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2013 Arts & Nightlife: Staff Picks

By Staff · April 3rd, 2013 · Arts & Entertainment
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BEST LOCAL ACTRESS/SINGER-SONGWRITER EXTRAORDINAIRE

Ever since the 2002 release of So Black, So Bright, Kim Taylor has been embraced by the local music community and beyond, her sultry, evocative sound catching the ears of TV music licensers, leading to song placements in numerous network shows. But Taylor recently surprised fans with her impressive other talent — acting. And not in some community theater production. Taylor was cast as one of the stars of the independent film, I Used to Be Darker, which has become a favorite on the film festival circuit, including at Sundance, where it was picked up for distribution. kim-taylor.net.

BEST BEAUTIFUL PHOTOGRAPH DISPLAYED AT A CINCINNATI GALLERY

It is not uncommon to see photographers and other artists use books as material, trying to rid us of our preconceptions of them as reading material — receptacles, of a sort, for words — so we can appreciate them as firm but pliable objects. But a black-and-white photograph by Laura Hennessy, “Dictionary (Book Series),” from a fall show at Manifest Gallery called Deus Ex Machina, did it so beautifully, so transcendentally, that it was like looking at a hallucinatory mandala and seeing Godhead. She did it by forcing the spine into a circle so the pages curved around the center like a gloriously luminescent head of hair. manifestgallery.org.

BEST LOCAL HIP HOP TREND

Putting on a good live show is tough for Hip Hop artists, who often have to rely on just a DJ and/or recorded backing tracks (and maybe a couple of back-up dancers) to put on a concert. But the growing trend of Hip Hop acts utilizing live bands has hit Cincinnati strong in the past few years. Artists like Gold Shoes, Those Guys and Eclipse have become some of the city’s best Hip Hop groups by not only writing smart, powerful music, but performing it with dynamic live instrumentation. Nothing wrong with “two turntables and a microphone,” but there’s nothing quite like the power of humans playing real instruments in a live setting. Just ask The Roots.

BEST REVIVAL OF AN OLD-SCHOOL ART

Thanks to Dita Von Teese and the revival of all things retro, burlesque dancing is a popular attraction yet again. The ladies of Cin City Burlesque represent the trend locally, masterfully blending classic dance form with sexy striptease. CCB offers a huge range of performances, but think cheeky, not trashy: lots of fishnet, feathers and plenty of pasties! Hot mamas of all shapes and sizes shimmy onstage and they even offer workshops for women to learn and perform the age-old art. Physical activity, body acceptance and some new moves to show off to that special someone? That’s a win-win(-win). After all, cleavage is awesome, but confidence is always a sexy attribute. We’d go on, but you know what they say: Always leave them wanting more. cincityburlesque.com.

BEST ANNUAL DOSE OF WHAT’S NEW

It’s hard to think of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival as an institution, but in June it marks its 10th anniversary. It just keeps on growing, last year by nearly 10 percent, with dozens of sold-out performances of out-there theater, dance and other things that defy categorizing. At venues throughout Over-the-Rhine, hundreds of artists, local and touring, make this the most lively two weeks on Cincinnati’s local arts scene, a welcome jolt of creativity and community. Know Theatre’s Underground Bar on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine is Ground Zero for 10 days, where everyone lives by the mantra, “Kinda weird, just like us.” cincyfringe.com.

BEST SPACING OUT OF MAJOR MUSIC EVENTS

For more than a decade, Cincinnati’s MidPoint Music Festival comes along each September and wipes out the brain function of CityBeat’s event and music staff, who — like some MPMF fans — put every ounce of energy they have into making the music festival a memorable one. Then, the day after, with cobwebs still overrunning their brains, those same staffers had to turn around and build CityBeat’s second huge annual music event, the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, which were traditionally held less than two months after MPMF. Out of sheer mercy, the CEAs were moved back to mid-January, which, judging by the stellar turnout and less glazed-over look in the eyes of staffers, is where it’ll be for the foreseeable future. mpmf.com, citybeat.com.

BEST MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER CINCINNATI EXPERIENCE

Comedy group Bombs Away! (which hosts a comedy open mic night every second and fourth Monday at Mayday in Northside) has taken movie watching to hilarious new heights with its Cinema Toast Crunch series. Similar to Mystery Science Theater (without the robots), the group screens debatably bad films — Dark Crystal, Mommie Dearest, Friday the 13th Part VIII — at local theaters and riffs on them during the viewing, providing running commentary. And you don’t just have to listen to them. Audience members are able to tweet their own jokes to Bombs Away! and they’ll pop up on the big screen. bombsawaycincy.wordpress.com. 

BEST CINCINNATI VISUAL ARTS FESTIVAL — EVER

From the start, FotoFocus — the photography and time-based visual-art festival founded by former CityBeat founding owner Thomas Schiff and directed by Mary Ellen Goeke — had high ambitions to involve virtually every visual-art space in town with some kind of show, plus have a cluster of major events and exhibitions. It turned out that wasn’t hyperbole — FotoFocus did what it said and was the talk of the town, arts-wise. One big reason for the success was the keen participation of James Crump, Cincinnati Art Museum’s dynamic photography curator/chief curator. The museum hosted the beautifully provocative Herb Ritts: L.A. Style show. Crump has since resigned, but FotoFocus’ plans for 2014 are going forward. Onward and upward, we hope. fotofocuscincinnati.org.

BEST NEW MIDPOINT VENUE

Though some crotchety old man claimed his entire Over-the-Rhine neighborhood was being turned into a toilet by bladder-filled music lovers, the addition of the gorgeous, remodeled Washington Park to 2012’s MidPoint Music Festival (the most successful in the fest’s history) was a big hit. Hosting headliners like Grizzly Bear and Andrew Bird, the stage was aesthetically dazzling thanks to having Music Hall as a backdrop and the classic buildings of OTR all around. The sound sparkled and the large, field-like greenspace created a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere — with plenty of toilets, should the mood strike. It’s exciting to think who will be performing on the stage at 2013’s MPMF (Sept. 26-28). mpmf.com.

