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Arts, Music & Culture Writers' Choice 

Best of Nashville 2012

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BEST MOVIE THEATER: THE BELCOURT
As Austin's Alamo Drafthouse proved, an awesome indie movie theater isn't just an amenity: It's an engine that encourages tourism, spurs production, stokes interest in other arts, promotes a lively film culture and makes a neighborhood a destination. Take your pick of the blockbuster Studio Ghibli retrospective, the block-long lines for Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild, or the public-service bookings of Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse and Mark Cousins' The Story of Film — any one of those demonstrates The Belcourt is a city treasure. Put them in the context of the theater's equally excellent calendar, and you see why The Belcourt is making a name as one of the country's top indie arthouses. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST OPERA: THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST
With Giacomo Puccini's La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West), the composer's rarely performed follow-up to Madame Butterfly, Nashville Opera provided its savvy audience with a surprising tale of miners and cowboys in America's gold rush era. Soprano Othalie Graham enacted the leading role of feisty saloon owner Minnie, and director John Hoomes' staging maximized the unusual setting and fantastic music — and then delivered something even rarer still: an operatic piece in which no one dies! —MARTIN BRADY

click to enlarge Best Movie Theater: The Belcourt - MICHAEL W. BUNCH

BEST MUSICAL: BLACKBIRD THEATER'S PACIFIC OVERTURES
Blackbird's thrilling production demolished the forbidding reputation of a seldom-staged show: Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's ambitious 1976 musical, envisioned as how the Japanese might imagine an American musical about the Americanizing of Japan. Got that? It came off crystal-clear in Blackbird's swift staging, which played less as formal pageantry than historical vaudeville — a path others might well follow. The nice note from composer Sondheim only sweetened the triumph. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST BALLET REVIVAL: NASHVILLE BALLET'S CINDERELLA
In its 2011 season opener, Nashville Ballet artistic director Paul Vasterling spiced up Prokofiev's playful scoring of the classic fairy tale with smart original choreography that included comical stepsisters-in-drag, executed with boldness and whimsy by Mark Allyn Nimmo and Eddie Mikrut. Vasterling's reading also gave us a more assertive Cinderella, performed with typical bravura by Sadie Bo Harris, while Jon Upleger's complementary turn as the Prince combined elegance with strength. —MARTIN BRADY

BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE: TENNESSEE REP'S SUPERIOR DONUTS
Some of Nashville's finest actors — among them Brian Webb Russell, Brandon Hirsch, Henry Haggard, Shelean Newman and Jon Royal — united under Lauren Shouse's confident direction for this Tennessee Rep regional premiere of playwright Tracy Letts' love letter to his adopted Chicago. Entertaining epic human concerns, encompassing historic American ideas and emerging as lovable but unsung working-class heroes, the hardworking cast indelibly captured the Windy City's tough-minded urban persona. —MARTIN BRADY

BEST GUERRILLA THEATER PRODUCTION: HUSKY JACKAL'S TERMINATOR THE 2ND
It took Marshall Weber and Cody De Vos nine months of scouring The Riverside Shakespeare to find the dialogue for their stage adaptation of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, then months more of casting, prop building and rehearsals at The Zombie Shop. But in performance last fall at Nashville School of the Arts, it deserved the eruptive Springsteen-at-the-Bottom-Line ovations it got — not just for the ingenious staging (that truck vs. motorcycle chase!), but for a script that's a riotous antidote to student grousing about Shakespeare. It'll be back. —JIM RIDLEY

click to enlarge Best Actress: Emily Landham - ERIC ENGLAND

BEST ACTRESS: EMILY LANDHAM
Landham recently fractured her leg rehearsing Shakespeare. If that doesn't attest to her all-out approach to her craft, then her performances in three major shows in the past year certainly do. Her brilliant Juliet in the 2011 Shakespeare in the Park production of Romeo and Juliet was followed by a classy turn in Tennessee Rep's major effort with Arthur Miller's All My Sons. Then Landham starred in Studio Tenn's acclaimed 2012 revival of The Miracle Worker as Annie Sullivan, a role that's as strenuous as they come. (Fortunately, Emily was working with two good legs at the time.) We hear she's on the mend, positive news for Nashville theatergoers. (But so much for "break a leg.") —MARTIN BRADY

BEST ACTOR: CHIP ARNOLD
Veteran thespian Arnold — also a book author and screenwriter — has trod Nashville's theatrical boards for years. But he's been particularly visible recently, starring in major works — most notably at Tennessee Rep (To Kill a Mockingbird, All My Sons) and with Studio Tenn, where he created a Scrooge for the ages in the company's production of A Christmas Carol. He's also currently co-starring with Barry Scott in Stand, Jim Reyland's play about homelessness that is touring around Middle Tennessee through Nov. 8. —MARTIN BRADY

BEST DIRECTOR: TRAVIS BRAZIL, OF MICE AND MEN
Boiler Room Theatre's Spring 2012 production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men struck a chord of timeliness in recessionary times. More importantly, director Travis Brazil unfolded a tightly staged and consistently well-acted drama whose needy characters — beaten down by the ravages of loneliness, poverty and lack of opportunity — evoked a wealth of emotional content. Brazil's clear understanding of the play's brooding tenor and bitter message — that the good life may be only for the well-to-do, the well-connected or the just plain lucky — resulted in an uncommonly moving piece of theater that hit painfully close to home and resurrected an enduring American classic. —MARTIN BRADY

BEST HAT ACT: CROWNS AT CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL
Christ Church Cathedral's arts programming never fails to surprise or impress, and their production of Regina Taylor's spirited musical revue about a tight-knit group of South Carolina church ladies offered a singular showcase for finely attired actresses to relate heartwarming personal stories and deftly run through a host of classic gospel songs. The multitalented cast — including LaToya Gardner, Dajuana Hammond, Naeandria Callihan and Charletta Jordan — delivered extended vocal jams and moments of praiseworthy handclapping that flat-out entertained when not inducing chills. —MARTIN BRADY

BEST IDEA FOR DEVELOPING NEW MUSICALS: BOILER ROOM THEATRE'S PRESSURE COOKER
Since this is Music City, you expect there to be folks writing musicals. Yet the typically hit-or-miss approach got a nice boost when Boiler Room Theatre announced this competition. Musicals in development were presented to panels of theater professionals and audience members, who then voted on their favorites. The winner, Michael McFaden's City of Light, will receive a full-scale production at the Franklin theater company. The other finalists were Steve Leslie and Len Cohen's Umbrella and Once Upon a Tree by Janet McMahan, David Huntsinger and Robby Coles. —MARTIN BRADY

click to enlarge Best Shakespeare Starring a Former NFL Running Back: Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Julius Caesar
  • Best Shakespeare Starring a Former NFL Running Back: Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Julius Caesar

BEST SHAKESPEARE STARRING A FORMER NFL RUNNING BACK: NASHVILLE SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL'S JULIUS CAESAR
Some publicity-minded casting ideas have more traction than others. In Music City, where pro sports has a rabid following, it seemed sensible to enlist a Heisman Trophy-winning, All-Pro running back like Eddie George to play Julius Caesar. So that's exactly what Nashville Shakespeare Festival did. George acquitted himself quite ably — up to the moment a group of top-rank local thespians offed him in the galvanizing murder scene. Talk about audience development: Even Nashville's sports-radio jocks came out and cheered on their fellow sportscaster. Can Othello be far behind? —MARTIN BRADY

