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Staff Picks

By Staff · March 29th, 2011 · Arts & Entertainment
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Best Friday Night Live
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he MidPoint Indie Summerconcert series had its best year yet in 2011. Along with a ton of local, original musical acts, the Friday night series brought international bands to town that one would never expect to see playing live, for free, on Fountain Square, including Scotland’s Camera Obscura and modern rockers We Are Scientists. The huge, all-aged turnout for eccentric Electronica/Indie band Neon Indian alone was proof enough that Cincinnati is weirder than you think. (Mike Breen)

Best Funny Business
This spring, Underbelly will celebrate two years of turning the intimate Parlour at Newport’s Southgate House music venue into a funhouse of sketches, poetry, monologues, improv, games, songs and other forms of live comedy … except stand-up routines. Described as “an evening of the Cincinnati area’s best stand-up comedians doing everything except stand-up comedy,” the first-Tuesday-of-each-month event has earned a supportive audience and has been creatively successful enough for “away” Underbelly shows in other venues. Like our own version of UCB Theatres on the coasts, Underbelly’s collaborative efforts are just the kind of thing needed to advance Cincinnati’s seriously funny comedy scene to the next level. 859-431-2201, www.underbellycomedy.com.

Best Drunken Talk Show
Like a subversive Andy Kaufman stunt with way more beer, the stumblingly surrealistic live talk show Ted Clark After Dark brings the funny to Northside’s Mayday club monthly-ish. (What, you expected consistency from the city’s “Best Drunken Talk Show”?) Fueled by alcohol and edgy, spontaneous humor, guests have included artists, musicians, bartenders and … pretty much anyone available to booze it up and have a chat with the irascible Clark, live in front of a non-studio audience. It’s like if Rupert Pupkin hijacked The Merv Griffin Show and then hosted it while on a three week bender. 513-541-0999, www.maydaynorthside.com.

Best Comedy Duo
Though Eddie Fingers is missed, WLW’s decision to replace him with Scott Sloan as former MLBer Tracy Jones’ “afternoon drive” co-host created the most oddly hilarious radio team in local radio. The twosome’s strong chemistry is the result of similar sarcastic senses of humor, which, despite big ratings, often seems to soar right over the heads of a lot of WLW listeners. But that’s why the show is so awesome — the best part of their shift is all the callers who don’t get it … and the way the hosts fuck with them. www.700wlw.com.

Best Reminder That Cincinnati’s a Funny Place
Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park brought the talents of a legendary comedy troupe to town for the holiday season and sold a ton of tickets. Second City Does Cincinnati: Pride and Porkopolis riffed on oddities and institutions unique to the city and ripe for satire (the streetcar debate, Pete Rose, Larry Flynt, Jerry Springer, Simon Leis) and proved that the Queen City can take a bit of ribbing about itself without getting its shorts in a bunch. 513-421-3888.

Best New Movie Theater
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he latest addition to the Esquire/Mariemont independent theatre tour de force is the Kenwood Theatre, and it’s awesome because it serves alcohol and sushi from Embers (which surprisingly costs about as much as a popcorn and Coke at the big mondoplexes). Compared to its sister theaters, Kenwood screens a more diversified mix of independent films and mainstream flicks such as True Grit and Justin Bieber Never Say Never (probably because they have several more physical theaters than the other two), maintaining the indie spirit with $6 bargain Tuesday. Did we mention the booze and sushi? 7815 Kenwood Road, Kenwood, 513-984-4488, www.kenwoodtheatre.com. (Maija Zummo)

Best Look Around Over-the-Rhine
Queen City Underground (the same guys who do the “Gangster Tours” in Newport) is now offering interesting and entertaining 90-minute tours that delve into the fascinating and sometimes twisted history of Over-the-Rhine, once home to 130 saloons, bars and beer gardens. A great way to pick up some anecdotes and revelations about amusing characters from our city’s past for future dinner party conversation starters. 859-951-8560, www.queencityunderground.com.

