Best of Nashville 2011: Arts, Music & Entertainment Writers' Choice 

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Super ’Villian

BEST LOCAL HIP-HOP SUPPORTERS ON CORPORATE RADIO: DOLEWITE AND SCOOBY

Making fun of corporate radio because it's disconnected from your local scene: pretty damn easy. You know what's not easy? Working in corporate radio and trying to put some shine on your city's underground talent.

But it can be done! In fact, Dolewite and Scooby of 101 the Beat Jamz do it on the regular! They're at all the cool events, they're at all the uncool events, they're on the radio, they're in the studio with up-and-comers like Stix Izza, and we're going to assume that once in a while they even get the chance to sleep. Or maybe they don't, as it probably takes some extreme vigilance and uncanny reflexes — some serious samurai shit — to slip locals like Starlito into the ironclad playlists sent down from their corporate overlords.

Think of them as your local rap superheroes battling for truth, justice and dope local music on the airwaves every Monday through Friday — watching over the city's hip-hop scene and ready for action at any given moment. Unless, of course, they're asleep, which they probably won't be. SEAN L. MALONEY

Super ’Villian

BEST LEFT-FIELD SUCCESS STORY: SETH AND BEN WORLEY
Since high school, Seth Worley, 27, has been making short films with his 18-year-old brother Ben — the rare director-actor relationship where the auteur can yell "What the heck, dude?" at his star. But it took the now-unemployed Smoke Monster from ABC's Lost to set him on the path to Hollywood. A fan video Seth made to commemorate the Lost finale caught the attention of visual-effects software company Red Giant, impressed by the way he used their product to depict the sooty blob moping around the Worleys' Franklin subdivision.

When Red Giant enlisted him to make a short film demonstrating their color-correction program Magic Bullet Suite 11, Seth gave a couple of concepts a try before he and Red Giant settled on one they liked: a sort of digital-era variation on Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr., with brother Ben pressing a mysterious button and zapping in and out of different film genres — romancing a black-and-white film-noir femme fatale in one, shot at by an action-movie assassin in another. The nine-minute short took roughly a weekend to shoot and two months to complete, and in what Seth terms "the proudest moment of my life," he came up with the perfect title: "Plot Device."

It went online June 23. Within days, it had been posted all over the web, from Slashfilm to io9; a Hollywood Reporter headline had dubbed it "Hollywood's Hottest Short Film"; and Seth's answering machine had messages from Warner Bros. and Lost production company Bad Robot. By the time you read this, the video producer for LifeWay Christian Resources will have returned from a week of meetings in LA — including one with his new rep at talent-management powerhouse ICM.

As for that time Seth got busted in high school filming his own Romeo and Juliet — you'd think the Franklin police had never seen gun-waving teenage kids shouting in couplets behind a Kroger before! — at least no one can say he hasn't paid his dues. JIM RIDLEY

BEST ACTRESS: KIM BRETTON
This relative newcomer to the Nashville theater scene has only three high-profile shows under her belt locally, all with Actors Bridge Ensemble. Yet Bretton's compelling stage presence can't be denied. This past season she took on the lead role in Marcus Hummon's problematic musical The Piper, and her passionate, professional performance helped the show achieve beyond expectations. More recently, Bretton starred in Becky's New Car, a comical but thought-provoking rumination on what happens when a modern woman wanders outside the boundaries of her apparently successful marriage. Bretton's serious acting chops and attention-grabbing onstage persona are the real deal. MARTIN BRADY

BEST ACTOR: DAVID COMPTON
A familiar figure to Nashville theater audiences, Compton's achieved a lot in his long local career. Yet his involvement with two fine Blackbird Theater productions — Arcadia and Magic — have jump-started his mojo this season and put him in front of some different and very appreciative audiences. Throw in his controversial but nevertheless vivid portrayal of the surly bigot Bob Ewell in the Rep's big production of To Kill a Mockingbird, and you have a versatile actor for all seasons. MARTIN BRADY

BEST DIRECTION: JESSIKA MALONE FOR EURYDICE
Malone, still fairly new to her craft, was charged with pulling together diverse design elements involving color, water, music and multimedia in the Actors Bridge Ensemble/Belmont University collaboration on a challenging Sarah Ruhl script. Malone also successfully shepherded a cast of nine — including pro Bill Feehely and some gifted but relatively inexperienced students — through Ruhl's wildly imaginative, myth-based retelling of a story of the love between father and daughter. MARTIN BRADY

BEST PROFESSIONAL PRODUCTION: THE 39 STEPS
Professional or not, it's a good bet the cast and creative team for Tennessee Rep's spoofy take on the famous Alfred Hitchcock film didn't get paid enough. Rarely has such a pure entertainment engaged Rep audiences at such a high level. Nate Eppler's turn as a debonair fellow caught up in events beyond his control was frickin' hilarious. The same can be said for femme fatale Martha Wilkinson and hardworking supporting actors Patrick Waller and Peter Vann, whose timing in dozens of ancillary roles was impeccable. Director René Copeland tuned in cleverly to the Hitchcock culture, and the breathless pacing she demanded from her cast paid off to maximum comic effect. MARTIN BRADY

BEST COMMUNITY THEATER PRODUCTION: CIRCLE PLAYERS' A RAISIN IN THE SUN
Mounting Lorraine Hansberry's contemporary classic about an African-American family's domestic struggles in Chicago represented some risks, if only because it was hard to know how well the 50-year-old drama would hold up. The answer? Quite well — Clay Hillwig's tight direction and the strong casting of performers such as Michael McLendon, Shelena Walden, LaToya Gardner and Dara Talibah paid off big-time. MARTIN BRADY

BEST NEW THEATER SPACE: STREET THEATRE COMPANY
This converted section of an office park may still be an aesthetic work in progress, but it nicely represents Street Theatre Company's determination in finding and nurturing a reliable space of its own. Meanwhile, its location at 1933 Elm Hill Pike near Briley Parkway carves out some new geographic terrain for regular Music City theatergoers. Besides staging some fine theater of its own here — Hairspray and Bad Seed, to name a couple — STC has also opened its new home to comedy and cabaret performances by outside groups. The ample free parking is a nice bonus. MARTIN BRADY

BEST THEATER OPENING: NASHVILLE DINNER THEATRE'S A SCATTERED, SMOTHERED AND COVERED CHRISTMAS MUSICAL
The last we heard, public relations and business hassles conspired to force producer Kaine Riggan to close the doors at his Printers Alley dinner theater. But for one brief shining moment last November, Riggan looked like he'd set the Nashville theater scene on fire, as a gala crowd attended the opening of his classy downtown venue, featuring a remounting of his self-penned holiday-themed musical starring TV's Joyce DeWitt. Big risk, limited rewards — and that's tough to deal with. But Riggan still threw a helluva party. MARTIN BRADY

BEST REVIVAL OF AN AMERICAN CLASSIC: THE GLASS MENAGERIE
This reverential Studio Tenn production, part of the unofficial local celebration of Tennessee Williams' 100th birthday, showcased the playwright's brilliance by way of four sensitive performances under the direction of Matt Logan. Local favorite Nan Gurley, perfectly cast as thwarted St. Louis matriarch Amanda Wingfield, found brittle pathos and desperate courage in that epic character, and her organic, always evolving performance was matched by Ellie Sikes' eloquence as the gimpy beauty Laura. Meanwhile, Eric Pasto-Crosby's Tom and Brent Maddox's Gentleman Caller were better than exemplary. MARTIN BRADY

BEST CHRISTMAS SHOW: A CHRISTMAS CAROL
For those of us who thought the world had run out of ways to improve on the Dickens classic, director Matt Logan and his fabulous Studio Tenn cast proved us wrong. Logan brought in some little-known but well-trained young performers and matched them up with Music City veterans like Matthew Carlton, Ross Brooks and Shelean Newman. Furthermore, Chip Arnold provided one of the finest, most nuanced portrayals of Ebenezer Scrooge you're ever likely to witness. Logan's production design elements and Nathan Burbank's Mozart-inspired underscoring provided additional luster to this splendid holiday offering. (It's scheduled for reprise performances this Christmas.) MARTIN BRADY

BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE: ARCADIA
After quickly establishing itself as a theater company of note in 2010, Blackbird Theater served up a "wow" 2011 production of Tom Stoppard's three-hour masterwork, with director Ted Swindley supervising a marvelously synchronized cast of poised players including David Compton, Denice Hicks, Jeff Boyet and Amanda Card McCoy, all admirably communicating a super-challenging and erudite script. Yet there was also room onstage for lesser roles that mattered, and that showcased talented younger performers such as Britt Byrd and Matthew Raich. MARTIN BRADY