BEST NEW ANNUAL DANCE SERIES: DANCE THEATRE OF TENNESSEE'S BALLET IN THE PARK
Dance Theatre of Tennessee's mission is to bring ballet to the people, preferably to as many people as possible, all at the same time. That was, ahem, the point of Ballet in the Park, the new dance series that debuted in September at Centennial Park. Artistic director Christopher Mohnani says he first fell in love with dance as a child after seeing ballet performed outdoors. Who knows? Perhaps DTT's Ballet in the Park will inspire the next generation of dancers, choreographers and fans. —JOHN PITCHER

BEST COMEDY COLLECTIVE: CORPORATE JUGGERNAUT
Prior to 2012, Nashville's comedy scene mostly comprised a handful of fringy open mics and weekend shows with two-drink minimums. Thanks to the alternative comedy wunderkinds at Corporate Juggernaut, Nashville finally has some folks bridging those two sides. First at Bongo After Hours and then at The High Watt, the Juggerlos have not only started great recurring shows, but have also managed to sucker legitimate touring comics into playing Nashville — all while telling dick jokes. —LANCE CONZETT

BEST ART EXHIBIT: FAIRY TALES, MONSTERS AND THE GENETIC IMAGINATION AT THE FRIST
It was a monumental year for art in Nashville, and quite a few great touring exhibits came through town. But none of them inspired more conversation than Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination. The Frist's Mark Scala curated the show, and it solidified his reputation as an ambitious, game-changing member of the Nashville arts community. The exhibit featured some of the biggest names Nashville has seen in recent memory — like Cindy Sherman and Kiki Smith — and newly celebrated artists Patricia Piccinini and Trenton Doyle Hancock gave public lectures. —LAURA HUTSON

click to enlarge Best Art Exhibit: Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination at The Frist - “THE LONG AWAITED,” PATRICIA PICCININI
  • “The Long Awaited,” Patricia Piccinini
  • Best Art Exhibit: Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination at The Frist

BEST PAINTER: HANS SCHMITT-MATZEN
Hans Schmitt-Matzen had a big year. His Aerial Maneuvers at Zeitgeist examined photography and painting, providing one of 2012's best exhibits. Appropriating black-and-white images photographed from an airplane, Schmitt-Matzen obscured the shots with sensual, painterly gestures that danced through the static machine-made pictures. Anthology — the artist's wall-length painting installation — was a highlight at Cheekwood this summer, and it's recently been purchased by Music City Center. —JOE NOLAN

BEST ARTIST HUB: CHESTNUT SQUARE BUILDING
A gorgeous, creepy old factory building, a smattering of some of the city's best artists, and a couple of great gallery spaces with revolving exhibitions — all with minimal rules or outside influence. That's Chestnut Square. It's like a utopian community filled with experimental artists such as Emily Clayton and Robbie Hunsinger alongside established names like TSU's Michael McBride and Cumberland Gallery's Kit Reuther. If only politicians worked together this well. —LAURA HUTSON

BEST GALLERY SHOW: WAYNE WHITE AND KURT WAGNER AT ZEITGEIST
Zeitgeist has long been a Scene favorite, but its reputation as Nashville's best art gallery was all but set in stone with last November's fantastic two-person show. Everyone who came to see hometown (ish) boy-made-good and former Pee-Wee's Playhouse puppeteer Wayne White and his famous (ish) word paintings was undoubtedly surprised to find that Kurt Wagner (of Lambchop and KORT fame) stole the show with his black-and-white paintings featuring rippled texture and stark, antique subject matter. —LAURA HUTSON

BEST MULTIMEDIA EXHIBITION: SAM DUNSON'S COPING MECHANISMS AT LIPSCOMB UNIVERSITY
Sam Dunson's Coping Mechanisms was one of 2012's outstanding art shows, as well as one of its most surprising. In addition to highlighting Dunson's always excellent paintings and drawings, Coping ambushed viewers with puppet-like sculptures that nearly took over the show. In this exhibition about aging, Dunson cast himself as the old dog with the newest tricks. —JOE NOLAN

click to enlarge Best Gallery Opening: Garland Gallaspy’s Tender Moments
  • Best Gallery Opening: Garland Gallaspy’s Tender Moments

BEST GALLERY OPENING: GARLAND GALLASPY'S TENDER MOMENTS FEAT. BIRDCLOUD AT OVVIO ARTE
Picture in your mind walls filled with porny Polaroids of debauched party antics, a couple of 2001: A Space Odyssey-style monoliths, and foxy girls singing about their vaginas, and you'll come close to imagining the opening of Garland Gallaspy's Tender Moments exhibit at Ovvio Arte. Gallaspy's Polaroids are like hedonistic haikus about being blackout-drunk, and that wildness spilled over into the crowded gallery like gangbusters. —LAURA HUTSON

BEST ART INVESTMENT: CSART
The idea of adapting the community-supported agriculture (CSA) approach to art distribution is a stroke of genius. Those who signed up for the CSArt program got small works from eight different artists, all hand-picked by project organizer and longtime Nashville art heavyweight Adrienne Outlaw. Some of the city's best artists contributed — including Vesna Pavlovic, a co-winner in this year's Best Visual Artist category. —LAURA HUTSON

BEST NEW CONTEMPORARY ART GALLERY: 40AU GALLERY
The front room of the Arcade office of web and software firm 40AU was wasted space until a variety of artists began programming it as an Art Crawl gallery. 40AU quickly built a reputation for its contemporary offerings, and the talented Megan Kelley eventually emerged as the gallery director. This venue has been catching my eye all year. —JOE NOLAN

BEST NEW CREATIVE COMMUNITY RESOURCE: BRICK FACTORY
While other creative spaces emphasize resources for rent, Brick Factory focuses on exchanging skills and intellectual currency — and their unique approach is making a mark on Nashville's creative scene. With membership and access options that encourage collaboration and community over pure capitalism, Brick Factory has morphed into the de facto headquarters for art scene intellectuals, and the space's after-Art Crawl events have already become packed-house affairs. —JOE NOLAN

BEST SUPPLEMENTARY ARTS PROGRAMMING: QUILTING EXTRAS AT THE FRIST
The way the Frist handled their Gee's Bend quilt exhibition programming is a prime example of what separates it from lesser arts institutions. The Frist folks brought heavy-metal quilter Ben Venom to Nashville to speak about his work and lead a workshop at Watkins, invited the Zuri Quilters Guild to give hands-on demonstrations of their African and African-American quilts, and developed a fantastic iPad gallery guide app — just a few reasons we love the smart, innovate Fristians. —LAURA HUTSON

