Best Writer’s Night (Other Than Bluebird Cafe)
1. Douglas Corner Cafe
2. 12th and Porter
3. Radio Cafe
Best Place to Hear Live Music
2. The Ryman Auditorium
3. 12th and Porter
Best Record Store (Chain)
1. Tower Records
2. Media Play
3. Wherehouse Music
Best Record Store (Non-Chain)
1. The Great Escape
2. Phonoluxe Records
Best Musical Instrument Store
1. MARS Music
2. Gruhn Guitars Inc.
3. Corner Music Inc.
Best Art Gallery
3. Bennett Gallery
Best Performing Arts Group
1. One Hand Clapping
2. Nashville Opera
3. Tennessee Repertory Theatre
Best Performing Arts Group (Musical)
1. Nashville Opera
2. The Nashville Symphony
3. tie: Mostly John and Stoik Oak
Best Local Songwriter
1. Marcus Hummon
2. Phil Vassar
3. John Hiatt
Best Up-and-Coming Local Band
1. Stoik Oak
2. Mostly John
3. Will Hoge
Best Local Visual Artist
1. Shon Hudspeth
2. Phil Ponder
3. Marilyn Murphy
Best Free Performances
1. Shakespeare in the Park
2. Dancin’ in the District
3. Uptown Mix
Best Civic Eyesore
1. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest Statue
2. BellSouth Building
3. Honeycomb on Belcourt
Best Place to Buy Affordable Original Art
1. Local Color Gallery
2. The Arts Co.
3. Outside the Lines
1. Eddie George
2. Frank Wycheck
3. Steve McNair
1. Mike Dunham
2. tie: Cliff Ronning and Tom Fitzgerald
3. Scott Walker
Best Place to Shoot Pool
1. Buffalo Billiards
Best Place to Dance
1. The Connection
2. Johny Jackson’s Soul Satisfaction
3. Bar Nashville
Best Downtown Hot Spot
1. Buffalo Billiards/Havana Lounge
2. Bar Nashville
3. Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar
Best Country-Western Club
1. Wildhorse Saloon
2. Robert’s Western World
Best Pick-Up Bar
1. Bound’ry Restaurant
2. tie: Bar Nashville and The Trace
3. The Greenhouse
Best Bar to People-watch
1. The Trace
2. Bound’ry Restaurant
3. Buffalo Billiards
Best Place to Take an Out-of-Town Guest
1. Opryland Hotel
2. Opry Mills
3. 2nd Avenue
Best Bar That Makes You Feel Like You’re Not in Nashville
2. Havana Lounge
3. Bound’ry Restaurant
Best New Bar/Club
2. Slow Bar
Best Charitable Event
2. The Swine Ball
3. MS 150 Bike to Jack and Back
Best Local Professional Sports Team
1. The Tennessee Titans
2. The Nashville Predators
3. The Nashville Sounds
1. Percy Warner Park
2. Centennial Park
3. Radnor Lake
Best Golf Course
2. Percy Priest
3. Old Hickory
Best Local Place to Hike
1. Radnor Lake
2. Percy Warner Park
3. Edwin Warner Park
Best Cheap Date
2. Calypso Cafe
3. tie: Dancin’ in the District and Radnor Lake
Best Gay Bar
1. The Connection
2. The Chute
3. The World’s End
Best Movie Theater
1. Green Hills 16
2. Hollywood 27
3. The Belcourt
Best Place to Hang Out After Midnight
1. At home
2. Waffle House
3. Cafe Coco
Best Underattended Movie Theater: The Belcourt
That Nashvillians love the city’s last historic neighborhood theater and want to keep it open isn’t in question. But the theater can’t survive on fundraisers alone, even ones as massive as its annual Oscar Party. And frankly, the Belcourt hasn’t made things any easier on itself. The theater has yet to put in place a coherent booking strategy, and it’s having a hard time getting advance word out about the often obscureand primarily excellentmovies playing there. (Regal, of course, has renewed its commitment to art movies now that there’s competition: It blocked the Belcourt from getting films such as The House of Mirth and In the Mood for Love.) Midweek screenings of classics and midnight shows of cult movies, both of which will be starting shortly, should help fill seats. But the theater needs continued support from moviegoersnot just to stay afloat, but to become the kind of civic treasure and cool hang-out it could be. On Apr. 20, the theater opens Edward Yang’s multigenerational saga Yi Yi (A One and a Two), which was named the best film of 2000 by the National Society of Film Critics; a few weeks later, it’s opening a film called George Washington that may be the most intensely beautiful American movie of recent years. Give these moviesand this theatera chance, and you’ll be blown away.