Best Wayback Machine
If you really want the lowdown on Cincinnati’s most historic neighborhoods — Over-the-Rhine, Mount Adams, Northside, Walnut Hills, Clifton and Downtown — you need to check out walking tours by Architreks, researched and guided by the smart folks at the Cincinnati Preservation Association. Their “treks” will give you the inside scoop on some of our city’s most fascinating buildings. 513-721-4506, www.cincinnatipreservation.org.

Best Ongoing Celebration of Queerness
For almost two years on the first Friday of each month, brothers, sisters, divas, queers and queer-lovers have all convened on and taken over a single drinking establishment, flashmob-style, for Cincinnati Guerrilla Queer Bar. Revealed on the Internet the day of the party, the location is often a “straight bar” (though gay-friendly venues have also been picked) and each CGQB event is full of drink specials, secret passwords, dancing, photos and fun. See where the next CGQB is at cincinnatiguerrillaqueerbar.blogspot.com.

Best Place to Run into People Who Went to Your High School
After waiting forever for a pricey beer, what’s better than running into the chick who used to let you cheat off of her in Biology? That’s the broad appeal of Newport’s hugely popular slice of Germany, Hofbrauhaus, the spot to be if you want to walk down memory lane, hugging every guy from your 4th grade class along the way. And the best part is, if you drink enough, you can leave those memories at the door (along with that mug you tried to steal — tsk, tsk!). 200 East 3rd St., Newport, 859-491-7200, www.hofbrauhausnewport.com.

Best Big Brother
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now Theatre of Cincinnati, which does a great job with its own alternative theatrical presentations and staging our annual celebration of onstage creativity, the Cincy Fringe Festival, has started to provide a home for developing performing arts groups and artists that don’t have their own place — yet. They call it the Jackson Street Market(the theater is based in a converted nightclub on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine). Among the participants are True Theater, which presents quarterly evenings of monologues about “true” personal events and experiences, and Artemis Exchange, a regular Fringe presenter, which has begun to present more experimental theatrical works on a regular basis. They also host a type of “swap meet” for individual artists under the clever name bARTer. Gives new meaning to being “in the know.” www.knowtheatre.com. (Rick Pender)

Best Bathroom for Girl Talk
You might come in as strangers, but you’ll leave the ladies’ room at Northside club Mayday as gal pals. Maybe the tiny space forces you to get up close and personal with your fellow bathroom dwellers. Maybe women who frequent Mayday are just friendly. Whatever it is, one can’t help but notice how when you enter, you are going to either a) engage in a lengthy, compliment-filled conversation about someone’s hot ensemble, b) hold the door, pass TP and help someone get her dress zipped up or c) hear all the details about a steamy hook-up with some bearded dude at the end of the bar. Girl talk central. 4227 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, 513-541-0999, www.maydaynorthside.com.

Best Bar with “Ass” in the Name and Onstage
It gets a little tedious going to the same bars every weekend and listening to the same live music over and over, so sometimes you need a change. A little T&A with your G&T, if you will. Open since 1973, The Brass Ass pays homage to Newport’s sinful past by bringing barely-clothed babes and booze together for an evening (or afternoon) of drinking and exotic dancing. The Brass’ ladies look like real women — not depressed, anorexic teens — in creative, teeny tiny outfits and really tall shoes. 613 Monmouth St., Newport, 859-261-7011.

Best Bar Comeback
It’s fitting that one of the coolest hangouts from the Main Street Entertainment District of yesteryear made a triumphant comeback just as the area itself was returning to its former bustling glory. Neon’s came back as Neon’s Unplugged without changing any of the elements that made it so great previously, like the vintage bar signs and brick interior and, most importantly, the best outdoor bar and patio in Cincinnati. And dog owners got back one of the finest hotspots in town to take their pooches out drinking. 208 E. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-827-9361, www.neons-unplugged.com.

Best Ramen Noodle Alternative for Budget-Minded College Students
Everyone knows that drinking on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster — drink enough and you just might wake up at Charlie Sheen’s house the next day. Not winning! Murphy’s Pub has long been proactive in helping its student clientele from the nearby University of Cincinnati, offering free grub like pizza and roasted hot dogs throughout the week. And if the food being given away on any given night doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can always load up on the free buttery popcorn. 2329 W. Clifton Ave., Clifton Heights, 513-721-6148, www.murphys-pub.com.