BEST VISUAL ART SERIES: WATKINS' VISITING ARTIST SERIES
Artist talks come and go, but rarely are they as well-rounded and intelligent as last year's series at Watkins. Artemio Rodriguez charmed a packed house with his mythical punk-rock prints and animated videos, photographers Alec Soth and David Hilliard shared engaging stories about their work, and recent MacArthur Fellowship winner Natalia Almada screened two of her documentaries during her stay — El Velador (The Night Watchman) might have been the best film I saw all year. —LAURA HUTSON

click to enlarge Best Mural: Bryce McCloud’s Ship at Barista Parlor - ERIC ENGLAND
  • Eric England
  • Best Mural: Bryce McCloud’s Ship at Barista Parlor

BEST MURAL: BRYCE McCLOUD'S SHIP AT BARISTA PARLOR
Barista Parlor's been getting a lot of press, from local publications to The New York Times. And they've got a fantastic backdrop to work with: Bryce McCloud's massive mural of a pixelated ship made out of tiny nautically themed tiles. Since the ship is a traditional symbol for crossing from one world to another, it seems well-chosen in a work that explores the tension between what's natural and what's man-made, especially in a space that's so obviously working away from mass consumption. —LAURA HUTSON

BEST VISUAL ARTIST: (TIE) VESNA PAVLOVIC/ALICIA HENRY
I may never be confident deciding which shoes to buy, or when to dumb down my conversation and when to be show-offy, but I can most certainly stake a claim that these two women are the best visual artists in town. Pavlovic's photographs are strikingly beautiful, and her delivery of them is simultaneously smart and accessible — my favorite combination. Henry's fabric pieces comment on race, gender, class and other hard-to-swallow ideas in a way that is both quiet and otherworldly. —LAURA HUTSON

BEST VIDEO ART SHOW: DEREK LARSON'S DROOPY COLUMNS AT COOP GALLERY
A remarkable video installation at Coop Gallery, Derek Larson's Droopy Columns projected video onto the cut-out silhouettes of collapsing symbols of democratic capitalism. It was a bravura technical achievement, as Larson created the illusion that the visuals were self-generated instead of projected. The artist's psychedelic patterns called to mind the rainbow-colored activism of the 1960s — a timely allusion in the age of Occupy. —JOE NOLAN

BEST STUDENT EXHIBITION: WATKINS STUDENTS AT CHEEKWOOD
Just when you thought there was no better function for Cheekwood's horse stalls than their amazing video art exhibits, Ron Lambert upped the ante with this exhibit of art by his students at Watkins. The work was based around Mathilde Roussel's installation, and ranged from parlor-style portraits to labyrinthine stacks of boxes to intricate embroidered webs. —LAURA HUTSON

BEST COLLABORATIVE INSTALLATION: MANDY ROGERS HORTON AND ANGELA BURKS' I WANT, I NEED
An exhibition by painters Mandy Rogers Horton and Angela Burks at Twist Gallery, I Want, I Need showed the 2-D artists turning in a top-notch installation examining the way advertising and marketing invade our private lives. Casting Twist's front room as a domestic ruin, the artists painted permanent shadows in every unlit space, reflecting the vicious side of capitalism in a mirror, darkly. —JOE NOLAN

BEST ART CRAWL AFTERPARTY: THE AFTERCRAWL AT BRICK FACTORY
The trouble with the monthly Art Crawl is that by the time it wraps up at 9 p.m., we're still looking to party. But when the galleries shut off the lights, that's when Brick Factory — a multiuse art space in Cummins Station — starts hopping. The monthly free party has become as much of a destination as the Art Crawl itself, combining local rock with art, cheap booze and a promise to keep the party rolling until the dead of night. —LANCE CONZETT

click to enlarge Best Street Artist: Ryan M. McCauley - ERIC ENGLAND

BEST STREET ARTIST: RYAN M. McCAULEY
In November of last year, seemingly overnight, Five Points in East Nashville was besieged by wheat-paste robots. And while the business owners who suddenly found themselves under robot attack might not have been happy, we certainly appreciate McCauley's robo-retro street art vision. Whether it's a green android peering out at you on Main Street or a mob of cardboard-box robots parading through the Art Crawl, McCauley's work is both daring and consistently cool. —LANCE CONZETT

BEST SYMPHONIC PERFORMANCE: NASHVILLE SYMPHONY PLAYS THE MUSIC OF DANIELPOUR AND MAHLER
Giancarlo Guerrero and the NSO soared to heavenly heights last season in a program featuring Richard Danielpour's Darkness in the Ancient Valley and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 4 in G Major. Soprano Hila Plitmann's plummy voice quivered with emotion in the Danielpour, which set to music the mystical verse of 13th century Persian poet Rumi. She was just as effective in the Mahler finale, singing with a luminous voice that conveyed an appropriate sense of heavenly serenity. —JOHN PITCHER

BEST PERIOD-INSTRUMENT PERFORMANCE: MUSIC CITY BAROQUE PLAYING BACH'S B-MINOR MASS
Moments after Music City Baroque launched into the "Sanctus" from Bach's B-minor Mass last March at St. George's Episcopal Church, a bright beam of light streamed through one of the upper windows. It has been said that Bach's mighty Mass is God's favorite piece of music. Now we had proof. Conductor Murray Somerville led his musicians and singers in a performance that was remarkable for both its sweetness of tone and extraordinary expression. The Almighty was surely pleased. —JOHN PITCHER

BEST AVANT-GARDE CLASSICAL PERFORMANCE: VORTEX'S JOHN CAGE FESTIVAL
Vortex artistic director Michael Holland must have consulted his I Ching before creating April's Cage fest at the Blair School of Music. The event turned out to be incredibly spontaneous, as if everything had happened by chance. Jugglers, dancers, musicians and Chinese dragons all joined in for a joyous, cacophonous and improvisational celebration. Vortex and former members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, meanwhile, performed a Cage "MinEvent" with grace and taste. It was a fitting tribute to one of the 20th century's most original musical minds. —JOHN PITCHER

click to enlarge Best NSO World Premiere: Terry Riley’s Concerto for Electric Violin - MARTIN CHERRY
  • Martin Cherry
  • Best NSO World Premiere: Terry Riley’s Concerto for Electric Violin

BEST NSO WORLD PREMIERE: TERRY RILEY'S CONCERTO FOR ELECTRIC VIOLIN
While the Nashville Symphony Orchestra's 2011-12 season featured world premieres from Richard Danielpour and Béla Fleck, it was Terry Riley who broke all conventions with his Concerto for Electric Violin. Thanks to our award-winning symphony and electric violinist Tracy Silverman, this historic debut showcased both Riley's artful minimalism and Nashville's increased classical relevance at the national level. —MATT FOX

BEST NEW CLASSICAL COMPOSITION: MICHAEL ALEC ROSE'S BURLESQUES BEFORE THE ARK
King David was arguably the Old Testament's greatest sovereign. By all accounts, he was also a terrific dancer who gyrated with abandon before the Lord. Blair School of Music composer Michael Alec Rose captured the inner ecstasy of David's dance in his Burlesques Before the Ark. Expertly scored for piano quartet, Burlesques is a gentle, improvisatory piece that creates vivid sonic images of the king's easygoing whirls. The Blakemore Trio — pianist Amy Dorfman, violinist Carolyn Huebl and cellist Felix Wang — joined violist Kathryn Plummer to give the piece a lyrically satisfying performance. —JOHN PITCHER