Best Cheap Movie Date: Watkins Film School
That’s cheap as in free, buddy. Across the street from the Hollywood 27, where suckers line up to blow $7.75 on the likes of Exit Wounds, a loyal audience is building for Watkins’ excellent Friday-night video screenings. Yes, the wide-not-deep layout of the screening room is annoying, and the inadequacy of DVD/video projection has never been clearer. But the selections are as adventurous, wide-ranging, and astutely chosen as a film school’s series ought to be: less-than-obvious titles by Godard, Herzog, and Fassbinder, splatter flicks by Dario Argento, noir gems by Ida Lupino and Fritz Lang. This is where a film education begins and ends: with the films. And you can’t beat the price. If you’re cash-poor and vaguely curious about film art, you shouldn’t be anywhere else on Friday nights.
Best Hope for Art Movie Fans: Nashville Premieres
The founders of this grass-roots movie clubF. Clark Williams, Mimi Manzler, and occasional Scene contributor Scott Manzlerare providing a model for how to show art films in Nashville without losing your shirt: inviting guest speakers, partnering with local foreign-language organizations, greeting moviegoers before and after each screening. As a result, Nashvillians have been able to see films as stunning as The Young Girls of Rochefort, A Moment of Innocence, and Robert Bresson’s Au hasard, Balthasara coup that required the intervention of the French consulate. And this coming week, they’re sponsoring the first local screening of Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95 hard-core jape The Idiots, a movie no local theater would touch. (See p. 41 for more on that film.) Along with Bill Myers’ long-running Nashville Film Society, the Belcourt, and Green Hills, expect this group to make the city’s moviegoing scene a hell of a lot livelier.
Best Local Moviegoing Experience: The Sorrow and the Pity at the Belcourt
It was a cold January afternoon when my folks and I trudged down to the Belcourt for what we knew would be a one-of-a-kind afternoon. The Sorrow and the Pity, Marcel Ophuls’ legendary documentary on the occupation of France during World War II, had been rereleased, and by some miracle it had made its way to Nashville. True, there were only a handful of intrigued patrons willing to stomach the four-hour-plus opus, but it was the most rewarding moviegoing experience I can remember. Beyond the actual brilliance of Ophuls’ work, the feeling of being nestled in a dark theater for hours with the faithful few in attendance was truly unique. I can only hope the Belcourt keeps bringing in films of this caliber.
Best Old-Timey Movie Theater: The Franklin Cinema
Located in historic downtown Franklin, the Franklin Cinema has been around since 1936 and still has the feel of an old-fashioned movie theater. Even though you can’t get in for a quarter anymore, this is no multiplex extravaganza. Instead it’s just a place that shows two films at a time, which means that even when the most popular movies of the moment are being shownwhich is oftenthere’s never a line. (There’s also the added bonus of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which screens every Friday at midnight.) Nonetheless, Franklin Cinema has made some adjustments to the modern age by offering movie-style food like pizza, hamburgers, hot wings, and beerthe kind of dinnertime fare that goes great with a feature film. When you get inside, the seats are arranged around tables, which makes you feel right at home.
Best Non-Country Album: Lambchop, Nixon
Countrypolitan meets Curtis Mayfield meets Kurt Wagner, who stepped up as the unlikely heir to Music City’s glorious R&B tradition on this string-laden sheets-of-sound masterpiece, the most expansive and ambitious record yet from the city’s most reluctant rock ’n’ soul heroes. Truth be told, it’s unfair to single out Wagner from his many bandmates: The late-night luster of the Lambchop sound is so seamless that no one player stands out, yet every player reinforces some molecular bond in the music’s sinuous grooves. And for that reason, in a notoriously divisive year, the record’s room-for-all lushness proved to be Y2K’s most life-affirming racketthe sound of people getting along. That the national press took noticeand that the British press took notice, and that a successful European tour followedonly clinched the album’s triumph. The band is now set to perform overseas at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival booked by indie-rock tastemakers Tortoise. What does Lambchop bring to the table? The sound of Nashville’s past, the sound of Nashville’s presentand with any luck, the sound of Nashville’s future.
