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2014 Arts & Nightlife Staff Picks

By Staff · March 26th, 2014 · Arts & Entertainment
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BEST WAY TO HEAR NEW AND DIFFERENT RECORDED MUSIC

Forget Pandora and Spotify. With the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s CD of the Month Club, real people will send you a CD based on your tastes to your local branch from their extensive collection. You just fill out an online form and wait for music-knowledgeable employees (not computer logarithms) to start sending picks from their ever-growing collection of CDs. How else would you discover, for instance, Michael Gordon’s great modern percussion composition “Timber”? cincinnatilibrary.org.

BEST CREATIVE REUSE OF OLD PRINTED MATERIAL

Artist Sara Pearce says her fantastical — and fantastically and colorfully imaginative — collages are the result of her “never-ending quest to rescue not-so-perfect paper, and help it tell a fresh story.” She scours this region and beyond for old magazine ads, vintage Italian postcards, antique maps, paper dolls and much more. She displays her work at her Paper With a Past studio inside Brazee Street Studios. Brazee Street Studios, 4426 Brazee St., Oakley, 513-254-9776, paperwithapast.com. 

BEST CRUSADER FOR PROGRESSIVISM IN CINCINNATI’S PERFORMING ARTS

If there was ever doubt that the Contemporary Arts Center could develop an audience in Cincinnati for cutting-edge, adult-oriented arts programming, the museum’s indefatigable performance curator Drew Klein erased it after 2013’s great season. Crowded, invigorating and much-talked-about shows by Jazz/New Music saxophonist Colin Stetson, performance artist Miwa Matreyek, conceptionalist producer/DJ Jace Clayton, Icelandic composer/multi-instrumentalist Ólafur Arnalds and others were among the year’s best arts events, period. The 2014 season is well underway. Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, contemporaryartscenter.org/performances. 

BEST CELEBRATION OF AN AVANT-GARDE COMPOSER

It was a banner year for Cincinnati fans of New Music giant Steve Reich. In April, the MusicNOW festival brought the 77-year-old Minimalist composer here to perform with Brooklyn’s So Percussion. And the same month concert:nova, the progressive chamber ensemble, presented The Music of Steve Reich in a memorable concert at Northside event center Pallet 23. Now, how about Terry Riley? 

BEST CINCINNATI SHOUT OUT IN A HIT RAP SONG

Cincinnati MC Lantana had a breakout year in 2013. Becoming label mates with ASAP Rocky, Yo Gotti and ASAP Ferg after signing to Polo Grounds Music/RCA Records, the rapper scored a hit with his banger “All Hustle, No Luck,” which received major radio and video airplay across the country (as did the remix with guests Pusha T, Yo Gotti and Bun B) and featured the hometown-proud line, “Cincinnati since my mama had me.” On Twitter @LantanaEasy.

BEST AUDIO/VISUAL MIND BLOWER

Last summer, thousands of area residents from all walks of life tested the capacity limits of Over-the-Rhine’s refurbished Washington Park to witness the unique and inspiring collaboration, LumenoCity. The audio/visual spectacular was a “wow”-inducing mix of dazzling, multidimensional visuals (crafted by Landor Associates) projected onto Music Hall’s façade (often giving the appearance that the building itself was moving) and accompanying musical selections performed live by the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra with CSO’s new musical director Louis Langrée at the helm. An estimated 35,000 people filled the park over two nights to witness the artistic and technological wonder, most with jaws dropped. It was a magnificent showcase wholly embraced by the community and a wonderful way to show off the growth of the city’s core. It’s difficult to accurately explain LumenoCity (a classy, futuristic spin on the old Classic Rock laser light shows from the ’70s?), so if you somehow missed it, you can take a look through videos at cincinnatisymphony.org.

BEST ARCHITECTURE BOOK 

Shawn Patrick Tubb began working on Cincinnati’s Terrace Plaza Hotel: An Icon of American Modernism for his Master of Architecture thesis at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP). And he kept working after graduation until the book was published last year. It tells the history of this visionary, now-vacant architectural landmark, and also made the case for our need to preserve and reuse it. cincybooks.com.

BEST ASIAN-INSPIRED KARAOKE

Recently ranked as one of the top 100 restaurants in the nation by OpenTable’s Diners’ Choice Awards, Kaze serves up delicious Japanese gastropub food throughout its dining room, bar and year-round beer garden. And while the food is great, Kaze also offers some great nightlife from frequent dance parties to their weekly Karaoke night, Karaoke Fantastic with Sean P. Hafer. Every Wednesday from 8 p.m. to midnight, get ready to belt out some Ace of Base while enjoying a crunchy scallop roll. Kaze, 1400 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-898-7991,
kazeotr.com.

BEST FREE CONCERTS THAT WOULD COST MONEY ELSEWHERE

When promoting tours by national bands, publicists often contact CityBeat to request preview coverage and offer tickets to the show. But when the band is playing MOTR Pub and we tell the publicist we don’t need to be put on the guest list because all shows there are free, the usual response is, “Free?! Wow!” On many acts’ itineraries, a stop at MOTR is often the only freebie on the whole tour. While music fans in other cities paid $10 or more, locals who caught MOTR shows by artists like Mike Watt, Freedy Johnston, Tav Falco and Sebadoh didn’t have to pay a cent. There are many other great local clubs that present free shows on a regular basis, but none has a calendar as full of notable touring acts as MOTR does. MOTR Pub, 1345 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-381-MOTR, motrpub.com. 