Best Use of a Horrible Part of History as Catalyst for Progress
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he National Underground Railroad Freedom Center created unique and challenging programs (under the direction of Toilyn O’Neal) for the disturbing exhibit Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Speakers included Dr. Shawn-Michelle Smith, professor of visual studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Jerilynn Ifill, civil rights attorney and an authority on the history of lynching in the U.S. The community forum series addressed artistic and community responses to racial violence, the role of women in the civil rights movement and the challenges faced by black male adolescents. The impressive roster of presenters included local artists, performers and scholars. www.freedomcenter.org. (Anne Arenstein)

Best Savior for Cinephiles
CityBeat has chronicled how our local art houses won’t book any film that is simultaneously released to theaters and pay-per-view cable, which leaves Cincinnati without many of the best first-run indie and foreign movies. But local film lovers aren’t totally out of luck, at least if they have cable TV. Time Warner Cable’s “Movies On Demand” service features many important new films that true buffs nationwide are watching and discussing, including Enter the Void, Client 9, Tiny Furniture, White Material and more. Thank you, Time Warner.

Best B-Grade Horror Movie Night
If Quentin Tarantino came to town to film a movie instead of George Clooney, you wouldn’t need a Twitter hashtag to track him down. You’d only need to find out when the next Cincinnati Psych-OTR-onic movie night was taking place. Presented at Over-the-Rhine art space YES and described on its Facebook page as “Cincinnati’s only grindhouse double-feature, playing your favorite B-grade, exploitation, splatter, z-grade, cult and psychotronic films,” organizers have already screened such kitsch classics as The Toxic Avenger, Night of the Creeps and The Evil Dead, a good indication of the quality films to come. www.facebook.com/cincinnatipsychotronic.

Best Unexpected Local Music Booster
Thanks in large part to the efforts of reference librarian Brian Powers, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s main branch downtown has become a superb resource for local music history. Various displays during the past few years have drawn attention to Cincy music’s past, from a King Records overview and panel discussion to a photo exhibit of work by local photographers who specialize in shooting musicians. But you can also do some exploring of local music’s past, present and future between the stacks. The shelves of the downtown library (and some of the other branches) are stocked with lots of CD releases by artists who call Cincinnati home. 513-369-6900, www.cincinnatilibrary.org.

Best Figure Painter in CIncinnati
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anifest Gallery is a touchstone for a revival of classical ideals in representational painting and drawing. One of its instructors in the studio it maintains in Madisonville is the debonair and accomplished Emil Robinson. Robinson’s paintings and drawings of figures, spaces and the poetic potential of the real world around him have been shown all over the country (including recent solo exhibitions at Manifest and the Taft) and in the U.K.

He is currently preparing for a solo exhibition in London at Waterhouse and Dodd Contemporary, and he’s included in the Weston’s recently opened Narrative Figuration exhibition. Beyond his precision and attention to detail, it is Robinson’s tenderhearted approach to his subjects that propels him beyond the pack. The rooms he invites the viewer to look into are breathable and open; his use of materials is fresh and rarely overworked. www.emilrobinson.com. (Matt Morris)

Best Reason To Have Three FM Presets for the Same Station in Your Car
Can you hear WNKU now? The Northern Kentucky public radio station that made headlines by going to an all-music format will no longer frustrate listeners in Cincinnati with choppy reception on its 89.7 FM frequency. Earlier this year the station bought two existing FM frequencies (104.1 and 105.9 FM) that have made ’NKU’s eclectic music offerings (including tracks from locally based performers) available to listeners from Richmond, Ind., to Dayton, Ohio, to Charleston, W.V. 859-572-7897, www.wnku.org.

