BEST PLACE TO START SOMETHIN’:
While Vine Street might have stolen its thunder with the slew of restaurants and shops that have opened in the Gateway Quarter recently, Main Street still stands out as a haven for new shops, bars and galleries. With rents remaining lower than recently developed parts of OTR, Main Street is the place many small businesses are setting up shop. Head on over for the Final Fridays gallery walk or any weekend night for a good time.
BEST HARDEST BAR TRIVIA:
Every Wednesday at 8 p.m. Molly Malone’s in Covington offers one of the hardest, makes-you-feel-stupid-but-you-keep-going-back-to-try-to-prove-you-aren’t trivia nights in the area. Pub Quiz consists of seven rounds of 10 questions of “common” knowledge trivia with two rounds of general knowledge, two handout rounds, a double points round and rounds with themes like “Martin Sheen,” “The Olympics” and “The Hawaiian Islands” — you know, stuff you typically know off the top of your head. Entry is free. Play alone or with friends. At the end of each “season” qualifying teams compete for a $500 prize. And their weekly $2 beer specials help ease the pain of idiocy. 112 E. Fourth St., Covington, 859-491-6659, covington.mollymalonesirishpub.com.
BEST NEW LOCAL MUSIC PROMO GROUP:
Former Seedy Seeds drummer Brian Penick and local music lover Chandler Dethy co-founded The Counter Rhythm Group as a means to assist some musical acts from Greater Cincinnati who are a “good bounce” away from pushing their careers to the next level. Based on their years of experience in music, the group gathered together its knowledge to help forge the best path to success for local artists, helping them with label deals, bookings, publicity, licensing and other beneficial career opportunities. The group has so far worked with some of the biggest acts in the area, including Walk the Moon, The Pinstripes, The Tillers, Alone at 3 a.m. and Wussy. thecounterrhythmgroup.com
BEST BOMBSHELL TO HIT THE CINCINNATI ART WORLD:
The Cincinnati Bombshells are a group of roughly 15 women, many of them active in art education, who adopt platinum wigs, sunglasses and other elements of disguise to “bomb” landmarks with colorful yarn, thus turning staid knitting into cutting-edge fiber art and performance art. In the past year they’ve struck outside Contemporary Arts Center, in the Great Hall of Cincinnati Art Museum and, most famously, along Central Parkway during the MidPoint Music Festival. They even bombed a bus. We hear they’ll soon be striking at a cat shelter — bet that drives all the kitties wild with delight. thebombshellsyarn.blogspot.com.
BEST LOCAL MUSIC SUCCESS STORY:
Local Indie Pop band Walk the Moon honed its sound to a sharp point and found themselves traveling non-stop and at the center of a whirlwind major label bidding war. Last year, it was announced that the group signed with RCA Records, after which the work just got harder and the tour dates and personal appearances (they’ve been on Carson Daly’s show twice and debut on Jimmy Fallon’s in early April) more frequent. But at local stops along the way, the band members seem as exuberant and excited as ever. Watch and listen for them on TV and radio outlets everywhere once their full-length debut drops this May. walkthemoonband.com.
BEST PLACE TO LOOK GOOD IN A PICTURE WHILE YOU’RE WASTED:
One of the best ways to tell if you’re at a cool party in the area these days is whether or not you see Flashbox Studios’ photo booth at the shindig. The company’s booth has been spotted everywhere from new City Council member Chris Seelbach’s swearing in party to most CityBeat events (of course), taking the concept behind those old-fashioned department store/amusement park booths to new, chic, stylish heights. facebook.com/flashboxstudios.
BEST GALLERY SHOW BY A CINCINNATI PHOTOJOURNALIST:
As an African-American photographer for three decades with the late, lamented Cincinnati Post, Melvin Grier was often the only African-American present while on assignment, and he saw Cincinnatians and their environment with the perceptive, keen eyes of a humanist. Last spring, Kennedy Heights Art Center gave his work the retrospective it deserved in the exhibit White People. The show featured 60 photographs, and there were ongoing exhibition-related activities, including a gallery talk by Grier. whitepeopleretrospective.wordpress.com.