BEST THEATRICAL ROCKERS

Just as the Ensemble Theatre did years ago when it produced Hedwig and the Angry Inch, producers of the acclaimed, rough and raw musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at Know Theater last year looked to local musicians to perform the live music for the staging. The great Rock crew The Dukes Are Dead handled the role expertly, though, sadly, someone must have referenced MacBeth during the play’s run because the band was officially dead (not literally; it broke up) just a few months later (though the members are continuing to play music in other formations). 

BEST LOCAL TO BRUSH SHOULDERS WITH RUPAUL

Cincinnati-based drag queen Penny Tration (government name: Tony Cody) was selected to be on the fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race via a Facebook fan vote. The Logo reality show pits professional drag entertainers against one another in challenges that require modeling, dancing, singing, costume and makeup design and usually a few crazy surprise elements. Unfortunately, our girl was the first to “sashay away,” but you can check out her weekly shows at The Cabaret (above Below Zero Lounge, 1122 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine) and at countless other gigs. Condragulations, Penny! dqpenny.com.

BEST CONCERT FOR A POLITICAL CAUSE

Despite some backlash from disagreeable fans, the Cincinnati-born and -bred musicians in internationally successful Indie Rock group The National returned to work on the Obama presidential campaign last year. Like they did during the 2008 campaign, the members came back to their hometown to stump for Obama via a free concert. That first stop was on Fountain Square with The Breeders and was free for all, but for The National’s 2012 vote-for-Obama event, the concert was held at The Emery Theatre and attendees had to get tickets from Obama’s local campaign HQ and agree to volunteer for the campaign (though how many actually did is unclear). While this seemed to turn some fans off (the show wasn’t as well-attended as the Fountain Square rally), dedicated National lovers who agreed with the band’s political views (or didn’t care either way) were treated to a rare, fairly intimate and unsurprisingly riveting show. 

BEST IMMERSIVE SITE-SPECIFIC ART EXHIBIT

As part of FotoFocus, Cincinnati Art Museum sponsored a visit from Doug and Mike Starn, as they set up their frighteningly phantasmagoric Gravity of Light installation at the old, decrepit Holy Cross-Immaculata Church in Mount Adams. Watching while the white light/white heat eruptions of searing brilliance from the carbon arc lamp gave light to the eerie, transfixing, pieced-together monumental photographs on the walls, it felt as profound a contemporary art experience as any in Cincinnati recently. One hopes the church, owned by Towne Properties, can be used for future art installations, maybe for an endowed series. 

BEST NEW MUSIC FEST IN THE MIDWEST

In its very first year, the Bunbury Music Festival proved itself to be a serious competitor with similar “destination festivals” around the region, hosting top-shelf headliners at gorgeous Sawyer Point Park over three days in July. The fest’s headliners were an excellent “history of Alt music” lesson, with one of the Alternative music revolution’s original instigators (Jane’s Addiction), one of the most commercially successful bands to benefit from the revolution (Weezer) and one of today’s biggest Alt (or, as it’s apparently called now, “Indie”) bands, Death Cab for Cutie. Fleshed out by a slew of local acts and great on-the-verge performers, as well as a DJ stage and tons of various vendors and side-attractions, Bunbury has put itself in good position to be a long-running Cincinnati music tradition. The fest returns this July with headliners like fun., MGMT and The National. Tickets and more info: bunburyfestival.com. 

BEST MOVE BY THE CSO

Louis Langrée looks promising as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s new music director, the position to which he was named in 2012 but is only now taking over. But the CSO’s best move musically, in terms of immediate reward, was making the great Philip Glass one of its creative directors for the 2011-2012 season. And on a whirlwind March weekend, he arrived for the breathtaking world premiere of his Cello Concerto No. 2, “Naqoyqatsi,” featuring soloist Matt Haimovitz, while also appearing with eighth blackbird at MusicNOW. This put the CSO right in the middle of the hip “new contemporary music” movement that has made MusicNOW such a success. cincinnatisymphony.org.

BEST BRIDGING OF A GENERATION GAP

Max Unterhaslberger is still a teen. Phyllis Weston is a nonagenarian. Unterhaslberger, a Purcell Marian grad, makes spray-painted, graffiti-influenced works in the basement of Weston’s gallery; the grande dame of Cincinnati’s visual arts scene presents them to a sought-after, fine art audience. Expect to see more of Unterhaslberger’s vibrant (and affordable) art in 2013, as the star of last April’s Paper Trail show at the gallery completes his first year at the Art Academy. Phyllis Weston Gallery, 2005½ Madison Road, O’Bryonville, 513-321-5200, phylliswestongallery.com. 

BEST ARSON PREVENTION AT 2:30 A.M.

We all know that there have been more than a handful of times in which we’ve stumbled home from a bar after all the good restaurants closed and somehow managed to make a box of mac and cheese while in a state of mind … less than ideal for dealing with extreme heat. Last year, the launch of Cincy Night Owl Market (NOM) saved us from limp pasta and smoke alarms and opened us up to a whole new world of late-night urban dining with artisan food trucks, live music and even some crafty stuff for sale. For their second year, they’re coming back with Saturday nights added into the mix. 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Final Fridays and Saturdays, along with other special event nights as scheduled. Cincy Night Owl Market, 1107 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, cincynom.com. 

BEST FACSIMILE OF OFF-BROADWAY IN CINCINNATI

A subscription to Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati — “your premiere theater” — is like a ticket to New York City. Every show at ETC is new to local audiences, sometimes the first production of a show after being a hit in New York, such as the powerful musical next to normal or the heady Freud’s Last Session. Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers’ unerring taste and dogged persistence in obtaining rights has ETC’s subscribers so satisfied they sign up for more even before a season is announced. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-421-3555, ensemblecincinnati.org. 