BEST-OF-BOTH-WORLDS MOVIE THEATER

When it comes to movie theaters, both giant multiplexes and tiny art houses have their place. But what if you want to take in the blockbuster experience without navigating Newport on the Levee? What about when you want to catch the latest Wes Anderson while still enjoying big screens and comfy chairs? The city’s newest theater, Cinemark Oakley Station, is the spot to go. Tucked away behind Meijer and Sam’s Club off I-71’s Ridge Avenue exit, the Cinemark has a little bit of everything for movie lovers, minus the huge crowds. Opened last August, the theater comes equipped with 14 screens featuring digital 2D, RealD 3D and XD (think IMAX), an in-house bar (making sneaking in Franzia unnecessary) and several other amenities. Moviegoers can purchase tickets online in advance or at a kiosk and serve their own (non-alcoholic) drinks and snacks — perfect for minimum human interaction. And in addition to standard releases, Cinemark presents special engagements, like Metropolitan Opera performances and classic movie screenings from Rear Window to The Shawshank Redemption. It won’t be a hidden gem for long as Oakley Station (the 74-acre development the theater inhabits) develops and adds more business to the area. But, for now, enjoy Cinemark when you want the classic, comfortable movie-watching experience without having to run into half of your graduating class. Cinemark Oakley Station, 3025 Disney St., Oakley, 513-351-2381, cinemark.com. 

BEST HOLE IN THE WALL WITH LOCAL ART AND MUSIC

Art and live music go together like rum and Coke, and Covington, Ky.’s Three Kings Bar brings all four — art, music, rum and Coke — together in one venue. Local artists exhibit their work (which is usually for sale) along the bar’s walls while local musicians perform on an intimate stage. Every Sunday, Three Kings even hosts their version of the bar staple: open mic night. Entitled the “Open Mic/Drink and Draw,” attendees are invited to use any of the provided instruments or art materials to create their own masterpiece. Or they can simply drink ‘til inspiration inevitably strikes. Three Kings Bar, 8 W. Pike St., Covington, Ky., 859-815-8252, facebook.com/threekingsbar. 

BEST MUSEUM CURATOR

Amy Dehan, decorative arts curator at the Cincinnati Art Museum, had a hand in three good shows/installations last year. She worked on creating the superb new Folk Art Gallery, developed the Taming the Elements show that matched contemporary Japanese prints with ceramics, and showed off new acquisitions in What’s New: Fashion and Contemporary Craft, working in partnership with a different curator on each. And she continued to crusade for increased public awareness of Cincinnati’s art-carved furniture movement. Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, cincinnatiartmuseum.org.

BEST PLACE TO REHEARSE FOR AMATEUR NIGHT AT THE APOLLO  

Eighty years ago, the world-famous Apollo Theater in New York City’s Harlem launched its “Amateur Night,” which helped kick off the careers of icons like Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown and set the stage for the success of TV talent shows like America’s Got Talent. Local performers convinced they could win an Apollo Amateur Night with ease might want to practice first at Head Rush Entertainment’s “Apollo @ The Greenwich” before booking that flight to NYC. Legendary Walnut Hills nightclub The Greenwich has been hosting the event every Wednesday, turning its stage over to an array of performers (singers, dancers, comedians, rappers, musicians, poets and more), young and old. Like a cross between an open mic night and a variety show, Apollo @ The Greenwich offers a unique and unpredictable night of entertainment at one of the city’s most unique (and enduring) clubs. The Greenwich, 2442 Gilbert Ave., Walnut Hills, 513-221-1151, the-greenwich.com. 

BEST NEW MUSEUM ADDITION

A small but lively addition, Cincinnati Art Museum’s new Folk Art Gallery is inviting with its warm harvest-orange walls and three-dimensional objects on platforms and in cases. It’s almost like a general store or log-cabin home from the 19th century. The standout item is an eclectically visionary handmade guitar made in the 1970s by one Chester Cornett. It’s now one of the museum’s most likeable sculptural objects. Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, cincinnatiartmuseum.org.

BEST PLACE TO BRUSH SHOULDERS WITH TOP LOCAL MUSICIANS OF CINCY’s PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

Just because CityBeat organizes the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards doesn’t mean we can’t praise our 17-year-long musical tradition. The CEAs highlight local talent with artists selected via public vote and critics’ picks, resulting in one of the year’s biggest and baddest parties. This year’s event boasted 90 minutes of live music, 19 awards, presentations from more than a dozen local music entities and 174 F-bombs (approximately). It’s not just a show for nominated bands; it’s an entertaining opportunity for all varieties of local musicians, music advocates and audiences to celebrate the scene and cut loose for a night. citybeat.com.

BEST WACKY IDEA TO PROMOTE ARTS IN CINCINNATI

In January, Cincinnati Art Museum Director Aaron Betsky suggested that the name of Mount Adams — where the museum is located — be changed to Art Hill to promote the various arts institutions located there — especially his. The idea met with immediate and vociferous public opposition, as well as confusion from those who wondered who Mr. Hill was and why he deserved to have a neighborhood named after him. (Earlier this year, Betsky announced his resignation once a replacement is chosen.) Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, cincinnatiartmuseum.org..

BEST USE OF DUCT TAPE IN ART

Joe Girandola, an artist and director of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning’s Master’s Program in Fine Art, displayed his large duct-tape “canvases” of world treasures like the Taj Mahal in the college’s gallery this past spring. They were conceptually weird, to be sure, but the painstakingly obsessive workmanship resulted in quality so high that you just had to stand there and be astonished. He has made DAAP the world center of duct-tape art. DAAP, 2624 Clifton Ave., Clifton Heights, daap.uc.edu.

BEST ARTS ANNIVERSARY 

The Cincinnati Ballet celebrated 50 years of excellence with a 2013-14 season that showed off the many things that make it one of the best professional ballet companies in the country. The season kicked off in September with the return of the annual Kaplan New Works showcase, presenting brand new progressive works in its own intimate Mickey Jarson Kaplan Performance Studio. The Ballet also showed its command of the classics with performances of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, which were followed by the acclaimed world premiere of King Arthur’s Camelot, the first full-length ballet commissioned and performed by the company in 20 years. The anniversary season closes out in late April with Cincinnati Ballet & Over the Rhine, a collaboration with veteran Cincinnati band Over the Rhine (marking the two entities’ second show together; the Ballet has also performed with Peter Frampton). The mix of classics, new and unique works, community involvement and collaboration are what makes the Ballet such a local treasure. Cincinnati Ballet, 1555 Central Parkway, Downtown, 513-621-5219, cballet.org.