Best Way to Have Fun and Spin Gender Theories at the Same Time
Support our local drag queens. We have a full gamut in the area, from tranny fish girls to polished comediennes to glamazons with gusto. The newest local endeavor is The Cabaret (1122 Walnut St., next door to Below Zero Lounge) each Thursday through Sunday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. It features many local greats, such as Penny Tration, Monica St. James, Crystyle Starr and our favorites, Shafreaka Jane and her entourage, the cast of The Freak Show. Find them on Facebook or visit www.cabaretcincinnati.com as they get this new project off the ground. And don’t forget to tip your queens. 859-957-7625.

Best Way to Celebrate Catfish
Legendary Funk guitarist Catfish Collins (a member of James Brown’s band and Parliament-Funkadelic with his brother, Bootsy) passed away in August last year to the great sadness of music lovers with a grasp on Catfish’s huge contribution to modern music. But his death led to a big free concert at the Madison Theater that was far more celebratory than mournful. “The Catfish Nation Celebration” concert also introduced The Catfish Nation Musician’s Fund, an organization set up by Bootsy to assist musicians and their families in times of need. www.bootsycollins.com.

Best Magical Moment on a Local Band Recording
Indie Pop foursome Pomegranates’ entire One of Us album is pretty terrific. But the marvelously textured production on the song “Anywhere You Go” is the kind of “pocket symphony” Brian Wilson would envy, with its layers of carefully modulated sound that builds to a soaring Rock & Roll dreamscape sprinkled with soulful harmonies. The Poms outdid themselves on the track, which recalls the best of The Who, Raspberries and Sparks. They should keep their phone lines clear — Mr. Wilson could very well be calling to find out exactly how they crafted such a textural wonder. www.myspace.com/pomegranatesart.com.

Best Return to Active Rock-N-Roll Duty
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ocally born-and-bred Garage Rock heroes The Greenhorneshit a detour in their career when Jack White borrowed the band’s rhythm section, Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence, for The Raconteurs and other projects. But a break in White’s whirlwind activities opened the trio up to return, first with a packed gig at The Comet, then with the release of the new album **** on White’s Third Man Records and subsequent national touring. The Greenhornes’ chemistry and experience made them stronger than ever, something evident in the overwhelmingly positive reception and national attention that greeted their triumphant comeback. www.greenhornes.com. (Mike Breen)

Best Music Video Director
Video artist Pete Ohs has steadily been making big inroads into the Indie music world via his fantastic music videos for bands like The Fiery Furnaces and Wavves. Last year, Ohs helmed the clip for “When I’m With You” by super-buzz band Best Coast and it ended being named on “Best Videos of the Year” lists by Pitchfork and the U.K.’s NME. www.peteohs.com.

Best Classy Concert Experience for Grown Folks
The Redmoor in Mount Lookout Square has become one of the best local venues for live music. You’ll find some of the area’s tightest groups of all stripes vying to play here, including Soul Pocket, The Modulators, Phil DeGreg, Mike Wade and the Kelley Richey Band. Along with a great Thursday Jazz night, solid national acts are also booked occasionally — we’re still kicking ourselves for missing early Folk/Rock trailblazer David Bromberg. 3187 Linwood Ave., Mount Lookout, 513-871-6789, www.theredmoor.com.

Best Horny Night Out
“N’awlins Soul meets Cincinnati Funk” band The Cincy Brass was an instant hit when it began hitting the clubs last year. With nine horn players, a funky drummer and a setlist that includes unique versions of songs by Kanye West, Black Eyed Peas and Lady GaGa, it’s easy to see why the infectious sounds of the troupe caught on so quickly. Mixing the jubilant energy of a New Orleans parade and the marching band in Drumline with the heart and groove of Funk, Hip Hop and Jazz, The Cincy Brass scored a Cincinnati Entertainment Award nomination in its first year. Kick brass, indeed. www.myspace.com/thecincybrass.

Best Dance Music with a Brain
Race Car Productions formed five years ago to help promote underground Dance music artists and DJs from Greater Cincinnati, as well as some of the bigger names on the IDM scene who, without Race Car, might never have thought to perform in the area. Today, Race Car is an international record label featuring artists from California, Brooklyn, Japan, Germany, the U.K., France and beyond, as well as some of Greater Cincinnati’s finest. 513-543-4946, www.racecarproductions.com.