Best Country Album: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (soundtrack)
Amidst the usual blather about Americana’s lack of commercial potential, Mercury Nashville releases a terrific soundtrack album filled with Americana mainstays such as Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris, supplemented by field hollers, archival recordings, and an a cappella Ralph Stanley reading of “O Death” guaranteed to chill the blood. Who’d listen to this stuff when they could listen to country radio, right? Five months later, this is the No. 1 country album on the Billboard chartsand my mother-in-law is tuning in Dan Tyminski’s version of “Man of Constant Sorrow” on her way to work. You can argue the O Brother phenomenon is a flukethe synergistic alignment of a high-profile movie (which, after 14 weeks in release, is still in the Top 20) with songs featured prominently (essentially) in the film. But give listeners credit for knowing outstanding music when they hear itand for having a much broader idea of what constitutes country than they’ve been allowed to hear on the public airwaves.
Best Songwriter: Bill DeMain
DeMain isn’t the obvious choice for Nashville’s best, we’ll grant you that. He’s not a hit-miller, he doesn’t write much for other peoplehell, he ain’t even country. But in a city that values craft and commercial appeal above personal expression, Molly Felder’s compatriot in the duo Swan Dive shows that those qualities don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Certainly his dry wit, cocktail-hour classicism, and coolly cosmopolitan melodies bear the stamp of individuality. But like Burt Bacharach, whose recent box set DeMain annotated, his songs beg to be coveredwhether by a Faith Hill trawling for crossover bait, or by an Annie Sellick seeking standards to hush the room after midnight at Cafe 123. And his sense of tradition is impeccable. Pure pop for now people.
Best Band: The Shazam
Notice how you don’t hear the “C” term (as in “Cheap Trick”) anymore whenever this group is mentioned? That’s a testament to how far bandmates Mick Wilson, Scott Ballew, and Hans Rotenberry have come in the past few years. Nashville has no shortage of high-voltage kick-ass bands at the moment, from Bare Jr., Trauma Team, and Joe, Marc’s Brother to acts-to-watch like The Carter Administration and The Obscure. But 2000 was the year The Shazam emerged from the power-pop pack with energy, tightness, and purpose to spare, laying those Heaven Tonight comparisons to rest once and for all. On its superb new Rev 9 EP, the band invokes personal faves like The Who and E.L.O. without playing copycatespecially on a jaw-dropping reworking of the Beatles’ “Revolution #9” that owes more to the sonic muscle of “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” than to White Album psychedelia. Small wonder the group was lionized in the British music press, drawing raves from everyone from Oasis’ Liam Gallagher to Paul Wellerwho invited them to perform before a festival crowd of 20,000 at London’s Earl’s Court last fall. Catch ’em now before the BBC exports them back to us.
Best Up-and-Coming Band: The What Four
The name suggests some one-hit wonder from the nether-reaches of the Nuggets box set, and so does their garagey sound and songcraft. But these guys have more than one song up their sleevesa lot more. The quartet started as a solo recording project for songwriter/frontman Jason Phelan, with the help of his former Comma 8 Comma 1 bandmates Chad Harrison and Chris Lassiter; but songs this dynamic deserve the punch of a full band, and Trauma Team’s John Hudson was brought in on bass. There’s no better reason to go to their gigs than securing a copy of their phenomenal debut CD, a stunner that ranges from thuggish riffing (“Can’t Love No One”) to a pitch-perfect lament that sounds like a missing Beach Boys B-side (“Ears to the Ground,” soon to be covered by Josh Rousehimself no slouch as a songwriter). If Phelan and company keep up this level of quality, in 20 years bands’ll be naming themselves after songs from The What Four’s box set.
Best Reminder That Real Country Music Isn’t Dead: Rob Ryan and His Band
Inspiration for great country music songswe’re talking broken hearts and battered lives hererarely comes while you’re waiting for the valet to bring your Lexus around at The Trace. You need to load up the truck and get down to Lower Broad, sit on swivel stools, hang with would-be stars, and feel their pain. The most promising country act peddling its inspired wares downtown these days came to Nashville recently via New York City. Rob Ryan and His Band churn out the classics with the best of ’em, but they rise above most longstanding locals in one important respect: They’ve got dozens of originals that make you scratch your head wondering which Stanley Brothers album you’re missing.
Best Songwriter With Aspirations Beyond a Hit Country Single: Marcus Hummon
If you were a Nashville songwriter, and you’d written “Ready to Run” and “Cowboy, Take Me Away” for the Dixie Chicks, what would you do? Soak up the sun in Barbados? Hang out at Effliglio’s drinkin’ beer and lookin’ at babes, waiting for that next inspiration? Find a piece-of-cake co-write gig? Maybe. Or, like Marcus Hummon, you might widen your parameters and work on that Broadway musical. Actors Bridge Ensemble has produced two Hummon theatrical pieces in the last couple of years, and the most recent, Francis of Guernica, will be remounted in a full-scale production by Tennessee Repertory Theatre early in 2002. The guy also writes poetry. And he’s written for PBS. So much for murder on Music Row.