BEST LOCAL REALITY SHOW HOPEFUL DENIED

Jane Smith, former vocalist for Belle Histoire and current solo artist (under the name Jane Decker), appeared on NBC’s The Voice and performed a “turn your damn chair around!”-worthy performance of Florence and the Machine’s “You’ve Got the Love.” Alas, the judges must’ve been checking their text messages or something because she was denied advancement to the next round of competition. Still, it was a pretty savvy promotional move for the young singer/songwriter — Jane Decker’s debut EP came out the same month as her Voice appearance. Look for new music from Smith this year and catch her this July at the big Bunbury Music Festival. deckerband.com.

BEST THEATRE NEWCOMER

Besides pumping out talented and successful actors, the Drama branch of UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) also attracts some high-quality educators to its faculty. The latest is Brant Russell, who came onboard last year as an assistant professor of drama, coming from a background as a teacher, producer and director that has included stints on the staffs of Writers Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Along with teaching a variety of courses, Russell is also a drama department director; he made a splash on the local theater scene last fall with his local directorial debut, Boeing Boeing, a collaborative production with The Carnegie in Covington that was well-received and a good sign for future CCM Drama productions. ccm.uc.edu.

BEST LOCAL EXAMPLE OF R. KELLY BEING R. KELLY

R. Kelly has been called A LOT of things. “Prompt” and “timely” are not two of them. At 2013’s Macy’s Music Festival at Paul Brown Stadium, Kelly was the much-anticipated headliner for the fest’s Saturday night (and likely one of the reasons the festival reported record-setting attendance numbers), but he angered many festivalgoers (some of whom simply left) by taking the stage nearly two hours late. Fest organizers handled the situation well, apologizing and being transparent about the “issues.” Don’t expect another “R.” moment from this summer’s event; the fest has announced performers like New Edition, Chaka Khan, Mint Condition and Ne-Yo for this year’s party. macysmusicfestival.com.

BEST WAY TO INDOCTRINATE YOUR CHILDREN WITH GOOD LIVE MUSIC

The 2013 MidPoint Music Festival brought thousands of new-music lovers to Over-the-Rhine/downtown once again for three nights of top-notch music from around the world. But on Saturday afternoon, the fall fest’s demographic got considerably younger as MPMF introduced KidPoint, a day’s worth of kid-friendly fun along the MidPoint Midway. The inaugural KidPoint featured presentations from the Cincinnati Ballet, various crafts and things to play with (thanks to the Boxtruck Carnival) and live music from The Cliftones, a band of young students from Mason’s School of Rock and others. Many festivalgoers with young children brought them down for the fun, helping to cultivate the next wave of local music/arts supporters. mpmf.com.

BEST NEW NON-BORING LITERARY AND VISUAL ART ZINE

Currently collecting submissions for their first issue, Nip Nip Zine covers prose and art with an aesthetic bent toward the “disgustingly adorable and deliciously absurd.” Thematically focused on one of the five senses per issue, the four-person collective (Alison Strawn, Sean M.

Foster, Elese Daniel and Sidney Cherie Hilley) behind this quarterly magazine also write and produce videos, hold monthly writing workshops at Chase Public in Northside, and host a poetry and performance mash-up called Nip Nip Nightcap at Rake’s End in Brighton the last Sunday of every month. nipnipzine.tumblr.com. 

BEST REBIRTH OF LOCAL INDEPENDENT SMALL BOOK PUBLISHERS

Ian Wissman and CityBeat senior editor Maija Zummo, founding editors behind Milk Money, a locally distributed literary journal that ran 2007-2011, are joined by assistant editors Alex Cobb and Brian Trapp this time as Waxing Press, a brand new independent small book publisher whose catalog Wissman hopes will form “a cohesive body of literature that will fit into the larger literary and artistic community.” Waxing Press will publish an original work of literary merit as part of their inaugural contest, the Tide Lock Prize. Currently in the process of reading the submissions for this year, the independent publisher seeks out writing that “navigates risk and experimentation with a masterful hand.” waxingpress.com.

BEST REASON TO WORRY THAT CINCINNATI WILL NEVER GET ITS OWN ANNUAL HIP HOP FEST AGAIN

In 1996, a group of friends launched Scribble Jam, an event that celebrated all facets of Hip Hop culture (dance, graffiti, DJing, rapping, etc.). In underground/indie Hip Hop circles across the country, Scribble Jam became legendary and continued to grow. MCs would make the pilgrimage to the event for the hugely popular battles, knowing it would help them earn a buzz (some guy named Eminem competed in 1997), and organizers were drawing strong headliners like Brother Ali, MURS, Big Daddy Kane and many others. When the country hit an economic downturn toward the end of the ’00s, the fest was shut down due to financing. But last year, the organizers decided to give it another shot, launching a Kickstarter campaign and asking fans to, basically, pre-purchase tickets. But the campaign fell well short of its goal, squashing Scribble’s future. Don’t expect another resuscitation attempt any time soon — co-founder Nick Accurso told CityBeat that if the support wasn’t there, “I never wanna hear another word about it.” scribblemagazine.com. 

BEST ADDITION TO BRIGHTON’S EVER-CHANGING GALLERY SCENE

Artist Alex Jameson’s gallery Lohioh only came on the scene last spring, but it carries the torch of several other galleries that have lived short lives over the course of the past decade in the neighborhood of Brighton. The same stretch of Central Avenue once housed Junior Gallery, Third Party, Museum Gallery/Gallery Museum, Synthetica and The Mockbee, among a slew of others. Rake’s End still hosts its monthly FOGGER event, which coincides with Brighton’s monthly First Saturday gallery walk, but the only real constant in the neighborhood has been semantics gallery, a more than 20-year-old alternative art space project that is largely managed by volunteers. Perhaps in the face of this largely ephemeral exhibition scene, Jameson’s shows demonstrate a uniquely Midwestern (multi-disciplinary) pragmatism — equal parts conceptual art installations, performance and curated merchandise. Lohioh, 2157 Central Ave., Brighton, facebook.com/lohioh. 

