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Best Of 2011

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Best of the Arts 

Our readers' picks for the region's finest writers, festivals, bands and more.

click to enlarge JEFF DREW
  • Jeff Drew

BEST CHARITY EVENT

Coaches vs. Cancer Spokane

There’s a golf and gala weekend in August and an entire week of games in January. Proceeds from events like these have enabled Coaches vs. Cancer Spokane — now in its 10th year — to contribute nearly $5 million toward the cause of cancer research for children. What kind of help does CvC provide? Hundreds of thousands of dollars in research grants, along with vouchers for lodging and gasoline (so that parents can visit their hospitalized daughters and sons). And how do they attract that kind of support? When Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few calls, donors pick up the phone. (MB)

2nd PLACE: Epicurean Delight; 3rd PLACE: Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure


BEST VISUAL ARTS SPACE

The MAC

State budget cuts this fall left the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture teetering on the edge of closure — but a growing grassroots effort is fighting back. In succession, the MAC gave us Harold Balazs’ serpentine sculptures of rusted tangles, Ruben Trejo’s brightly sinister skews of the Day of the Dead, and Timothy Ely’s ornate tomes of almost-language. Here, the intimate nooks break up the yawning atrium, allowing artwork to dominate or shrink from focus, to hang in midair, to crawl up the walls and inside the mind. (DW)

2nd PLACE: Barrister Winery; 3rd PLACE(tie): Saranac, Tinman Gallery; NORTH IDAHO’S BEST: Art Spirit Gallery, CdA


BEST TOURING MUSICAL (OF 2010-2011)

Legally Blonde

Admit it: If you vote in this category at all, you just vote for whatever show was most recently in town. Well, this time, you’ve outdone yourself: The actual winner for best road show hasn’t even stopped here yet. That’s right: The top vote getter was … you may have seen some ads about how it’ll be here in May … Wicked. As for our win-place-show entries: South Pacific was here in October; Spring Awakening, in January; and Legally Blonde, just last month. See a pattern? (MB)

2nd PLACE: Spring Awakening; 3rd PLACE: South Pacific


BEST LOCAL BAND (COVERS)

6 Foot Swing

Do they get excited anymore? Does 6 Foot Swing even care when they win this category every year? We wondered — and so we asked. Their answer? Hell yes, they do. The long-running jazz and swing cover band — which plays everything from charity functions to weddings, beer bars to wine bars — loves to play. So it helps when people like it, too. “I’m so proud of the reputation we have proved to receive in our community, and the Northwest,” says Heather Villa, who also works as an Inlander sales rep. She and her bandmates chalk a lot of their popularity up to their loyal following of swing dancers. “We get so much of our energy and excitement from them,” says Tom Shook, who plays piano and clarinet in the band. Villa agrees — the dancers are an integral part of what the band does: “Every time we add a song to our repertoire, we think, ‘Can you swing-dance to this?’” (LS)

2nd PLACE: The Cronkites; 3rd PLACE: Cruxie


NORTH IDAHO'S BEST VISUAL ARTS SPACE

The Art Spirit Gallery

click to enlarge BO_ARTS_GalleryinteriorbyJoelRineQuickSilverStudios.jpg

Steve Gibbs has an eye for bringing it all together. Artists and clients. Art and community. And all the art throughout Coeur d’Alene’s Art Spirit Gallery.

“Steve’s hard work is key to the success” of the gallery, says artist Kyle Palioto, whose plein-air painting exhibition opens in June. “Curating a new show every month is evidence of [Gibbs’] resolve.”

Fueled by a love of the arts (and plenty of coffee), Gibbs creates a sophisticated yet welcoming environment in the Sherman Avenue space, which was renovated in 2003. Each month, he and gallery assistants Victoria Dickinson and Penny Sbicca break down the current show, carefully re-crating and storing the pieces, ranging from delicate glass to back-breakingly heavy sculptures. They spackle and paint the 16-foot walls white. Then, drawing on his own artist/commercial design background, Gibbs begins the composition process, hanging and arranging the art.

“The space feels different every time,” says Gibbs, who meticulously redesigns not only the featured artist space but also mini-exhibition areas — the window display, the mezzanine — with pieces from among more than 80 “artist-partners,” as he calls them. Many artists he calls friends.

When you ask about the work, Gibbs is as likely to talk about something personal as he is to talk about the artists’ technique — Claudia Pettis’ retreat for the rare Black Welsh Mountain sheep that are the subject of her oil paintings, or Ian Boyden’s alchemical ink paintings.

“In terms of the business end,” says Gibbs, his philosophy is “art and community.” The second Friday ArtWalks are important, he says, because that’s when the artists are accessible, allowing the community to get to know them.