BEST ONE-PERSON SHOW: TAMIKO ROBINSON IN MIRACLE IN RWANDA
Robinson is undoubtedly one of Nashville's most gifted actresses, and this moving solo piece — about Rwandan survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza's harrowing experience hiding from enemy soldiers hell-bent on her extermination — provided a singular opportunity for local audiences to appreciate her obvious versatility, strong personality, graceful physical presence and distinctive voice. MARTIN BRADY

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A MINOR: LUCY TURNER IN BAD SEED
The grown-ups who performed in Street Theatre Company's production of Bad Seed did a nice job enacting the '50s-era suspenser. But now we know why W.C. Fields avoided working with children — because they always steal the show. Such was the case with the 10-year-old Turner, whose performance as the towheaded, pigtailed young murderer Rhoda Penmark was righteously precocious and seriously creepy. (And we mean that in the very best way, Rhoda ... er, Lucy!) MARTIN BRADY

BEST COSTUME DESIGNER: JUNE KINGSBURY
It seems wherever you turn in Nashville's theater scene, the amazing June Kingsbury is doing some fantastic costuming. She designs for established companies such as Nashville Shakespeare Festival and Nashville Children's Theatre, for up-and-coming groups like Blackbird Theater, and for everyone in-between. Her costumes for the Actors Bridge/Belmont University production of Eurydice were ingenious and whimsical — but of course, Kingsbury seems to find inspiration every time out, no matter where she's plying her trade. MARTIN BRADY

BEST MUSICAL DIRECTION: ROLIN MAINS
Like June Kingsbury, whose excellent costume work is noted above, Mains is one of those local figures whose talents play a huge role in the success of others. He seems to have become the independent musical director of choice for live theater, doing a lot of high-profile work for Street Theatre Company and also for director Ted Swindley's one-off projects, among others. Mains is a wonderful keyboardist, an imaginative arranger and a fine composer — he contributed an ambitious original score to STC's production of Bad Seed — and he gets solid results out of vocalists. MARTIN BRADY

BEST PARTICIPATIVE PERFORMANCE ART: YANIRA CASTRO'S WILDERNESS
New York choreographer Castro's performance-art piece was presented three times at Vanderbilt as part of a Sarratt Gallery special installation spearheaded by curator Bridgette Kohnhorst. While crowds were relatively modest, the creative impact was huge. A cast of five performers, accompanied by improvised piano, inhabited a field of black rubber mulch, then provocatively crossed into audience members' personal space, dramatically bending conventional theatrical expectations. Cutting-edge stuff, rare in Music City, and worth every second. MARTIN BRADY

BEST TREND IN LOCAL THEATER: FRESH MATERIAL
Goodbye, Tennessee Williams and Neil Simon; hello, Steven Dietz and Tracy Letts. Not only are an encouraging number of local theater companies exploring less-performed scripts — Blackbird Theater Company with G.K. Chesterton's Magic and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, Actors Bridge with John Patrick Shanley's Sailor's Song and Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice, Tennessee Rep's "REPaloud" readings — several are forging ahead with original works, most notably the participating troupes of the Shades of Black Theatre Festival. Three upcoming shows we're particularly psyched about: Husky Jackal's original Terminator the Second — story by James Cameron, dialogue by William Shakespeare — at Nashville School of the Arts Oct. 14-17; gutsy Murfreesboro troupe Out Front on Main slinging the viscera of Evil Dead: The Musical Nov. 3-20; and Blackbird's staging of Stephen Sondheim's seldom-produced 1976 musical Pacific Overtures next February. JIM RIDLEY

MOST REVELATORY GALLERY SHOW: THIS RIDICULOUS FIGHT AT ZEITGEIST GALLERY
John Donovan's ceramic toy warriors are likely familiar to Nashville gallery regulars. But the artist's exhibit This Ridiculous Fight at Zeitgeist Gallery was one of the standout surprises of the spring. As always, Donovan's craftsmanship was on display, but in the context of an expansive one-man show, his observations on violence and game culture were allowed to fully emerge, providing a dark contrast to his cute, cuddly creatures. JOE NOLAN

BEST RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBIT: MURAT KABOULOV AT LEQUIRE GALLERY
Murat Kaboulov was one of the LeQuire's most prolific artists, and after years of bugging the gallery directors, they finally agreed to give him a solo show. A monumental exhibit of the artist's work was slated for last year's holiday season, but Kaboulov died just before planning for the exhibition began. It was delayed a few months, but the show continued on, almost exactly as planned. It was a powerful remembrance of the Russian-born artist's legacy, which included multitudes of work in various genres, from still lifes to abstract portraits to history paintings. LAURA HUTSON

BEST PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBIT: BESTIA CONTRA BESTIA/BEAST VS. BEAST AT VANDERBILT FINE ARTS GALLERY
Spanish painter, sculptor and scenic designer José Luis Raymond exhibited 12 photographs in the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery, and they were some of the most disturbingly beautiful representations of violence we've ever seen. Part Gregory Crewdson, part Caravaggio, Raymond's elaborately staged scenes were stuck somewhere between the 17th and the 21st centuries, between ruff collars and high-top sneakers, bloody daggers and graffiti writers. LAURA HUTSON

BEST PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBIT ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY: PROJECTED HISTORIES AT THE FRIST CENTER
Ostensibly an overview of photographer (and Vanderbilt assistant professor) Vesna Pavlovic's recent output, Projected Histories offered up a glimpse at the history of socialism in Yugoslavia, a critique of conspicuous consumption in America, a commentary on the history of photography, and a journey into the photographic image itself. Marrying beautiful surfaces to deep themes, Pavlovic's work even held its own alongside the Frist Center's Warhol extravaganza. Furthermore, it was the rare Frist exhibit spotlighting a local artist. JOE NOLAN

BEST NEW GALLERY: COOP
OK, so technically the COOP collective opened their gallery in the Arcade last year, but we didn't get the chance to really see if they were worthy of the Scene's version of yearbook superlatives. The verdict is in: COOP has consistently showed work that's edgy, interesting and smart. These folks have some of the best taste in Nashville's art community, so if you want to cut through all the fluff and see work that's raising the bar in the downtown art scene, count on making a stop by COOP during the First Saturday Art Crawl. They've got it covered. LAURA HUTSON

BEST NEW MEDIA ART INSTALLATION: PLEASE CALL STELLA BY BLACK & JONES AT BLEND STUDIO
Please Call Stella opened just as our Best of Nashville madness was beginning. It couldn't have had better timing. A video installation created by APSU's own Kell Black and Barry Jones, Stella combined music, voices, text and images into a humorous, moody, thought-provoking triple-projection on the walls of Blend Studio, in the process demonstrating everything that's right with video art. JOE NOLAN

BEST ART CRAWL HOME BASE: THE RYMER GALLERY
There are two types of First Saturday Art Crawl patrons: serious art lovers and casual outsiders looking for a good buzz and something neat to look at. Whether or not The Rymer is hosting our favorite show in any particular month, the Fifth Avenue gallery is certainly the most hospitable. Not only do they present wonderfully eclectic exhibits of contemporary paintings and sculptures, they're never stingy with the refreshments. LANCE CONZETT

BEST ART CRAWL AFTER-PARTY: HA FACTORY
Though it's the newest kid on Fifth Avenue of the Arts, John Hung Ha's HA Factory has quickly established itself as the Art Crawl's official after-party destination. Ha, brother of Andy Anh Ha, who has operated a gallery in the Arcade since 2007, has been regularly booking local talent like DJ Kidsmeal to complement his style of mixed-media decoupage, combining hip-hop culture with traditional Chinese imagery. LANCE CONZETT

BEST ARCADE SHOW: ADAM HENRY AND EMILY MAE SMITH'S NEON SIGH AT COOP
In the middle of a crowded springtime First Saturday Art Crawl, a huge painting hung on a corner wall at COOP that stood out from all the other work on display at surrounding galleries. Neon Sigh was a collaborative exhibit by Adam Henry and Emily Mae Smith, two New York-based artists who came to Nashville as artists-in-residence at Vanderbilt and Watkins, respectively. The massive painting that was the centerpiece of their exhibit was a blown-up version of a fashion magazine spread that had been used as a paint palette, a gorgeous, enormous runway Amazon covered in swipes of primary-colored paint. All the work in the show was done in a spurt of creative energy while the two were in Nashville. Laura HUTSON

