The first time I saw Kaylee Cole play, in Empyrean's front room last May, to a total of about 30 people, two of the rarest things in my concert-going experience happened. First, I was totally enthralled by her deep, dark lyricism and her cascading piano chops; second, everyone else was too. The clamor from the audience was so loud, it could have been 60 people cheering. When they begged for an encore (rare for any show in Spokane, but common for Cole), I was right there with them.
The odd thing is that, until six months before, KAYLEE COLE hadn't played piano in almost a decade. Her parents had put her in piano lessons as a child and she'd suffered through them for five years, but it hadn't stuck. In December 2006, though, feeling listless, she sat down in front of her roommate's piano and started to play. By Christmas, she was writing her own compositions. By January, she'd put lyrics to three songs, with two more following in short order.
From zero to three full compositions with lyrics, then, in like two months. That's rare. Two of those initial songs were what caused that Empyrean crowd to beg for more.
Cole has grown steadily ever since. She has enough songs for a full-length album (and then some) now. The voice I once called a "warbly, lispy, coy, affected thing," is still coy and warbly and every bit as intoxicating. Confidence as a performer and lyricist, though, has pushed much of the affect aside, allowing the depth and complexity of Cole's voice to present itself.
Through a series of shrewd moves and sheer luck, she has recorded a couple of EPs, hooked up with a PR agency, made a quick trip down the coast and returned home with a record deal from Seattle's Aviation Records. It's a story that seems too amazing and charmed to be real. Kinda like her music.
- Luke Baumgarten
2ND PLACE: (TIE) Annie O'Neill, Jim Boyd; 3RD PLACE: Karli Fairbanks
6' Swing may have the unique claim of best washboard player in the Inland Northwest. To be fair, the circle of applicants, I hear, is rather small. But Papa Scrubs, as he is known — has there ever been a better name for a washboard player? — has decked out his instrument with percussion ranging from cymbals to cowbells. Singer Heather O'Brien — an Inlander advertising representative — calls it part of the show.
"There's a lot of jazz in Spokane, but this is in a completely different category, so people are drawn to it," she says. "It's very showy — we dress up in '40s attire every gig."
Terming it East Coast swing, O'Brien mentions Billie Holiday as a primary influence on her own style. The music is very tight, bouncy and perfect for the kind of acrobatic dancing you'd imagine would accompany it. Incorporating guitar, upright bass, saxophone, trumpet and, of course, that washboard, 6' Swing produces a full-bodied sound, but the real highlight (well, besides the awesomeness that is WASHBOARD) is O'Brien's voice. She's hardly new to the scene.
"I used to be in a jazz lounge duo called Lush," she says, "but my partner moved to Seattle. We still play gigs now and then, but I wanted to get back into the scene. I was asked to jam with this band by Garrin Hertel." (Hertel is no longer a regular member of the band, but he does a guest spot on occasion.) And so, 6' Swing leapt into being.
O'Brien sums up the experience for all those interested, noting, "It's very fun, danceable music for all ages. We get a huge following of 15-year-olds that come to dance, all the way up to 80-year-olds. It's for everyone."
— JEFF ECHERT
2nd PLACE (TIE) Save Lefty, Burns Like Hell Fire; 3rd PLACE (TIE): Son Dulce, Seven Cycles
BEST OUTDOOR MUSIC VENUE
Being consistently ranked as the best outdoor amphitheater in America makes this category unfair for everyone else. It's still amazing that THE GORGE — 140 miles away from Spokane — would crush the competition so easily, almost doubling-up on our inauspicious but super-close amphitheater at Riverfront Park.
It's the gigs of course — from three straight nights of Dave Matthews every August to the taste-making Sasquatch! Music Festival — and the panoramic views that get people driving hours to the middle of the desert. It's the partying under the stars that gets them to camp. (LB)
2ND PLACE: Riverfront Park; 3RD PLACE: Silver Mountain
BEST ART GALLERY
NORTHWEST MUSEUM OF ARTS & CULTURE
THE MAC has great flow: You glide in under a half-dome of glass and wood, then you float down that cool ramp that sneaks in a literal overview of the main gallery before escorting you once, twice, three times into smaller galleries on your left and depositing you on the ground floor for the main attraction. Ascending back to the parking levels, you feel as if you've strolled purposefully through the halls of learning. You don't know MAC? After standing before sculptures and paintings with hands clasped behind your back, you'll know enough to talk some art smack. (MB)
2ND PLACE: Tinman Gallery; 3RD PLACE: Lorinda Knight Gallery; BEST NORTH IDAHO ART GALLERY: The Art Spirit Gallery
BEST COMMUNITY EVENT
PIG OUT IN THE PARK
"You'll never eat it all" proclaims the Pig Out slogan. But most of us try.