Best Music-Related Art Exhibit
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ach year, Dutch-born, Ohio State-based artist Berry van Boekelpaints portraits based on his 100 most-inspired music-listening experiences of the previous year. He showed the results of 2009 — which featured Bishop Perry Tillis, Acid Mothers Temple, Roland Kirk and some Scandinavian Death Metal — with his funny and sweet exhibit Top 100 2009 at Country Club last fall. And, as his Web site reveals, he’s hard at work on 2010’s list (he’s completed a Marie Osmond painting already). We’ll watch for it at Country Club in 2011. www.berrystop100.blogspot.com. (Steven Rosen)

Best Return to “Cool College Neighborhood” Status
It used to be that when you arrived in a new town and wanted to check out its local music scene, you merely headed to the neighborhood containing the city’s biggest college. Clifton Heights near the University of Cincinnati used to be that neighborhood, but Cincinnati’s music hubs moved elsewhere due to crime and glacially paced redevelopment. But the annual Clifton Heights Music Festival, featuring some of the best artists in town from a wide range of genres, has drawn music lovers to the area and reminded them of the neighborhood’s gradual creative rebirth. The fest returns to the clubs around UC for its fourth installment April 1-2. www.fariromeproductions.com.

Best Piece of Hip Hop History Unearthed Locally
When Napoleon Maddox took a short break from touring in Europe with his Hip Hop/Jazz group IsWhat?! (and several other projects) last year, part of his “downtime” was spent getting into podcasting. Along with some excellent music mixes, Maddox included some of the interviews he did while hosting a show on a local community radio station, including his chat with then-up-and-coming rapper Jay-Z. The interview (conducted in New York in 1995) is fascinating, showing that the poise, insightfulness and smarts the MC is known for were ingrained from the very beginning. www.napsoloforiswhat.podomatic.com.

Best Confirmed Urban Legend Involving a Piano
Since CityBeat moved into 811 Race St., the same building where Hank Williams recorded at the Herzog studio more than half a century ago, we’ve heard whispers about an upright piano in the apartment building next door that Williams would play when staying there during sessions. Last year, the rumor was confirmed when the owner of the building donated the piano to the current occupiers of the Herzog space, Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation. Does this mean the fabled Asteroids arcade game in our basement that Joey Ramone allegedly played for 36 hours straight following a local Ramones tour stop is also real? www.takingyoutothebridge.org.

Best Reason to Feel Even More Superior to Cleveland
Cincinnati Hip Hop was very well represented at last year’s Ohio Hip Hop Awards. Despite past grumbling about supposed Cleveland favoritism (it’s the program’s host city), ’Nati Hip Hop movers and shakers took home a ton of trophies, winning in big categories like Best Group and Best Single (both scored by local collective Beat Gang), as well as taking the awards honoring the best nightclub, promotion company, graphic designer, lyricist, new artist, lyricist and other facets of Ohio Hip Hop. First Cleveland loses King James and now this? www.ohiohiphopawards.com.

Best Local Native You Might See on Saturday Night Live
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incinnati-born Andre Hyland was first seen by local audiences as a member of Tracy, Dean & Jesus, a hilarious satire of nutty cable public access religious shows. Today, Hyland is in L.A. and his profile is rising in the comedy world. Since moving, Hyland has worked with actor/comedian Bob Odenkirk on a show pitched to Comedy Central, was a regular on Fuel TV’s Stupidface series, appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and even scored an audition to join the cast of SNL. Despite not getting the job, Hyland said the audition went very well, so don’t be too shocked if you one day see Hyland following in the footsteps of John Belushi, Adam Sandler, Mike Meyers and, uh, Gary Kroeger. www.blondechili.com. (Mike Breen)

Best Way to Remember We Won’t Get Fooled Again
The local Who Concert Tragedy Memorial Committee initiated efforts to have a memorial marker placed on the plaza level between U.S. Bank Arena and Great American Ball Park, site of the horrible deaths of several fans crushed trying to get in to see The Who perform at Riverfront Coliseum in 1979. One of the worst tragedies in the history of the U.S. concert industry, the catastrophic lack of proper crowd control measures ultimately led to changes in the way concerts are presented and managed. A plaque marking the tragedy won’t bring back those fans back, but it will help us never forget them.