Curious? Want to see more? Beneath the gallery, the 2,000-square-foot basement holds a work inventory of between 500 and 600 pieces, which are ideal for someone interested in seeing a wider range of an artist’s work. And if you’re envisioning yourself together with a particular piece but can’t see how you can afford it, Gibbs will store it for you while you work out a payment plan (like yours truly, who is just months away from hanging a certain Mel McCuddin piece on her living room wall). (CS)


BEST RADIO STATION

KZZU, 92.9 FM

We listened to KZZU for an hour last week just to get a sense of what our Best Of voters were on to. The hour began with Matchbox 20 and ended with a song by Matchbox 20 frontman Rob Thomas. Here’s what was in between: Lifehouse, Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, Michael Franti, Marcy Playground, He is We, Christina Perri, Kings of Leon and Taylor Swift. A popstravaganza, in other words. It’s no wonder the masses love it. (JS)

2nd PLACE: Coyote Country, 99.9 FM; 3rd PLACE: KYRS, 92.3 FM


BEST RADIO DJ OR TEAM

Dave, Ken and Molly

Is it time to start using the word “dynasty”? Three years ago, we ushered the KZZU radio team of Dave, Ken and Molly into our hallowed Hall of Fame. Their listeners, we’ve noted, love the down-to-earth, laid-back banter and high jinks on their show, which runs from 5 am to 10 am every weekday morning on 92.9. But this year, they’ve taken home their 13th Best Of title. (This includes the pre-Molly days, when they were known as the Breakfast Boys.) That’s the same number of championships won by the Green Bay Packers in football and the Toronto Maple Leafs in hockey. True, they have a way to go before they reach Yankee status (the Bronx Bombers have won 27 World Series titles), but I think “dynasty” is starting to fit. (JS)

2nd PLACE: Jay & Kevin; 3rd PLACE: The Radiomen


BEST LOCAL BAND (ORIGINALS)

Mon Cheri

Seriously, folks, Mon Chéri deserves a round of applause for this one. This honor comes after a huge year for the adorable local quartet — one that included a big feature on MTV’s website. But these kids? They ain’t too big for their Spokane britches. “We all love to play music so much,” bassist Kurt Olson says, “and winning something like this is the best icing a cake could get.” (LS)

2nd PLACE: Too Slim and the Taildraggers; 3rd PLACE: Sammy Eubanks


BEST CONCERT (OF 2010-2011)

Brad Paisley and Darius Rucker

Man, was it ever a big year for country music in Spokane. That’s a little surprising — after all, “Best Radio Station” in this poll almost always goes to the poppy KZZU, and indie acts dominated our concert category a couple years ago — but it’s not too surprising. This is Spokane. And nobody tickled our readers’ boots more this year than ex-Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker and country megastar Brad Paisley, whose 20-song set at the Spokane Arena, studded with tunes from his recent greatest-hits album, was a hit in our poll. (JS)

2nd PLACE: Carrie Underwood (May 30, 2010 at Spokane Arena); 3rd PLACE: Tim McGraw with Lady Antebellum (May 2010, 2010 at Spokane Arena)


BEST OUTDOOR MUSIC FESTIVAL

Elkfest

Browne’s Addition’s scrappy annual block party edged out such giants as Pig Out in the Park and Sasquatch in the outdoor festival category this year, and we’re glad to see it. Now going on its seventh year, the weekend event on Cannon Street between the Elk Public House and Tully’s features mostly local musicians, arts and crafts booths and multiple beer gardens. Even despite frequent rainstorms, Elkfest draws a loyal, hearty (sometimes buzzed) crowd, with plenty of crossover from neighboring ArtFest. On sunny afternoon and evenings, drinking a beer and listening to a local band here is the perfect way to kick off the summer in Spokane. (JS)

2nd PLACE: Pig Out in the Park; 3rd PLACE: Festival at Sandpoint


BEST LOCAL MUSICIAN

Sammy Eubanks

Spokane’s hardest working man in showbiz is Sammy Eubanks. The veteran musician has boogied rattled and rolled Spokane’s stages for more than 30 years now— and he’s not about slow down anytime soon.

“We work a lot because I go out and get it,” Eubanks says. “But these days, my reputation is fortunate enough that people are calling us.” In jeans and a B.B. King T-shirt, it’s almost strange to see him in the daylight instead of under stage lights.

click to enlarge BO_ARTS_SammyEubanks_youngkwak.jpg

The versatile blues, country and rock ‘n’ roll musician has a voice that goes down smooth like warm whiskey and his guitar licks will leave you wiggling for more. His three albums — Why in the World?, My Big Fat Blues Record and Riding Alone — feature a combination of soulful covers and original material.

But his recordings can’t capture the live energy, dedication and showmanship that Eubanks and his band put into their craft on stage. Their determined crowd of listeners travel to the Bluz at the Bend on Wednesday nights, Templin’s on Thursdays. And they’ll go wherever the band is sure be playing over the weekend.

“This is it, this is all we do,” Eubanks says, knocking his fist on the wooden table. “We’re just out there shakin’ hands and kissin’ babies.” And this year, perhaps above all the rest, his hard work has paid off.

Earlier this March, Eubanks opened for the legendary B.B. King in Kennewick, Wash. Before explaining how monumental this performance was, Eubanks pauses for a moment to describe the first time he listened to the Father of Blues.