BEST WAY TO ALIENATE NERDS AND OLD PEOPLE

The 2013 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards in November at the Madison Theater in Covington featured great performances from nominated artists such as Bad Veins, Gold Shoes, Jess Lamb, Ricky Nye, 46 Long and Culture Queer. Local Punk greats The Dopamines didn’t disappoint either, though bassist Jon Weiner managed to insult the majority of the audience before playing a note. As the band launched into its short set, Weiner said, “What’s up, nerds?” Then, realizing there were people older than him in the crowd, he did his Punk Rock duty and added a hello to the “old fucks” in attendance. Ah, we remember when we had our first beer. 

BEST ARTS HARMONY

What began as an effort to bring young adult singers together has become a veritable movement. Kelly Ann Nelson’s Young Professionals’ Choral Collective has scored with audiences who love to hear voices singing. In 2012 the group’s first concert with 40 singers, “Sin & Tonic,” drew a big crowd to Below Zero in OTR. A year later, “Black & Blues,” a gala evening of choral and Jazz singing accompanied by the Cincy Brass, filled the Cincinnati Club at Garfield Park. Audiences keep growing, as does the chorus, now powered by more than 100 singers from across the city. facebook.com/choralcollective.

BEST WEARABLE LOCAL BAND RELEASE 

Music formats have changed a lot over the years, from vinyl and 8-track to cassettes and CDs to the “nothingness” of today’s boring ol’ computer files. Groovy Cincinnati rockers DAAP Girls went the MP3 route (as well as CD) with their debut album, Tape Songs, but with a twist. The all-star local crew (featuring members of The Lions Rampant and Newport Secret Six) held an album release party in February where fans could purchase the new LP on … slap bracelets? In what is an apparent first, purchasers received a download code for the album printed on wrap-around bracelets decorated with the album’s artwork design elements. If DAAP Girls put out a new single sometime soon, may we suggest toe rings? facebook.com/DAAPgirls.

BEST SIGN PEOPLE STILL WANT RECORD STORES

With Shake It Records, Northside is home to one of the best record shops in the country (for the kids, those are actual, physical stores that sell music on things called “vinyl” and “CDs”). So it’s a testament to ye olde record shoppe’s enduring popularity that a new record store would open (and stay open) in the same neighborhood. In fact, Black Plastic Records opened within a block of Shake It in 2012, selling used vinyl and more, including lots of rare and out-of-print selections. Black Plastic — which has also hosted live in-store performances — buys, sells and trades, so if you’ve been sucked into the MP3-only world (or have all your music in a “cloud”), bring your collection in and turn it into cash (or more cool records). The store also has some of the coolest unique T-shirts you’ll find — homages to things like Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover and the Black Flag logo, graphically “remixed” into the shape of Ohio. Black Plastic Records, 4027 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-258-0535, facebook.com/blackplasticrecords.

BEST PLACE TO DRINK AND WORK

Highland Coffee House resurrects the lure and lore that coffeehouses had in the early ’90s. Mismatched furniture, a plethora of live plants, vintage espresso machines, board games, grungy nooks and crannies and a big outdoor patio invite hours of hanging and drinking — coffee or booze or coffee with booze. It’s a place to sit and relax and enjoy the character of your surroundings: watching artists and students scribbling away on notepads or conversing with Jay, the ever-present employee/maybe manager/friendliest human on earth. It’s incredibly laid-back, so expect European-esque service when ordering menu-favorite Thai coffee or one of the plethora of affordable beers and cocktails. Highlands is open until 2 a.m. every night, so it’s a perfect place for a chill night out, a study spot or just a quiet place to relax. 2839 Highland Ave., Corryville, 513-861-4151. 

BEST PIANO CONCERTO

At a November American Voices concert honoring great American Modernist composers, UC College-Conservatory of Music first-year graduate student Kris Rucinski wowed and thrilled an audience with his performance of Lou Harrison’s challenging, complicated Piano Concerto. The late Harrison wrote it for Keith Jarrett, an indication of just how demanding a work it is.

By turns fiery and meditative, developing through four challenging movements, it is as much Cecil Taylor-ish eruptive Jazz as it is calm Classical, but Rucinski showed himself more than up for the task and ready to be Jarrett’s successor — or anyone’s. One only hopes there are more chances to see him while he is a student here and before he becomes an in-demand concert soloist. 

BEST INSIDER TIP FOR A GREAT THEATER PRODUCTION

If Michael Evan Haney is directing a show, buy a ticket. Cincinnati Playhouse’s associate artistic director has staged A Christmas Carol for two decades. But whatever he does is worth seeing: dramas (Blackbird, Speaking in Tongues), comedies (Over the Tavern, Bad Dates), classics (As You Like It, Crime and Punishment) or new plays (Hiding Behind Comets, The History of Invulnerability). Haney’s done shows at Ensemble Theatre (10 productions, including Freud’s Last Session, Time Stands Still and Souvenir) and Cincy Shakes (his manic The Hound of the Baskervilles returns in June for eager audiences).

BEST WALL OF CHEESE CURLS

Any bar that has a customer base reliable enough to stay in business when it opens at 7 a.m. Monday-Saturday has something going for it. Jerry’s Jug House, a tiny, one-room bar tucked inside Newport’s East Row Historic District, isn’t trying to impress anyone. It’s more of a carry-out joint than a bar (there’s a wall o’ liquor available for purchase by the bottle), but it’s also got an unspoken charm with an unpretentious wall of “bar food,” where you can grab a 75-cent bag of cheese curls or potato chips to wash down with a pitcher of beer. Sometimes less is more. Jerry’s Jug House, 414 E. Seventh St., Newport, 859-261-5696. 