Best Instant Proof of Worthiness
Like the Arcade Fire closing out the Grammys after scoring Best Album honors, Cincy international Rock & Roll sensations Foxy Shazam followed their Cincinnati Entertainment Awards win for “Best Live Act” with a powerful, jaw-dropping mini-set at the CEA’s 2010 ceremony. Anyone in the audience questioning the Warner Bros./Sire recording artists’ victory instantly understood why it and the other trophies they took home were so richly deserved. www.foxyshazam.com.

Best New Music Venue
When Dan McCabe and Chris Schadler, two veteran booking agents responsible for making Greater Cincinnati’s independent music and concert scene what it is today, get involved with opening a new club, expectations are high. But they were met and then some when MOTR Pub opened last fall. And it isn’t just the local and national bands causing MOTR to become a lot of people’s favorite new bar — the creative kitchen offerings, specialty nights, comfy atmosphere and local artwork on display have ensured MOTR’s status as an entertainment destination in its own right. 1345 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-381-6687, www.motrpub.com.

Best Sign MidPoint is Freakin’ Huge
The 2010 MidPoint Music Festival was so popular this year it pissed people off. The huge mass of people trying to get in to see Indie buzz band Surfer Blood started to resemble an angry, torch-bearing mob when schedule delays, ticketing misunderstandings and limited space inside the venue led to many fans being unable to get into the show. The festival’s relatively new introduction of more well-known national acts (including Caribou, Tom Tom Club and Dick Van Parks) into the mix of local, regional and national independent artists has does wonders to raise awareness and attendance. Three words about this September’s MPMF for those still smarting from the Surfer Blood “injustice”: three-day wristband. www.mpmf.com.

Best Place to Start a Miniature Art Collection
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ore than two decades ago, Art Academy professor Gary Gaffney started an annual tradition called Minumentals. All artworks in the show are smaller than 2 inches in any direction and all have been produced by Art Academy affiliates — students, faculty, alumni and staff. That includes a lot of Cincinnati’s better-known artists. Most of the works are very reasonably priced; the majority are well below $100 and many are less than $10. For those interested in collecting art, this is a great opportunity to get small paintings, sculptures, drawings, conceptual pieces and more. The Minumentals exhibit that closed in early March was the last before Gaffney retires in May. 513-562-6262, www.artacademy.edu. (Matt Morris)

Best Revival
Following a two-year absence, UC’s College-Conservatory of Music did a smart thing this year by bringing back the popular “A Moveable Feast” event. A fundraiser for CCM student programs, the Feast showcases the many disciplines taught at one of America’s great conservatories, with backstage tours, student performances and a variety of food samples spread throughout the campus. Let’s hope it’s back for good. 513-556-6638, www.ccm.uc.edu.

Best Triumph Over Dramatic Twists Fit For An Opera
Kudos to Cincinnati Opera for an excellent 90th anniversary season last summer, despite a few curveballs. After famed “Maestro of the Met” James Levine and three lead performers withdrew, the Opera still managed a thrilling performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. Maestro John Keenan stepped in and led a stunning reading of Wagner’s score, then ended the season with a deeply felt La Boheme, directed by British icon and brilliant polymath Jonathan Miller. 513-241-2742, www.cincinnatiopera.com.

Best Glimpse Into Symphonic Music’s Future
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra-sponsored Nouveau Chamber Players is an ensemble of 10 African-American high school students who perform regularly at CSO pre-concert events and throughout the community. Selected by audition, the performers receive lessons and coaching from professional musicians and CSO staff. Many go on to professional music careers. Hear them while they’re still around town — these kids are amazing. 513-381-3300, www.cincinnatisymphony.org.