BEST COMMUNITY ART PROJECT: CONNECTING CULTURES: CHILDREN'S STORIES FROM ACROSS THE WORLD AT THE FRIST CENTER
With contributions from 10 local organizations that represent our international Nashville neighbors, Connecting Cultures introduced a diverse spectrum of communities through the stories their members tell their children. An expansive, welcoming forum for cultural exchange, the exhibit also reminded us of the power of kid's tales to instill specific cultural values even as they affirm universal human aspirations. JOE NOLAN

BEST COFFEEHOUSE ART SHOW: CASEY PIERCE AND DAVID HELLAMS AT FIDO
We love seeking out up-and-coming artists on the walls of local java joints, but this show found The Rabbit Press co-founders and gallery veterans David Hellams and Casey Pierce filling the now-massive Fido space with Pierce's latest narrative canvases and Hellams' new geometric abstracts. The exhibit saw both artists reaching new heights, and the show's house-party-preview was a you-had-to-be-there happening. JOE NOLAN

BEST CONTEMPORARY PRINTMAKING GROUP SHOW: ANXIOUS DAYS AT TWIST GALLERY
Curated by painter, printmaker and Watkins College Assistant Professor Brady Haston, Anxious Days explored themes that addressed 21st century anxieties about terrorism, pending pandemics and our tempestuous natural environment. One of the first exhibits of 2011, Anxious Days got Twist's programming off to a great start, and the show's consistently affecting works left us feeling more exhilarated than edgy. JOE NOLAN

BEST SHOW OF NOT-SO-UNDERGROUND-ART: ALL TOGETHER NOW AT VANDERBILT SPACE 204
Curated by Adrienne Miller, All Together Now featured 19 artists from around the country and included prints, collages, paintings and multimedia work that was organized by look more than by theme or concept. The show was a bold, colorful exhibition as well as a primer on how rock posters, folk art, graffiti, crafts and commercial design continue to influence contemporary fine art. JOE NOLAN

BEST DEMOCRATIC ART EXHIBITION: WILLIAM EGGLESTON —ANOINTING THE OVERLOOKED
The Frist Center's expansive show of Memphis photographer William Eggleston's quotidian images demonstrated just how fully the artist's extraordinary documenting of the everyday has saturated popular culture. The Frist Center generously made the first month of the show available at no charge, reinforcing their ongoing commitment to making fine art accessible to everyone in Middle Tennessee. JOE NOLAN

BEST PLACE TO EXPLAIN PSYCHEDELICS TO A CHILD: SILVER CLOUD ROOM, PART OF WARHOL LIVE AT THE FRIST
While the Frist's Warhol Live exhibit was momentous, it played things pretty safe. But the Silver Cloud Room — a closet-sized space filled with funhouse mirrors and reflective metal balloons — was a visual signal of the drugged-out subculture of the Warhol's milieu, and seemed to transport audiences from the artist's tamer work to the more avant-garde segments of the show. If we're talking family-friendly curatorial metaphors, that room was the high-art equivalent of walking through an amphetamine-heavy acid trip, with video screens showing floaty Merce Cunningham choreography backed by pulsating rhythms, like a 1960s rave. LAURA HUTSON

BEST ARTISTIC REACTION TO A NATURAL DISASTER: JAPAN AT GALLERY F.
You know how real-life tragedies inspire moments of everyday compassion? Gallery F.'s Japan exhibit brought that compassion into the art world. The exhibit presented the tragic events of the nation's recent earthquake and tsunami as fully formed parts of life, waiting to be absorbed and examined. The group show featured video art, painting, photography, haiku, musical compositions and conversations, all of which combined into a mixture of urgency, levity and social engagement. LAURA HUTSON

BEST ARTIST TO WATCH: RYAN HOGAN
Ryan Hogan had a busy year, presenting successive shows at Twist, Blackbird Tattoo and Gallery, and Seed Space. We're drawn to artists with multidisciplinary backgrounds, and it's no surprise that Hogan's education in philosophy plays a role in his ambitious sculpture installations. He presents his pieces as pure objects without discernible context or easily recognized representational equivalents. We're anxious to see what he does next. You should be too. JOE NOLAN

BEST POSTER DESIGNER: ANDY VASTAGH, BOSS CONSTRUCTION
What do Yelawolf, Guided by Voices and Fucked Up all have in common? They all played truly righteous local shows — and featured truly righteous gig posters designed by Boss Construction. Andy Vastagh stands tall in Nashville's formidable community of artists and designers with inspired work that effectively communicates what the band is and why they're cool. Example: a glow-in-the-dark dong in the sky for Die Antwoord. Zef so fresh! LANCE CONZETT

BEST REPURPOSING OF ROADKILL: SIMEN JOHAN'S UNTIL THE KINGDOM COMES AT THE FRIST
Simen Johan's phenomenal Frist Center exhibit contained a monumental photograph of two foxes sitting side-by-side in the snow, one gazing proudly upward with tears in its eyes, the other turning away, blood on its snout. It looked like something straight out of a fairy tale by C.S. Lewis or The Brothers Grimm. But while speaking in Nashville, Johan revealed that the two foxes are actually just one fox — he found it dead on the side of the road, propped it up with wood and wire to get the shot just right, and added the snow-covered landscape digitally. Never has roadkill been such high art. LAURA HUTSON

BEST PHOENIX-LIKE REBIRTH OF AN ART COLLECTIVE: OPEN LOT
Open Lot was as much of a social experiment as it was an artists' collective. In its space in a former book bindery in East Nashville, the all-inclusive group of artists worked side-by-side as equals. But as founder Jonathan Lisenby tells it, a few members weren't able to keep up with bill payments, and that forced them to close up shop. Instead of calling it quits, the artists reexamined their business plan and seem to be stronger than ever. Operations are now overseen by three separate boards, they've moved to a new space, and they're continuing to put on some of the most envelope-pushing art events in Nashville. LAURA HUTSON

BEST CROSS-DISCIPLINARY PROGRAMMING: GALLERY F.
While some local galleries schedule events and discussions that reach beyond their white walls, nobody pulls it off like gallery F. The Scarritt-Bennett Center space highlights many disciplines and world cultures with regular dance, music and poetry happenings that feature talented performers, writers and speakers. The gallery's 2011 roster included a night of Farsi poetry and a celebration of the history, literature, song and dance of Mexico. JOE NOLAN

BEST CLASSICAL PERFORMANCE TO HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE: NSO PLAYING ANYTHING BY MAHLER
The Nashville Symphony Orchestra stormed the heavens last season with its to-die-for rendition of Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony. Music director Giancarlo Guerrero's bracing interpretation seemingly probed every emotion. The orchestra created a palpable sense of fear when it played the hysterical funeral music of the first movement. It encouraged a feeling of pure, radiant joy in the finale. Vocal soloists Frederica von Stade and Janice Chandler-Eteme both gave worthy performances, and the NSO Chorus under the expert direction of George Mabry sang with unfailing sensitivity. The NSO's next Mahler performance is Nov. 17-19, when it will present the composer's Symphony No. 4 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Heaven waits. JOHN PITCHER

BEST NEW CLASSICAL RECORDING: VIOLINIST CAROLYN HUEBL AND PIANIST MARK WAIT — COMPLETE SCHNITTKE VIOLIN SONATAS
Alfred Schnittke was the most revered, performed and recorded composer of the late 20th century. Without question, this great Russian artist captured the extreme cultural pluralism of his time. He didn't compose in any one style. Rather, he wrote in all of the late 20th century's existing styles at once, creating a new eclecticism that he called "polystylism." Violinist Carolyn Huebl and pianist Mark Wait, both professors at the Blair School of Music, have recorded all four of Schnittke's violin sonatas for the Franklin-based Naxos label. The most important piece on the disc is arguably the Second Violin Sonata, Schnittke's first polystylistic work. This is a weird and wonderful piece that Schnittke once compared to Fellini's 8 ½ — the sonata proceeds in fits and starts, as if the composer, like the fictional director, was struggling to create his masterpiece. Huebl and Wait play all of this music with imagination, sensitivity and technical polish. JOHN PITCHER