BEST WAY TO SCORE FREE ALCOHOL THAT DOESN’T INVOLVE UNWANTED SEXUAL ADVANCES

Every third Thursday, Mayday becomes a haven for drinking word-nerds with the iconic Slurring Bee, the not-so-formal spelling contest where spelling a word correctly earns you a shot. Every time. The entry fee is $5, and it seems like their idea is that you’ll be such a bad speller within a few shots that they’ll end up actually making money off of you when you sulk over your losses with more shots (which you buy yourself). It usually works, but it’s fun anyway. The king/queen bee receives a Mayday gift card, some sweet bee-themed accessories and automatic placement in the Slurring Bee champion tournament, which happens every spring. 10 p.m. third Thursdays. Mayday, 4231 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, 513-541-0999, maydaynorthside.com. 

BEST NEXT GREAT HOPE FOR LIVE MUSIC IN OTR

The Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has come back strong as an entertainment district and it’s becoming one of Cincinnati’s best up-and-coming music hubs, with clubs such as The Drinkery, Mr. Pitiful’s, Neons and more offering live music on regular basis (not to mention the OTR-centric MidPoint Music Festival every September). Upping the ante for original music in OTR has been MOTR Pub, booked by veteran local agents Dan McCabe and Chris Schadler and showcasing free concerts by local and touring bands seven days a week. While attracting nice crowds for MOTR shows, the space is fairly small, so the local music scene had reason to get excited when it was announced in early March that McCabe and Schadler would be booking bigger artists at the 600-capacity Woodward Theater, a 100-year-old building just feet away from MOTR at 1404 Main St. While the Woodward still needs to be rehabbed (no word on an opening date just yet), it’s not too soon to start daydreaming about the influx of national acts that will be adding Cincinnati to their touring schedules in the future thanks to the new venue. facebook.com/thewoodwardtheater.

BEST REASON TO DRIVE TO LOUISVILLE

One of America’s most respected annual theater events can be found every spring at Actors Theatre. The Humana Festival of New American Plays is a showcase of new works with a great track record of finding playwrights not yet quite known and making them famous — and occasionally coaxing a new, unexpected work from a familiar name. The theater assembles a half-dozen shows and sets them spinning across six weeks. The festival (onstage now!) draws theater professionals, critics and producers from across America eager to see what’s on the menu. actorstheatre.org.

BEST ELEMENTAL SHAKESPEARE

Last September, Cincinnati’s new greenspace magnet, Washington Park, put Shakespeare’s The Tempest outdoors, a perfect setting for the comedy about shipwrecked royals and magical sprites. Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s free al fresco performance engaged the audience who waved yards of fabric to make a storm at sea, created invisible buzzing and rattling spirits with noisemakers and turned the park’s civic lawn into a fairy-land of lit cellphones. Twelve hundred people showed up, one of the largest audiences ever for a CSC production. cincyshakes.com.

BEST ALL-AROUND ARTS HERO OF THE YEAR

For the internationally celebrated John Cage Centennial (the avant-garde composer/artist died in 1992 at age 79), Cincinnati held its own against much bigger cities and university campuses. Carl Solway, who played an important role in Cage’s life by publishing his now-milestone “Plexigram” called “Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel,” devoted an exhibition to the work of Cage and those he influenced and also hosted a fantastic concert of Cage’s work by Percussion Group Cincinnati. Not to be outdone, UC’s CCM — where Percussion Group Cincinnati’s performers have long been artists-in-residence — gave the group a showcase portion of its American Voices concert for the group to do a rare performance of its original collaboration with Cage, 1975-76’s Renga coupled with 1984’s Music for Three. ccm.uc.edu

BEST HOMETOWN HERO DESIGN DUO

Maya Drozdz, a Brooklynite, and Michael Stout, an Indiana boy, are the founders of OTR-based graphic design and print studio VisuaLingual. Known for their throw-and-grow muslin vegetation bundles called Seed Bombs, which you can find at retail stores ranging from locals Park + Vine and MiCa 12/v to nationals Anthropologie and Williams-Sonoma, the duo’s shared interest in cities, place, typography and travel has also created some pretty fantastic Cincinnati-centric products. We love their Ohio River coasters, Cincinnati Building Footprint tie and Over-the-Rhine tea towel. Find their work and store locations at visualingual.com.

BEST “BIGGER IN EUROPE” CINCINNATI GROUP

It used to be that every year you could count on catching Napoleon Maddox and IsWhat?! playing their unique, avant garde take on Jazz and Hip Hop regularly around Greater Cincinnati. Though they make occasional appearances, that regularity is becoming less and less as IsWhat?!’s starpower continues to rise in Europe. The band — whose latest album is the fantastic Things That Go Bump in the Dark — now tours way more often abroad than domestically, thanks to an ever-growing fanbase in France and other European nations. But area fans will be able to get their IsWhat?! live fix again soon — the group will be performing a rare local show in May at MOTR Pub. iswhat-flavor.com.

BEST LIT MAG

The Cincinnati Review is kind of a big deal. Since its debut in 2003, it has published a bevy of promising men- and women-of-the-word ranging from new and emerging writers to Pulitzer Prize winners and Guggenheim and MacArthur fellows. Publishing poetry and prose, the works within its pages have found their way to annual anthologies such as Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays, Best American Mystery Stories and many other “Best”s. Edited by esteemed UC faculty (Don Bogen, Michael Griffith, Nicola Mason) and graduate-student volunteers, the publication comes out twice a year and welcomes submissions from writers at any point in their careers. cincinnatireview.com.

BEST DRINKS, DRAG AND DANCING

The Diamond Palace holds the art of drinking, drag and dancing to a diamond standard. As a multi-level LGBT nightclub, the team at Diamond Palace has planned special, tantalizing programming six nights a week. They start off easy with Talk Show Tuesday and Ladies Night on Wednesdays, then kick it into high gear on Thursday with Throbbing Thursday, an evening of male go-go dancers and strippers. On Fridays and Saturdays they have two DJs on two levels, three bars and nonstop dance music until 4 a.m. Yes, they’re a 4 a.m. bar, so you can dance, dance, dance the night (and early morning) away. And Sundays they hold a talent show to win booking on their mainstage during Friday and Saturday festivities. 435 Elm St., Downtown, 513-721-HOTT, dpnightclub.com.

