I didn’t know what the plan was. Do I stay here? Do I find those people in the theater community, not SCAD–related, those who have decided to stay here to build it? How can I be a part of that? There’s something magical about building something, the community or the ensemble, making it your own. The start of a new company can be anything, if you all agree.”

Jeff DeVincent founded SCAD’s performing arts department in 1998, and for several years was so consumed with school productions he didn’t venture out much into community theater.

These days, as a professor of communication, he has more time to intermingle with the thespians, technicians, dreamers and weirdos he loves so much (“I walked into it when it was already kind of kicking; I just brought it to new, twisted places”).

DeVincent won for his direction of Cabaret at Bay Street Theatre, which happen to have Chris Blair as the Emcee. A few months later, DeVincent worked under director Blair as Riff–Raff in The Rocky Horror Show.

Jeff DeVincent: Cabaret was kind of like a miracle. First of all, we did the entire show in, I believe, four and a half weeks of rehearsal. And we lost our musical director a week before we opened; Don Hite jumped in. I think we had Don for four rehearsals before we opened. It’s a miracle because we did not miss a beat; the cast was un–frigging real to work with. The whole reason it was such a stellar experience for me is that they wanted to do great work. So we worked on it till we got it.” – BDY

Runner–up (director): David I.L. Poole

Runner–up (actor): Sheldon Pinckney

Runner–up (actress): Courtney Flood

Best Local Author

Jane Fishman

The longtime local newspaper columnist, one of the most brutally funny people in Savannah, and one of the city’s most committed gardeners too, published her “anti–memoir,” The Dirt on Jane, in 2011. Said The Garden Buzz: “It’s about aging, the fear of aging and forgiveness. Coming to terms with her mom in the years after coming out, she struggles with and strives to enjoy the often complicated mother–daughter dynamic.”

Runner–up: Jonathan Rabb

Best New Local Book

Tie: Baseball in Savannah/The Dirt According to Jane

Local historian Brian Lee lovingly retraced the history of America’s Pastime with painstakingly researched text and more than 200 vintage photographs. Beloved local columnist Jane Fishman offers her memoirish take on gardening and life.

Best Art Show

SCAD Sidewalk Arts Festival

It’s colored chalk on concrete, people! A surprising win, considering all the incredible art shows that grace us with their vision throughout each year, but hey – the readers have spoken.

Runner–up: Telfair Arts Show

Best Multimedia Arts Event


Robots making music, jointed metallic moving artwork, lights, computers, electronics and the raw human voice ... everybody likes Telfair’s annual Art & Technology Festival. It’s free, which makes it an even sweeter treat.

Runner–up: TASTE

Best Visual Artist

Dr. Z

Savannah’s premier multimedia artist, James “Dr. Z.” Zdaniewski, is closely linked to high-profile projects such as the recent (and strangely controversial) “Before I Die” mural and also works with the Savannah Urban Arts Festival.

Best Local Photographer

Geoff L. Johnson

OK, so maybe we’re a bit biased, but Connect’s contributing photographer runs his own studio, and is in demand for a cool variety of picturesque things that no one does better, or more creatively. Weddings? Geoff’s your guy. Arty and/or farty? Check. Here at the office, we dig his band pix.

Runner–up: Christine Hall

Best Fashion Event

SCAD Fashion Show

Ralph Rucci was honored with the Andre Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award at the May 19 event, which focuses on the collections of top seniors.

Runner–up: Fashion’s Night Out

Best Live Music Concert

Tie: Charlie Daniels Band/Cusses

What with all the incredible music visited upon Savannah over the past year, we were a tad surprised that readers preferred this performance by a 75–year–old playing his 33–year–old hit. As for Cusses, they played dozens of in–town shows; readers didn’t specify a favorite. But hey, we like ‘em too.

Runner–up: Pink Martini

Best Savannah Music Festival concert

Pink Martini

Sweet, silly, kitschy and wonderfully musical, this March 29 show at the Lucas Theatre — the Oregon cocktail band’s first–ever local appearance — was the most brilliant and focused example of what the producers of the Savannah Music Festival can do when they’re really trying to shake things up.

Runner–up: Savannah Stopover (sic)

Best New Local Festival

Savannah Stopover

Year Two was an even bigger success for founder Kayne Lanahan, who brought more than 70 acclaimed indie bands and artists to town over four days in March, the majority of them on their way to SXSW in Austin — quite a coup.

Runner–up: No Control Festival

Best All–Around Local Musician

Best Local Blues Band/Artist

Eric Culberson

Savannah’s longtime guitar hero, who’s won in both these categories since any of us can remember, continues to pack ‘em in from Tybee to the Talmadge. Despite the recent departure of drummer Stuart Lusk, the band carries on rockin.’