BEST CLASSICAL COLLABORATORS: ALIAS CHAMBER ENSEMBLE
Collaboration is the key to innovation in the arts, and few groups in Nashville play as well with others as the Alias Chamber Ensemble. The group had a terrific season last year, commissioning an appealing new work from composer Gabriela Lena Frank. This season, the ensemble will collaborate with Nashville Ballet and Watkins College of Art, Design and Film to create a piece that combines music with dance and the visual arts. Some of the greatest art of the 20th century emerged from such multidisciplinary arrangements — think of Igor Stravinsky's work with the Ballets Russes. Alias' Matt Walker is now working with the ballet's Paul Vasterling to create their new work, which premieres May 17-19, 2012. JOHN PITCHER

BEST VIOLIN SOLO: ROBERT McDUFFIE PLAYING PHILIP GLASS' THE AMERICAN FOUR SEASONS<
I admit, I've only been to a handful of classical performances in my life. But I'm a big enough fan of minimalist composer Philip Glass to jump on a Groupon deal for last-minute tickets to the Nashville Symphony. The American Four Seasons was performed by Robert McDuffie, a violin virtuoso for whom Glass specifically composed the piece. It was just about the rockingest night at the symphony I can imagine — sort of like the scene in Young Einstein where Yahoo Serious played his violin so hard it started to smoke — but this was no joke, and there were tears in the eyes of audience members. LAURA HUTSON

BEST BACH-TO-BOULEZ CLASSICAL MUSICIAN: CRAIG NIES
Blair School of Music piano professor Craig Nies is like a human encyclopedia. He seemingly knows the piano's vast repertoire in its entirety, and he is now performing all of it, chunk by sonic chunk, at Turner Recital Hall. In recent years, his attention has been focused on J.S. Bach's mighty Well-Tempered Clavier, a monumental collection of preludes and fugues composed in all of the major and minor keys. This work is the Old Testament of music — it establishes the law of modern harmony and counterpoint with an originality that verges on divine inspiration. Nies will continue his survey of the WTC on Oct. 22, which just happens to be Franz Liszt's 200th birthday. To mark that occasion, Nies will perform Liszt's greatest work, the Sonata in B minor, a landmark Romantic piece with its own massive fugue. Happy Birthday, Franz! JOHN PITCHER

BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL SERIES: ZEITGEIST/AIA MIDDLE TENNESSEE'S INDETERMINACIES
Zeitgeist Gallery's Lain York knows exactly what he wants to do with the adventurous contemporary music series Indeterminacies, a collaboration between the gallery and the Middle Tennessee chapter of the American Institute of Architects — "I want to blow things up," York says. By that, he means he wants to use art to challenge our preconceived notions about the world around us (actually a very explosive concept) while at the same time enriching our souls. In September, Indeterminacies presented perhaps the most probing and life-affirming musical work of the past decade — csomposer David Lang's Little Match Girl Passion. The work, scored for vocal quartet and percussion, is a musical setting of Hans Christian Andersen's story about a poor girl who sells matches on a freezing street. It won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in music. The Portara Ensemble under the direction of Shreyas Patel performed the Tennessee premiere of the work at Zeitgeist. JOHN PITCHER

BEST EARLY MUSIC GROUP: MUSIC CITY BAROQUE
Legendary choral conductor Robert Shaw once described J.S. Bach's Mass in B minor as "God's favorite piece of music." No doubt, the Almighty is mighty pleased with Music City Baroque and its artistic director, Murray Somerville. The ensemble will present a rare period-instrument performance of the Mass in B minor — surely the crowning achievement of history's greatest composer — on March 25 at St. George's Episcopal Church. Since its founding in 2003, Music City Baroque has quickly emerged as the leading interpreter of Bach's music in Nashville. It has also become the go-to group for annual holiday sing-alongs of Handel's Messiah. JOHN PITCHER

BEST NEWS FOR NASHVILLE'S LITERARY SCENE: A GREAT YEAR FOR LOCAL AUTHORS
It was a terrific year for Middle Tennessee authors. As this paper went to press, Ann Patchett's latest novel A State of Wonder had spent 14 weeks on The New York Times' Best Sellers list and garnered strong reviews. Adam Ross' short story collection Ladies and Gentlemen built on the critical and commercial success of his acclaimed 2010 debut novel Mr. Peanut. Sherrilyn Kenyon is practically a permanent resident on best-seller lists with her Dark-Hunter series and other books. And this year saw the release of several other noteworthy books by area authors: The Realm of Hungry Spirits, Lorraine López's novel about a 30-something schoolteacher navigating the treacherous waters of fraught relationships and needy friends; Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys' young adult historical novel about the atrocities committed by the Stalin regime; the young adult fantasy The Near Witch, 23-year-old Victoria Schwab's debut; The Invisible Line, Daniel Sharfstein's history of mixed-race people in 19th century America; Blood Work, Holly Tucker's fascinating and twisted history of blood transfusion; The Heretic's Wife, Brenda Rickman Vantrease's historical novel about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn; and The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson's novel about a comically dysfunctional family. Here's hoping Nashville's literary hot streak continues. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST NPR CAMEO: ADAM ROSS
In August, while promoting his short-story collection Ladies and Gentlemen — the highly anticipated follow-up to his critically acclaimed literary debut Mr. Peanut — Ross spoke by phone with Whad'Ya Know host Michael Feldman. Over the course of a pretty hilarious 20-plus-minute conversation, Ross discussed his brother's aura-reading ex-girlfriend, how to avoid the sophomore slump, "The Jew Thing" and a whole lot more. The highlight: Ross recounting a traumatic moment from his childhood — being taken to the age-inappropriate action thriller Day of the Dolphin, and having to witness George C. Scott spurn the love of a talking dolphin. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST PATH TO SALVATION THROUGH MUSIC WRITING: JEWLY HIGHT'S RIGHT BY HER ROOTS: AMERICANA WOMEN AND THEIR SONGS
Most other writers would be too quick to shove the artists discussed in this book — Lucinda Williams, Julie Miller, Victoria Williams, Michelle Shocked, Mary Gauthier, Ruthie Foster, Elizabeth Cook, or Abigail Washburn — out of the "Yea, Jesus" mold or too quick to shove them in. But author (and Scene contributor) Jewly Hight listens to the artists carefully, both in interviews and on their records, and comes up with the best book you're going to read this year about soul music in every sense of the term. BETSY PHILLIPS

BEST PLACE TO COME FACE-TO-FACE WITH AUTHORS: SALON@615 AT THE DOWNTOWN LIBRARY
The one-two punch of the closings of Davis-Kidd and Borders was a tough hit for Nashville's literary landscape. It wasn't just a matter of losing places to buy books — after all, most of us have tax-free-for-now Amazon accounts — but it meant losing opportunities to meet authors and other booklovers. The Nashville Public Library's Salon@615 series was designed to rectify that. To say they've succeeded is an understatement — interesting writers, lots of room, comfortable seating, snacks. It's only been around a few months, and it already feels like a Nashville institution. And the future is looking brighter for Nashville bibliophiles: Rhino, McKay and Bookman/Bookwoman survived the bookstore Armageddon, and two new stores — best-selling author Ann Patchett's Parnassus in Green Hills, and the Barnes & Noble/Vanderbilt bookstore in the old Borders West End site — are due to open in coming weeks. BETSY PHILLIPS

BEST FILM SERIES: VISIONS OF THE SOUTH, BELCOURT
We could just as easily have picked The Belcourt's Terrence Malick retrospective, as the attendance difference between the theater's 2003 screening of Badlands and this summer's reveals how far the Hillsboro Village arthouse has come over the past decade. (Let's just say if every audience member this year chipped in a quarter, they could have bought the entire crowd eight years ago dinner at Boscos.) But for breadth, imagination, programming savvy and rarities, it'll be hard for the theater to top its two-month survey of the South on film, which covered pastorals, thrillers, docudramas, blaxploitation and even splatter movies (Herschell Gordon Lewis' blood-soaked Brigadoon riff Two Thousand Maniacs!). It'll be a pleasure to watch them try, though. JIM RIDLEY

BEST FREE FILM SERIES: INTERNATIONAL LENS/ITVS COMMUNITY CINEMA
Between the city's two largest free film series — both featuring extras such as receptions, guest speakers and visiting filmmakers — local cinephiles could scam an average of a movie a week without paying. Vanderbilt's International Lens offers an eclectic mix of mostly foreign films, many of them local premieres (such as the Slavoj Zizek film dissection The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, coming Dec. 7). The NPT-sponsored Community Cinema at Nashville Public Library focuses on documentary selections from PBS' award-winning Independent Lens series, with the next selection coming up Oct. 15: Deaf Jam, a portrait of deaf NYC teens doing battle at poetry slams with their sign-language poetry. JIM RIDLEY

