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Best Of 2005

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Best of the Inland Northwest 

BEST CONCERT OF THE PAST YEAR

Cher at the Arena

Cher won this category for her farewell tour performance at the Arena. Two years ago. This past year, she came back for one more lingering goodbye. Maybe she's onto something — an annual going-away party, perhaps? We may joke about just how many farewell tours Cher can pull off, but clearly the woman knows how to put on a show and entertain her dedicated fans, because they turn out faithfully. Accompanied by the Village People during January's visit, Cher is certainly the reigning diva of concert extravaganzas. (Ann M. Colford)

2nd: 10 Minutes Down at First Night; 3rd: Dave Matthews Band at the Gorge


BEST ARTS FESTIVAL OF THE PAST YEAR

ArtFest

After a couple of years off-site during construction of the new MAC and a couple of years to work out the kinks on the revamped museum grounds, it looks like ArtFest is back on top of the hotly contested duel for top outdoor arts festival in the region. Serving as the unofficial kickoff of summer, ArtFest draws fine artists and craftspeople from throughout the Northwest for three days of al fresco music, food, browsing and schmoozing. More than 30,000 people converge on Browne's Addition during the annual gathering, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary from June 3-5 this year. (Ann M. Colford)

2nd: Art on the Green; 3rd: First Night


BEST TOURING SHOW OF THE YEAR

Les Miserables

Victor Hugo's sprawling story of one man's life during France's tumultuous 19th century seems an odd choice for the Broadway musical treatment, yet Les Miz consistently sells out whenever a touring show comes to town — and the eight performances last November were no exception. Maybe it's the theme of simple goodness, compassion and redemption amid corruption, betrayal and hopelessness; maybe it's the portrayal of patriotic fervor and the utter human cost of war. Maybe it's the incredible revolving stage or the barricade set that looks like something out of the Transformers. Whatever the draw, 50 million people — the number who've seen the show worldwide — can't be wrong. (Ann M. Colford)

2nd: The Producers; 3rd: Evita


BEST LOCAL PLAY

Dirty Blonde

In just their second production, Michael Weaver's Actors Repertory Theater knocked the socks off both critics and theatergoers with Claudia Shear's play, Dirty Blonde. The script pays tribute to film star Mae West while exploring the continuing influence of West on two obsessive fans. Strong acting by Christina Lang and Weaver, crisp direction by Chad Henry and great technical support made this "the kind of show that local theatergoers will regret missing," according to our own critic, Michael Bowen. Looks like lots of others agreed. (Ann M. Colford)

2nd: Noises Off (Civic); 3rd: The Underpants (Interplayers); North Idaho's Best: Cats (CDA Summer Theater)


BEST CHARITY EVENT OF THE PAST YEAR

Spokane AIDS Network's Oscar Gala

Some charity events are polite little snoozers, where you sit elbow to elbow at folding round tables nibbling lukewarm banquet food while a guest speaker drones on about the organization du jour's contribution to the greater good of the community, blah blah blah. But the annual Oscar Gala to benefit the Spokane AIDS Network ain't your mama's benefit. It's a true gala, with formal dress, a red carpet and all the elegance the Davenport Hotel can muster. The seventh annual Oscar Gala just happened at the end of February, so you'll have to wait a whole 'nother year to get yourself gussied up for the next one. All the glamour of Hollywood, and your social conscience gets strokes, too? What a deal. (Ann M. Colford)

2nd: Coaches Against Cancer; 3rd: Epicurean Delight; North Idaho's Best: CdA Summer Theater's Travolta Cruise


BEST OUTDOOR ART

"The Joy of Running Together," by David Govedare

Twenty years ago, artist and running enthusiast David Govedare created 40 life-size steel silhouette figures of runners in motion to capture his feelings about Spokane's annual Bloomsday road race. The work was installed in 1985 at the corner of Post Street and Spokane Falls Boulevard, at what was then the finish line of the race. Today, even though the finish line has been relocated several blocks away, the Bloomsday Runners continue to grab the attention of visitors and residents alike.

"When you run [the race] you hear the breath of the community," Govedare says. "You hear all of us breathing, you hear the slap of shoes on the pavement. You're passed by 5-year-olds and 80-year-olds. You become ageless, part of a big giant flow, a sea of focused energy, the connection of 50,000 people doing the same thing at the same time. The ceremony of the event has precedence."

Bloomsday has been deeply etched in Spokane's civic psyche, and that may explain the enduring popularity of the runners as public symbols of who we are. As a community, we seem to specialize in bigger-than-life events of public participation: witness Hoopfest, Pig Out in the Park, Allegro's Royal Fireworks Festival and First Night. That kind of community participation is embodied in Govedare's sculpture.

"It's a reflection of the rhythm of all of us as people doing an event that's part of the lifeblood of our community," he says. "The sculpture commemorates that event. It's energy in motion, moving through the park, and it absolutely captures a moment in time."

As a public work of art, Govedare's sculpture is continually addressing a new audience, even though he finished it two decades ago. He has a gimpy knee now that won't allow him to run 12 kilometers on paved streets, but he's still part of the Bloomsday family, and he's thrilled that people still find meaning in that work.