BEST NEW CONCERT HALL: McAFEE CONCERT HALL, BELMONT UNIVERSITY
There's a new venue in town — Belmont University's McAfee Concert Hall. The university spent approximately $7 million to renovate the concert hall to create the acoustically marvelous classical venue. The hall boasts a fabulous 55-rank Aeolian Skinner organ. Belmont University's symphony orchestra, wind ensemble, chorale and oratorio chorus now have a worthy place to play. —JOHN PITCHER

BEST NEW CLASSICAL RECORDING: VIOLINIST CAROLYN HUEBL AND PIANIST MARK WAIT PLAY STRAVINSKY
Igor Stravinsky was without question the 20th century's most celebrated classical composer. He was also classical music's most remarkable chameleon, an artist who seemingly switched styles as casually as he changed suits. On their latest recording for the Franklin-based Naxos label, violinist Carolyn Huebl and pianist Mark Wait give the great man his due. The duo, both professors at the Blair School of Music, perform the neoclassical Suite italienne and Divertimento with just the right mix of elegance and refinement, and they play the decidedly modern Duo Concertant with color and edgy emotion. —JOHN PITCHER

BEST NEW MODERN DANCE COMPOSITION: NASHVILLE BALLET AND ALIAS CHAMBER ENSEMBLE'S ARABIAN BLUES
Ballet artistic director Paul Vasterling's sweetly intimate dance received its premiere in May as part of the ballet's Emergence series. Alias composer and cellist Matt Walker created an imaginative score that was filled with Persian modalities and bluesy riffs — hence the title of the score. It also included places for the performers to improvise. Not surprisingly, the musicians and dancers were equal to that challenge and delivered performances that were stylish and spontaneous. —JOHN PITCHER

BEST CHAMBER MUSIC PERFORMANCE: BLAIR STRING QUARTET PREMIERES THE MUSIC OF MICHAEL HERSCH
Members of the Blair String Quartet must have been equally thrilled and terrified when they received composer Michael Hersch's score for Images From a Closed Ward. They were pleased because Hersch's adventurously modern work was clearly a masterpiece. But they must have been frightened by the piece's length and complexity. Nevertheless, the quartet — violinists Christian Teal and Cornelia Heard, violist John Kochanowski and cellist Felix Wang — played this dauntingly difficult 45-minute work with polish, precision and unfailing sensitivity. —JOHN PITCHER

BEST CLASSICAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: CRAIG NIESCOMPLETING BACH'S WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER
Five years ago, Blair School of Music's Craig Nies embarked on one of classical piano's most extensive undertakings. In March, he officially completed Bach's entire Well-Tempered Clavier, comprising 48 demanding preludes and fugues. The collection's pantonality and monumental stature makes it Baroque's most significant work, and Nies' achievement solidifies him as a classical music heavyweight. —MATT FOX

click to enlarge Best New Literary Event: Poetry Sucks! - MICHAEL W. BUNCH

BEST NEW LITERARY EVENT: POETRY SUCKS!
Are you the kind of person who checks out of a conversation as soon as the word "poem" is uttered? Even you can find something to appreciate about the monthly Poetry Sucks! event at Dino's — even if it's just the cheap beer. Poet/rocker Chet Weise completely escapes the sterile classroom claptrap of typical poetry nights, favoring instead a style of drunken poetic realism, lit by neon beer signs and anchored by local rock greats. —LANCE CONZETT

BEST NON-DIET DIET BOOK: ALICE RANDALL'S ADA'S RULES
Ada has too much on her plate. She works too hard, sleeps too little and weighs more than 200 pounds. Setting out to change her ways and save her own life, she drafts a roster of reasonable rules for healthier, happier living. Along the way, Nashvillian Randall — author of The Wind Done Gone — gives us an endearing character and an insider's guide to moderation in Nashville's increasingly robust restaurant scene. —CARRINGTON FOX

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL: THE GRAPHIC CANON, EDITED BY RUSS KICK
Publishers Weekly proclaimed the publication of The Graphic Canon trilogy "the graphic publishing literary event of the year." And while family obligations find editor Russ Kick finishing the project out of state, he was a Nashvillian when the first volume of his collection of classic-lit comics hit the shelves. Expect Canon on many more best-of-the-year lists. —JOE NOLAN

BEST ONLINE DOCUMENTARY SHORTS: DOCUJOURNAL BY THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS
Among the dozen or so mini-documentaries posted online by The Moving Picture Boys: a contentious meeting between residents and developers in 12South; a disarmingly intimate portrait of Stadium Inn wrestling champ Jocephus; and a celebration at the opening of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Capturing very specific moments in Nashville's present tense, these artfully shot black-and-white videos build a cumulative picture of a vibrant city in constant motion. —STEVE HARUCH

BEST PLACE TO WATCH EXPLODING HEADS AND REANIMATED CORPSES WITH AN AUDIENCE: LOGUE'S BLACK RAVEN CULT FICTION UNDERGROUND
Behind the bar in the Cult Fiction Underground Lounge are photos of the two Chucks — Bukowski and Bronson. That's the perfect summation of what this unique bar, hang-out and grindhouse cinema beneath Logue's Black Raven Emporium has brought to East Nashville. Classic exploitation movies every weekend, from stylish Euro-horror to 1970s revenge action epics to Japanese rock 'n' roll insanity. Not to mention art shows, special events and the coolest furniture ever excavated from a thrift store. —RANDY FOX

BEST SEX TAPE: RALPHIE MAY ANDLAHNA TURNER
Why do we watch these things? Oh yeah — 'cuz we're Americans, and that means we love celebrity nibbly bits more than any other nibbly bits. Granted, a sex tape featuring two comedians is going to end up more parody — in this case, hilarious parody — than porn, but we definitely clicked play in hopes of seein' May's peen. We can't help ourselves. We're American. —SEAN L. MALONEY

click to enlarge Best Thing We’re Awaiting in 2013: Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers
  • Best Thing We’re Awaiting in 2013: Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers

BEST THING WE'RE AWAITING IN 2013: HARMONY KORINE'S SPRING BREAKERS
For the first time in his nearly 20-year career, Harmony Korine has the last thing he's seemed to either want or expect: a shot at a mainstream hit with this candy-colored caper movie about four college girls (Rachel Korine, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgins, Ashley Benson) whose spring-break plans deviate into armed robbery and the company of dealer/gangsta rapper James Franco (!). Word out of the just-concluded Toronto and Venice festivals ranged from grudgingly appreciative to pole-axed. A favorite blurb, from LA Weekly's Karina Longworth: "Yes, Spring Breakers is a movie in which a wigged-out James Franco fucks two teen TV starlets in a swimming pool. But, oh — it's so much more." Soundtrack co-composed by Skrillex! —JIM RIDLEY

BEST ONLINE FILM SUCCESS STORY: JOEY CICCOLINE AND SEAN WILSON'S "88:88"
Korine wasn't the only local filmmaker represented at the Biennale. Also shown at Venice was "88:88," an accomplished sci-fi short by Middle Tennessee filmmakers Joey Ciccoline and Sean Wilson. As an entry in YouTube's Your Film Festival, judged by the likes of Ridley Scott and Michael Fassbender and voted on by more than 3 million viewers, the film placed in the Top 10 finalists out of 15,000 entries. Perks included trips to Venice and Dubai, as the contest's co-sponsors included the Emirates. Next time you have 13:59 to spare, visit 8888film.com. —JIM RIDLEY