BEST CURE FOR YOUR MUSICNOW HANGOVER:
The popular MusicNOW concerts have helped to bring Modern Classical works to a much wider swath of local music fans each year. Those who become addicted to the “Alternative Chamber music” stylings don’t have to look far to get a more regular fix. The exploratory Chamber music collective concert: nova, made up of musicians from the Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Chamber Orchestras, presents cross-disciplinary concerts throughout the year, ranging from Pieces in the Key of Silence, a collaboration with local actors and dancers which examined the lives of two great Russian composers who came up during the oppressive Stalin regime, to Shut Up and Play Zappa!, a celebration of the work of one of Avant Classical music’s greatest proponents, Rock god Frank Zappa. concertnova.com.
BEST LOCAL MUSIC COMEBACK (NON-HUMAN):
Back in ye olden days of the internets revolution, when it was nothing but a series of tubes, people would flock to things called “message boards” en masse to discuss a wide variety of topics and niches. Then Facebook came along. Cincymusic.com, once a great outlet for local musicians to talk shop (and shit) before totally disappearing a few years back, resurfaced under new ownership this year with a sleeker design, a social networking-like approach and lots of good info on Greater Cincinnati’s musical movers and shakers. cincymusic.com.
BEST CONSISTENTLY AWESOME THEMED ART SHOWS:
The Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center was founded in 2004 to give an artistic heart to the resurgent neighborhood of East Walnut Hills and to provide a wide range of provocative exhibitions. The organization has worked to become an interactive outlet for art students of all ages, but those who just like to observe have been treated to a consistent run of insightful, illuminating exhibits. Great themed shows from Manifest’s eighth season have included collections focused on abstract art, “direct observation” art, the work of professors paired with the work of their students and a display featuring international artists who work with graphite. 2727 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, 513-861-3638, manifestgallery.org.
BEST SOUTHGATE HOUSE FAN:
Nate Rosing’s passion for music is evident to anyone who reads his Broken Mic blog, but it came gushing forth with the announcement that Newport music club The Southgate House would be shuttered and reopened under new management. If Facebook comments could shed tears, his outpouring following the news would have been soaking in them. We saw Nate at so many of the venue’s “final shows,” we’re convinced he lived in the broom closet those final two weeks. Nate’s display of emotion was symbolic of how much of the local music community felt about the move. (If they ever cancel Bonnaroo, his fave festival ever, somebody check in on the guy.) brokenmic.com.
BEST OLD TIME MUSIC REVUE:
Cincinnati Folk troubadour Jake Speed and his band of Freddies brought huge crowds downtown to Arnold’s with an old-fashioned “variety show” featuring comedy, skits and lots of great Americana music. The monthly Old Time Music Revue packed ’em in for two sets for the finale performances in February — it was designed to be a yearlong project — but with the success of the shows, it’s hard to believe it’s the last we’ll see of this entertaining throw-back. freddiesmusic.com.
BEST WAY TO FEEL LIKE A ROCK STAR:
Sexy Time Live Band Karaoke is just how it sounds — the ultimate karaoke experience. You provide the vocals (preferably with some hot dance moves) while a live band of local music vets accompanies you. Be a Rock Star for, like, four minutes! STLBK offers hundreds of song choices, with everything from The Beatles to The Black Keys. The crew currently takes over the back room of Northside Tavern (4163 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513- 542-3603) every Wednesday. facebook.com/LiveBandKaraoke.SexyTime.
BEST LIVE NOIR:
Speaking in Tongues at the Shelterhouse at Playhouse was a play like a fugue, with different voices melding and different outlooks colliding. Andrew Bovell’s jigsaw puzzle thriller requires expert direction and skilled actors to pull off successfully. Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s presentation had both in spades. cincyplay.com.
BEST USE OF HORSE APPLES IN AN ART SHOW:
Curated by Matt Wiseman and featuring artists Jacob Isenhour and Will Tucker, Buy an Hour at Museum Gallery-Gallery Museum in December was an unexpected and engaging mediation on the diverse application of the Osage Orange. Works on paper made with the juice of these scaly green fruits were a pleasure to behold, while kinetic sculptures rolled them across the floor like a giant game of ski-ball. The show was both stupid and profound, a rare and agreeable combination. MG-GM exhibitions are dedicated to the existential exploration of daily life, with a touch of humor and the understanding that we’ll never really be able to understand everything very well. Info:mg-gm.com.