BEST PLACE TO CATCH A RISING STAR

UC’s College-Conservatory of Music is one of the top three musical theater programs in the nation. Every year hundreds of aspiring high school kids audition for one of 20 or so slots in the freshman class. (That’s more selective than most Division I sports teams.) Following graduation, they head straight for Broadway where multiple productions typically feature CCM alumni. It’s not unusual for one or two to be nominated for Tony Awards, such as Karen Olivo as Anita in the recent revival of West Side Story. ccm.uc.edu. 

BEST DRUNKEN BAND CARICATURES

Each Note Secure’s Drunk Music Reviews are based on a simple yet brilliant concept: Girl and boy attend concert, drink throughout, chronicle experience with funny, spot-on drawings and musings. Like a twisted version of a courtroom artist/reporter team, artist John Sebastian and writer Caitlin Behle craft some highly entertaining post-show reports and, despite the “drunk” nature, they’re hardly as sloppy as one might think (the drawings are especially impressive given the speed at which they’re produced). Catch their work (including reports from the recent South By Southwest festival) at facebook.com/drunkmusicreviews. 

BEST PLACE TO FLY YOUR FREAK FLAG

Thunder-Sky Inc. gallery flew freak flags by more than 60 artists last summer. The fearless champions of outsider/unconventional art also presented an exhibit that included toilet-paper roll robots and crocheted cat poop. It publicized one show with fliers saying, “PLEASE, WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT ATTEND THIS EVENT.” Hey, just try to keep us freaks away – especially when there’s an exhibit on this year’s schedule titled The (f)Art Show. This is the place to pledge allegiance to fun art-making. 4573 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-823-8914, raymondthundersky.org.

BEST LITTLE-SEEN 2012 FILM DIRECTED BY A FORMER  CINCINNATIAN

Todd Louiso, aka the bald guy from High Fidelity and a SCPA grad, released his third feature film last year, Hello I Must Be Going, written by his wife. The endearing and funny indie film centers around a thirtysomething divorcee (Melanie Lynskey) who moves back home with her parents after a failed marriage (see Silver Linings Playbook) and starts an affair with that hot guy from Girls (Marnie’s ex-boyfriend). hello.oscilloscope.net.

BEST PRIVATE ART GALLERY (THAT BRIEFLY OPENED ITS DOORS TO THE PUBLIC)

Most of the year, you’d be hard-pressed to even realize there’s a first-class contemporary art gallery at the corner of Vine and Ninth streets, much less get inside. That’s because the Michael Lowe Gallery is private. But for FotoFocus, he opened both floors of the space for Using Photography, an exhibit that showcased a spectacular collection of work that documented and/or resulted from the conceptual/performance art world of the 1970s. You got goose bumps looking at how Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci, Christian Boltanski and so many more were changing the world of art — and our lives — at the time, before many of us even knew it.  

BEST MINI CONCERTS

Shake It Records in Northside has long been considered one of the best record shops in the Midwest and its label branch is equally kick-ass. But the Shake It store has also been one of the best intimate “concert venues” in the area as well. Presenting “in-stores” by artists of all sorts (local and national; up-and-coming and famous), Shake It offers a very intimate setting for performances and signings, often by performers in town to play bigger shows elsewhere. As if that wasn’t enough, the “shows” are also all free. Shake It has hosted the likes of The Black Keys and Tegan and Sara, but in the past year or so, the store has welcomed Jukebox the Ghost, Walk the Moon, Ponderosa, The Blues Merchants, Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Red Wanting Blue, Heartless Bastards and many others for free performances. Shake It Records, 4156 Hamilton Ave., Northside, shakeitrecords.com.

BEST CINCY BEARDO ON TV

Local BMX rider, entrepreneur and musician Matt Bischoff has been a fan of Survivor since its debut and his interest paid off when he was cast in the show’s 26th season. Survivor: Caramoan features 10 of the show’s alumni competing against 10 super-fans. To get into Survivor shape, Bischoff cut out caffeine and alcohol and followed a strict diet while working out at Covington, Ky.’s Swing This. Bischoff’s unique look helped him stand out, but don’t let his tough tatted, hairy exterior fool you — he’s a sensitive family guy at heart. Survivor airs every Wednesday on CBS. Here’s hoping Matt makes it to the very end!

BEST BAND REUNION

One of the greatest bands to ever come out of the Greater Cincinnati area, The Afghan Whigs, returned after more thana decade of absence for a successful global tour that included two stops at Bogart’s. Greg Dulli and Co. were in peak concert form, sounding better than they ever have and leaving fans praying to the deity of their choice that the “reunion” turns into something long-term. Like a new album, perhaps? theafghanwhigs.com.

BEST USE OF WATER DAMAGE

When a leak caused a gallery wall to crumble before this winter’s Pulp Art show at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center, gallery director Bill Seitz and Hamilton artist Roscoe Wilson turned the proverbial lemon into lemonade. Rather than hide the damage, the Carnegie called attention to it, hanging a sign asking for donations to cover what insurance won’t. And under the exposed wall, Wilson successfully responded with a floor installation of soaked-and-dried cardboard boxes that mimicked chunks of plaster and bricks. Might Seitz, known for inspired Art of exhibits, pull off an Art of Water Leaks show next? Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington, 859-491-2030, thecarnegie.com. 

BEST PLACE TO LEARN ABOUT THE HISTORY OF GOOGIE SIGNS

American Sign Museum, a self-proclaimed “Main Street Wonderland” and a longstanding vision of its creator Tod Swormstedt, has been trying for years to get out of its limited space inside Walnut Hills’ Essex Street Studios and into a place better able to show off its amazing collection of commercial signage (especially neon). Last summer, the American Sign Museum moved to a much bigger location in Camp Washington to display their bygone era signage, including a few from the Googie period (one example is the world-renowned “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign). Googie architecture was rampant in SoCal in the ’40s-’60s and was heavily influenced by the Space Age; in order to appreciate Googie’s grandeur, visit the museum to see their giant, rotating Satellite Shopland orb that they had shipped from a demolished shopping center in Anaheim, Calif. 1330 Monmouth St., Camp Washington, 513-541-6366, signmuseum.org.