BEST COLORFUL & CUTE & CREEPY DESIGN TEAM

The multi-disciplinary design team of Reptiles + Rainbows has been behind such projects as the logo/menus for Sleepy Bee Café, the promotional design for Patti Smith’s A Coral Sea exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center and Corpse-a-Copia, a Halloween event they collaborated on with Please and Modern Makers wherein they created a life-sized zombie corpse from which diners served themselves. The conceptual brainchild of husband-and-wife team Philip Valois and Carla Morales, the two seamlessly merge their own super kawaii-aesthetic instincts with a taste for the macabre. The two Rhode Island School of Design-educated artists design books, T-shirts and business cards with imagery that simultaneously attracts the viewer while making them uncomfortable enough to remember the experience. reptilesandrainbows.com.

BEST MASONIC LODGE TURNED FULL-SERVICE MUSICAL ARTS CENTER

Conceived as a kind of one-stop music-centric arts center, The Lodge is a result of photographer Scott Beseler’s experiences as an artist who is friends with many touring musicians. With its 150-seat auditorium, housing facilities and cadre of resourceful musician/artist stakeholders, The Lodge is an “art academy and rock & roll bed & breakfast catering to artists of all levels and agendas,” according to its Facebook page. Benchmarking arts facilities throughout the world (places like the Vera club in the Netherlands, and the 3rd Ward in Williamsburg, N.Y., which work as collective studio spaces for artists and actively involve volunteers or members in their administration), Beseler’s goal is to eventually host “all sorts of productions” there, including local events like the Fringe Festival. Right now, Beseler has enlisted Johnny Walker of the band The Soledad Brothers to run the recording studio; Matthew Dayler, instructor at the Art Academy, for the screen-printing shop; and artist Robby Burgess of Higher Level Art to run the Lodge’s painting studio. The Lodge has already hosted such bands as Those Darlins, The Detroit Cobras and The Black Diamond Heavies as overnight guests, while local bands Ohio Knife, The Cut In The Hill Gang and DAAP Girls have all recorded albums there. The Lodge, 231 Sixth Ave., Dayton, Ky., facebook.com/thelodgedaytonkentucky.

BEST PLACE TO SEE A MOVIE OUTDOORS

It took two retro-culture-loving employees of Walt Disney Co. — Todd Chancey and Mark Althoetmar — to see the glamorous potential in an old drive-in on a hilly, curvy country road outside of Hamilton. They bought the Holiday Auto Theatre in 2007. With cool marketing, new (but retro) signage and a respect for their business’ legacy and their customers’ comfort, they’ve made it successful, attracting a regional following. Holiday Auto Theatre, 1816 Old Oxford Road, Hamilton, 513-929-2999. holidayautotheatre.com.

BEST LOCAL MUSIC IN A COMMERCIAL

Last year, local music fans with really good ears may have found themselves wondering what was so familiar about the tune backing the often-aired TV commercial for First Financial Bank. It wasn’t an auditory hallucination — several acclaimed musicians active in the local, original music scene recorded the bouncy track “Change” for the spot. The All Night Party, a local company that has found success hooking musicians up with film, TV and commercial licensing, turned to the local musicians it works with regularly to come up with something. “Change” was written by Jeremy Springer and Brad Schnittger of The Sundresses and features bass and engineer work by The Afghan Whigs’ John Curley and lead vocals from Lisa Walker of Wussy. The song was catchy as hell and gave the commercial real impact — and we’re not just saying that because we heart Cincinnati music. “Change” won an American Advertising Award for “Elements of Advertising, Original Music with Lyrics.” With it becoming even more difficult for original artists to make a living from music, it’s cool to see All Night Party creating new revenue streams for some of our finest locals, and doing so with creativity and integrity. The All Night Party, 2834 Spring Grove Ave., Camp Washington, theallnightparty.com.

BEST BREWERY IN WHICH TO EXPERIENCE LIVE MUSIC 

Rhinegeist, one of Cincinnati’s newest breweries, not only has a vast warehouse space to brew their Cougar, Truth IPA and Ink beers, but the venue is large enough for them to throw rad parties that are open to the public. During Oktoberfest this past September, they invited patrons to wear lederhosen, play bags (i.e. cornhole), eat German food and listen to a few live bands play, pairing the beats with their beers. For the MidPoint Music Festival, they once again booked bands to play a shindig, and last month they hosted a Beerfest after-party. They’re constantly throwing beer release parties and other themed events, so check their event page and dress accordingly. Rhinegeist, 1910 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, rhinegeist.com.

BEST NEW LOCAL MUSIC SHOW ON COMMERCIAL RADIO

Over the past several decades, Cincinnati commercial radio has had a hot/cold relationship with local, original music. In the ’70s/’80s, WEBN would play local bands regularly (even putting out annual compilation albums), but then the conglomerating corporatization and automation of American radio made it like McDonald’s, where you get the same exact thing in every market, minus hardly any local touches. Every now and then, a well-intentioned programmer in corporate radio will twist arms to get some token local music airplay, but those shows rarely last long. In 2013, Clear Channel’s Alternative music station The Project (100.7/106.3 FM) introduced a new weekly Cincinnati music specialty show and, unlike the “afterthought” feel of previous attempts at local music programs on commercial radio, it has all of the right pieces (and people) to have a chance to stick around for awhile. “CincyMusic Spotlight” (named for local music site cinycmusic.com, which presents it) airs every Sunday at midnight and is hosted by longtime local music supporter (and former radio host at WAIF) Venomous Valdez (and, initially, former WOXY DJ Joe Long). Valdez plays an excellent selection of tracks by area musicians and, while the late-night Sunday slot is typical of such shows’ treatment on commercial airwaves, the programs are made available Monday mornings as podcasts at cincymusic.com/spotlight, so you can listen at your leisure. cincinnatiproject.com.