BEST REASON FOR CONCERTGOERS TO LEAVE THEIR MUD-WADING THIGH-HIGH BOOTS AT HOME:
Concerts at Riverbend this year will finally not be fitting for historic recreations of the great Woodstock mud sliding/tossing sessions. It’ll be B.Y.O.M. (bring your own mud) on the outdoor music venue’s lawn in 2012 and beyond, thanks to the installation of fancy new self-draining turf in place of the old grass ’n dirt. 6295 Kellogg Ave., California, 513-232-6220. riverbend.org.
BEST NEW ADDITION TO THE CINCINNATI ART MUSEUM:
Timed perfectly to celebrate the centenary of the great African-American artist Romare Bearden’s birth, the Art Museum’s acquisition of his resplendently spectacular 1978 collage “Mill Hand’s Lunch Bucket (Pittsburgh Memories)” had immediate relevance and long-term significance. Using cut paper and fabric with watercolor, pencil, felt-tip pen and gouache, Bearden created a scene that so lovingly recalls the grit, hopes and labors of black working-class life that inspired playwright August Wilson to create Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. 953 Eden Park Dr., Mount Adams. 513-639-2973. cincinnatiartmuseum.org.
BEST CRAZY EXPERIMENTAL AND AWESOME THEATER FESTIVAL:
May 29 is not that far away — that’s when the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe Festival will kick off 12 days of freaky and fringy shows. Last year’s festival, produced by Know Theater of Cincinnati, was the best-attended in Fringe’s eight-year history: 280 artists in 33 productions viewed by approximately 7,000 people. The fest prides itself on providing opportunities for artists to take risks and experiment with style and content — and it always surprises. Get the deets on this year’s festival at the Fringe Festival lineup announcement party April 18. cincyfringe.com.
BEST REASON TO BLUE YOURSELF IN 2012:
The Blue Man Group will make a rare Cincinnati visit Oct. 16-28, 2012 at the Aronoff. The wild and crazy theatrical experience is a performance act that has been combining comedy, music and technology for more than 10 years. With no spoken language, the trio of guys with blue plastic skin presents a show that’s big, loud, funny, silly, visually arresting — and not easy to describe. The show won a special citation in the 1991 Obie Awards and recognition in 1992 from the Lucille Lortel Awards (for excellence in off-Broadway theatre) and from the Village Voice’s Obie Awards. cincinnati-broadway.com.
BEST BEER FOR AN OPENING RECEPTION:
It should be no surprise to anyone that Pabst Blue Ribbon is the lager of choice when it comes to fueling the art-hopping hipster-set. But for our money, Schlitz is really the way to go. The 16oz “Tall Boy” cans allow you to burnish your proletarian street-cred, while simultaneously letting your audience know that when it comes to being hip, you’re just slightly ahead of the curve. At any rate, they’re all brewed by Miller-Coors. Info: schlitzgusto.com.
BEST PEACEFUL MUSIC VENUE:
If you ever get to the point where you just can’t stomach the thought of going to a packed nightclub to see live music and getting jostled constantly by drunk partiers who appear more interested in tweeting their social life than experiencing it (or live music), The Monastery in Walnut Hills offers something of an oasis
BEST AVANT GARDE PROGRAMMING EXPANSION:
If you ever looked at the schedule at the Wexner Center in Columbus and wondered why Cincinnati’s amazing home to contemporary arts hasn’t made high-quality music and other performance-based art more of a priority, new Performance Curator Drew Klein had an answer. Reinforcing a dedication to a spectrum of avant garde art, under the guidance of Klein and funding from a three-year grant courtesy of the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, the Contemporary Arts Center is becoming the slickest designed music/multimedia hub in town, with appearances by German pianist/composer Volker Bertelmann, tUnE-yArDs and others on the horizon. contemporaryartscenter.org.
BEST PROOF MOST PEOPLE KNOW HEARTLESS BASTARDS ONLY AS AN AUSTIN BAND NOW:
The press release sent out to critics and reporters for rockers Heartless Bastards’ latest (and amazing) Arrow album mentioned the South and the band’s Austin, Tex., home base a few times, but it (and an increasing number of press outlets) completely failed to mention singer/guitarist Erika Wennerstrom’s Ohio beginnings. Erika’s Dayton roots and the formation of the Bastards in Cincinnati weren’t deemed worthy of mention and when David Letterman celebrated their Austin hometown again during a recent appearance, this time there was no reminder of the Buckeye soil from whence they sprang.