Best Public Face of the Nashville Music Scene: Mike Grimes
Since stepping off the stage, setting aside his guitar, and opening a record store, the affable Mike Grimes has expanded his circle of friends to include just about anybody who walks through his door at Grimey’s looking for a used CD. Holding court from the swivel stool behind his small counter, he talks up his favorite local bands, cycles through a stack of the coolest discs to show up in the shop, and chats enthusiastically about music with whoever has the time and the inclination to join him. Now, with the opening of his East Nashville hangout/music venue the Slow Bar, Grimey has extended his daylong party into the wee hours of the night.
Best Behind-the-Scenes String-Puller: David Hooper
He spends the bulk of his day in his house, at his desk, staring down a computer screen; and from that command post, he helps guide the careers of a small army of musical acts across the country. Via his Kathode Ray Music label and consulting service, his indiebiz.com Web site and promotional tipsheet, his out-of-town seminars, and his upcoming co-authored book, David Hooper is teaching artists not much younger than himself how to navigate the rocky shores of the music industry. As if that weren’t enough activity, Hooper takes part in a weekly meeting of his peers, from which he spearheads efforts like last Christmas’ Music Industry Charity Promo 2000, which encouraged musicians to donate to charity in exchange for free consultations with a man who wants to help.
Best Multi-Tasker (at home): John Mark Painter
This musical nexus’ co-starring role in Fleming & John, for which he is best known, has become only a fraction of his musical output. Painter is also producing (his nephew Rich of Rich Creamy Paint, as well as DC Talk and British transplants Departure Lounge), sitting in (on records by Ben Folds Five and Sixpence None the Richer), and branching out (with his sophisticated instrumental side project Headmint). And his home studio has become a popular hangout for visiting musicians and local pals who want to gather and work stuff out...all of which gives the guy at the center a chance to hone his skills for the next Fleming & John record.
Best Multi-Tasker (away): Matt Mahaffey
He may have relocated to L.A.the better to remind his label, Dreamworks, what an asset they havebut Matt Mahaffey’s hand remains in the musical efforts of his old friends in Murfreesboro bands like Spike & Mallets and Fluid Oz. Outside of town, Mahaffey has worked with such like-minded outfits as Call Florence Pow and Vitamin C, asserting his theories about the integration of technology and pop expressionism to as many members of his generation as he can reach.
Best Unlikely New Venue to See Cool Bands: Red Rose Cafe
Murfreesboro’s most valued player Bingham Barnes may have left his post booking Sebastian’s, but he has carried his dedication to great music over to the Red Rose Cafe, an establishment he now co-owns. The warm atmosphere and great coffee always made this a popular location in the ’Boro, but now the regular appearance of stand-out bands has made it the new club to watch. Recent booking coups have included Athens, Ga.’s, spectacular Elf Power, Eric Bachmann’s post-Archers of Loaf group Crooked Fingers, and upcoming visits by artists as varied as indie poppers Silver Scooter and crazed Casiotone sermonizer Wesley Willis. Meanwhile, the venue has offered a new and intimate place for local groups to perform.
Best Jazz Club: Tie: F.Scott’s/Cafe 123
Any club in this town that offers live jazz more than one day a week deserves a merit badge for courage. F. Scott’s highlights acoustic jazz every night and has been the venue of choice for many of Nashville’s prime improvising singers, trios, and small groups. Cafe 123 sometimes offers cutting-edge players, at other times hosting traditional quartets and performers. Both establishments continue to provide first-class entertainment without regard to whether jazz happens to be in vogue at any particular moment.
Best Blues Club: Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar
Last year’s W.C. Handy Award winner as the nation’s premier blues joint, Bourbon Street walks the fine line between artistry and commerce. It could easily keep the place packed by only booking the up-and-coming attractions, yet it has also managed to keep the local blues audience in touch with great artists like Bobby “Blue” Bland, Eddy Clearwater, and Little Miltonperformers whose current record sales don’t reflect their genuine importance to the art form. Memphis does a lot of boasting about its blues scene, but take it from a former resident of the Bluff City: Year round, Nashville’s own Bourbon Street does a better job of hosting live blues than any club on Beale Street.