BEST ARTS LECTURE

Cincinnati musicologist David Lewis’ knowledge goes way, way beyond King Records (although he knows plenty about that). He has researched the stories of the earliest record companies to be based here, and in October presented a revelatory lecture at Downtown’s Main Library about Homer Rodeheaver, whose Cincinnati-based publishing company and record label were pioneers of sacred music. Rodeheaver was also close to 1920s preacher Billy Sunday, maybe the most famous American evangelist ever. Lewis brought it all to life wonderfully. 

BEST SPORTS BAR FOR METALHEADS AND PUNKS TO FREQUENT

It’s been a long time since Cincinnati’s local Metal and Punk scenes have had a venue that they could truly call home, but Covington, Ky.’s new Backstage Café (next to the Madison Theater) might be just what they’ve been looking for. While sports might be on the TVs during the day, at night the stage is filled with all manner of misfits. Tons of up-and-coming bands have squeezed onto the small stage and more are joining in all the time. Line-ups a mile long of the area’s loudest bands and cheap beer will keep the fans happy (even if the regulars are a little scared). Backstage Café, 724 Madison Ave. Covington, Ky., 859-491-2445. 

BEST NEW NIGHT DOWNTOWN FOR HUNGRY JAZZ LOVERS

Though it’s far from the Jazz music wonderland it was decades ago, downtown Cincinnati still has a few great places to catch live Jazz on a regular basis. One of the best is Washington Platform Saloon & Restaurant, which celebrated the first anniversary of its Friday night live Jazz series last September. In honor of the anniversary, dozens of Cincinnati Jazz greats past and present (many of whom play there) gathered in front of the restaurant for a photo — shot by local legend Melvin Grier — in the spirit of the classic “A Great Day in Harlem” 1950s group photograph, which featured nearly 60 Jazz giants. Already beloved for its food (Cajun, seafood and more), Washington Platform’s music nights have been so popular, live Jazz was recently introduced on Saturday nights as well. Washington Platform Saloon & Restaurant, 1000 Elm St., Downtown, 513-421-0110, washingtonplatform.com.

BEST KITTY-RELATED EXCUSE TO WASTE YOUR WEEKLY PAYCHECK

Since opening last March, the Horseshoe Casino has become a hot spot for both gaming and concerts. The proximity to downtown makes it tempting to just slip in and play a few slots, but those few spins can quickly turn into losing all your hard earned cash. An exception would be the casino’s two 1- and 2-cent Kitty Glitter machines, which are worth depositing that money into over and over again. When the Persian and Siamese cats light up and you win 15 free spins, nothing’s more exciting. The kitties will taunt you, and you will obey. Horseshoe Casino, 1000 Broadway, Downtown, 513-252-0777, horseshoecincinnati.com. 

BEST SOON-TO-BE COUNTRY MUSIC FEST IN THE MIDWEST

If attending the Bunbury Music Festival for three days straight wasn’t enough, the organizers behind it will debut another three-day event the weekend after Bunbury this year called the Buckle Up Music Festival, designed for the Americana, Country and Bluegrass lover. Acts like Alabama and The Band Perry have already been announced and more than 80 more will be soon. Cincinnati isn’t technically in the South, but Country music concerts around here always sell out and have proven to be more popular than Rock shows. Since the fest isn’t until July 18, there’s more than enough time to gus up those cowboy boots and memorize Alabama’s entire discography. Sawyer Point, 705 E. Pete Rose Way, Downtown, buckleupfestival.com. 

BEST PROFESSIONAL PERFORMANCE TROUPE WITH A SIDE OF T&A

The word “burlesque” conjures all sorts of associations, but Cincinnati’s own Cin City Burlesque truly redefines the performance genre. These professional dancers do far more than just “peel” their clothes onstage. Expect an expertly choreographed show geared toward women, with lots of fringe and glitter and a heavy dose of humor — oh, and a dash of boobs and booty. Since its founding it 2009, Cin City has been involved with various charitable organizations and causes, raising money for Caracole, breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. Founder Ginger LeSnapps also teaches burlesque-based fitness classes at Covington, Ky.’s Step-N-Out Studio. (The troupe celebrates its fifth year of shimmy-and-shake with an anniversary show at Bogart’s June 7.) cincityburlesque.com.

BEST FREE POPCORN AT A BAR

Bars should always have good booze and good free snacks — emphasis on free. Downtown’s Mainstay Rock Bar places their popcorn popper conveniently next to the bar, with wooden bowls stacked on top of the popper to encase the fluffy, salty popcorn that eventually will be shoveled into your maw. The free popcorn comes in handy especially during the MidPoint Music Festival, when it’s midnight and you’re checking out a weird and loud band named Ghost Wolves and you’re starving and suddenly there’s free popcorn to subsist on. Thank God. (It should be noted Ei8ght Ball Brewing pops some pretty great free popcorn, too.) Mainstay Rock Bar, 301 W. Fifth St., Downtown, 513-721-7625, mainstayrockbar.com. 

BEST LOCAL BAND THAT’S REALLY, ACTUALLY, LEGITIMATELY BIGGER IN EUROPE

Though named for the dangerous stretch of highway that brings drivers into Cincinnati from Kentucky, you’re more likely to catch Blues/Rock crew Cut in the Hill Gang live in Europe than in Greater Cincinnati (though they do occasionally sneak in a few stateside/local gigs between tours). You even have to buy the band’s releases as imports, since they’ve been released throughout Europe on a label based in Germany. A true “supergroup,” the band features four frontmen — Johnny Walker (formerly of Northern Ohio’s Soledad Brothers and currently a local psychiatrist), Lance Kaufman of long-running local Honky Tonk/Rockabilly band StarDevils, Reuben Glaser of the late, great Pearlene and newest member, Tennessee’s James Leg of Black Diamond Heavies fame. The band hasn’t put out a new album since 2010’s Mean Black Cat, but its recent reissue in France led to a 2013 tour of the country. Hopefully that means there’s a chance for more music to come (and a few more local shows!). It’s a little hard to find the band’s releases even digitally, but it’s well worth the hunt. myspace.com/cutinthehillgang.