BEST SUPPORTER OF TENNESSEE FILM: NICOLE KIDMAN
It's awesome when people with power use that power for the good of their fellow man. Nicole Kidman could make a designer's career or pump up any product's bottom line just by bringing it some attention. That's why we're so glad she's decided to put her energies into supporting and bringing attention to Tennessee's film industry. By getting the major Fox Searchlight feature Stoker filmed here, she managed to bring Korean director Park Chan-wook, Australian treasure Jacki Weaver and Francis Ford Coppola discovery Alden Ehrenreich into the remarkable mix of artists who are breathing life into our local film industry. Even putting aside Dogville, or Eyes Wide Shut, or Rabbit Hole, Kidman's importance to film is certain. Now she's got a track record of creating jobs in her adopted home state that shames most of Tennessee's legislators. Speaking of which, how's that plan for film incentives going? JASON SHAWHAN

BEST LOCATION SHOOTING: MUSICA CAMPESINA
Writing recently in the Scene about Musica Campesina (Country Music) — the feature he shot last year with a student crew during his residency at Vanderbilt — Chilean novelist turned filmmaker Alberto Fuguet described the difference between the Nashville Robert Altman shot in the mid-'70s and the city today: "The Nashville of Altman was a Nashville that doesn't exist anymore. My Nashville was more cosmopolitan, diverse — even Hispanic." But it's great to have visual time capsules of both, and someday they'll make a great double feature — if only so folks can compare Altman's dingy Lower Broad circa 1975 with the neon rainbows of Fuguet's film. The real value of Ashley Ziegler's impressive location shooting, though, is her record of the Nashville beyond the guidebooks, from The Nations neighborhood and Wendell Smith's to the Drake Motel. We'd love to see a brief run for this at The Belcourt — where you'd likely buy popcorn from the movie's actors. JIM RIDLEY

BEST MIDNIGHT MOVIE: RUBBER
If we put it to a popular vote, the winner would likely be one of The Belcourt's perpetually sold-out screenings of Tommy Wiseau's The Room — a movie that's close to unwatchable without a huge roaring audience supplying the laughs and excitement missing on screen. (The "Go! Go!" chant that cheers on every length-padding pan across the Golden Gate Bridge beats even the rain of plastic cutlery.) But the joy of discovery is part of the midnight-movie experience too, and no film pole-axed its viewers more than Quentin Dupieux's ingenious provocation about a killer tire (yep) that splatters victims while watched from afar by slack-jawed spectators — y'know, like those who paid to see a movie about a killer tire. A smash-up at the crossroads of Roland Barthes and Joe Bob Briggs, it spends its first 15 minutes directly bear-baiting its audience — and the reaction opening night in April at The Belcourt was among the most eruptive and enthusiastic ever seen at the arthouse's late shows. Runners-up: Pieces, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and hometown girl Reese Witherspoon's career-highlight role in the savage Little Red Riding Hood riff Freeway. JIM RIDLEY

BEST RECIPE FOR TROUBLE: HARMONY KORINE AND VAL KILMER
We're not really sure what Lotus Community Center is all about. We know it's a new experimental film from gleefully demented director Harmony Korine and usually less demented actor (unless you count agreeing to The Doors) Val Kilmer. But it seems we might not be that much less informed than the guys who are actually making it. "I don't know if he's 'crazy,' " Korine reportedly said of Hector, who is Kilmer's character and, according to a post on Kilmer's Tumblr blog, "the world's worst motivational speaker." We also know that Lotus was filmed, at least in part, at a Nashville-area roller rink. Early reports are that Kilmer had the cast in stitches with his ad libs, and if anyone can turn the world's worst anything into baffling, utterly captivating cinema, it's Korine. STEVE HARUCH

BEST CARTOON VOICEOVER GIG: SQUIDBILLIES
It may not pay like getting an earnest pop ballad onto Grey's Anatomy, but guesting on Adult Swim's Squidbillies is bound to earn anybody cachet with the much smaller yet no less devoted audience for irreverent, anthropomorphic cartoons. So far, the list of folks invited to provide voices for the animated exploits of absurdly backward redneck squid has leaned toward Americana luminaries who can take a way-left-of-center joke — Todd Snider, Elizabeth Cook, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings among them. JEWLY HIGHT

BEST LOCAL BAND: THE FEATURES
What more do we have to do to prove to you that longtime Middle Tennessee indie-pop gurus The Features are among Nashville's most valuable resources? We sang the praises of July's Wilderness, a lively, thoroughly engaging record that was released on Kings of Leon's imprint, Serpents and Snakes. We invited them to headline the sold-out fifth anniversary party for our music blog, Nashville Cream, at Third Man Records. We invited them into our office to participate in the Cream's video series, Conference Call, where they performed intimate versions of two of our favorite songs from Wilderness. Do we have to officially proclaim them the best band in Nashville, fan votes be damned? Fine. Consider it done. D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST LOCAL BAND SIGNED TO A NON-LOCAL LABEL: PUJOL ON SADDLE CREEK
Arguably the best rock 'n' roll act ever to come out of Tullahoma, Tenn., PUJOL got a well-deserved heightening of their profile when a Jack White-produced single hit the shelves courtesy of the Third Man Records Blue Series. We don't know for sure how frontman Daniel Pujol decided among the labels that subsequently came calling, but he settled on a deal with Midwestern Bright-Eyes-launchers Saddle Creek. Maybe it was just that the words "Tullahoma" and "Omaha" create a certain ring together — Tullahoma-ha, anyone? — but whatever it was, we're proud to see our native sons do well, with support from the land that gave us the Buffett Rule. STEVE HARUCH

BEST MELTDOWN: VINNIE VINCENT
If Middle Tennessee rock fans didn't know that reclusive former KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent — aka Vincent Cusano, aka "The Ankh Warrior" — was living among them (in Smyrna, no less), they found out in late May, when his domestic violence arrest made headlines worldwide. Reports from the Rutherford County Sheriff allege that Cusano beat up his wife Diane, repeatedly throwing her to the ground and dragging her through broken glass by her hair. Following the arrest, authorities found the entombed carcasses of four dead dogs on the couple's property. While Pet Adoption Welfare Services determined Cusano wasn't to blame for the demise of the fidos, the Ankh Warrior sure screwed the pooch as far as future Googling of his name goes. ADAM GOLD

BEST GARAGE-ROCK COLLABORATION: THE PARTING GIFTS
One fan recently observed that The Parting Gifts "aren't really a local band." While half of the duo resides here (Ettes singer Coco Hames), the presiding genius of their exquisitely crafted and infectiously tuneful songs (Greg Cartwright of Oblivians and Reigning Sound) is a longtime Memphian and current North Carolinian. Nevertheless, underserved Nashville garage fanatics might want to claim his work for our town. Last October's Strychnine Dandelion is a perfectly appropriated blend of Nuggets rock, girl group and country, conveying yearning and angst as Cartwright and Hames trade lyrics with Dolly-and-Porter sass. EMILY BARTLETT HINES

BEST METAL ALBUM: ACROSS TUNDRAS, SAGE
We're pretty sure this is the only metal record in town that has trombone on it, so even if we weren't way into the dusty, psychedelic songs on Sage, the album would still win. We love trombones. Sage is an album of dystopian gun-fighter ballads, an artifact of an alternate history where The West was never won and Ennio Morricone wrote the national anthem — rife with monster riffs and epic soundscapes. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST NEW COUNTRY BAND: PISTOL ANNIES
For anybody but Miranda Lambert and her Pistol Annies bandmates Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, Dixie Chicks would be a hard act to follow. All of the Annies are truly gifted, country-to-the-bone songwriters, two of them criminally overlooked until now. Their debut, Hell on Heels, backs up badass attitude with witty, sharp-eyed storytelling from a housewifely perspective. It's the perfect antidote for the plasticized, privileged housewives of reality TV and the dearth of female voices on country playlists right now. JEWLY HIGHT

BEST NEW OUTLAW BAND: SUNDAY VALLEY
On this year's amazing debut full-length To the Wind and on to Heaven, Sunday Valley frontman John Sturgill Simpson makes like a freight-train-speed Southern rocker with roots in the Appalachian moan of Sturgill's distant relative, Dock Boggs, and the proto-country of Charlie Poole. The Kentucky trio recently relocated to Nashville, where they've perfected a super-boogie style suggestive of The MC5 with a Bluegrass State-size case of the blues. EDD HURT