“I was sitting in the backseat of my father’s Lincoln and “The Thrill Is Gone” was playing on an eight-track tape,” he says. “From then on, he’s always been number one. In my book, there’s B.B. King — and then there’s everyone else. I don’t care if I ever play another note, you know? It was that big for me.”

It just goes to show that talent and hard work are a winning combination — and Spokane’s hardest-working man in showbiz is coming out on top. (JB)

2nd PLACE (tie): Dan Conrad, Cris Lucas; 3rd PLACE: Myles Kennedy


BEST LOCAL AUTHOR

Jess Walter

In writing, as in basketball, the authors Jess Walter and Sherman Alexie have a friendly rivalry that stretches back years. I figured Walter would want to gloat about beating Alexie here. Instead, he spun me a story.

“[Sherman] had a great riff about people saying he’s no longer a Spokane writer. He replied that he was the original Spokane writer — so I’ll just let that one stand on its own.”

This is Walter’s first Best Local Author award, and he was kinda flattered. “That’s just nuts,” he said.

Alexie is the lifetime king, with three wins. Patrick McManus — who, as far as we can tell, isn’t in an ongoing rivalry with anyone — has won twice.

As for Walter’s next book: “I just sent a first draft in today.” The novel, which has taken him nearly a decade to finish, was formerly titled The Hotel Adequate View. “It is now called Beautiful Ruins,” he says.

Walter guesses it’ll be out in 10 months, though that depends on a number of things. Like if his editor likes it or not. “So it could be called three other things and it might come out two years from now.” (LB)

2nd PLACE: Sherman Alexie; 3rd PLACE: Patrick McManus


BEST ARTS FESTIVAL

Art on the Green

Trees, grass, beach, lake … food and music … artworks and people-watching. Art on the Green appeals to all your senses. Crowds by the tens of thousands — strolling, gawking, chattering — enjoy sunny August afternoons in a grove of trees wedged between North Idaho College and Lake Coeur d’Alene. Grab a gyro, maybe an ice cream and then, as musicians perform a dozen musical genres on two stages, stroll past dozens of booths filled with paintings and sculptures, glass and jewelry. And feel the grass between your toes. (MB)

2nd PLACE: ArtFest; 3rd PLACE: Terrain


BEST FREE FESTIVAL

Pig Out in the Park

Oven-roasted pork and sweet-potato French fries. Beef pho with basil, lime and bean sprouts. Chocolate-covered Montana huckleberries. Spicy eggplant sandwiches with feta and tzatziki. Nutella crepes. Spanakopita and lentil soup. Elephant ears. California rolls with gyozas and yakisoba noodles. Funnel cakes. Turkey drumsticks, Cajun-style. Tandoori chicken and basmati rice. Hot dogs smothered in sauerkraut. We can’t believe we spent our entire Labor Day weekend eating. And yes, we believe we will have another beer. (MB)

2nd PLACE: Elkfest; 3rd PLACE: ArtFest


BEST LOCAL PLAY OR MUSICAL OF 2010-11

White Christmas (Spokane Civic Theatre)

click to enlarge BO_ARTS_WhiteChristmas_youngkwak.jpg

Performing the musical with Bing Crosby’s famous song for the first time in his hometown — if you’re after big ticket sales, it seems like a no-brainer. But the Civic’s White Christmas did even better than anticipated: Almost before the run began, the show sold out.

The source of its appeal? Nostalgia for the old folks, discovery for younger playgoers. For graybeards, the show offers reminders of a simpler time, back when people escaped wartime privations by enjoying melodic big-band tunes. For youngsters, there’s the discovery that back when fighting a war meant making sacrifices, folks were capable of genuine selflessness. Not to mention the tap-dance storm, the graceful ballroom dancing, the loveliness of the title song being handed off from soloist to small group to the entire cast.

As with Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the emphasis is on generosity. (The “let’s put on a show” moment in White Christmas has an altruistic motivation: The guys do a fundraiser to benefit their beloved former Army commander, who’s fallen on hard economic times.) Director Yvonne A.K. Johnson says that resonated with audiences undergoing a recession. They’ve become less materialistic, she says. “People are starting to value experiences with others more — more than giving gifts and being consumers. So people would gather their families and loved ones, throw a party or go out to dinner beforehand, then see the show, go out for drinks and dessert afterwards, and then talk about the show.” Christmastime playgoing became an entire experience about sharing.

White Christmas is a big production: a dozen sets, more than 1,200 costume pieces, an orchestra, a large cast. One example of the show’s demands: You know those blue feather fans that the two leading women use in the “Sisters” number? Any production needs a backup pair (just in case, and also because the leading men also use the fans in the song’s drag reprise). Well, Johnson negotiated a deal, but still — those four fans cost $180 each.

She’ll get a return on her investment, though: The Civic plans to revive the production in late 2012. “So many people didn’t get to see it — I feel bad about that,” says Johnson. Selling out a show — it’s a good problem for a theater to have. (MB)

2nd PLACE: The Buddy Holly Story, Civic; 3rd PLACE: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Civic; NORTH IDAHO’S BEST: Hairspray, CdA Summer Theater

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