Every Labor Day weekend, Spokane throws itself a mass outdoor picnic: From teriyaki to bonbons, from egg rolls to caramel corn, cheap eats are served with side orders of concerts, beer gardens and strolling hordes. It's the last fling of summer, a chance for hotties of both genders to show some skin before brutal winter winds encase us all in our snow parkas. PIG OUT IN THE PARK is a great community event because it provides what Spokane wants: good times, flirting, rock 'n' roll and food. Lots and lots of food. (MB)
2ND PLACE: Bloomsday; 3RD PLACE: Hoopfest; BEST NORTH IDAHO COMMUNITY EVENT: Art on the Green
BEST CHARITY EVENT
COACHES VS. CANCER
Mark Few has changed the lives of Gonzaga's basketball players and fans, but you could make the case that he has done more to change the lives of kids with cancer — and all with just a couple days of playing golf in the summer. Every August, in the local installment of the nationwide COACHES VS. CANCER effort — a pledge drive, a golf tournament and a fancy dinner — Few and his wife Marcy help fund scholarships for stricken children. And in just six years, their events have raised nearly $3 million for cancer treatment and research. (MB)
2ND PLACE: Christmas Tree Elegance; 3RD PLACE (TIE): Coats for Kids, Ronald McDonald Classic
BEST RADIO STATION
Here's the drill at ZZU: Dave, Ken and Molly during morning drive-time (running jokes include pole dancing, real estate and Ron Burgundy); Ronnie Blackwood in midday (Alanis Morissette and Marvin Gaye requests promptly fulfilled); and Dani for late nights (more along the lines of Reliant K and Snow Patrol). All this, plus the giant slathering Gwen Stefani monster invades Spokane and devours the Riverfront Park Pavilion! (Wait, that's just a computer trick on their Website. Never mind.) (MB)
2nd PLACE: 99.9 "The River"; 3rd PLACE: KYRS Thin Air Radio
BEST LOCAL PLAY OR MUSICAL
SOUTH PACIFIC AT THE CIVIC
Images from last October's popular Polynesian musical: Jerry Sciarrio dancing in a grass skirt and coconut-shell bra. The rambunctious energy of Kathie Doyle-Lipe and Troy Nickerson's choreography for the male chorus in "There's Nothin' Like a Dame." Michael Muzatko's elegant plantation owner singing "Some Enchanted Evening" in a moonlit ice cream suit. Marianne McLaughlin's toothy grin and hula swivels during the seductive, escape-from-wartime vision of "Bali Ha'i." Briane Green in an oversized sailor suit, making bittersweet fun out of "Honey Bun." Director Yvonne A.K. Johnson's opening slide show of actual Seabees and soldiers. SOUTH PACIFIC was indeed one enchanted evening. (MB)
2ND PLACE: The Full Monty, CdA Summer Theatre; 3RD PLACE: Rabbit Hole, Actors Repertory Theatre
BEST TOURING MUSICAL
THE WEDDING SINGER
They took a middling Adam Sandler movie, swapped out all the genuine 1980s songs and wrote their own score. But temper your skepticism: Any show that ends with a rescued-at-the-altar scene presided over by Las Vegas impersonators (Ronald Reagan, Elvis, Tina Turner) knows how to accentuate its romance with a bit of self-mockery. Besides, "Somebody Kill Me" (angry man at a reception) and "Come Out of the Dumpster" (love amid the garbage) were hilarious. THE WEDDING SINGER was so hummable and fun, we felt like they were singing right to us during "It's Your Wedding Day." (MB)
2ND PLACE: Riverdance; 3RD PLACE: Rent
BEST CONCERT (PAST YEAR)
KEITH URBAN AT THE ARENA
Keith Urban is all about interacting with his audience. At his concert here in September, he pulled a little girl onstage, slapped hands with fans, and positioned his band way out into the audience. Urban sang his just-out-of-rehab song, "You'll Think of Me," and dedicated it to his wife (who is apparently some kind of actress well-known in Australia).