BEST TRIBUTE: PAUL BURCH
We'd love to think that in some parallel universe, Buddy Holly, now a spry 75, is looking back on a long career. Among the many birthday tributes and well-wishes pouring in, he picks up Words of Love, an unassuming album by one of his brightest disciples, Nashville singer, songwriter and bandleader Paul Burch. He puts it on, and hears song after song from his early catalog delivered with raw, spontaneous, infectious joy. Did "Love's Made a Fool of You" ever sound so stripped-down and ready to rumble? Did "Think It Over" really make that blatant (and effective) a come-on? The aged rocker grins, shakes his head, and wonders what that Burch kid might make of all the stuff on his nine-CD boxed set — packaged with a replica of a canceled flight charter. JIM RIDLEY

BEST COUNTRY ALBUM: RANDY MONTANA, RANDY MONTANA
His father is a successful country songwriter, and now Randy Montana represents a generation of ambitious young performers making new hay from old verities. Montana's self-titled debut benefits from Jay Joyce's guitar-rich production: "1,000 Faces" is a natural hit, while the Southern-rock-power-pop "It's Gone" is a catchy wonder. "Goodbye Rain" subtly rewrites Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" and soars like great pop. Montana sings like a man searching for something heroic — this is it. EDD HURT

BEST LOCAL PUNK AMBASSADORS TO THE WORLD: JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD
Over the past year, JEFF the Brotherhood has been touted in Rolling Stone, Spin and NPR's All Songs Considered. They played a party for Vice Russia in Moscow and inspired what was likely the only crowd-surfing Bonnaroo's On Tap Lounge saw all weekend. Our reaction? About damn time! JEFF's We Are the Champions isn't just an outstanding local record; it's an achievement for the Bogus Bros., who are finally getting the international attention they deserve — not to mention a recently inked deal with Warner Brothers. LANCE CONZETT

BEST COVER BAND: LONG PLAYERS
A tribute band of ace session players and sidemen who've performed meticulous, cover-to-cover, note-for-note re-creations of classic albums monthly at Mercy Lounge for the past seven years, Nashville's Long Players are the kind of local entity that makes Music City dwellers proud and thankful to call such fertile, talent-rife ground home. The band — formed by guitarists Bill Lloyd and Steve Allen, drummer Steve Ebe, keyboardist John Deaderick and E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent — celebrated tackling their 50th album back in July with a performance of The Rolling Stones' legendary Exile on Main St. double LP. ADAM GOLD

BEST MIXTAPE: OPENMIC, FOR THE REBELS
This has been a banner year for the city's hip-hop scene — mostly because this was the year the city realized it had a thriving, creative, multifaceted hip-hop scene. And no tape captures the complexity and energy of this moment in Music City quite like For the Rebels. Influenced by the classics but by no means tied to the past, FTR has been our go-to counterpoint whenever somebody doesn't believe that this city has one of the most exciting scenes in the country. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST BEAT TAPE: DJ BURN ONE, THE ASHTRAY
Butter funk. That's the only way to describe this one. Put it on toast and watch it melt if you don't believe us. Pure fucking butter. Burn One has been behind some of the hottest national underground tracks in recent years — he's done beats for Freddie Gibbs, Yelawolf, Gucci Mane — but his solo instrumental outing The Ashtray is the sort of smoldering new-school-meets-old-school funk we dream about at night. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST NEW BAND: BY LIGHTNING!
A few months ago, we saw By Lightning! perform at an 8 off 8th at Mercy Lounge, and the crowd was positively rapt. Featuring musicians who probably have 70-plus years of Nashville stage experience between them (including Kat Brock and several members of several incarnations of De Novo Dahl), By Lightning! delivers a brilliant, pop-rooted cacophony that's incredibly engaging. Nashville has a lot of rock bands come and go, but we're very excited about this one. ASHLEY SPURGEON

BEST STUDIO NERD MAGNET: BLACKBIRD STUDIO
When The White Stripes recorded Icky Thump at Blackbird in 2007, the presence of real-life rock stars in a local studio was a novelty. But lately John McBride's eight-studio Berry Hill facility seems irresistible to big-time rawk types looking for world-class sound without the distractions of New York and LA. In the last year alone, R.E.M., Rush, Joss Stone, Seether and others have released tracks laid down inside this unassuming suburban temple of sound. CHRIS NEAL

MOST ENTERTAINING LIVE BAND: HANS CONDOR
The boys of Hans Condor are entertainers, plain and simple. Guitarist and singer Charles Kaster performs with such passion he can't help but jump up and hang off something, make love to his Les Paul and then beat it, or kick something over. And with brothers Erik and Roger Holcombe on bass and drums, the band is tight. They recently wrapped a tour with fellow locals The Ettes and Heavy Cream — do yourself a favor and check 'em out now that they're back. JO-JO JACKSON

BEST THIRD MAN SUPERFANS: TED DANSON AND MARY STEENBURGEN
While it's neither the Cheers bar nor Larry David's country club, Jack White's Third Man Records has become quite the stomping ground for Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen. The Hollywood power couple were spotted haunting the house that Jack built for the recent Wanda Jackson show and the Record Store Day event (along with, of all characters, actor Edward James Olmos). The Dansteenburgens have made a second home of Nashville this year, as Steenburgen was working on both her songwriting endeavors and an FX pilot called Outlaw Country. On her and daughter Lilly McDowell Walton's blog, Nell's Compass, Steenburgen proclaimed Nashville "the most effortlessly hip city in America." And speakig of hip, she'll headline a benefit for The Oxford American Oct. 14 at The Hermitage Hotel. ADAM GOLD

BEST VENUE WE'LL MISS (NASHVILLE): GLENN DANZIG'S HOUSE
In the roughly two years Glenn Danzig's House was open, the Danzigs put on dozens of shows, including a free party for Nylon and more Heavy Cream bills that we can possibly count. Danzig's House was responsible for introducing us to a cadre of up-and-coming punks from across the continent; but all good things must come to an end, and Nashville's Dead Headquarters has been vacated. Thanks for the memories, guys. LANCE CONZETT

BEST VENUE WE'LL MISS (MURFREESBORO): RED ROSE
After a great deal of hue and cry earlier this year, the historic Red Rose Cafe in Murfreesboro was unceremoniously reduced to rubble. Its heyday (2000-2003) marked the first and only time Nashvillians regularly trekked to the 'Boro for shows by indie hot shots like Les Savy Fav, Deerhoof, Cursive, The Faint, Mirah and Calvin Johnson. Romanticized rumors of a grand reopening lingered right up until the building's demise in March. SETH GRAVES