BEST REASON TO SIGN UP FOR THE ESQUIRE’S NEWSLETTER

The Esquire is hands down the best theater in town, but the experience is always better with free popcorn. When you sign up for their weekly newsletter, you automatically get sent a coupon for a free popcorn. And their popcorn is healthy — it’s popped with canola oil and it comes butter-free unless you decide to add it. Don’t be distracted by all the teeth-rotting gummy candy — popcorn at the movies is legit. Esquire Theatre, 320 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, 513-281-8750, esquiretheatre.com. 

BEST TOURIST AD FOR CINCINNATI TARGETING THE ELDERLY

The NBC show Harry’s Law was based in Cincinnati, but according to the network, if it made viewers want to visit Harry’s town, the Queen City would rival Florida as a vacation destination for senior citizens. The David E. Kelley-produced show reportedly got canned after just two seasons because, while it drew a respectable audience, the viewers were deemed “too old” for advertisers. They should’ve just sold naming rights to Metamucil. 

BEST WAY TO GET WET

When Prohibition (the “dry” movement) was repealed on Dec. 5, 1933, you better believe folks got “wet” and enjoyed a finally legal stiff drink. Japps Since 1879, Over-the-Rhine’s classic craft cocktail spot, celebrates the anniversary in a big way — with an annual “Get Wet” Repeal Party. Walking into the historical bar already sends guests to another era, but during “Get Wet,” the bar transforms into a ’30s speakeasy, complete with traditional cocktails, secret passwords, burlesque dancers and old-school Jazz tunes. Whether you’re a vaudevillian vixen or a total 21st century babe, you’ll want to throw on some fringe and party like it’s 1933. Japps Since 1879, 1134 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, japps1879.com.

BEST CHRIS HARDWICK CAMEO

You may remember him as the host of MTV’s ’90s dating game show, Singled Out. Maybe you recognize him from The Nerdist Podcast or AMC’s Talking Dead. But in 2012, comedian Chris Hardwick also made an appearance in the Soul Train-inspired music video for local indie duo Bad Veins’ super-fun song, “Dancing on TV.” The video set the mood for this year’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, opening the show before BV’s Benjamin Davis sang a solo rendition of “Rainbow Connection.” While BV’s other half, Sebastien Schultz, has recently left the band, the show will go on — Davis plans to continue on with new members. Clippity-clop, baby! badveins.net.

BEST WEST SIDE STORY

Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Covedale Center for the Performing Arts knows how to please audiences with family-friendly productions ranging from musicals and revues to heartwarming dramas and comedies — next season includes music by Johnny Cash and the classic Broadway hit Gypsy. The demand for tickets has been so great in the theater’s 12-year history that they run shows for four weeks — longer than most local theaters. And they have the second largest subscriber base in town. CLP has announced plans for the new Incline Theater (seating 225) in Price Hill — another building block in an entertainment empire! Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, 4990 Glenway Ave., Covedale, 513-241-6550, cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.

BEST METHOD OF BAR RENOVATION

Once upon a time, if your bar was failing, you either got your shit together and tried fix the problems or you closed. In the 2010s, there’s a much more high-profile method to bring your business back to life — reality TV. Two area bars that hit hard times were featured on the Spike TV show, Bar Rescue, where some know-it-all jerk goes to struggling drinking establishments and yells everything they’re doing wrong at them — Win Place or Show in Fairfield and Black Sheep (now The Public House/Black Sheep Pub) in Cheviot. Alas, not every TV reality show has a storybook ending — WPS changed its name to America Live, but ultimately had to shut down. The Public House/Black Sheep Pub, 3807 North Bend Road, Cheviot, thepublichousecheviot.com.

BEST REASON TO CLEAN GREAT-GRANDMA’S ATTIC

When she’s not scouring flea markets or even dumpster diving, paper artist Sara Pearce accepts donations of old magazines, valentines, maps and wrapping paper. She then turns the vintage materials into fanciful collages, greeting cards and gift tags, many with a feminist bent. Since opening Brazee Street Studios and holding her first solo exhibit at NVISION in 2011, Pearce has shown all over Cincinnati and has joined downtown’s Fifth Street Gallery, too. Paper With a Past, 4426 Brazee St., Oakley, 513-254-9776, paperwithapast.com.  

BEST COOL CONCERT FILM VENUE

The Contemporary Arts Center has impressively been adding more and more programming over the past couple of years, with interesting performances, concerts, parties and other special events helping to attract more visitors. Among the additional functions — the CAC becomes the coolest movie theater in town when it screens unique and anticipated concert films. The museum was the only place in the area where you could see anticipated films like LCD Soundsystem’s Shut Up and Play the Hits and Sigur Ros’ Inni. Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, 513-345-8400, contemporaryartscenter.org.

BEST WAY TO SEE THE FUTURE OF LOCAL MUSIC

For a twist on CityBeat’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, the 2013 event was coupled with the CEA New Music Showcase, held at Bogart’s just prior to the local music award show ceremony/party in January. Like with BRINK, CityBeat’s previous new artist event, local music fans could catch the potential next wave of big-shot Cincinnati music makers. But the NMS also gave attendees a chance to help decide the winner of the CEA for “Best New Artist,” which is normally decided by the nominating committee only. Nominees Jeremy Pinnell and the 55s, DAAP Girls, Ohio Knife, The Natives, Public and Heavy Hinges put on great sets, with DAAP Girls edging out the competition in the end and taking home the trophy at the CEA ceremony.