BEST MIDNIGHT MOVIE: JURASSIC PARK AT THE BELCOURT
For the first time in Belcourt history, a midnight movie sold out the theater without the benefit of sweet transvestites or flying cutlery. Who knew that so many people loved watching velociraptor attacks? Jurassic Park wasn't just a great movie — it was a great experience. Everything from the short film starring Belcourt mixologist Pat Halloran to the wild cheers over "hold onto your butts" cemented Jurassic Park as the standard bearer for what every midnight movie should be. —LANCE CONZETT

MUSIC

click to enlarge Best Band: JEFF The Brotherhood
  • Best Band: JEFF The Brotherhood

BEST BAND: JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD
We had a feeling 2012 would be the year these brothers from the same mother took the world by (castle) storm, and we pretty much nailed it. Consider the evidence: Their major-label debut Hypnotic Nights, co-produced with The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, climbed all the way to No. 1 on the CMJ album chart. The Nashville Metro Council passed a resolution to honor the 10-year anniversary of their record label. (Infinity Cat Day was July 20, in case you missed it.) They crisscrossed North America and Europe yet again on tour. Internet traffic-jammers BuzzFeed posted a video of them shotgunning beers in honor of their summery good-times single "Sixpack," because why not? Jake wore a dress when the band played Letterman. We could go on ... all of this to say JTB had a hell of a year just rocking extra hard and being themselves, two areas in which they happen to excel. —STEVE HARUCH

BEST NEW BAND: PONYCHASE
Whether they know it yet or not, local fans of golden-calf New Wave notables like The Cure, Kate Bush and The Cocteau Twins have a new favorite band: Ponychase. Led by local-rock luminaries Jordan Caress and Beth Cameron, these post-punk revivalists deftly indulge dream-pop fixations with pitch-perfect precision, songwriting chops and otherworldly sonics to match. With any luck, the band unleashes a full-length debut in 2013 and claims a Best Local Release BON. —ADAM GOLD

BEST ROCK ALBUM: NATURAL CHILD, FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
The canon of local rock albums had some damn fine entries this year — PUJOL's United States of Being, Jack White's Blunderbuss, JEFF the Brotherhood's Hypnotic Nights and Turbo Fruits' Butter are all obvious contenders here. But no local rock release combines Chattahoochee-ready Southern chill, nihilistic punk attitude and slapdash Stones-y-ness like Natural Child's For the Love of the Game. The first of two LPs the slatternly longhaired trio unleashed in 2012, Game cherry-picks the loosest elements of '70s-centric classic rock and recasts them with the atmosphere of a lazy modern South. —ADAM GOLD

click to enlarge Best New Band: Ponychase - MICHAEL W. BUNCH

BEST METAL ALBUM: BATTLE PATH, EMPIRIC
This hasn't been a great year for Nashville's heavy music underground — losing both The Muse and Little Hamilton kind of killed off the live scene. But we've been consoling ourselves by keeping this Murfreesboro blackened-doom outfit's new album — full of soaring atmospherics and bludgeoning riffs — on repeat. —SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST HIP-HOP ALBUM: DUCKO McFLI, RETURN OF THE REAL
Recorded in the wake of McFli's whirlwind adventure as a photographer on Drake's mega-huge Club Paradise Tour, Return finds one of the city's most prodigious producer-MCs creating his finest work to date — one of the best documents yet of Nashville's nascent hip-hop scene. —SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST MASH-UP ALBUM: WICK-IT THE INSTIGATOR, GRINDHOUSE BASTERDS
While he hasn't been in town too much this year — his 50-something dates with the Warped Tour kept him busy — local DJ Wick-It was kind enough to drop an awesome Quentin Tarantino-themed mash-up album to keep us company. Now, any of you fucking pricks move and I'll execute every motherfucking last one of you! —SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST COUNTRY ALBUM: (TIE) CHUCK MEAD AND HIS GRASSY KNOLL BOYS, BACK AT THE QUONSET HUT/J.P. HARRIS AND THE TOUGH CHOICES, I'LL KEEP CALLING
Remember when country music was, well, country music? For artists who love the genre's roots more than chasing the latest watered-down crossover sound — Chuck Mead and J.P. Harris, for instance — it still is. Mead turned the clock back, heading into the legendary Quonset Hut studio with some of country music's original A-Team session players to pay tribute to legends like Del Reeves, Hank Williams and Roy Acuff. Meanwhile, hard-touring J.P. Harris put out a terrific album of unrepentant, beer-stained honky-tonk and Western swing, featuring all original material and stellar musicianship. If you like your country straight up, get 'em both. —JACK SILVERMAN

BEST ALBUM YOU PROBABLY DIDN'T HEAR ABOUT: CHELSEA CROWELL, CRYSTAL CITY
Chelsea Crowell might be a familiar face on the local scene, but she doesn't exactly pull the self-promoting chicanery you'd expect from, well, the local scene. And damn if that doesn't make us love her gorgeous Lee Hazlewood-channeling albums even more — especially her latest, Crystal City. —SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST ROCK VIDEO: THE BLACK KEYS, "GOLD ON THE CEILING"
The moment we heard The Black Keys had teamed up with avant-garde deconstructionist auteur and fellow Nashvillian Harmony Korine to shoot a music video, we were giddy with anticipation. And indeed, the video for their tune "Gold on the Ceiling" from last year's El Camino must have proven even weirder than the Keys' camp anticipated, as a video for "Gold," culled from live footage, debuted in February, with the Korine version nowhere to be found. But months later, Korine's version hit the Web, and it was everything we hoped for: a glitchy VHS film featuring Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney strapped via faux BabyBjörns to giant doppelgangers of themselves. So weird. So perfect. —D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST HIP-HOP VIDEO: MACRO & TREEKEEPER, "WELCOME TO BOHEMIA"
Most of the local hip-hop videos we see are pretty predictable — dudes standing in front of a wall, iMovie-quality special effects if we're lucky — so it's no wonder The Bohemian Hype Cult's black-lit psychedelic visuals and twisted agro-futurist beats would make our jaws drop. —SEAN L. MALONEY

click to enlarge Best Country Video: Carrie Underwood, “Blown Away”
  • Best Country Video: Carrie Underwood, “Blown Away”

BEST COUNTRY VIDEO: CARRIE UNDERWOOD, "BLOWN AWAY"
A diva plays the lead in the video for "Blown Away," just as in its inspiration, The Wizard of Oz. Only here, Carrie Underwood confronts tragedy rather than storybook witches. Country music's short on not only classic cinema references these days, but honest-to-God storytelling too. And here's Underwood acting the part of a young woman who leaves her violent drunk of a dad on the couch and retreats to the storm cellar, emerging to Technicolor calm after the tornado's taken him away. Now, that's drama. —JEWLY HIGHT