BEST PROMISING NEW VENUE: MARATHON MUSIC WORKS
True, we don't know much about this place yet. But what we do know has our interest thoroughly piqued. So what do we know? It will basically double the number of mid-sized venues in Nashville (the other, of course, being The Cannery Ballroom, if you're not counting the significantly larger Ryman Auditorium). We know that the place's official name, Marathon Music Works, beat out two thoroughly inferior candidates — "Motorworks Live" and "The Pink Elephant" — in a fan-voted contest. We know that it will exist in the old Marathon Motorworks building in Marathon Village, and we know that, if all goes according to plan, it will open in October. Color us intrigued. D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST UNLIKELY VENUE: VFW POST 1970
VFW Post 1970 on Charlotte Pike might not seem like the most likely of venues for a rock show. But when William Tyler (Silver Jews, Lambchop, KORT, Paper Hats ... um, and William Tyler) made it the setting for the "Second Annual Fifth Anniversary" of his record label, Sebastian Speaks, it all clicked perfectly. A bill featuring KORT, surf-punks D. Watusi and Tyler's own Tyler Family Band? Cheap beers? A guestbook that dates back to the '70s and absolutely unironic mustaches? To quote a commenter on our music blog, Nashville Cream, "More shows here, please." D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST VENUE IMPROVEMENT: 3RD & LINDSLEY
Despite a somewhat awkward L-shaped room, 3rd & Lindsley has thrived for 20 years, a testament to owner Ron Brice's savvy booking, which focuses on veteran bluesmen and -women, roots rockers, jazz bands and other acts that don't always get the love at the cool kids' clubs. But now that Brice has expanded and renovated, the club has gone from a challenging room to a first-class venue with a big elevated stage, an expanded bar, updated restrooms, great sight lines and a lot more seating (400, or 500 if the front tables are pulled out). The overhaul has been a huge hit with both patrons and the bands that play there. If you've ever had concerns about going to a show there because of the funky layout, throw those worries to the wind: The new 3rd & Lindsley is one of the best rooms in town. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST HONKY-TONK HERO: CHRIS CASELLO
There's no shortage of jaw-dropping six-string sharpshooters working Lower Broad, but few of them are as entertaining and musical as Chris Casello. If you've ever had your mind blown by a guitarist who looks a little like Silvio from The Sopranos, then you know the guy. Whether he's fronting his trio or working as a sideman (most notably, with the fabulous Brazilbilly), he stands out more for what he doesn't play: While a lot of other axmen on the strip try to wow you with their gazillion-notes-a-second chicken-pickin' virtuosity, Casello is a paragon of taste, emphasizing melody, groove and a healthy dose of musical humor, as he combines vintage country, slap-back rockabilly, blues and jazz. And he's a badass steel player to boot. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST BIGGEST SHOW OF ALL TIME: U2 AT VANDERBILT
The enormity of U2's 360 Tour hitting Vanderbilt Stadium in July wasn't lost on Nashvillians. Locals and travelers alike greeted the Music City arrival of the world's biggest band's record-breaking biggest tour of all time like a new calendar holiday — swarming the Vandy vicinity in a tailgate scene worthy of Pope John Paul II vs. The Vanderbilt Commodores. And with their first Nashville appearance in nearly 30 years, the band made up for lost time — performing their 1993 Johnny Cash collaboration "The Wanderer" for the first time, video-linking with a space station and bringing a blind fan onstage to replace The Edge during an impromptu encore. It was a performance every bit as spellbinding as the gargantuan, shimmering skyscraper of a stage it was performed on. ADAM GOLD

BEST MUSICAL TREND: LOCAL BANDS ALL UP IN BONNAROO
The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., has long been a Holy Grail of sorts for local bands looking to reach a wider audience and reap the perks of playing such a monolithic, widely reported event. In addition to the three winners of BMI's annual Road to Bonnaroo series at Mercy Lounge — Chancellor Warhol, Cheer Up Charlie Daniels and Uncle Skeleton — Bonnaroo's 10th installment saw performances from on-the-rise local punk, indie-pop and roots outfits including JEFF the Brotherhood, Tristen, The Apache Relay, Abigail Washburn and Karen Elson. More than anything, that likely reflects the boom Nashville rock has been seeing lately. It's been a good year for the locals. D. PATRICK RODGERS

MOST IMPROVED BAND OF 2011: HEAVY CREAM
Since adding drummer Tiffany Minton to the lineup, Heavy Cream has gone from "really?" to "yes!" Gone is the doubt and regret from going to see a band that was hyped up to be more than they really were. The last couple of times I've seen the girls — and boy — of Heavy Cream, I've been thoroughly pleased. The catchiness of their vintage punk-inspired songs is even more infectious now that there's a solid rhythm section you can groove to. JO-JO JACKSON

BEST YOUNG AX-SLINGERS: (TIE) J.D. SIMO, NORTHERN HEMISPHERE; JOE ROBINSON, SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE
These two twentysomethings have been tearing it up in Nashville clubs recently. Simo regularly drops jaws playing with The Don Kelly Band at Robert's Western World, honky-tonkin' on his Telecaster like nobody's business — but we dig him even more in his power trio, called Simo, where he summons the spirits of Hendrix, The Who and vintage Cream, wailing from his Marshall-style full stack like he's onstage at the Monterey Pop Festival. And as if we didn't have enough Aussies showing us up (we're looking at you, Keith Urban and Tommy Emmanuel), Robinson has been wowing audiences with his unearthly fingerpicking prowess, which won him first place on reality show Australia's Got Talent and earned him the title of Best New Talent in Guitar Player magazine. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST MASHUP ALBUM: DJ WICK-IT, THE BROTHERS OF CHICO DUSTY
When Wick-It dropped his Big Boi/Black Keys mashup "Black Bug," we listened, enjoyed and moved on — Bizkit The Investigator cranks out mashups the way some folks change underwear. How were we to know that he'd been tapped by Big Boi himself to mash the entire album, and that said album would turn into a national breakthrough, garnering praise from pretty much every corner? We hadn't even changed our underwear yet. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST IDENTITY MAKEOVER: NBN BECOMES SOUNDLAND
Like it or not, we all knew it had to happen at some point: As long as Nashville's premiere rock festival had the words "Next" and "Nashville" in its title, it just couldn't possibly get the sort of national exposure and touring acts we all hoped for. But by scaling back, reducing the number of participating venues to a more manageable number and placing a reinvigorated emphasis on nationally and regionally recognized bands, SoundLand honcho Jason Moon Wilkins has reworked his festival's growing pains into a pretty promising little business model. Six years down. Here's to another six. D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST NATIONAL HIP-HOP BLOGGER WE DIDN'T KNOW HAD BEEN HIDING OUT IN NASHVILLE THE WHOLE TIME: JOHN GOTTY, THE SMOKING SECTION
The Smoking Section, part of the Uproxx syndicate, is an important blog in the national hip-hop community — like, real, real important. Most of your favorite rappers owe 'em a favor or three, for sure. And we've been reading it for years. But all this time we head no idea that TSS honcho John Gotty was running that shit from our own backyard. Who knew? Check him out at smokingsection.uproxx.com. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST ANTHOLOGY: THE WHAT FOUR
Every town has a band that released too few records and was heard by too few people — yet those who did carry those songs tucked away like love letters. In Nashville, such a band was The What Four, whose mid-'90s garage-pop gems would have fit right in on a children-of-Nuggets box set. Instead, frontman/songwriter Jason Phelan, guitarist Chad Harrison, bassist John Hudson and drummer Chris Lassiter arrived about five years ahead of the curve and tragically missed out on the aughts' garage revival — the only reason you're not hearing Phelan hailed as one of the city's best rock songwriters. You can catch up in a hurry, though, with The What Four Anthology on iTunes, a "two-disc" set that gathers their entire 20-song oeuvre (plus a blistering cover of Love's "7 and 7 Is") for $19.99. It may be that they didn't hit because they could evoke so many other bands — "David Watts"-era Kinks ("Shelly Peters"), the Beach Boys at their sunset loveliest (the stunning "Ears to the Ground," which Josh Rouse covered) — but the songs hold up so well you'll feel the loss of the follow-ups that never were. Please, somebody, get this to Little Steven's Underground Garage. JIM RIDLEY

BEST YEAR TO GET BACK IN THE ALBUM-MAKING SADDLE: 2011
As long as people are still releasing albums, there will always be the duds and the masterpieces we wish artists would hurry up and make. Roots music fans were in luck this summer. In May, Foster & Lloyd proved they've got more verve than ever on their first album in two decades, It's Already Tomorrow. A month later, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings ended an eight-year wait with The Harrow & the Harvest, an album equaling their best. And in August, Connie Smith did something she too seldom does: gave us a top-notch new batch of honky-tonk soul, Long Line of Heartaches. JEWLY HIGHT

BEST CHARITABLE COMEBACK:GARTH BROOKS
GAAAAAARTH!!! Find me an American who doesn't love on Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places" and I'll find you a cold, unfeeling, soulless misanthrope. Brooks and Nashville done rekindled their love affair last winter when the "Class of '89" valedictorian made a rare, out-of-retirement full-band appearance at Bridgestone Arena to raise money for Middle Tennessee flood relief. Nine appearances, actually — that's how many performances Garth & Co. had to give to satisfy the state-record-breaking 140,000 tickets sold. In the end, the concerts raised an estimated $5 million, and Nashville got to join together and sing along to modern country music's greatest working-class anthem nine times over. You go, Garth! ADAM GOLD

BEST SHATTERED SALES RECORD: GRIMEY'S ON RECORD STORE DAY
Now in its 12th year of business, flagship local record store Grimey's New & Preloved Music isn't just staying afloat financially during tough times. In fact, it's doing better than ever, thanks to a loyal local customer base, the ever-expanding resurgence of vinyl (currently the record industry's fastest growing musical format, according to Nielsen SoundScan) and the independent music retail industry's inventiveness in creating Record Store Day — a Black Friday of sorts for selling exclusive releases. On Record Store Day this year, Grimey's not only broke their biggest single-day sales record — set at last year's event — they shattered it by a jaw-dropping 72 percent. How's that for economic stimulus, Music City? ADAM GOLD