BEST NIGHTCLUB EMPIRE

Building off a desire for more nightclubs in the area, since 2007 4EG has developed into the top local club/restaurant conglomerate in the region. The company now boasts 10 popular and distinctive clubs and/or restaurants around the Cincinnati area, including Mount Adams Pavilion, aliveOne Cincinnati, The Stand, The Sandbar, The Lackman and The Righteous Room. But 4EG’s most recent addition, Igby’s, might be its most impressive accomplishment yet. Located at the former Barleycorn’s space downtown (122 E. Sixth St., 513-246-4396), the gorgeously remodeled venue features three floors’ worth of bars, plus balconies to people-watch in the main floor area. foureg.com.

BEST MOTORCYCLE CLUB TURNED ARTSY DRINKERY

Once home to a notorious motorcycle gang, the Rake’s End in Brighton is now probably the coolest bar you’ve never heard of. Renovated from a tobacco-stained, worn-out dive, it has transformed into an arts space and nightclub where Cincinnati’s musicians, artists, writers, dancers and other creatives come to drink, chat, dance and people-watch. Run by members of the neighborhood, Rake’s End currently hosts a Goth night, a shoegaze DJ set and FOGGER (a laser show with late ’80s/early ’90s R&B music and fog) along with other concerts and shows. 2141 Central Ave., Brighton, therakesend@gmail.com, facebook.com/rakesend.

BEST UNPREDICTABLE NIGHT OF COMEDY

You never know what’s going to happen at an improv comedy show. It could go really well or take a turn for the absurd, but with the trained performers at OTRimprov, at least you know it’s going to be funny. With an aim to remedy the lack of regularly scheduled improvisational comedy shows, OTRimprov, housed within the Know Theatre Underground, holds monthly shows every third Tuesday (with themes riffing on current events such as “Improv Madness” during March Madness), as well as improv jam open mic nights and special events around the Greater Cincinnati area. Each show features different styles, formats and members of the team, all of whom have trained around the country at the likes of the famed Second City (breeding ground for SNL cast members), iO Chicago and iOWest. Be prepared for an evening of both long- and short-form improvisation, audience participation and laughs. Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-300-KNOW, knowtheatre.com.

BEST TRANSPORTIVE JAZZ JOINT

Schwartz’s Point Jazz Club has the look, feel and sound of an authentic underground Jazz club. Located at the five-way intersection of Vine Street and West McMicken, this unassuming, ramshackle (and triangular) building — demarcated only by a fading “Schwartz’s Point” sign and couple of green lights by the entrance — is a longtime labor of love of Cincinnati veteran Jazz pianist Ed Moss. With an air of romance and mystery not found at any other club in Cincinnati (and maybe only in Jazz Age Paris), it’s the perfect spot for an evening of lush, bohemian Jazz. Every Tuesday, catch The Society Jazz Orchestra and the Ed Moss Trio performs Fridays and Saturdays with special guests (maybe singer Pam Ross or Kathy Wade?). It really is one of the coolest spots in the city. Added bonus? The $10-$15 cover charge also includes food by Chef Eduardo. 1901 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-651-2236, schwartzspoint.com.

BEST THEATER EXPORTER

The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park is one of America’s great regional theaters. But their work isn’t limited to the theater atop Mount Adams. “Off-the-Hill” productions go to dozens of schools and community centers across the Tristate. They reach more than 50,000 people, young and old, with free or inexpensive productions such as The Travelling Jekyll & Hyde Show (for grades 6-12) or Accidental Friends (for grades 3-6) or even Go, Dog, Go! (for grades K-3). These samples whet appetites for live performance. The roadmap for theater lovers starts here and extends for a lifetime. cincyplay.com.

BEST WAY TO AVOID DRINKING AND DRIVING

Drinking and pedaling. Cincinnati’s own Pedal Wagon, founded by Jack Heekin and Tom O’Brian, brings the concept of a rolling, pedal-powered party to the States from Germany and Belgium. Perfect for bachelor/bachelorette parties, birthday parties, reunions or just a night out, 15 people can hop on the wagon and pedal around the city. Choose the Tavern Cruise, which takes you on a two-hour tour of Over-the-Rhine, starting at Neons Unplugged and stopping at Arnold’s, The Lackman and Japp’s. At each stop, you get a discounted drink. Or take the Redlegs Rally tour, which is a two-hour pub crawl before a Reds game that starts at The Holy Grail at The Banks and winds around bars and restaurants there and on Fountain Square. While you can’t literally drink on the wagon (only off the wagon), you can still get drunk at the bars, and to ensure your pedaling safety, the team provides a designated driver for each wagon. 407 Vine St., Suite 183, Over-the-Rhine, 513-201-7655, pedalwagon.com.

BEST WAY TO PRETEND YOU’RE IN A BAND WITHOUT HAVING TO LEARN AN INSTRUMENT

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again, Sexy Time Live Band Karaoke is some of the best karaoke this side of Japan. Backed by a live band made up of local music veterans (Dwight Dyer, Paul Brumm, Scotty Wood and Dave Cahill), karaokers have the unique opportunity to get up on stage and perform as if they were the lead singer. The band can play more than 300 top hits from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and more. The question is, can you sing them? Every Wednesday at the Northside Tavern. 4163 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-542-3603, northsidetavern.com.

BEST ROSE-COLORED NIGHTLIFE

Welcome to the rainbow connection. Rosie’s Tavern, located just off MainStrasse, is the incredibly inviting LGBT dive bar for people of all persuasions — gay, straight or in between. Opened as a tavern in 1896, Rosie’s has been serving patrons for more than two decades. A true neighborhood bar, Rosie’s pairs a comfortable atmosphere and cost-effective drinks with a daily happy hour, darts, pool, pinball and a great jukebox, making for an excellent night — or afternoon — out. Ample seating and a friendly staff round out the Rosie’s experience. 643 Bakewell St., Covington, Ky., 859-291-9707. 

BEST GREATER CINCINNATIANS MAKING US PROUD ON THE LEFT COAST  

As Northern Kentuckians-turned-professional actresses, Alyshia Ochse and Suzanne Quast have been featured as key actresses on the viral video phenomenon known as The Flipside. These funny shorts, which flip the social norms between men and women, have made their way onto Good Morning America and have their own featured Yahoo! homepage. Ochse also recently made an appearance on the big screen next to Jennifer Lopez in Parker, and Quast had a role in the TV series Bones. screen.yahoo.com/flip-side.