Best Place to See Garage Bands: Springwater
Whether hosting the sweaty jive of the early Soul Satisfaction parties or David Cloud’s spectacular guitar-god mock-heroics, this little bar tucked off to one side of Centennial Park has been a favorite dive destination for years. Thanks to booker Kara Nicks, local music fans are sure to see an uncanny amount of talent on her tinseled stage any night of the week. This venue, which has been a stomping ground for all kinds of local talentfrom the endearing acoustic tunes of Ann Tiley to the fiercely rocking assault of Trauma Team to the messed-up industrial tinkering of Electronic Playgirlhas seen more than the lion’s share of balls-to-the-wall performances, not to mention an impressive array of envelope-pushing avant-gardists, including the indescribable Argentinean outfit Reynols. The bottom line is this: Whoever’s onstage, a true straight-from-the-garage ethic unites them all, and the adrenaline rush of their music is contagious.
Best Place for Emo Sightings: The End
The End on Elliston Place serves as a modern Mecca for the growing musical trend known as Emo. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, here’s a brief explanation. Though Emo is shrouded in mystery, a few rules generally apply: There are at least two distinct types of Emo followers. Type A Emo-kids wear vintage shirts, cuffed jeans, and classic Converse shoes, while the more fashion-conscious Type B Emo-kids prefer black shirts or sweaters worn over a collared white dress shirt and black shoes with buckles, like those first Pilgrims off the Mayflower. Though the two classes differ on some things, they can all agree on the Emo-essentials, which include senselessly thick, black-framed eyeglasses, the ever important satchel/messenger bag, and a taste for bands such as The Promise Ring, Pedro the Lion, and Sunny Day Real Estate. Though Emo-kids are often perceived as ritually staying home and crying while listening to their emo-tionally charged music, contrary to popular belief they actually go out. The End is the best place to spot them in Nashville, as the club often hosts touring Emo bands that draw Emo-kids like moths to flame.
Most Consistently Interesting Local Radio Show: “The Chicken of Death” on WRVU-91.1 FM
Local renaissance man (and Scene freelance writer/copy editor) Chris Davis has been hosting this program from 10 till 12 on Tuesday nights for a while now, but the variety and outlandishness of the music he plays never ceases to amaze. He spins an assortment of lost psych rock, bizarro punk, pastoral folk, world music, unhinged jazz, and avant dementia of all colors. Think of it as the contents of New York’s Other Music record store (www.othermusic.com) thrown into a blender. There are certainly a wealth of awesome programs on WRVU, but this is the best mind-expansion therapy on the airwaves, period. We guarantee it’s the only place you can hear Donovan played next to The Dead C.
Best Cheap Thrill for Nashville’s Music Scene: International Multimedia Attention
Did you see that episode of Ed that used Josh Rouse’s “Dressed Up Like Nebraska” in a love scene? Did you read where High Fidelity author Nick Hornby listed Rouse’s Home as one of the best pop records of 2000 in The New Yorker? Did you see Rouse on Conan? How about Lambchop? Did you hear Bare Jr.’s songs in Cruel Intentions and Varsity Blues? Did you see their album Brainwasher reviewed in Entertainment Weekly? How about SWAG, who also got a nice review on NPR’s Fresh Air recently? And did you read all those articles about The Shazam in the British rock press last year? Is this cool or what?
Best Local Music Guessing Game: Who’s Next?
Maybe it’ll be Will Hoge, whose self-released album Carousel has a vigorous, fully realized rock sound that would scorch most modern rock radio playlists. You could do a lot worse than the heavy garage soul of The Obscure, or the lively, youthful pop of Esposito. SparkleDrive have a sheen and a sensibility that would seem to guarantee stardom on at least some scale. Surely neither The Shazam, nor Doug Hoekstra, nor Swan Dive have hit the ceiling of their potential popularity. One of these acts just has to break, be it to nationwide cult success or international world-beater status. There’s just too much good music crowding the Nashville scene right now, and something’s bound to be squeezed out into the open.
Best Reason to Buy Brad Jones a Beer: The Proliferation of Great Nashville-Based Guitar-Driven Pop-Rock
He turned the low-ambition goof-off project SWAG into a viable power-pop entity by providing multi-faceted production that elegantly framed the makeshift band’s homages to the past. He went Around the Year With Joe, Marc’s Brother, and helped make their second album a compendium of all things likable in collegiate rock. He put Swan Dive’s worldly lounge music in a suitably lush setting. And even his work with choice out-of-towners like Ass Ponys and Marshall Crenshaw is serving to convince people that there’s a reason why the Monsters of Pop music fest is located in Music City. If our scene is developing a signature sound, Brad Jones’ indelible way of maximizing a melody is providing the focus. Viva!