BEST GRAFFITI: FROGS REFERENCE ON CHICK-FIL-A BILLBOARD
Chick-fil-A attracted some unwanted heat when COO Dan Cathy told The Baptist Press in July that he and his company "are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit." Well, we couldn't have been more tickled than when the phrase "It's only right and natural" showed up wheat-pasted on a Chick-fil-A billboard just past the Wedgewood exit on I-65 South. It's Only Right and Natural is the name of an album by legendary comedic lo-fi rock group The Frogs, who made a career out of homoerotic numbers like "God Is Gay" and "Dykes Are We." Hear hear, mystery vandal. —D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST DANCE PARTY: WHISKEY DISCO AT NO. 308
There's no better night for dancing to classic disco and house tunes than Sunday, when the county-and-interstate crowd has gone back to Squaresville, the tourists are too tired to tear it up and all of the rave kids have to go to school in the morning. Here's to the weekly Whiskey Disco dance parties at No. 308, your No. 1 Sunday night destination. —SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST QUEER DANCE PARTY: QDP AT THE 5 SPOT
In less than a year, this all-inclusive dance party, held monthly at The 5 Spot, has grown to expect more than 500 attendees at each installment — no small feat in a town that still suffers from a lack of GLBTQ community organization. Expect queers of all gender expressions, shapes and sizes dancing the night away to an eclectic playlist ranging from '80s classics to modern dance music (Robyn!) to booty-shaking hip-hop. For many, QDP is an impossible dream come true. —JORDAN CARESS

click to enlarge Best Free Low-Key Outdoor Entertainment: Supper + Song at Imogene + Willie - DON VAN CLEAVE
  • Don Van Cleave
  • Best Free Low-Key Outdoor Entertainment: Supper + Song at Imogene + Willie

BEST FREE LOW-KEY OUTDOOR ENTERTAINMENT: (TIE) SUPPER + SONG AT IMOGENE + WILLIE/SUMMER SONGS AT OLD MADE GOOD
We've been spoiled in recent years with regular free outdoor hangs in the warmer months. Two of the good-hangiest: Imogene + Willie's Supper + Song — a bustling yard party stocked with live music, Mas Tacos and an oft-star-flecked crowd. Unfortunately, I + W's wrapped S + S for good, so if you missed it, you missed it. There's also East Side vintage/handmade haunt Old Made Good's similar — but more low-key — Summer Songs, with acoustic porch music, PBR and for good or ill, McGavock Pike scenery. —NICOLE KEIPER

BEST SHOW: BOMBINO AT VFW POST 1970
In May, this singer and guitarist from the nomadic Tuareg people of central-Saharan Africa dropped the jaws of one of the more diverse crowds you'll ever see in Nashville: Hipster kids, jazz heads, hippies and hip-hop fans alike bobbed their heads nonstop for a couple hours while Bombino and his band cast a spell, gradually building from hypnotic acoustic-based material to a full-on electric funk-rock assault that would have made Jimi (Hendrix), Jimmy (Page) and James (Brown) proud. And if seeing a sensational Tuareg band in a VFW hall doesn't prove how awesome Nashville has become, I don't know what does. —JACK SILVERMAN

BEST SECRET SHOW: JACK WHITE AT THIRD MAN RECORDS
With headlining appearances at Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Red Rocks and the Ryman, Jack White proved quite a commodity on the touring circuit this year. But the 150 or so fans and friends who got to see White's speakeasy performance at Third Man Records' Blue Room back in March — a gig that doubled as both the label's third-anniversary celebration and White's coming-out party as a live solo artist — got a once-in-a-lifetime living-room-intimate, barn-burning rock show: White led two backing bands through songs from his solo debut Blunderbuss and reworked chestnuts from The White Stripes, Raconteurs and Dead Weather catalogs. —ADAM GOLD

BEST UNDERATTENDED ROCK SHOW: WUSSY AT SPRINGWATER
Robert Christgau, sometimes called the "Dean of American Rock Critics," recently called Wussy the "best band in America." But you wouldn't know it by the turnout for their June 29 show at Springwater. Wussy killed it. Vocal duties (shared by gruff falsetto lover Chuck Cleaver and his superiorly pitched ex-wife Lisa Walker) evoked Sonic Youth: off-kilter yet redoubtable. All the while, their anodyne steel player sprinkles sugar on the pair's tart medicine. Moved, my companion yanked their concert poster. —WILLIAM HOOKER

BEST WELCOME-BACK PARTY: OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW AT THE WOODS AT FONTANEL
It'd been a year — and there were some significant lineup changes — since Old Crow put the brakes on touring. So when they were ready to get back out there in July, they really did it up, throwing a huge party behind Barbara Mandrell's old house, landing the original version of BR549 as an opener and tearing through old faves and new tunes with joyous, inexhaustible energy. Only at the Big Freedia show could you see as many locals shaking it. —JEWLY HIGHT

click to enlarge Best Followill: Jessie Baylin
  • Best Followill: Jessie Baylin

BEST FOLLOWILL: JESSIE BAYLIN
Don't be mistaken: This is by no means a default nod due to the fact that the Kings of Leon brothers (and cousin) were busy this year building Serpents and Snakes Records, golfing and making more babies than music. Baylin, who's married to drummer Nathan Followill and is herself pregnant with the next little Leonite, had one of 2012's strongest records with her finely crafted Little Spark. Recorded locally, it showcases her talent for subtle sonic moodiness and heart-tugging lyrics with zero saccharine. And honestly, no Followill looks better in leather pants. —MARISSA R. MOSS

BEST NEW NASHVILLIAN: JOHN McCAULEY
John McCauley might have a reputation as a volatile, debauched, rock 'n' roll party prankster, but by most accounts he's a good dude. And as frontman for Providence, R.I., indie bar-rockers Deer Tick and one-sixth of Southern slacker trad-rock supergroup Diamond Rugs, McCauley — who relocated to Nashville this year — is a damn fine musician to count among Music City's makeover-making host of nationally relevant indie-rock transplants. —ADAM GOLD

BEST ROOTS-MUSIC POWER COUPLE: JASON ISBELL ANDAMANDA SHIRES
It's fine if tracking high-gloss superstar pairings is your thing. There are tabloids for that. But for those more concerned with the artistic quality of the local population, it's happy news that Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell call Nashville home. They're getting hitched later this year. Only good and interesting things can come from the partnership of utterly original singer-songwriters and virtuosic instrumentalists who kinda have their own two-person book club. —JEWLY HIGHT

BEST ONSTAGE CAMEO: JACK BLACK WITH THE PROTOMEN
Jack Black is the musical-comedy world's closest thing to Freddie Mercury. He's also down with Nashville's rock-operatic geek squad The Protomen, who befriended the actor/singer when opening for Tenacious D in Canada this summer. Local geek-rock history was made months later when The D's recent Ryman appearance serendipitously landed on the same weekend as The Protomen's A Night of Queen tribute at Exit/In: Black lent his massive pipes on a pitch-perfect rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody," leaving both the band and crowd alike wondering, "Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?" —ADAM GOLD