Photo: Joan Marcus

BEST DOWNTOWN BUSINESS BOOST (DURING A POLAR VORTEX)

Downtown business typically tapers off after the holiday boom. People tend to stay home and save their cash until spring rolls around, especially after the season that was and always will be known as the winter of the polar vortex. But a few snow and ice emergencies didn’t stop thousands from seeing the anticipated musical The Book of Mormon when it opened at the Aronoff for its January run. Cincinnatians emerged from hibernation to check out the satirical show and support surrounding businesses. Productions like this one, from South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker, encourage some locals to not only trek to downtown for the performance, but enjoy dinner at a local restaurant before or check out a new bar to grab drinks at after. The Book of Mormon was a gateway for many outside the immediate city to see just how much Cincinnati progressed in recent years. CityBeat theater critic Rick Pender said this “hilariously satiric storm of parody and off-color humor” could be “the perfect musical for the 21st century.” Check out Broadway in Cincinnati’s 2014-2015 season at cincinnati.broadway.com. Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Downtown, cincinnatiarts.org.

BEST BAR TO DRIVE YOUR BOAT UP TO

Summer time in Cincinnati means full-speed ahead on the Ohio River. The Ludlow Bromley Yacht Club is the perfect place to drive up and park your boat while enjoying all-American food and slinging back a cold one. But don’t let the words “yacht club” deter you. The extremely laid-back atmosphere is ideal to sit back and relax with a spectacular view of the riverbank. Once the sun goes down, the docked barge turns into a full-fledged bar with drink specials, live band events and dancing. The Ludlow Bromley Yacht Club, 860 Elm St., Ludlow, Ky., 859-291-8132, ludlowbromleyyachtclub.com.

BEST ’HOOD FOR PINBALL ACTION

Local pinball wizards who haven’t discovered the pinball haven developing in Over-the-Rhine, take note! At MOTR Pub you’ll find four pinball machines, including a few that are Rock-centric, like ones based on Metallica and AC/DC, and the creepy Funhouse game. A stone’s throw away, Brian Porter opened his pinball parlor last year. Porter’s Pinball Parlor showcases more than 15 machines, including Terminator 2, Indiana Jones and Playboy ones. Like MOTR, the machines only take old-fashioned quarters, so scrounge up some coins and hit the circuit. MOTR Pub, 1345 Main St., 513-381-6687, motrpub.com; Porter’s Pinball Parlor, 1334 Main St., 513-381-2136. 

BEST PUBLIC RECORD-LISTENING PARTY

CityBeat-designated “Cool Librarian” Steve Kemple of downtown’s Main Library started the Listen to This! series to showcase the library’s collection of 120,000 CDs and 12,000 vinyl recordings. Last year it featured Harry Nilsson, James Brown and Tiny Tim (CityBeat contributor Steven Rosen presented that one). But the standout was last March’s “Music of North Korea,” capitalizing on Dennis Rodman’s controversial visit to the renegade country. The sessions are at 7 p.m. the fourth Wednesday of each month. Main Branch, 800 Vine St., Downtown, 513-369-6900, cincinnatilibrary.org.

BEST TEDXCINCINNATI TALK EVER FOR LOCAL MUSIC FANS

TEDxCincinnati took a musical approach at its October event at Over-the-Rhine’s Memorial Hall. The “Sound Ideas” program brought together a variety of presenters and performers to discuss a broad range of concepts related to music and its power. Attendees were also treated to a semi-reunion of classic Cincinnati band the Ass Ponys (including some typically hilarious stories from the band members), as well as performances by former radio personality and Blues musician turned Tibetan Singing Bowls master Ron Esposito and Boogie Woogie Blues pianist Ricky Nye. tedxcincinnati.com.

BEST SELECTION OF LOCAL BEERS (AND REGIONAL, NATIONAL) ON DRAFT AT A COLLEGE-Y BAR

One of the most recent additions to U-Square, the entertainment district developing next to the University of Cincinnati campus, is The Brass Tap, which has more than 40 quality beers on draft, including an entire selection dedicated to local finds like Rhinegeist, Mad Tree and Bad Tom. For a centrally located college bar, this place isn’t douche-y at all — it turns out college kids do like drinking beer other than Natty Lite. Even though the daily specials ($3 local drafts during happy hour!) are geared toward poor students, beerophiles are also welcome to take a seat at the long bar and pore over the long and detailed draft list. If you ask nicely, the bartenders will give you gratis samples of beer, which enables you to try an array of new suds. The Brass Tap, 251 Calhoun St., Clifton, 513-242-2337, brasstapbeerbar.com. 

BEST GRAMMY-NOMINATED BAND TO HAIL FROM CINCY

Throughout the years, many bands that call the Queen City their homebase have garnered national/international attention. Despite Matt Berninger, the Dessner twins and the Devendorf brothers moving to and basing their band out of Brooklyn, N.Y., The National’s hometown is still Cincinnati (a couple of members actually still have residences here). After a string of successful albums, it’s hard to believe the Indie Rock group only just received their first Grammy nod this year, but Trouble Will Find Me was their best album yet and deserved to beat out its “Alternative Music Album” competition Vampire Weekend. To keep in touch with their roots, The National guys come home and play shows once in a while, such as a free election concert in support of Obama, headlining the final night of July’s Bunbury Fest and playing Bryce Dessner’s annual MusicNOW fest. No matter how successful they become, The National’s home will always be here. americanmary.com. 