BEST NEW FUNNY/COOL RESUME NOTCH FOR CCM ALUMNI:
If you’ve always thought “I’ll believe UC’s College-Conservatory of Music is producing big-time pro players in theater, music, movies and beyond once one of them plays with Lady Gaga!” … well, you’ve made an interesting choice of a “success” indicator. But this past November, four CCM Jazz grads (Steve Kortyka, Brian Newman, Alex Smith and Scott Ritchie) played alongside Tony Bennett and Ms. Gaga on her hit network special, A Very Gaga Thanksgiving, a potential holiday family tradition for a year (or two) to come. (CCM also spawned two Leo DiCaprio co-stars in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar.) How many Gaga sidemen have you produced, Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon School of Music? ccm.uc.edu.
BEST LOCAL MUSIC FLASHBACK:
August’s WEBN Album Project reunion concert at the Madison Theater was a blast from a past when WEBN was an engaging, locally entrenched rebel yell on the radio dial that was so dedicated to the music made in its listening area, the station released yearly album compilations of all homegrown product. (Kudos for the new Frog for hosting free downloads of the comps on its website.) Capped off by a headlining set by the local superstars of that era, the raisins, the show also featured Rockduster, Carefree Day, Dan Barr, Peter Mayer, Haymaker Riot and Johnny Schott, in sadly one of his last appearances in front of a local audience (he passed away in January this year).
BEST PUNK POETICS:
Shawn Abnoxious makes analog poetry for the disenfranchised denizens of the digital age, and his scrappy, DI.Y. delivery methods have defied the role of technology in relation to independent artists gaining exposure. An early print-to-web ’zine publisher, Abnoxious’ outlets now include a highly entertaining blog, several self-/hand-published books of writings and a CD (those huge round plastic things people used to listen to MP3s on) of spoken word with backing music by AB1 called Brandishing the Future.
The Elliston Poet-in-Residence role at the University of Cincinnati, filled by everyone from Robert Frost to contemporary writers like Alice Fulton over the past 60 years, is occupied by the award winning Terrance Hayes this year. Like past P-i-Rs, the National Book Award for Poetry winner in 2010 (for his collection Lighthead) will be on campus throughout May for seminars and workshops as well as public readings, a rare, world-class treat for poetry-lovin’ residents and an mazing opportunity for students. artsci.uc.edu.
BEST MIX OF GENERATIONS AT AN ART OPENING:
Openings at the Contemporary Arts Center are always a “place to be seen” for arts patrons and hip downtowners alike. This March’s opening of Flux’s Spectacle: The Music Video and Dasha Shishkin’s I surrender, dear had an even wider draw than typical openings — from the standard older art appreciators, to the so-called “MTV Generation” (those who grew up in the ‘80s) and even teens. The true attraction, however, was opening performer Dan Deacon. The electronic prodigy brought an unexpected number of young people, many of whom had never been to the CAC before. With his fun beats and infamous interaction with the audience, Deacon turned the entrance-level space into a sea of movement. It was amazing to witness such a huge, diverse crowd get into the music — from crowd-surfing kids to toe-tapping elders. The CAC’s next opening takes place in May. 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, 513-345-8400,
BEST INDIE HIP HOP HEAVYWEIGHTS:
There’s been a renaissance in the world of local concert and event promoters/producers, with more and more independent organizations attracting huge crowds for touring artists who might otherwise pass Greater Cincinnati by on their travel itinerary. Filling the Hip Hop niche magnificently has been Self Diploma, a promoter that has packed venues from Fountain Square to Bogart’s by presenting top-shelf Hip Hop MCs and DJs, both established and coming up, local and national. selfdiploma.com.
BEST EXHIBITED PROOF THAT SIZE ISN’T EVERYTHNG:
Cincinnati Art Museum’s European painting curator Benedict Leca showed that big isn’t always better. The current Monet exhibition and his Thomas Gainsborough show last year each have only about a dozen paintings, but because they focus on particular facets of each artist’s work, they are more enlightening than many larger shows. cincinnatiartmuseum.org.