BEST CELEB COLLAB: KE$HA AND THE FLAMING LIPS
As always, Jack White collaborated on Third Man Records singles with some pretty famous folks this year — Beck, John C. Reilly and Tom Jones among them. But sheerly for who-saw-this-one-coming points alone, we're going to give the Best Celeb Collab honors to Ke$ha and The Flaming Lips, who collaborated here in Nashville on the track "2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)," a four-minute barrage of skronk-pop madness, for the Lips' The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends. Lips frontman and psych-rock guru Wayne Coyne also reportedly contributed heavily to Ke$ha's forthcoming Warrior, so we have even more glittery, far-out weirdness to look forward to. —D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST STARTLING ACT OF PHILANTHROPY: TAYLOR SWIFT'S $4 MILLION TO THE COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME
Taylor Swift seems to give large sums of money to honorable causes just about as often as she wins awards, and for a superstar her age, we think it's a much cooler habit than, say, cocaine. This year the possible (but probably not) future Mrs. Kennedy gave $4 million to the Country Music Hall of Fame to open the Taylor Swift Education Center. The Scene is open to the idea of receiving a similar donation. —STEVEN HALE

BEST HALL OF FAME ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: GARTH BROOKS
Certainly nobody aside from Garth Brooks himself was surprised when The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted country music's highest-selling artist of all time. And nobody was surprised when a teary-eyed Brooks accepted the honor with a gracious, endearingly aw-shucks-y, thoughtful and emotionally mixed speech in which he expressed humble pride at joining the ranks of previously inducted influences, and guilt at doing so when many of his overlooked contemporaries weren't yet recognized. "Their honors are overdue," Brooks said of fellow inductees Connie Smith and Hargus "Pig" Robbins. "With mine, I feel it's still kinda premature. ... I don't know how I stand here without Randy Travis." —ADAM GOLD

BEST LIKABLE GUY IN COUNTRY MUSIC: EASTON CORBIN
Just when mainstream country was neck-deep in modern rock and blustery redneck role-playing, Easton Corbin came along and revived the art of making it sound easy, in the neo-trad style of George Strait and Alan Jackson. Corbin's first hit celebrated throwback-country values so good-naturedly — and with such solid, straight-down-the-middle crooning — that it was hard not to take to the guy. Even when the mood's light — like on his single "Lovin' You Is Fun" — the feel is comfortably close to the smooth side of honky-tonk. —JEWLY HIGHT

BEST ONSTAGE MELTDOWN: DANZIG GETS MAD AT BONNAROO
In the middle of performing Danzig, Misfits and Samhain songs at Bonnaroo under the banner of Danzig Legacy, eternal misfit Glenn Danzig flipped out on Scene photographer Michael W. Bunch. For whatever reason, Danzig didn't want anybody taking pictures of him during his set, so when Bunch snapped a few shots of fans dancing, that was enough for the diminutive rocker to storm offstage and go all Yosemite Sam, pointing and hollering and ultimately doing nothing but creating another caught-on-film Internet LOL-fest. —D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER: DRAKE AT MLK
True, Canadian hip-hop/R&B superstar Drake dropped out of high school. But apparently he's not above the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do approach. On Feb. 17, just hours before headlining Bridgestone Arena, the 25-year-old stopped in at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School to chat with the students and answer questions. Whatever you think of the former Degrassi: The Next Generation star, you have to give him some nice-guy points for that one. —D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST UNDERGROUND VENUE: THE ZOMBIE SHOP
With the local house-show circuit in something of a depression, it's fallen on the Zombie Shop — a mixed-use moped garage in the shadow of the new convention center — to pick up the slack. And boy, have they ever picked up that slack. From hosting African guitarist Bombino to Nashville's Dead's birthday party, the Zombie Shop's sound may be terrible, but its hipness quotient is off the damn charts. —LANCE CONZETT

BEST MIDSIZE VENUE DEBUT: MARATHON MUSIC WORKS
As much as we appreciate Cannery Ballroom, the place has pretty much had a monopoly on the midsize venue market (i.e., places with a roughly 1,000- to 2,000-person capacity) ever since City Hall closed up shop a few years back. But the appearance of Marathon Music Works in Marathon Village last November changed all that. Marathon has already hosted a smattering of fine shows, from Wanda Jackson, Dropkick Murphys, Portlandia Live and Beach House to the Scene's very own Sounds Like Summer series — which featured performances from Guided by Voices, Ledisi, Guilty Pleasures and more. —D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST SMALL VENUE DEBUT/GROWING LIVE-MUSIC EMPIRE: 1 CANNERY ROW
We have plenty of great music venues in Nashville, but the growth at 1 Cannery Row in 2012 makes it smell a lot like we've got us a full-on live-music dynasty. The Cannery Ballroom saw big, positive tweaks (including the death of those imposing pillars), the Mercy Lounge continued as a favored haunt, and then 200-capacity kid sister venue The High Watt arrived in March, adding a cool, clean, cozy room to the increasingly impressive Cannery Row arsenal. Not to mention the new upstairs event space, One. —NICOLE KEIPER

BEST PRE-OPENING VENUE HYPE: THE STONE FOX
Ever since local experimental guitarist William Tyler, his sister Elise and a flock of their pals announced their intention to open a brand-new West Side venue/haunt in the space at 712 51st Ave. N., we've had our eye on the building formerly known as Len's Den. Getting the place up to code and as fly as they want it to be has taken some time, but after months of scuttlebutt and sneak peeks via various social media platforms, The Stone Fox finally opened on Sept. 24. And we must say, the place lived up to the hype. —D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST VENUE WE'LL MISS: (TIE) THE MUSE/LITTLE HAMILTON
We always liked to poke a little bit of fun at local punk/metal/hardcore/ska/other venue The Muse. But fact of the matter is, it was one of the few places in town where kids could catch their first all-ages rock show, and we were bummed to see it shutter back in May. Also unfortunate was the closing of venue, collective HQ and hangout space/warehouse Little Hamilton, due to disrepair and generally poor conditions. But at least the folks behind Little Hammy opened up The Owl Farm in East Nashville, thus keeping the spirit of the DIY all-ages venue alive. —D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST PROMISING COUNTRY BAND: THE BAND PERRY
Who'd have thought a twentysomething sibling trio could turn a folk ballad about mortality — penned by the lead singer, no less — into a country No. 1? Kimberly, Reid and Neil — aka The Band Perry — are sneaky-good like that, capable of artistry and earworms. And there's reason to believe there are even better things to come, since they've managed to hook up with Rick Rubin to make their second album. That guy suffers no fools. —JEWLY HIGHT

BEST MURDER BALLAD: CARRIE UNDERWOOD, "TWO BLACK CADILLACS"
On her blustery, cinematic murder-by-numbers single, Underwood spins a dark yarn about a wife and a mistress conspiring to put a two-timing man in the ground, while showing off both her power — hitting all those big notes like a boss — and her finesse. Amid the edge-of-Stevie Nicks atmosphere (a good thing), Underwood also shows she more than has the range to cross over from country, if those are some tires she'd like to kick. —STEVE HARUCH