BEST NEW LOCALLY FUNDED COMIC CON FOR TRUE COMIC FANS

Fed up with the trajectory of national comic cons, area resident and The Walking Dead comic book co-founder Tony Moore recruited a bunch of his superhero-loving friends and planned the ambitious Cincy ComiCon last September at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. Instead of overpaying for has-been celebs to carry the fest, Moore opted for truly talented artists and writers to set up shop. The result was a fun-filled, laid-back weekend done the right way. Luckily, the inaugural year was successful enough for another round, which will again take place again this September. cincycomicon.com. 

BEST NON-CINCINNATI (BUT STILL OHIO) BEER TO INVADE LOCAL BARS AND STORES

At first it seemed like in order to taste Jackie O’s beer, one had to drive all the way to their brewpub in Athens, Ohio, to have a pint. However, in the past year the brewery has leaked into all major Ohio cities, including Cincy. The Lackman, Ei8ht Ball Brewing, Neons, The Brass Tap and many other bars in town offer Jackie’s seasonal beers on tap, and places like Dutch’s, Whole Foods and Jungle Jim’s sell six-pack cans of Mystic Mama and Firefly Amber Ale. It’s still recommended to drive to the brewpub — located within walking distance of Ohio University — but it’s no longer required. 24 W. Union St., Athens, Ohio, jackieos.com. 

BEST EXCUSE NOT TO DRIVE TO NASHVILLE TO HEAR NASHVILLE BANDS

We lost The Greenhornes’ rhythm section and Peter Frampton to Nashville and enough’s enough — it’s time to reclaim our city. Noticing the trend of musicians leaving here to pursue a career in Music City, proprietor Clay Deaton opened Little Nashville in Newport, Ky., last year to bring a lot of Nashville-based acts to Northern Kentucky. They have live music most nights — Friday and Saturday nights are reserved exclusively for Nashville acts — and a full food menu, including a weekly crawfish boil. The next time you consider a four-hour drive to see a show in Nashville, think about staying on your own turf instead. Little Nashville of Newport, 828 Monmouth St., Newport, Ky., 859-415-0057, thelittlenashvilleofnewport.com. 

BEST MOVIE MADE ABOUT HOW AWESOME COVINGTON REALLY IS

The Awesome Collective has a simple mission statement: nurture everything that’s awesome about Covington, Ky. Last year, they launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised enough funds to make an Awesome Collective film titled The Index of Awesome, a companion piece to 2012’s paper Index. The 20-minute film features interviews with local business owners and residents who explain why it’s so great to live and work in The Cov. Local bands like DAAP Girls soundtrack beauty shots of the city. If you were ever skeptical about heading over the river to check out Kentucky, this film will definitely change your mind for the better. covingtonisawesome.com. 

BEST WAY TO FUND NEW THEATRICAL WORKS

When Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati staged Roger Bean’s ’50s/’60s girl-group musical comedy The Marvelous Wonderettes in 2010, it became the best-selling show of the theater’s nearly three-decade history. The show’s massive success led ETC to bring back Wonderettes shows/sequels for four consecutive years, including last spring’s The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns. Though fluffier and more formulaic than what ETC is known for, the box-office-busters shouldn’t upset diehard fans of the theater’s more challenging works. Finding such a consistent money-maker simply helps the company to better stage world and regional premieres of the more serious shows with which ETC has made its name. Another local theater company, Landmark Productions, is hoping some of that Wonderettes magic rubs off on them; the company is planning to present the original show next March. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-421-3555, ensemblecincinnati.org.

BEST LOCALLY SPAWNED CAREER ROAD MAP FOR MUSICIANS

The music industry has changed so much in the past decade, navigating the biz can be challenging for newcomers and old pros alike. Continually digging around on the web, you could probably eventually cobble together some kind of music career game plan to suit your situation and experience. But wouldn’t it be nice to have all of that info in one place and be able to tailor it to your personal needs and goals? Local musician/promoter Brian Penick thinks so. After several years of playing with touring/recording artists and using his experience running the music promo company The Counter Rhythm Group, Penick wanted to share all he had learned with other musicians and music industry professionals. And he wanted it all in one adaptable package. At 2013’s MidPoint Music Festival, Penick launched the Musicians’ Desk Reference, interactive, customizable software jammed full of useful information and numerous tools, such as templates for business and promotional documents, a project management system (for keeping track of bookings, recording projects and more) and lots of instructionals and tips. Penick took his labor of love to various music festivals and conferences this past year and MDR received positive response and press right out of the gate. Drawing from feedback, Penick is currently working to relaunch MDR, moving from a one-time initial fee to a subscription service and enabling would-be purchasers to test-drive the product for free before committing. musiciansdeskreference.com.

BEST NEW LOUNGE FOR CLASSY COCKTAIL ADVENTURERS  

The gorgeously decorated Obscura opened last year near the Aronoff Center, but it’s so much more than just a before-or-after spot for those attending events at the downtown venue. Especially if you’re a fan of unique cocktails. The lounge offers classic cocktails, many of which Obscura’s mixologists give truly unique twists. You can order quality coffee, tea, wine, straight-up classic cocktails and even appetizers and sweets, but the real reason to go is the atmosphere (classy but warm and welcoming) and the cool cocktail concoctions. You can have a Bloody Obscura (a Bloody Mary that can be made with Old Forester bourbon and has a dazzling array of spices) or a Clover Clubbed (a spin on the Clover Club, with fresh raspberries and topped with “berry muffin tea foam,” instead of the egg white used in the classic version). Obscura’s Cosmowobbleton, a “jellied” version of a Cosmopolitan created for the club by a noted Chicago mixologist, even scored national attention when Newsweek included it in a story about the rise of gelatin-based cocktails. We’ll never look at a Jell-O shot the same way ever again. Obscura, 645 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-421-3800, obscuracincinnati.com.