BEST USE OF ALLITERATION

The Cincinnati Ballet’s Ballet & Beer series invites patrons into the rehearsal studio to watch dancers and choreographers practice an upcoming performance … for free … with beer. Go behind the scenes and meet the dancers and staff of the Cincinnati Ballet Company, all while enjoying a cash bar. These events frequently book to capacity very quickly, so you have to stay on your toes to grab a seat. Tickets to Ballet & Beer come with tickets to upcoming performances and/or subscription packages. Just don’t get drunk and heckle people. 1555 Central Parkway, Downtown, 513-621-5219, cballet.org.

BEST NEW SMALL RECORD LABEL RELEASING HISTORIC CINCINNATI ARTISTS

Platter Party records is a brand new record label — brand new as in still holding fundraisers — that plans to specialize in unearthing and releasing quality local jams on wax and online. Their 2013 goal is to release a double LP featuring previously unheard live recordings of Cincinnati’s legendary Funk outfit, 400 Years Of What, who were known primarily for their impressive live shows, which regularly included pyrotechnics and lavish homemade costumes. The record label’s name comes from a term used to describe when bars and clubs would forego live music for a night and a DJ would throw a “platter party,” playing records in lieu of a live band. And with founders including Chris Burgan, founding member of the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation; artist Paul Coors; record collector and DJ Sebastian Botzow; and DJ Jordan Bonk, we’re looking forward to some Funk.

BEST FEST SIDESHOW

Even if you couldn’t afford to go to the MidPoint Music Festival last year, you could still attend the festival’s MidPoint Midway, a carnival-like sideshow area along 12th Street that featured an abundance of food and drink vendors, as well as the popular “Box Truck Carnival” (where different local arts groups turned box trucks into everything from a film screening room to a video game arcade), the always-excellent poster expo and the “rolling record store” truck from Jack White’s Third Man Records. Even better — this year, the Midway stage featured several top-line acts, including The Seedy Seeds and Imperial Teen. Not that we don’t want you to buy three-day wristbands for MPMF, but if you’re cash-strapped, know that you can still come down to Over-the-Rhine and enjoy the atmosphere. mpmf.com.

BEST WAY TO ENTER THE GATES OF HELL

A mechanical bull, live Country music and the gateway to hell — not bad for a local bar. Bobby Mackey’s decades-old honky-tonk is well known for its line dancing, karaoke and drink specials but also for its rather large malevolent ghost population. The dancehall started out life as a slaughterhouse in the 1850s, with a deep well in the basement to collect animal blood and fluid runoff. When the slaughterhouse closed, Satanists moved in, using the “Well of Blood” for cult activity and ceremonies. There’s a rumor that in 1896, two of the devil worshippers beheaded a local woman (Pearl Bryan) and used her head for their wicked rituals, choosing to hang before they would tell authorities where her missing head was, lest they reap the wrath of the Devil himself. The building later became a speakeasy in the 1920s and gained a couple more ghost tenants due to mob violence. Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures has filmed there numerous times, with host Zak Bagan claiming it’s one of the most haunted places he’s ever been. There was even a lawsuit launched against the club for a man who claimed a ghost broke his arm in the bathroom. So enter at your own risk. 44 Licking Pike, Wilder, Ky., 859-431-5588, bobbymackey.com.

BEST ARTFUL TAXIDERMIZIED MENAGERIST

Jeremy Johnson is a taxidermist, expert anatomist, dissector and artist in the vein of a Victorian naturalist. Working only with animals that have died of natural causes or by accident, he reconstructs them to create a sense of wonder and amazement at the natural world, mirroring our own mortality in the anatomy and physiology of the animal still lifes. His anthropomorphic taxidermy prompts an identifying empathy from viewers; his articulated skeletons advance the understanding of anatomy; and sometimes, his animals just wind up as beautiful sculptures. Instead of stiff hunting trophies, the beasts he restores seem alive, caught in movement or emotion. A graduate of the Art Academy, Johnson’s work will sometimes appear in art shows, but he also offers public educational dissections several times a year. meddlingwithnature.com.

BEST PERMANENT HAPPY HOUR

If you really want a cheap drink in a nice setting with a great view, head to the bar at Palomino, overlooking Fountain Square. Cheap drinks at dive bars are great, but they come with some trade-offs (there’s a reason they’re called “dives”). But at Palomino you can enjoy all-day happy hour in a business casual environment with tasty bites (calamari; roma and mozzarella pizza; mushroom and cheese risotto croquettes) if you get hungry. For just $4, you can have a glass (or two or three) of wine, and for $5 grab a specialty cocktail such as the Basil Gimlet or Cranberry Mojito. There are no standard happy hour time limits, so cheap drinks are available whenever you want. Hooray! 505 Vine St., Downtown, 513-381-1300, palomino.com.

BEST BAR TO HOPEFULLY FIND A PAPPY VAN WINKLE

Pappy Van Winkle (aka Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve) is a big deal to bourbon drinkers. A very, very rare spirit, it’s often considered one of the finest bourbons in the world. Distilled and bottled under the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Ky., the bourbon is aged for 15, 20 or 23 years in a charred oak barrel — much longer than most bourbons, which accounts for Pappy’s short supply (only 7,000 cases are produced each year) and high demand. That means there are only 40,000-some-odd bottles to go around the country — and the world — which means a pour, much less a bottle, is extremely hard to find and very expensive ($250 per bottle or more). Good thing we have the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar. While Pappy is only released once or twice a year, the OKBB has worked incredibly hard to be one of the first bars allocated a supply in state of Kentucky. So if you’re going to find Pappy anywhere, your best shot (figuratively and literally) is with them. As of mid-March, they still had some supply left. 629 Main St., Covington, 859-581-1777. 

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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