Best Spot for Brewskies and Bach (Or Brahms. Or Cage)
Some of the most exciting Chamber music around is at Northside Tavern on the second Sunday of each month, courtesy of the casual Classical Revolution night. (Baba Budan’s and the Blue Wisp have also hosted CR events.) Coordinator Vince Scacchetti creates amazing lineups of Classical and contemporary sounds with musicians from the Cincinnati Symphony, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, CCM and regional ensembles. On a given evening, you can hear a Beethoven quartet, a high school guitar virtuoso, Astor Piazzolla’s tangos, brass quartets or Pop/Rock from local band The Newbees and a string section. www.classicalrevolution.org.

Best Reason to Go Back to College
If you love musical theater or opera or drama but don’t have the bucks for the big guns in town, check out the schedule of performances at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music. For a fraction of the price, the productions are often Broadway-worthy. Northern Kentucky University’s theater department is on its way up, too. Recent productions have been excellent and the department’s annual playwrights’ festival spotlights new, emerging voices. 513-556-6638, www.ccm.uc.edu; 859-572-5464, www.nku.edu/~theatre.

Best Signs of the (Earlier) Times
The American Sign Museum, featuring a hearty collection of amazing vintage signs, is the only public museum of its kind in America. With everything from a spinning “Sputnik-like” Satellite Shopland sign from California, show cards from Rat Pack-era Las Vegas and signs with “changeable neon that runs on radio waves” to sign-making tools and equipment, this museum is sure to light up your day or night. The unique local attraction is reportedly moving soon to a bigger space in Camp Washington. 2515 Essex Place, Walnut Hills, 513-258-4020, www.signmuseum.net.

Best Art Nurturer
Manifest Gallery is truly an arts incubator, offering some of the most exciting new exhibitions featuring local, regional and international artists in its East Walnut Hills space. More recently, Manifest stepped up its dedication to the local art scene’s future with the new Manifest Drawing Center Studio in Madisonville, offering classes and workshops taught by some of the area’s leading artists. 513-861-3638, www.manifestgallery.org.

Best Use of Extra Space in a Frame Shop
The ambitious exhibitions that Bill Renschler and Krista Gregory organize in the hallway and rooms leading to Renschler’s frame shop are evidence of the duo’s sharp instincts and web of connections among Cincinnati artists. This year, their Aisle gallery (in the same West End building as Carl Solway Gallery) has begun experimenting with exhibition accoutrement, like small catalogues and souvenirs, such as the buttons produced to accompany Eric Ruschman’s recent solo exhibition. 424 Findlay St., West End, 513-241-3403.

Best Twisted Dinosaur Representations on Public View
No, not the ones the cavemen ride at the Creation “Museum.” Two of legendary Cincinnati sculptor Pat Renick’s most historically significant works are her “Stegowagenvolkssaurus” and “Triceracopter,” from 1974 and 1977, respectively. In 2009, “Stego” was put on display on the third floor of Northern Kentucky University’s W. Frank Steely Library, and now the 30-foot “Triceracopter” is at University of Cincinnati’s Langsam Library. The gigantic dinosaur sculptures are built onto the bodies of refurbished vehicles, in this case a Volkswagen car and an Army combat helicopter. We owe a debt of gratitude to Laura Chapman, Renick’s surviving partner, for making these works available for us to visit and appreciate.

Best Local-Arts-Enriching French Transplant
Loraine Wible is the heart and imagination behind the collective-run Museum Gallery/Gallery Museum in Over-the-Rhine. When she’s not running her gallery, she has developed a lovely visual vocabulary in video installations that have been shown in many of Cincinnati’s alternative art spaces and in a solo exhibition in her native France. Whether making her own work or curating, she is a community-strengthener, always bringing artists together to explore and experiment. www.mg-gm.com.

Best Art World Power Couple:
Writer Keith Banner and painter Bill Ross met at art school in Indiana and have been together ever since. After a decade of championing artists with disabilities at Visionaries and Voices, the two set out on a new project, the year-and-a-half-old nonprofit arts organization Thunder-Sky Inc. Along with keeping alive the legacy of local, untrained artist Raymond Thunder-Sky, they stir up iconoclasm. The exhibitions they curate, the blogs they write and all of Banner’s and Ross’ general activism is taking on and redefining “Outsider Art” and “Folk Art” by running together art traditions and celebrating idiosyncrasy. 513-823-8914, www.thunderskyinc.org.