BEST MUSIC FEST DEBUTANTE POTENTIAL:
Forget Portland — the dream of the ’90s will be alive along Cincinnati’s riverfront when the first Bunbury Music Festival goes down July 13-15 at Sawyer Point and Yeatman’s Cove. The festival’s big headliners announced in February all had a role in shaping the Alternative music revolution: Weezer, Death Cab for Cutie and Jane’s Addiction, featuring AltRock festival pioneer Perry Farrell. Other acts announced so far include Gym Glass Heroes and Airborne Toxic Event. bunburyfestival.com.
BEST REASON TO CHANNEL YOUR INNER-BARD (AND OTHER FAMOUS PERSONS):
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s 2012-13 season will welcome a bunch of classic characters: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Atticus Finch, Romeo and Juliet, Lady Bracknell, Nick Bottom and Puck. Oh, and a few kings and generals — Richard II and the bloody Titus Andronicus — plus a hearty dose of laughs with reprises of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). And don’t forget about some of the Bard’s classics, A Midsummer Night’s DreamMeasure for Measure. 719 Race St., Downtown, 513- 381-2273, cincyshakes.com. and
BEST UNDERGROUND GALLERY (LITERALLY):
For the past several months, Art Academy of Cincinnati sculpture Professor Keith Benjamin — formerly of Warsaw Projects — has been running an elicit gallery out of, well, his basement office. Faculty Office shows rotate on a regular basis and openings coincide with Final Friday receptions at the Art Academy. Open weekly during office hours. Contact: email@example.com.
BEST BITTERSWEET REMINDER OF HOW MUCH A COOL VENUE CAN MEAN TO A MUSIC COMMUNITY:
The odd family drama that resulted in the Southgate House changing management was like losing a friend, leaving a hole in the heart of Northern Kentucky’s fortunately blossoming original live music venue scene. Many are curious and/or eager to see what becomes of the old house (now the Thompson House), as well as what the former managers (who helped bring the House national acclaim) come up with at their yet to be announced new venue. Keep tabs at southgatehouse.com.
BEST QUASI UNDERGROUND PARIS JAZZ CLUB:
Everything’s legal and above-board at Schwartz Point at the foot of the Vine Street hill (at that crazy five-way stop) on your way downtown from Clifton, but you can’t be blamed for thinking you’re in some European speakeasy if you stop in to check out some of the top-notch local Jazz talent performing. 1901 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine 513-651-2236, schwartzspoint.com.
BEST 10TH ANNIVERSARY MUSIC FEST BLOWOUT: The 10th year was the best in the history of the MidPoint Music Festival. (Full disclosure: CityBeat owns and operates the annual kick-ass cutting edge, live music explosion.) Keeping most venues situated in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood made it the most walkable yet, the new state-of-the-art School for Creative and Performing Arts hosted two great all-ages, the attendance number reached record highs and the quality of lineup was indisputably the finest yet. Get ready as MPMF.12 tries to leap that high-set bar once again Sept. 27-29. Performer registration is now open! mpmf.com.
BEST TEMPORARY STREET RENOVATION:
The introduction of the MidPoint Midway at the 2011 MidPoint Music Festival turned the usually somewhat desolate 12th Street into a hip carnival, with an acoustic stage, lots of food (and other) vendors and the introduction of the Box Truck Carnival, featuring several simple box trucks turned into everything from an actual carnival and mini-golf “course” to a skate ramp and art gallery. The possibilities of further expansion of the Midway is a thrilling prospect. mpmf.com.
BEST ARTISTIC WAY TO ROUND OUT YOUR MONTH:
The Over-the-Rhine Final Friday Gallery Walk is a staple of the Cincinnati social and artistic scene, and for good reason. Once a month the galleries and shops of north Main Street and historic Pendleton open their doors to the public to view new art exhibits, meet and greet artists, enjoy refreshments and enjoy late shopping hours on everything from vintage modern furniture to housewares to boutique clothing. And it’s all free (unless you want to buy art, furniture, clothing, etc.). 6-10 p.m. the final Friday of each month.