Best Unheralded Annual Music Event: Franklin Jazz Festival
It may not be River Stages, but the Franklin Jazz Festival is not to be missedand it’s free. Set in the heart of historic downtown Franklin, the yearly event features some of the best jazz, blues, and Dixieland tunes this side of the Mississippi. While strolling about the cozy old Victorian buildings and spruced-up streets of Franklin, attendees can catch a performance by Louie Shelton or Laura Wheeler, examine custom-made jewelry at vendors’ booths, or grab a funnel cake and ice cream while soaking in the free-spirited atmo-sphere. This year, the festival runs Sept. 2-4 and will be accompanied by a 5K and 10K race to benefit the Mercy Children’s Clinic, a children’s medical center located in Franklin. It’s the perfect way to spend Labor Day weekend: a few days of music, munchies, and straight-ahead jazz.
Best Underattended Local Rock Show: XBXRX/Deerhoof at Springwater
Of all the shows that passed through town last year, this was one of the bestanother sign that our local live-music scene just keeps getting better and more fertile. John Allingham of local avant-folk ensemble the Cherry Blossoms kicked off the evening with a sort of free-form talking blues set, followed in excellent form by the New Faggot Cunts, a local trio whose unholy wall of noise would leave the Red Krayola shaking their heads. Next up were Music City’s best (only?) speedcore outfit, the Hissyfits. If that weren’t entertainment enough, Mobile, Ala.’s XBXRX left the audience with jaws dropped, spraying those in attendance with Silly String, leaping around like the masked banshees that they were, and racing through psycho-garage tunes that sounded like New York noisemeister James Chance stuck in an arcade. Rounding out the night were the mighty West Coast band Deerhoof, whose No Wave thunder was sweetened somewhat by bubblegum melodies. What was truly amazing about this evening was not just the variety and quality of performers, but the fact that everyone stayed for all the bands. Sure, maybe the show was underattended, but those who were there weren’t going to miss a thing.
Best Solo Classical Music Performance: Felix Wang
Good solo classical performances are not rare in our city, but most aren’t really solos; they’re collaborations with a pianist or an orchestra. Blair cellist Felix Wang, however, lately put the solo back in solo: Accompanied only by his cello, he did a program of Bach, Britten, and Kodály. Some 250 years ago, the German Bach made the nearly unknown cello the peer of any other instrument. In the last century, the Brit Britten and the Hungarian Kodály corroborated that making. A couple weeks ago, Wang validated all of the above. The Kodály sonata merits special notice: It utters the wildness and beauty of Hungarian history in half an hour. On this evening, in Wang’s hands, the cello was a Heraclitean fire.
Best Underattended Classical Music Performance: Benefit for Second Harvest Food Bank
On a recent Sunday afternoon at West End Methodist Church, a couple dozen Symphony musicians gave a free concert to benefit local hunger-relief agency Second Harvest Food Bank. The musicians didn’t perform as a full orchestra. Instead, they played as a sequence of chamber ensemblesa brass choir, a wind ensemble, a string quartet, a piano quintet. The concert was not advertised very well, and altogether too few listeners heard the musicians in this more intimate configuration. Hmmm. What if such configurations were incorporated into some regular Symphony performances? It might be a good way to add some attractive variety. And it would let folks hear, up close and personal, how fine these mostly anonymous musicians are.
Best Arts Community Idea in Living Memory: Collaboration
Recently, Tennessee Rep and Nashville Opera had a great idea: They shared their resources. They designed and built a knock-’em-dead set and designed a bunch of costumes, then shared them all in back-to-back productions of a helluva play and a seismic opera based on that playLillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes and Marc Blitzstein’s Regina. Both companies benefitedand so did the cityfrom these exceptionally fine artistic events. Not only did the back-to-back productions reflect and intensify each other, they also set a fine precedent: The local arts community can get together in ways that are good for everybody.
Best Production of The Vagina Monologues: Actors Bridge
Vagina fever took Middle Tennessee by storm. One group did a production of Eve Ensler’s women’s physical liberation piece at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville. The Unitarian Universalist Church on Woodmont also took a crack at it. But the Actors Bridge production packed ’em in, and the three sold-out houses were not only not disappointed, they were enthralled. Even Emmylou Harris came to show her support and approval. Fine acting and a sincere level of social commitment were the hallmarks of the show, which proved that good, honest theater can really be done in this town.