Runner–up (musician): Dare Dukes

Runner–up (blues): Bottles & Cans

Best Local Country/Americana Rock Band

The Train Wrecks

There’s a new drummer in the band, Paxton Willis, and gypsy jazzbo Ricardo Ochoa turns up on fiddle now and again. But the hard–charging, heavily electrified core — Jason Bible, Stu Harmening and Eric Dunn — remains. Check out the killer second CD, Saddle Up.

Runner–up: Damon & the Shitkickers

Best Local Vocalist

Angel Bond

Best Local Punk Band

Best Local Rock Band/Artist

Best Local Music Video


Sure, they’re in Connect all the time, but we’ve known (as have you club–goers out there) for a while now what the rest of the country is just now discovering: Cusses is a great band. Angel Bond onstage is explosive and fun, Bryan Harder is a monstrously creative guitarist, and Brian Lackey pummels his drums like Doc Ock on an electric sledgehammer. The band self–released a debut long–player this year (Cusses); the video win was for “Worst Enemy,” one of the choicest tracks on said wax and a vid written, directed and produced by our cover photographer this week, Bob Jones.

Runner–up (vocalist): Kim Polote

Runner–up (punk): Dead Yet?

Runner–up (rock): Liquid Ginger

Runner–up (video): “Meet You at the Bus” (Dare Dukes)

Best Local Acoustic Band/Artist

Dare Dukes

With a well–reviewed second album, Thugs and China Dolls, Savannah’s resident acoustic–pop classicist expanded his audience this year, and toured successfully with his band, the Blackstock Collection. He may be a sweet–voiced ballad singer, but songs like “Meet You at the Bus” reveal Dukes’ deep–seated love for more muscular rock ‘n’ pop. “I still hear the Pixies in my head when I write songs,” he told us in January. “They were a huge influence on me. And Fugazi in the way they arranged their material.”

Runner–up: Sincerely, Iris

Best Local Hardcore/Metal Band

Black Tusk

“We’re trying to make something that’s broad, across the spectrum,” guitarist Andrew Fiedler told us last fall, on the eve of the Relapse Records release of full–lengther Set the Dial. “Maybe it’s metal, maybe it’s punk rock, maybe it’s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s all that just mashed into our sound.” The Tuskers are on their never–ending tour — after recently returning from Europe and the far corners, they’ll be somewhere between Tennessee and Arkansas on May 22, when they really ought to be at our Best Of party, accepting this award for the second consecutive year.

Runner–up: Dead Yet?

Best Local Funk/R&B/Soul Group

A Nickel Bag of Funk

Five Best Of wins in six years — there’s your stamp of love and approval for vocalist Leslie Adele’s skillful and hardworking outfit. “Every day when I get up, and there’s a show that night, I’m excited,” she told us in 2011. “It makes my day. I live for Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays — if I’m having a bad week, my week immediately picks up the day before a show.”

Runner–up: Voodoo Soup

Best Local Jazz Band/Artist

Julie Wilde & the Bohemian Dream Band

Yeah, we’ve got a gypsy jazz band and yeah, it’s pretty great. Vocalist Wilde is joined by Ricardo Ochoa on violin, Jody Espina on clarinet and saxophone, Jackson Evans on guitar and George Sheck on bass.

Runner–up: Ben Tucker

Best Local Electronic Artist


Sunglow is the recording/performing moniker of Guyton–born electronica musician Daniel Lynch.

Runner–up: Electric Park

Best Local Hip Hop/Rap Group/Artist


Lane Gardner, Charles Hodge, Dan Butler and Derrick Larry are Brandywine, a tight, funky band with roots in jazz and heads in the silky clouds of hip hop. The rapper out front is KidSyc — his name is Lloyd Harold, and his motormouth skills, combined with the band’s cool grooves, make for one of our city’s unique performance experiences. EP The Capitol Records Sessions is mighty dope.

Runner–up: Dope Sandwich

Best Local Club DJ

Basik Lee

For Stephen Baumgartner, whose stage name is Basik Lee, being named Savannah’s favorite DJ — his first time so honored — comes as a sort of sweet vindication.

“Most of the time I’m hired, I just DJ stuff I like,” he says. “I don’t even really DJ the club stuff — I DJ old school hip hop, some reggae, some rock, some blues, jazz, anything I think about at the time.”

Many of his DJ friends, he says, go to some lengths to “appease the crowds,” and in the bargain sell themselves short. “So they’re playing all this stuff that they hate — and then they literally end up hating their job,” Baumgartner explains. “I decided a long time ago that I’d rather be broke than sit up there and play some stuff that’s gonna drive me crazy.”