BEST DANCE COMPANY PUSHING THE ENVELOPE:
MamLuft&Co. Dance company’s 2011-12 season was based on a theme of fives: Pieces was a new work in five sections performed at the Aronoff Center in February, along with five additional pieces choreographed by guest artists. MamLuft’s mission is to advocate for modern dance while making the art form accessible and affordable. The company offers classes and workshops for adults during the summer and free and low-cost education for children, along with summer kids’ camps and education. mamluftcodance.org.
BEST WAY TO EXPLORE THE HUMAN CONDITION ON THE BIG SCREEN:
Cincy World Cinema expressly states in its mission that it believes through film the community can explore the human condition and celebrate cultural diversity. The organization frequently brings filmmakers and local film authorities to its events to allow dialogue to continue the themes and experiences offered by the many genres of film it presents. Its website includes a community film calendar, along with links to news, reviews and trailers. Cincy World Cinema also has an educational focus, with outreach efforts geared toward providing age-appropriate film and discussion formats for community, educational and institutional venues. cincyworldcinema.org.
BEST MUSIC VENUE IMPROVEMENT (MID-SIZED CLUB DIVISION):
Bogart’s didn’t drastically reinvent itself physically (though those hell-hole bathrooms were finally upgraded), but the longstanding live music staple finally paid some attention to its problems in the “customer-friendliness” department. No more violent pat-downs and ink pen and lighter confiscations at the door; no more feeling like you’re annoying the bartenders when you order a beer; and no more overzealous bouncers (unless you deserve it). It’s a long overdue change that will hopefully help Bogart’s become the cherished local gem it once was (instead of the kind of place many people held their noses and came into only to catch their favorite bands). And maybe it’ll bring the Corryville neighborhood back up to snuff along with it. 2621 Vine St., Corryville, 513-281-8400, bogarts.com.
BEST MUSIC VENUE IMPROVEMENT (THEATER DIVISION):
The Taft Theatre was missed as a concert and performance venue when it shut down for a major renovation project. The reopened Taft returned better than ever last year and, earlier this year, it was announced that the new Ballroom at the Taft room would present a mix of local and touring acts not quite ready for the big room, but too big for small clubs. Locals like Bad Veins and Magnolia Mountain booked the new Ballroom space for album release parties, and national acts like Low, Dawes, Great Lake Swimmers and Corrosion of Conformity are coming through the new space. 317 E. 5th St., Downtown, 513-232-6220. Search “Taft Theatre” at livenation.com for show and venue info.
BEST DOG-FRIENDLY SPOT FOR OUTDOOR DRINKS PLUS GIANT JENGA:
It’s no secret that Over-the-Rhine is getting increasingly cooler by the month. One staple of the neighborhood’s turnaround, at least during the last year-plus, has been Neons Unplugged, a big-city style bar with a large outdoor patio and giant Jenga games randomly crashing to the floor during any given evening. Neons’ interior is a long, thin room with a big bar offering local and craft brews plus freshly prepared and creative craft cocktails. If a fired-up grill and Reds games on TV outside during summer months isn’t enough, the fact that dogs are allowed during all hours pretty much puts Neons over the top. 208 E. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine,
BEST WEEKEND TO COMBINE A LOCAL CULTURAL CELEBRATION WITH MASS SPORTS:
September is one of the best months in Cincinnati — mild weather, cultural celebrations, lots of beloved sports schedules overlapping. And no weekend better demonstrates how much we love our festivals, sports contests and recreation in general than the weekend of Sept. 21-23, 2012. Not only will Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati take place — the largest Oktoberfest in the U.S. and the second-largest in the world — the Reds will host the Los Angeles Dodgers all three days, and the Bengals and University of Cincinnati football team will play games on Saturday and Sunday (neither schedule has been finalized, so either could be out of town). It’s safe to say that a large number of locals will be consuming numerous alcoholic beverages this weekend — might want to go ahead and ask for Monday, Sept. 24 off right now. oktoberfestzinzinnati.com.
BEST FREE MUSIC:
The Recording Label is the brainchild of Pop Empire member Cameron Cochran, an online “record label” that has released full-lengths and EPs by Cincy-area bands like The Kickaways, Vacation, Sacred Spirits and others. And not only are all of the downloads totally free (they don’t even require you to give up your email address for later spam barrage!) — every release is also totally excellent. therecordinglabel.com.