BEST HIP-HOP VIDEO: GRAY, "JUST DOIN' MY THING"
If the pinnacle of artistry is finding beauty in the mundane and the everyday, Gray's walk down Charlotte Avenue in the "Just Doin' My Thing" video has got to be a masterpiece. Seriously, footage of storage-space walls has never been so gorgeous and inspiring. And the graffiti! This city has some beautiful street art that looks amazing in the context of the minimalist vision in "Just Doin' My Thing." SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST DAMN THING TO HAPPEN TO SOUL FANS IN THIS TOWN: G.E.D. SOUL RECORDS
The Coolin' System, The Magic in Threes and DeRobert and the Half-Truths could all probably get their own categories — Best Soul Jazz, Best Psych Jazz, Best Deep Soul — but the sheer fact that this clique exists is the best thing ever. Meticulously crafted and intuitively performed, every inch of tape we've heard from the G.E.D. camp is pure soul fire. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST MAINSTREAM ONSLAUGHT: CHANCELLOR WARHOL
When we gave Warhol the "Best Art Rap" nod for last year's Japanese Lunchbox, we weren't expecting that art to go pop. But 52 weeks later, Chance has become a staple of the rock club circuit, a Bonnaroo performer and one of the most talked-about artists in the city. His new album The Silver Factory ups the ante, exploding any notions of what art and pop can or cannot be. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST LIQUOR SONG: KENNY CHESNEY AND GRACE POTTER, "YOU AND TEQUILA"
Drinking songs — especially beer-drinking songs — are a dime a dozen in country music. You know it's something serious when a singer name-drops the harder stuff, and "You and Tequila" is no joke. Co-writers Deana Carter and Matraca Berg have each recorded it, but it's Kenny Chesney's surprisingly stripped-down duet version with neo-classic pop-rocker Grace Potter that's become the hit. Addiction, desire, the blending and blurring of the senses, the hint of a hangover — it's all in there. JEWLY HIGHT

BEST PARENTHOOD SONG: MARTINA McBRIDE, "TEENAGE DAUGHTERS"
Country songs have a tendency to play up the sentimental side of parenthood, as though life were one long string of Hallmark moments. Martina McBride dares tell the truth in "Teenage Daughters," and cleverly: Raising teenagers can drive you to drinking. McBride's never been known as a songwriter, but she actually co-wrote this one with the Warren Brothers. Don't expect a power ballad — it's jangly alt-pop with just the right amount of sarcastic bite. JEWLY HIGHT

BEST DANCE PROMOTER: EVERYTHING'S NICE
While the folks at Everything's Nice would point out that they promote more than just dance music — rock, reggae, all-purpose good vibes for your everyday life — we are going to hold them responsible for some of the best dance events of the year. Especially the Unify Block Party on 12th Avenue back in August, 'cause it doesn't get better than bringing together 50 of the city's best DJs in one place. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST KINDA ARBITRARY, KINDA COOL AWARD: MAYOR DEAN GIVES JACK WHITE THE MUSIC CITY AMBASSADOR AWARD
"Thank you, Nashville. Thank you, Mayor. Incredible honor. I don't really know what else to say," said multi-Grammy winner, local resident, rock star, Raconteur and entrepreneur Jack White when crowned Music City's first "Music City Ambassador" by the Mayor's Nashville Music Council — now known as the Music City Council. Despite how much it would've pleased the hundreds congregated around a makeshift stage on Third Man Records' loading bay on that cold April morning, White and Mayor Dean didn't jam together on a cover of Son House's "Death Letter." Nor was the Mayor's "historic announcement" recorded and released as an installment of Third Man's live or spoken word series. Given the setting for the proceedings, nobody in attendance seemed surprised by White's victory, though nobody — White included — seemed quite sure exactly what it was he'd won. ADAM GOLD

BEST NEW LOCAL ROCKERS: THE BLACK KEYS
Nashville obviously has no dearth of Grammy-winning performers and songwriters. Hell, you can't spill your latte around these parts without spattering some foam on a Buddy Miller or a Vince Gill, or somebody named "Cash." But as top-tier rock talent goes, we were all too happy to take in Akron, Ohio's native sons, The Black Keys. Sure, Jack White and his cadre of Third Man Records cohorts put the initial much-needed dollop of cool on top of Music City's under-sung rock scene a couple years back. But when the Keys moved here, with frontman Dan Auerbach setting up his Easy Eye Sound System recording studio within city limits ... well, that just sealed the deal. Music City now takes all kinds. D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST HIP-HOP/R&B PRODUCER: RIO
To say that Rio has had an incredible year in the studio is an understatement — he's been behind the boards on heaters from B.C., Star Murphy, Bezzeled Gang, and there was a minute there where Nashville Cream's "Party & Bullsh*t" column could have been called the Rio Fan Club Newsletter. But we've heard his new stuff — including Big Fella's first new tracks in years — and we can tell the next year will be even bigger. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST DEFINITION OF COUNTRY MUSIC: (TIE) BRAD PAISLEY, "THIS IS COUNTRY MUSIC"; ASHTON SHEPHERD, "WHERE COUNTRY GROWS"
We forget what a slippery concept country music can be. John Rich just made a reggaefied country album, and Music Row takes cues from Def Leppard. It's no wonder country acts feel the need to reaffirm their music's distinct identity. Brad Paisley took an anthemic approach with "This Is Country Music." His point? For its audience, country music bears the weight of reality. And Ashton Shepherd charmed with "Where Country Grows." Her down-to-earth imagery emphasized the groundedness of the music. JEWLY HIGHT

BEST NATIONAL PUB HAVING A CRUSH ON US: ROLLING STONE
Is Rolling Stone magazine still the music world's preeminent publication of record? Let's hope so, because in its April 28 "Best of Rock" issue, writer Austin Scaggs (yes, he's Boz's son) dubbed Music City the nation's "Best Music Scene." Finally. Sure — with quotes from local celebs the likes of Ke$ha, Patrick Carney, Nathan Followill and Karen Elson — RS readers might have read the piece and imagined that your garden-variety 8 off 8th lineup would feature sets from Ke$ha, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Cage the Elephant, Taylor Swift and a reunited White Stripes. But as far as updating Nashville's cultural touchstones from Johnny, Dolly, Tim and Faith to broader horizons, the article was the biggest single step so far in prying the city's perceived cool factor from the both-kinds-Country-and-Western pigeonhole. ADAM GOLD

BEST USE OF KICKSTARTER: THE PROTOMEN
If there's one thing you can count on — and perhaps be fearful of — it's the obsessive nature of the average Protomen fan. When the band and filmmaker Chris Pappavaselio launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund an official documentary in March, they reached their $8,000 goal in a matter of hours. By day three, they'd raised more than $20,000. When a fan spends $525 on a lock of your keyboardist's hair, does that mean your band has "made it"? Yeah, probably. LANCE CONZETT

BEST COLLABORATION WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: (TIE) THE BLACK KEYS; THE BLACK BELLES/JACK WHITE
If you caught Vampire Weekend and the newly Nashvillian Black Keys' "sell-out-off" on The Colbert Report back in January, you probably wouldn't assume that any other Nashville-residing rockers could match Auerbach and Carney's thoroughly hilarious, weapon-wielding appearance. You would have assumed wrong. Jack White's three-part interview with Colbert in June concluded with a collaboration between Colbert and Third Man Records' Black Belles — a White-produced single called "Charlene II (I'm Over You)" — that is as ridiculous as it sounds. So yes, for now we'll call it a draw. Your move, Kings of Leon. D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST HEAD-SCRATCHER COLLABORATION: JACK WHITE, MOZART, INSANE CLOWN POSSE AND JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD
With Third Man Records' Blue Series, Jack White remains astonishingly prolific, reaching out to an eclectic body of artists ranging from local punkers like PUJOL and JEFF the Brotherhood to international crooners like First Aid Kit and Laura Marling. Which is great. But you could hear the metaphorical needle skip off the proverbial record from here to Detroit when White teamed up with JEFF and universally loathed horror-rap duo Insane Clown Posse to produce a track called "Leck Mich Im Arsch" — German for "Lick Me in the Ass" — based heavily on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's composition of the same name. Yes, seriously. Anyone paying attention will realize that White & Co. were likely looking to push some buttons, and one glance at Third Man's Facebook page — where fans are still crying out in horror over the collaboration — will tell you that it worked. D. PATRICK RODGERS

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