BEST THEATRICAL MILESTONE

The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is celebrating its 20th anniversary with its current season, but it also inches closer to an even more rare and impressive milestone. When the 2013-14 season was announced, it included The Two Noble Kinsmen, the only Shakespeare play Cincy Shakes hasn’t presented in its two-decade history. When it is staged this spring, the company will be one of only five U.S. theaters to have presented all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays. The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (which does much more than just the plays of Shakespeare; the 2014-15 season will include Waiting for Godot, The Great Gatsby and One Man, Two Guvnors) will “complete the canon” on May 2 when Kinsmen officially premieres. Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, 719 Race St., Downtown, 513-381-2273, cincyshakes.com.

BEST USE OF A FORMER BOWLING ALLEY

If you grew up in the West Side neighborhood of Cheviot, there’s a good chance you knocked over a few pins at Glenmore Bowl, one of the first bowling alleys in Cincinnati. But for the past couple of years, the site has been home to The Drama Workshop. The “Glenmore Playhouse” has not only given the community theater group (which turns 60 years old this year) a permanent headquarters and performance space of their own (previously sharing space at the Westwood Town Hall), it has also become one of the arts cornerstones of the Cheviot Entertainment District. While continually upgrading the facilities (the building was constructed in the late ’20s), TDW has found great success in its new home, regularly selling out shows, which this season included productions of Nunsense and 12 Angry Men. The Drama Workshop, 3716 Glenmore Ave., Cheviot, 513-598-8303, thedramaworkshop.org. 

BEST USE OF AN UNDERUSED, UNDERGROUND TRANSIT CENTER

Located in a tunnel beneath Second Street that runs between the football stadium and hockey arena along Cincinnati’s riverfront, the Metro Transit Center was built in 2003 in anticipation of the oft-delayed Banks project. It was intended as a bus hub that would make it easier to drop off passengers going to the area’s attractions, but the center has been rarely used, becoming political fodder for those who see it as a ridiculous waste of money and others who believe it will eventually come in handy. Last fall, it was put to use, but in a way that shows some of that creative industriousness young Cincinnati is becoming known for. Organizers of Ubahn Fest, looking to fill the EDM and Hip Hop void at Cincinnati’s other big music fests, recognized the location’s concert/dance party potential (Scion and Ubahn co-presenters Agar tested the waters with a well-received event the year prior). With help from Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and local promo company Self Diploma, Ubahn was highly successful. Focused mostly on area Electronic acts, DJs and Hip Hop artists, plus big-draw international headliners A-Trak and Mike Posner, Ubahn packed Cincinnati’s underground with tons of dancing music fans and showed that Cincy is more than capable of supporting multiple music fests of all stripes. ubahnfest.com.

BEST ART EXHIBIT FOR A LADY GAGA CLOTHING SHOPPING SPREE

Wandering through What’s New: Fashion and Contemporary Craft, one of the more compelling small shows at the Cincinnati Art Museum last year, you might for a second have wondered if you had accidentally stumbled into Lady Gaga’s dressing room. The show — wonderfully curated by Cynthia Amnéus and Amy Dehan to show off new additions to the museum’s permanent collection — didn’t have a “meat dress,” but it did have a handful of unusual accessories and articles of clothing that proved fashion design can be as intriguing, deep, provocative and complex as any other artistic medium. The collection included avant-garde fashion items like a Yoshiki Hishinuma’s “Laminated Dress,” which looks like elegant, layered silk patchwork but is actually made of laminated polyester, and Cincy native/New York-based artist John Bartlett’s “Cannabis Smoking Coat and Pencil Skirt,” made of woven-together felt-wool marijuana leaves. Also eye-grabbing were the shoes — a pair of leather boots designed by architect Zaha Hadid (who designed the Contemporary Arts Center’s building) that snake around the calf like a spiral staircase and, our favorite, the intimidating “Fang Shoes” by Iris van Herpent (who has actually worked with Gaga) that feature 10 fang-like spikes on the soles. Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, 877-472-4226, cincinnatiartmuseum.org.

BEST OFFBEAT HOLIDAY THEATRE PRODUCTION FOR TREKKIES 

The Playhouse in the Park’s production of A Christmas Carol has become a local holiday tradition and institution, but this past Christmas season, anyone who has ever seen a staging of the Dickens classic and thought, “This would be so much better from a Klingon viewpoint,” got the ultimate gift from the local Hugo West Theatricals in 2013. In December at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, the relatively new theater group (with a Kickstarter crowd-funding assist) presented A Klingon Christmas Carol, a retelling of the Dickens tale … if it had originated in the world of the alien warriors from Star Trek. Not only is the comedic play (which premiered in Minnesota in 2007 and has only been staged a few other times) adapted to the morals and history of the Klingons (and the characters are all costumed up), it’s also performed in the Klingon language, the first show of its kind. But the show’s producers didn’t forget about earthly humans not fluent in Klingon; English subtitles were provided. Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, 962 Mount Adams Circle, Mount Adams, 513-421-3888, cincyplay.com.

BEST HUB OF DIVERSE ELECTRONIC MUSIC

Located a stone’s throw from the University of Cincinnati, The Mad Frog is one of the longest-running live music clubs in the area. While still presenting performers from a wide range of genres (Rock, Hip Hop, Reggae, Salsa), in recent years, the venue has found a successful niche with its full slate of Electronic and Dance music shows. And we’re not just talking your standard one-DJ-pumping-House-music type of shows, but full-on events loaded with numerous turntablists and musicians exploring every shade of EDM. Besides recurring festival-esque events like Bass Sick and Up All Nite Productions’ “Cinci” showcases (like CinciGlow and CinciBass), the Frog also has a free “Cincy Showcase” night every Tuesday, exclusively spotlighting local artists. The Mad Frog, 1 E. McMillan St., Corryville, 513-784-9119, themadfrog.net. 

 
 
 
 

 

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