The 33–year–old native of  Irvington, N.J. is a creative jack of all trades — Basik Lee, along with his DJ work, is a musician and singer/songwriter, a breakdancer and dance teacher, and a founding member of Dope Sandwich, the city’s premier hip hop collective.

“The easiest way I could say it is this: With all of them, I’m just speaking. They’re all ways of me communicating something. Each one is just its own language, and I found a way to speak in each language.”

He says he never aspired to be a rapper, but figures it was a natural extension of the expressive milieu he’d discovered as a kid.

“It came from me writing poetry and bugging out, and just chillin’ around a lot of hip hop heads,” Baumgartner says.
“And honestly, back in the day I wasn’t even a big fan of hip hop. But once I came down south, I realized I knew so much hip hop. Because in Jersey, it was always around. It was once one of those things where you couldn’t go anywhere and not run into hours and hours of people talkin’ about hip hop.” — BDY

Runner–up: DJ Lishis

Best Local Spoken Word (Artist or Group)

Davis the Poet

Graphic designer David Warren got interested in spoken word by participating in Open Mic Nights at Armstrong Atlantic State University.

Runner–up: A.W.O.L. 

Best Recording Studio

Elevated Basement

There’s a commonality amongst the three hats that Kevin Rose wears. He owns and operates the city’s most successful recording studio, he runs a fishing charter business (Tele–Caster), and he’s a licensed architect with Lominack Kolman Smith.

“It’s all connected,” Rose believes. “People ask all the time ‘How do you do this?’ And I say ‘It really is so much more related than you’d expect.’ You have to be inside something for a long time to understand it completely.”

It’s is Rose’s proud contention that he is, overall, employed in the service industry. “It’s all helping people realize something that they want,” he says. “Whether it’s having a good day on the water, getting their emotions across in a song, or getting a place to live or work.”

In the 2012 Best of Savannah poll, Elevated Basement — the 43–year–old Massachusetts native’s home away from home — was chosen as the city’s Best Recording Studio.

Black Tusk, Eric Culberson, Cusses, the Train Wrecks, Turtle Folk, Wormsloew, Dead Yet?, Niche and pretty much every other musician in Savannah who’s ever made tracks has made tracks with Rose in the producer’s chair. Both Stuart Copeland and Gregg Allman worked in Elevated Basement, and Rose does nearly all the audio work (both live and recorded–for–radio) for the Savannah Music Festival.

The studio began in 1995, more or less, to facilitate recordings by Superhorse, one of the many rock ‘n’ roll bands that included Rose as a guitar player (Hat No. 4: He’s also a musician).

He’d arrived nine years earlier, to study architecture at SCAD. He fell in, naturally, with the city’s alt–musician crowd, starting mixing sound in clubs, and taught guitar to earn beer money. “I actually met my architecture boss teaching his son guitar,” Rose smiles.

“The plan was always to leave — in fact, I was going to move to Asheville, where my wife is from. But then it became ‘Well, I can visit there any time I want.’

“More than anything, I think what kept me in Savannah were the people, and the beauty of the city. Having traveled as a musician, and seeing the country, every time I would come back I would be reminded of what was here. I think it took leaving on these stints to realize what we have here.”

Elevated Basement has both digital and analog gear, a 1,000–square foot main studio and four acoustic isolation booths. They do it all — tracking, editing, mixing and mastering — and maintain a healthy inventory of vintage equipment, including microphones, and musical instruments.

Rose and his engineers and co–producing staff are just a phone call away from Savannah’s best session musicians.
“Music is about how things relate, how people relate, how musicians relate, how sounds relate to one another,” Rose explains. “I had a mentor that once said ‘Making it look easy is really not a good idea for your career path. Because people want to believe that you’re doing something.’

“And to me, it’s been more about not being noticed in the studio. They say that there’s a lot of psychology in doing this. And there really is. And I think the people that are in tune with that really appreciate it.”

It’s not about the microphones, or the number of available tracks, or getting a great drum sound.

Or about being a great technician.

“Some of the best performances happen by just staying out of the way,” says Rose. “The technical stuff will take care of itself. That’s all Creampuff 101. To me, the inspiration is everything.”

Spoken like a true architect.

“It’s a vertical process, building from the ground up. All the parts have a layer, and a role to play. Being able to choose what becomes filigree, that’s the trick. It’s intuition. It’s not a calculated thing.

“I’m not about perfection, I’m about wow. If I can get wow. Motown was about the most imperfect wow you could find. The imperfections made the wow better.” – BDY

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