He sang "Days Go By," he sang "Somebody Like You," and then he let his tousled hair hang low over the five-day stubble on his chin. And the Arena crowd went wild. (MB)
2nd PLACE: Blue Man Group at the Arena; 3rd PLACE: Tool at the Arena
BEST NIGHTCLUB DJ
Gary Pike, assistant general manager at the Big Easy, calls DJ MAYHEM "one of the hardest-working DJs in the Pacific Northwest." He's biased — Mayhem spins Big Easy's club nights on the regular — but also correct. In addition to the live DJing that Mayhem does, he spins the midnight-to-6 am overnight blocks at Wired 96.9 FM. We imagine that creates a popularity spiral: After boozing during the week, listeners bump into Mayhem in the wee hours, then naturally hit up his Big Easy club gigs — which obviously turns more people on to his radio gig. That's called synergy. (LB)
2nd PLACE: James Pants; 3rd PLACE: DJ Parafyn
BEST ARTS FESTIVAL
ART ON THE GREEN
The art festival held at North Idaho College every year on the first weekend in August has something for everybody. At ART ON THE GREEN, you're near the lake's beachfront, but you're also on a college campus. It's downtown, but it draws from all over. You can go highbrow (evaluating the work of 135 artists) or lowbrow (hot dogs and snow cones!). There's dance and rockabilly, jazz and sand castles, African drumming and fencing exhibitions. And this summer marks 40 years of Coeur d'Alene's finest arts festival. (MB)
2nd PLACE: Artfest; 3rd PLACE: First Night Spokane
BEST KIDS' EVENT
FIRST NIGHT SPOKANE
The Kids' Night Out on New Year's Eve is more of a Kids' Afternoon Out, since it runs from 3-6 pm at the Convention Center. But it's a busy afternoon filled with jugglers, comedy acts, crafts, drumming, fireworks and a giant Chinese dragon. Then it's time to make your own mask and join the Masquerade Parade over to Riverfront Park. Even then the fun doesn't end: There are kids' activities (like jump rope artistry and the bubble-wrap room) going on all night long. We've seen more than a few sleepy-eyed little ones gazing up at the midnight fireworks. (MB)
2nd PLACE: America's Kids Run; 3rd PLACE: Hoopfest; BEST NORTH IDAHO KIDS' EVENT: Art on the Green
BEST ASS-KICKERS ON WHEELS (But with a feminine touch)
Kelli Garland is Clark Kent during the day, an unassuming college student. (Until recently, she directed a preschool.) But Garland has a Superman side to her personality, too: She's "Mary Widow," a pivot and blocker for the Pretty Deadlies and the Toothless Annies, two of the teams in Spokane's own roller derby league, the Lilac City Roller Girls.
And Mary Widow plays rough. "I got ejected from the last game," Garland says. "It was my first time. I went back to the locker room, because I figured my mom would be so angry. But my dad — he was prouder than he was at my high school graduation."
And her infraction? "Oh, I threw some elbows. I threw a skater into the penalty table. My hand got caught in one girl's hair, so I sort of pulled on it. That's when one guy leaned out of the crowd and yelled, 'She used to teach preschool!'"
Roller derby is full of strategy. Blockers ("the brawn of the sport, but they're not all built like a brick house," says Garland) and pivots (sort of like quarterbacks) skate laps with jammers lingering 20 feet behind; then, at the referee's whistle, the goal is to whip the jammer through the pack, with points scored every time a jammer laps an opponent.
Spectators sit right at the boundary lines. If a roller girl spins out of control — and she will — you might want to hold your beer up out of the way. "Bouts" are held for now at the Spokane Convention Center, but in May they're moving to the House of Fury at the Coeur d'Alene Casino in Worley, Idaho.
Garland has Lilac City teammates named "Sweet Tart," "Suzie Slapstick" and "El Gato." Then there's a jammer named "Animal Cracker" who's 6-foot-5 and wears green body paint. "Es Terminator" is "a doctor by day and a mommy," says Garland. "But she's an ass-kicker by night."
Roller derby, Garland continues, "is just so empowering for women. Not only are they skating in an aggressive role, but they're running the leagues and acting as board members. Men are volunteers who answer to us."
Maybe that empowerment is what's reflected in the team cheer right before game time: "Crush bitches!"
— MICHAEL BOWEN
Wisdom from the ballots of our Best Of Voters
Ah, those first impressions. Laurie Anne Atherton took a gamble and moved away from Los Angeles to Coeur d'Alene eight years ago, seeking a new place for the New Millennium.
Atherton remembers her initial assessment: "Well, you get two malls..."
She happily reports the shopping scene has scampered well up the Trend-O-Meter in the intervening years, as her Best Of ballot reflects.
It's a ballot fiercely loyal to the Lake City with its mix of trendsetting new places and deeply rooted local favorites. Nestled along Sherman Avenue downtown are places like Hudson's (which she voted best burgers), serving hamburgers their way since the early mists of time, and newcomers like the Velvet Hangar (best women's clothing).
"The Velvet Hangar carries designer labels and the owner goes to Los Angeles and New York and Las Vegas to get inventory," Atherton says. "You won't find clothes like these anywhere else."
Atherton's "inner shopper" is smiling these days when she cruises Sherman and sees places like J.J.'s (best shoes) and Sweetpea (best gifts), eclectic places that showcase the new downtown. "There are a lot of stores like that now ... funky, different, ethnic."
The cornucopia extends to food, where she voted for spicy recent arrivals like Pho Thanh and Caf & eacute;, Syringa and Thai Bamboo and intensely local secrets like King Pizza and Davis Donuts.
Finally, for best local celebrity, unlike Spokane, you have a choice in CDA. Atherton chose Ellen Travolta, who came into the hair salon where she works. "I didn't actually do her hair, but I went over and talked to her. She's great."
Atherton might have been tempted to write in the name of the late Johnny Carson, whom she met in North Idaho several years ago. Or it could have been Dennis Franz — "I saw him one time in a restaurant" — or Patty Duke — "I saw her out riding on the bike path. They are just regular people."
— KEVIN TAYLOR