BEST SELF-CONGRATULATORY BANNER: WILL HOGE, FOR "EVEN IF IT BREAKS YOUR HEART"
There are many great things about living in Nashville. But the big, own-horn-tooting banners and billboards that record labels and publishers regularly put up around town to congratulate (i.e., boast about) their artists' chart successes are not among them. Except for one. This year, hard-luck local songwriter Will Hoge scored a Billboard No. 1 country hit for the Eli Young Band with his song "Even if It Breaks Your Heart." Even more impressive, Hoge did so without the aid of a Music Row publisher, or any publisher — a feat he mockingly celebrated by hanging a banner in his front yard. —ADAM GOLD

BEST SINGLE BY AN INCARCERATED RAPPER: STRUGGLE, "SATELLITES"
Just because you're in lockup doesn't mean you can't still drop the hotness. Rapper Struggle might not be breathing fresh air at the moment, but his single "Satellites" — featuring Yelawolf on the mic and production from local producer Sam Shacklock — still soars. —SEAN L. MALONEY

click to enlarge Best Hip-Hop Hustle: Dee Goodz - ERIC ENGLAND

BEST HIP-HOP HUSTLE: DEE GOODZ
From his surprise tent appearance with Mimosa at Bonnaroo to his continent-crossing, jet-setting lifestyle, Dee Goodz has been working harder than anyone to make Nashville hip-hop pop off on the national scene. Not only is he hustling the way hip-hoppers should, but he's also trying to push the genre's envelope. —SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST HIP-HOP CREW: P.U.S.H. PRODUCTIONS
>While there are a lot of crews in this city doing a lot of great work, the P.U.S.H. crew — a gang of musicians, artists and producers — has been pushing as hard as anyone, maybe harder. With everything from beats to rhymes to dope-as-all-get-out videos, it's an all-out multimedia assault that's been keeping us entertained all year. —SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST EXAMPLE OF PRO SONGSMITHS HAVING FUN: THE WORLD FAMOUS HEADLINERS
When you've had as much commercial songwriting success as Big Al Anderson, Pat McLaughlin and Shawn Camp, you can pretty much do whatever you want — which usually means an obnoxious vanity project. Not with these guys. They started a band with Greg Morrow and Michael Rhodes so they could play around with funky three-way guitar soloing and harmony-singing and make an album of good ol' sugar-rush rock 'n' roll. Sorta like kids in a garage, only with world-class chops. —JEWLY HIGHT

BEST NEW LABEL (AKA BEST NEW CREDIBILITY-BUILDING MACHINE FOR KINGS OF LEON): SERPENTS AND SNAKES RECORDS
While Kings of Leon have met with knee-jerk Nashville haters and jealous detractors at every step up their ladder to global success, no one in town chided the band for bankrolling its own record label and extending its coattails to some of the city's best bands. Serpents and Snakes Records — which the Followills founded in 2009 for the sole purpose of signing The Features — augmented its operation to full-scale standard this year and beefed up its roster to include local garage punkers Turbo Fruits and fresh-faced Mississippi transplants The Weeks. —ADAM GOLD

click to enlarge Best Move From Artist to Label Head: Brendan Benson, Readymade Records - ERIC ENGLAND
  • Eric England
  • Best Move From Artist to Label Head: Brendan Benson, Readymade Records

BEST MOVE FROM ARTIST TO LABEL HEAD: BRENDAN BENSON, READYMADE RECORDS
Whether or not Brendan Benson took the name of his label from the artsy-craftsy DIY mag, he launched his venture with a similar aim: taking matters into his own hands. Readymade is a vehicle for his sparkling power pop, the output of kindred spirits like Young Hines and Cory Chisel, and even music docs. Instead of sinking money into the musty old model, each project gets the particular business partners it needs — on commission, mind you. Here's to changing it up. —JEWLY HIGHT

BEST JAZZ LABEL: MUSIC CITY JAZZ
In just over a year, Rahsaan Barber has signed outstanding pianist Bruce Dudley, adventurous vocalist Stephanie Adlington and a pair of conceptually ambitious groups of which he's a member — Latin combo El Movimiento and brass band/hip-hop ensemble The Megatones — to his Music City Jazz. Not to mention Barber's own unit Everyday Magic. Their current release and Dudley's superb The Solo Sessions are now both available on Jazz Music City, and they're just the start of what Barber sees as a way to chronicle a fertile and previously underexposed Nashville jazz scene. —RON WYNN

BEST PERIPATETIC JAZZ PROGRAM: NASHVILLE JAZZ WORKSHOP'S JAZZ ON THE MOVE
Jazz on the Move, the Nashville Jazz Workshop program now entering its seventh season, is like a roving jazz history class. It's music appreciation disguised as entertainment, and each performance focuses on a specific jazz period or pioneer. Past performances have included vocalist Annie Sellick's tribute to Anita O'Day and Chester Thompson's salute to Weather Report. (Thompson played drums on the legendary fusion group's 1976 album Black Market.) Fitting with the series name, the concerts are held at various venues. Best of all, they're free and open to the public. —JOHN PITCHER

BEST JAZZ HOUSE BAND: NASHVILLE JAZZ ORCHESTRA AT THE COMMODORE GRILLE
Nashville's premier big band finally came in from the cold last winter. After years of playing at East Nashville's French Quarter, the band found a new home at The Commodore Grille inside the Vanderbilt Holiday Inn. Music director Jim Williamson and his musicians now hold court on Monday afternoons, presenting the classiest happy-hour concerts anywhere in the city. Star soloists like singer Annie Sellick and saxophonist Jeff Coffin occasionally stop by to perform, so there's always something cooking at the Grille. —JOHN PITCHER

BEST LATIN JAZZ MUSICIAN: LALO DAVILA
Lalo Davila, a longtime professor at MTSU, is like a cross between percussionist Poncho Sanchez and comedian George Lopez. A singing, twirling dervish, Davila is a fabulous Latin jazz artist who plays timbales, cowbells and cymbals with feverish intensity and unmitigated joy. He's also a natural stand-up comic. "I used to ask my dad why we always got tamales for Christmas," Davila sometimes deadpans at concerts. "He wanted us Mexican kids to have something to unwrap." Dah dum cha! —JOHN PITCHER

click to enlarge Best Experimental Hip-Hop Producer: Jota Ese - ERIC ENGLAND

BEST WAY TO END THE WORK DAY: THE FIVE O'CLOCK DROP
The only thing better than seeing your workplace in the rear-view is hearing Dolewite's voice come flying out of the speakers when you turn the key. Getting Nashville hyped for the ride home is the man's job, and no one does it better than Dole, whose drive-time throwdown on 101.1 The Beat Jamz is the audio equivalent of happy hour with an open bar (and a whole lot of B-A-S-S bass). He's had to do it without longtime on-air partner Curtis "Scooby" Senior, who died suddenly in February, but he keeps his friend's memory alive — "forever Scoob!" — and the 5 o'clock hour hype. —STEVE HARUCH

BEST EXPERIMENTAL HIP-HOP PRODUCER: JOTA ESE
Now that we've established that Nashville hip-hop is a legit crew, it's time for things to get weird — and that's where Jota Ese comes in. His deep, twisted take on hip-hop tropes and bizarre but beautiful sense of melody have made for some of the year's best beats, like Pete Rock pulling bong-rips with Raymond Scott and Esquivel on RZA's tour bus. —SEAN L. MALONEY



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