Best Young Actor: Brian Niece
Niece did an amazing thing last summer: He took the lead role of Orlando in a so-so Nashville Shakespeare Festival production of As You Like It and, against many odds, absolutely distinguished himself. Then he launched his own theater company, People’s Branch, and starred in its first production, an artful one-man show about Theo and Vincent van Gogh. Brian’s got a look, an engaging voice, he knows what he’s doing onstage, and there’s a fire in his belly. Let’s hope he sticks around for a while.
Best Young Actress: Jenny Littleton
When Littleton stepped onstage in Actors Bridge’s production of Lee Blessing’s Independence in the fall of 1999, the earth moved a little. Playing the teenage daughter in a really screwed-up family, she projected sex appeal, impudence, vulnerability, and lost innocence all at the same time. Then she went on to distinguish herself in a solid pick-up production of Chekhov’s The Seagull. Since then, she’s worked for Nashville Shakespeare Festival and Nashville Children’s Theatre, among others. Too bad The Rep didn’t give her the nod for the role of Juliet last year. She might’ve been really good. She probably would have looked 14, too (like the script calls for).
Best Actor to Cast in a Shakespearean Drama: Henry Haggard
Shakespeare is tough to do. Even experienced actors struggle with the Bard. You have to have your vocal skills; you have to keep thinking; you have to know what it all means even to convey just a little bit of it to the average audience. Henry Haggard seems to have it figured out. His performance as Friar Laurence in Tennessee Repertory Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet last year mixed strong stage presence with a marvelous sense of language, and made the theatergoer say, “Aha! So that’s what Shakespeare’s all about.” Henry does other things toolike Merlin in Camelot or a drag turn in Nashville Children’s Theatre’s Little Womenbut if you’re planning a production of King Lear or Henry IV, Part 2, you might want to keep his number handy.
Best New Theatrical Entrepreneur: Catherine Coke
For the past 15 years, Nashville native Catherine Coke has been a theatrical gypsy of sorts, directing and dramaturging in D.C., N.Y.C., and L.A. Last year, she returned to her roots, where she and her husband, actor/lawyer Bill Shick, founded Nashville Theatre Works, a networking organization that has helped unite a previously uncounted population of theater artists. Besides serving as a clearinghouse for ideas, NTW has also staged formal readings of new plays, an important step in the artistic process for playwrights. (It also gives actors a chance to keep their chops fresh.) Catherine is feisty, opinionated, determinedand smart. She also has the rights to direct a script by playwright James Waedekin called Blue Plains, which tells the story of the young Georgia O’Keeffe. She’s looking for local backing too. Stay tuned.
Best Community Theater: ACT I
Nashville’s got two major organizations in the business: longtime standby Circle Players and ACT I. Both offer opportunities for local amateurs and newbies or for more experienced players who are between more serious paid gigs. But based on its philosophical approach and the quality of its productions, ACT I is currently leading the field. Despite offering some shows with directorial problems and spotty performances, the company scored classily this season with George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and Brian Friel’s The Freedom of the City. And while it’s difficult for some community theaters to stage even “typical” fare successfully, this group refuses to shy away from any challenge. Next season, they’re going to tackle Oedipus Rex and Richard III. They just might pull it off.
Best Brother Team of Actors: Jeremy and Josh Childs
These two are truly a pair. And they come from the same gene pool. Jeremy’s the older onechronologically, anyway. He does Shakespeare. He does Chekhov. He’s really good at both. He’s also the author of the surprise hit The Vampire Monologues, in which he played a cop who was frighteningly funny. Brother Josh is also a card. His role as a standup-comedian vampire in the same production was every bit as winning, and he really showed his stuff in the Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Mrs. Childs’ sons have talent. They also know why it’s worth a chuckle when The Tennessean’s Kevin Nance uses the word resonant.
Best Actress to Portray a Lesbian Vampire: Carla Coble
OK, she was the only actress to portray a lesbian vampire this past year. But she sure was good. Coble’s over-the-top performance in Actors Bridge’s production of The Vampire Monologues was deliciously strident, hitting all the right notes of sarcastic intensity and feigned commitment to the cause. It was also really funny. In her own little way, Coble set us up nicely for The Vagina Monologues, proving that a lone womaneven an undead, bloodsucking onecan stand up for herself in a world of men.