BEST COVER ALBUM:
Taking a cue from the incomparable Beck (who conducts a similar project in California), several local musicians created a “Record Club” where they go into the studio and re-record a favorite album, start to finish. The first one — their version of The Police’s Ghost in the Machine record — surpassed a lot of Beck’s club’s output, quality-wise. Headed up by producer Steve Wethington and featuring musicians from local bands like Knife The Symphony, The Chocolate Horse, State Song, Oso Bear, The Turkeys and others, the posse proved that while Ghost’s synthesizers and sketchy production make it sound dated, the core material still holds up. Download available for free at web.me.com/stevewethington/Site/home.html.
BEST ALBUM COVER:
The cover of Indie group The Chocolate Horse’s amazing full-length Beasts is a throwback to when album covers meant something and were works of art in their own right, with its mysterious, creepy, dark photo of someone peaking from behind a door in a horse-head mask. The vinyl version (printed on yellow vinyl) is so pretty, we wouldn’t be surprised if some people bought it without hearing a note first. thechocolatehorse.com.
BEST REASON TO PUT AWAY YOUR SPACE PHONE:
Theatergoing is an intimate experience, a chance to escape the everyday world and connect with different people or places or situations. That’s why it is annoying and downright burdensome (that’s right — burdensome!) to see the lit-up faces of fellow performance attendees while we’re trying to understand the action on the stage. We’re all for theaters and other performing arts using media like Twitter creatively to build awareness of a performance — that kind of publicity is a powerful way to build interest in a production or a concert. But let’s contain it to times when socializing is acceptable.
BEST WAY TO GET ‘STEAL MY SUNSHINE’ STUCK IN YOUR HEAD FOR A WEEK:
Before the 2000s nostalgia kicks into full gear (any day now …), be sure you’ve had your fill of ’90s music by hitting up Northside club Mayday the second Saturday of each month. Boozing My Religion is a free ’90s dance party presented by The Projectmill (the folks behind Northside Tavern’s popular Dance_MF events). And, yes, they will play BBV’s “Poison” for you, if you ask nicely. Boozing.theprojectmill.com; maydaynorthside.com.
BEST LOCAL STREET MIMICKING BROADWAY, N.Y.:
New York City might have the real Broadway, but Cincinnati has Walnut — and that’s the street where the 2012-2013 season of touring productions presented by Broadway in Cincinnati will mark a quarter-century of bringing high-quality shows to the Aronoff Center, which the series has called home since it opened in 1995. The shows that will keep the facility humming — not to mention nearby restaurants — include the funky Blue Man Group (Oct. 16-28), plus a selection of shows that have been Broadway hits and award winners such as Jersey Boys (Nov. 28-Dec. 9, 2012), Peter Pan (March 12-17, 2013), Sister Act (April 30-May 12, 2013) and the 2011 Tony Award-winner for best drama, War Horse (March 26-April 7, 2013). cincinnati-broadway.com.
BEST REASON FOR DUBSTEP FANS TO RENT AN APARTMENT IN NORTHERN KENTUCKY:
A cultural example of Greater Cincinnati being the opposite of its outdated backwoods, art-less stereotype is that promotional company Next Era Entertainment has turned the area into a destination for fans of today’s top EDM artists, particularly in their booking of the stars of Dubstep at Madison Theater and other (mostly) Covington venues. Also working with its own roster of talented local/regional DJs, over the past three years Next Era is responsible for bringing in heavy-hitting artists like Flux Pavilion, Borgore, Caspa and practically any other you can name. facebook.com/nexteraent.
BEST CINCINNATI ART GALLERY FOR THE PAST 50 YEARS AND COUNTING:
There isn’t really much competition here — no local gallery besides Carl Solway has shown world-class contemporary art for that long here. But even if it was in New York or Los Angeles all these years, Solway could give others a run for the money because of his championing of Nam June Paik, John Cage, Richard Hamilton, Buckminster Fuller and many others. To celebrate his 50th year, Solway and son Michael in January put together a museum-worthy show of work by the late, great Cage — a wise man who combined music with visual art — and his many friends. It’s up through April 20. 424 Findlay St., West End. 513-621-0069. solwaygallery.com.
BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL SINGLE WORK OF ART DISPLAYED IN A GALLERY:
Terry Berlier, a Cincinnati native who now teaches art and art history at Stanford University, is an interdisciplinary artist who quickly is developing a national reputation. For the multi-artist show Material Witness, at downtown’s Weston Gallery from December through February, she contributed an exquisite “floating” wood sculpture — “Perfect Lovers” — that represented the cross sections of two trees, suspended in air horn-like but meeting in the center like a kiss. It exquisitely mixed fragility and impermanence with durability and transcendence, and will be long remembered.
BEST LOCAL MUSIC COMEBACK (HUMAN):
Indie Folk singer/songwriter Jeremy Pinnell, who made sweet music with The Great Depression, The Brothers and the Sisters and The Light Wires but seemed to leave those projects once they started really taking off, resurfaced with a new band in 2012 — Jeremy Pinnell and the 55s, a more trad Country outfit. Though with Pinnell’s distinct, magnetic vocals, it ultimately just sounds like Jeremy Pinnell at his finest. Look ’em up on Facebook to learn more.
BEST EVIDENCE OF CINCINNATI’S DEEP AND TALENTED THEATER SCENE:
Cincinnati is blessed with a strong community theater scene. These smaller venues offer thoughtful and creative productions in neighborhood venues at a fraction of the cost of larger productions. Last year marked the 75th year that Mariemont Players has been in business, generally offering five or six productions annually at the Walton Creek Theater, a converted 1910 schoolhouse just east of the Village of Mariemont. Two other well-established companies, Footlighters Inc. and Cincinnati Music Theater, have long established homes, too — Footlighters in the Stained Glass Theater in Newport (in an 1882 church designed by Samuel Hannaford), and CMT, a regular at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater since 1995. Showbiz Players, which marked its 25th anniversary in 2011, has performed for a while at Xavier University and then at the Madisonville Arts Center. Now they’ve decided to move to a venue that’s fast becoming a respected spot for excellent theatrical entertainment, the Otto M. Budig Theater at Covington’s Carnegie Center.
BEST NEW DEMO FORMAT FOR MUSICIANS:
There once was a day when we’d cringe if a local band sent a VHS with “music videos” on it with their press kits. But with the same increased affordability that has allowed home recording to grow leaps and bounds in terms of quality, more and more artists are making quite impressive music videos with friends or on their own. A new kind of “show and tell” format to let people know what they’re all about, locals releasing artful, low-budget clips ready for MTV (if they still played videos) include The Lions Rampant, Walk the Moon, Shiny and the Spoon and Magnolia Mountain.
BEST PLACE TO PLAY YOUR VINYL RECORDS WHILE HAVING A COFFEE OR A BEER OR OTHER ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE:
H.D. Beans & Bottles Café in Silverton is an ultra-friendly neighborhood bar/coffee house, where people sit in the front room to talk, read their laptops or The New York Times and have sandwiches, bottled beer and more. But the back room is equipped with a great sound/video system and sometimes the Café has music. At 7:30 p.m. on the last Tuesday evening of each month, fans and collectors of vinyl records come to play and discuss their favorite discs. It’s a place to hear, cheer and argue about everything old from Sun Ra to Tiny Tim to Herman’s Hermits, as well as hear the latest vinyl releases. 6721 Montgomery Road, Silverton. 513-793-6036.
BEST CINCINNATI ROCK CONCERT OF 2011:
Curated by Cincy native and member of internationally acclaimed Indie Rock band The National, Bryce Dessner, the MusicNOW festival is moving away from Rock this year toward Contemporary Classical, which is great and definitely needed in this city. But we shouldn’t forgot how cutting-edge, thought-provoking and nationally important some of MusicNOW’s Rock shows have been. Last year’s opening-night show set a standard for progressivism for both the fest and Cincinnati music in 2011. It paired then-new, theatrically dramatic songs by Shara Worden/My Brightest Diamond (with yMusic) with an in-progress project by Megafaun and Fight the Big Bull (and special guests) to reinterpret old Alan Lomax field recordings of regional Southern music into something reverent to its source yet also excitingly alive and even avant-garde. musicnowfestival.org.