Best Spills
Sarah Blythe-Stephens is an artist who knows how to restrain her manipulation of a material so that it can be itself profoundly. Blythe-Stephens has developed a working method wherein hydrocal (a plaster-like material) is splashed into molds or across plastic sheets hung from the ceiling of a space. Once dried and hardened, the sheeting and other molds are removed, leaving a fragile, ghostly monument to her actions. White (or sometimes lightly tinted) spills and splatters bear an appearance that is part Pollock painting and part lacework.

Best Dope DJ around
SCPA graduate DJ Clockwork has toured as the official DJ of Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek. He’s currently the DJ for XXL Magazine’s Freshmen Class Artist Mac Miller and his Most Dope crew. Thumbs up sucka!

Best Exhibition for the Taft to Show Its Dark Side
Goya’s dark and witty Los Capprichos etchings drew viewers at the Taft Museum in like a recurring bad dream. It wasn’t just the politically charged prints from more than two centuries ago; the exhibition designers and crew at the Taft created a gloomy, elegant space full of brooding maroon and graphite black walls that matched the tone of Goya’s scenes. The show made great strides in reminding locals “You don’t know Taft” and that there continues to be good reasons to visit this local gem of a museum. 316 Pike St., Downtown, 513-241-0343, www.taftmuseum.org.

Best Way for the Arts to Hang Out on Second Mondays
Pones Inc. — a locally based experimental movement and dance company — is also the progenitor of the bARTer Lab workshops hosted by Know Theatre on the second Monday night of every month. Each evening has a guest discussion leader and a topic to work through and develop activities and prescriptions for how the discussion can be applied to various artistic fields. It’s a warm and friendly setting that allows people from all different arts backgrounds to meet up and get to know — and support — each other. www.ponesinc.com.

Best Move from the Studio to the Garden
Peter Huttinger, one of Cincinnati’s great conceptual artists, has migrated a bit from the standard role of the artist into another of his passions. Along with gaining attention for the humorous, doodling prints that he’s made with Clay Street Press and his kinetic “Sex Machine” sculptures, Huttinger is a hard worker and activist for urban gardening. Currently the Neighborhood Gardens Coordinator for the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati, Huttinger works with the Homeadow Song Farm organization developing programs that center on home-based education, urban agriculture and ethical stewardship of land. 513-542-1745, www.homeadowsongfarm.com.

Best Collages
Billy Renkl, the Tennessee-based artist who recently showed at Manifest Gallery, builds astonishingly detailed and colorful collages out of seemingly archaic material like old books, maps and other didactic sources. The results have new and flourishing life, yet are infused with ghostly history. The engaging work displayed at his Cincinnati show late last year made it clear that Renkl is an artist to keep an eye on.

Best Alternative-Gallery Show
In November, Brighton gallery semantics hosted new drawings and non-traditional sculptural work by Carmel Buckley, a Cincinnatian who teaches at Ohio State. You might never see a better work involving a potato ricer atop a red cloth with white dots — and we mean that seriously. Her show was imaginatively conceived yet executed with sparseness, restraint and determined calmness. 513-348-7261.

Best Cincinnati Art Museum Exhibit
There’s a lot of competition here as Cincinnati Art Museum really starts to pop under the direction of Aaron Betsky. But the end-of-year Wedded Perfection — organized by Cynthia Amneus, curator of fashion arts and textiles — stood out. The museum’s compelling survey of 200 years of wedding gowns balanced the traditional with the avant-garde and the inclusion of Christo’s 1967 sculpture of a wedding dress made from ropes and fabric bales made it clear that the show wasn’t just a sentimental crowd-pleaser. But it was a big, big crowd-pleaser, with triple the attendance of other recent exhibits. 513-721-2787, www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org.

 
 
 
 

 

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