Best Technical Theater Staff: Tie: Nashville Children’s Theatre/Tennessee Repertory Theatre
Here’s a happy situation: Two professional theater companies that have top-notch technical facilitiesand they actually know how to use them. Creativity and solid execution are the hallmarks of both The Rep and NCT. Designers at The Rep have a broader palette to work with, so things seem grander there. (Witness Gary C. Hoff’s remarkable set recently for The Little Foxes.) But within their more modest parameters, NCT achieves at a high level too. There’s no point in choosing between apples and orangesjust be glad they’re both in the fruit bowl.
Best Local Artist: Sean Dudley
Painter Dudley’s almost eerie ability to communicate the spirit of his subjects is evidence of a talent that goes far beyond the perfection of a brushstroke or purity of line. His canvases, which are available through Cumberland Gallery locally, are only one of his creative outlets. He has also been producing handmade books in his studio, Imado, which are a rare treat. His fascinating show at Cheekwood last summer featured books made of everything from leather to wood to found metal and vintage fabric.
Best Museum Show: The Art of William Edmondson
Debuting at Cheekwood last year, this retrospective exhibit of William Edmondson’s works was one of the few exhibits curated by a Nashville-based museum to hit the big time in a long while. Curated by Cheekwood staffer Rusty Freeman, the show traveled to the Museum of American Folk Art in New York, where it was reviewed favorably by Artforum, before making the national rounds. Although a fresh look at Edmondson’s limestone sculptures was long overdue, this wasn’t the first time his work was the talk of the town. Back in 1937, the Nashville-born self-taught sculptor was the first African American to receive a solo show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition not only puts Cheekwood on the national map, but helps unite the traditions of mainstream and self-taught art.
Best New Art Space: The Frist Center for the Visual Arts
On April 8, priceless oil paintings will permanently replace postage stamps at the 1930s Art Deco building on Broadway that once served as Nashville’s main post office. The restoration is a masterpiece of adaptive reuse of an architectural landmark. The building’s foyer has been restored to all its former glory. The inlaid marble floors gleam, and the 22-foot-tall ceilings beckon the eye upward to see original metalwork rescued after decades of neglect. Beyond the foyer are the galleries themselves, on two levels connected by grand staircases. Here you can ogle works by Monet, van Gogh, and Picasso in the “European Masterworks” show, see treasures from Nashville public and private art collections in the “Enduring Legacy” exhibition, learn all about the building’s 60-year history in the “From Post Office to Arts Center” display, and experience a contemporary art installation called “The Administrator” by Nashville artist Michael Aurbach. As if that’s not enough, the center also boasts an interactive art space for kids, a 250-seat auditorium for lectures and films, a cafe, and a gift shop. The exterior of the grand old building also sparkles, and the grounds have been nicely landscaped around the center’s own private 180-space parking lot accessed from either Ninth Avenue or Demonbreun Street. Enjoy.
Best Innovative Art Gallery: ruby green contemporary arts foundation
Ruby Green really isn’t an art gallery; technically speaking, it’s a nonprofit arts foundation. So while only the top art galleries find themselves habitually running in the black, this one doesn’t even try. That’s because one of its principal aims is to make sure that the making of art is not compromised in any way by the market. In fact, these sorts of arts foundations have been springing up all over the U.S. and Europe for years now, giving rise to a lot of performance-driven, ephemeral works that you can’t hang on your walls. Who would have thought that those Happenings back in the ’60s would still be so cool?
Best Special Collections: Remnant Trust Exhibit at Vanderbilt Library
Of course, the Vandy library has a copy of George Orwell’s 1984but until the end of May, only the Jean & Alexander Heard Library at Vanderbilt University will have on display Orwell’s personal 1949 proof-copy of the book, with his marginal notes inscribed therein. Anyone who cares to can peruse it to his or her heart’s content; the same goes for the 39 other priceless publications on loan to the library’s Special Collections department from the Indiana-based Remnant Trust. It is the personal, if slightly eccentric, mission of Trust founder Brian Bex to place into the public’s hands such rare incunabula (i.e., earliest printed books) as a 1491 copy of St. Augustine’s Confessions, a 1485 Plutarch, and several 15th-century works by St. Thomas Aquinas. Milton’s 1644 defense of press freedom, Areopagitica, is joined by volumes from Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Thomas Paine, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The first public printing of the “Emancipation Proclamation” (NY Times, Sept. 23, 1862) is there for the holding as well. Ditto a rare 1542 copy of the Magna Carta. The exhibit is open weekdays through May 31, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Call Special Collections for details: 322-2807.