"Anything we do in life, in reality, is timeless," says Govedare. "I think it's pretty cool that the runners have a timeless appreciation in the community. I care about the durability of the message along with the durability of the piece. It's great to be able to sustain emotion, like in a good song, when you say, 'What a riff!' It's the same thing with a sculpture. It gives me great gratification that I said the right thing in the first place, and that we do have continuing messages that ring true." (Ann M. Colford)

2nd: The Red Wagon by Ken Spiering ("The Childhood Express"); 3rd: Centennial Sculpture by Harold Balazs ("Untitled" aluminum sculpture in the Spokane River in Riverfront Park)


BEST ARTS VENUE TO SAVE

The Fox

Movie theaters — even the most egregious suburban shoebox cineplexes — often hold a special place in our hearts. There's the one we went to for Star Wars. The one where we first held hands. The one where we saw our first foreign film. The one we went to just last week. So you can imagine the memories that must pour forth when that movie theater is almost 75 years old, is a gorgeous example of 1930s art deco and has a rich past as a performing arts venue to boot.

When the Spokane Symphony first announced its "Light Up the Fox" campaign several months ago, it was just those sorts of stories they were looking for. While they were happy to get accounts of the famous people who performed on the Fox stage, some of the best stories have come from everyday folks with fond memories — folks like my dad, who used to squire dates into the "big city" all the way from Deer Park in a Model A Ford.

"We've been getting so many great stories from people," says Elizabeth Thompson, assistant to the development director for the Spokane Symphony. "One man took three girls in a row to see Camelot and ended up proposing to the third. They're still happily married."

The Symphony already has a sturdy little collection of stories, and they were happy to share some of their favorites with us. Charles Rice, who's now in his 80s, performed with the "Fox Trailers," which was a children's band that played at intermissions. He still has programs from 1931, the year the Fox opened. Others remember the balcony as a mysteriousplace where teenagers went to neck and ushers would be on the lookout to break up said activity. Dick Hazelmyer still has pictures of himself in a space suit to promote the movie Destination Moon.

Pranks were played at the Fox as well — one man remembers bringing a date to a movie, only to find his VW Beetle sitting right in the middle of the lobby when they emerged after the show. His friends had somehow maneuvered the car inside by either distracting or bribing the employees. Harlow Gibbon remembers going to opening night at the Fox with his mom and meeting his future wife at the Fox. Our favorite story from Gibbon, however, dating from years earlier, involves a chance encounter he once had with '40s bombshell Susan Hayward. "He drove performers around town, and she asked him if he wanted to go out dancing," says Thompson. "He declined because he already had a date that night. He jokes that he's always regretted that."

Now it's time to make sure the Fox survives to create even more memories. (Sheri Boggs)

If you've got Fox memories you'd like to share, the Symphony would love to hear them. You can visit them on the Web at www.spokanesymphony.org or call them at 326-3136 to schedule a tour of the Fox or to get more information.


BEST OUTDOOR ART IN NORTH IDAHO

The Moose of Coeur d'Alene

We're not sure where the idea of auctioning off oversized whimsical sculptures came from, but it sure has taken off. Seattle's The Stranger suggests that the trend began in 1998 with a collection of cows in Zurich, Switzerland. Spokane (along with Seattle and Portland) hosted 10 five-foot-tall coffee mugs back in 1999, each decorated by a local artist; Seattle went zoological in 2001 with its pig auction. Last summer, any observant visitor to the Lake City could spot a veritable herd of strikingly decorated fiberglass moose gracing the sidewalks, greeting passers-by and inviting comments all over town.

Here's how it worked in Coeur d'Alene. Twenty-five local artists each were given identical, life-size fiberglass moose sculptures. Applying their considerable imagination, the artists decorated the moose, which were unveiled in late May and installed in locations all over town. The city promoted the "Moose on the Loose" locations all summer long, with many locations right in the heart of downtown. Then in September, the EXCEL Foundation, a group that gives grants to teachers in the Coeur d'Alene schools, auctioned off the moose-terpieces at its grand event, No Moose Left Behind. In addition to the life-size moose, nearly 40 tabletop moose (now there's a phrase I never thought I'd write) found homes with happy donors as well. The auction raised about $400,000 for EXCEL's mission of improving the learning experiences of Coeur d'Alene students. Top bid went for "Z'Moosterpiece" by artist Terry Lee.

Sadly, most of the moose are gone from the streets of Coeur d'Alene now, gone to grace the homes or businesses of the donors, although a few remain (like the one picture here). Still, the funds raised went to a good cause, so lonely moose-watchers will have to hold onto that thought as consolation. (Ann M. Colford)


BEST OF THE INLAND NORTHWEST — ABOUT US

Best Cover Story

Inlander writer picks

Has anyone ever asked you what you had for breakfast and you just can't remember? That's kind of the feeling you get sometimes in the newspaper game. The issues go by so fast, by the time our paper reaches your hands, we're already thinking about next week. So it's easy to see the stories you write as a kind of blur. Some, however, stay with you for a month, a year or even five years after you write them.

I'll always remember the paper's first cover story (on growth management) back in 1993, mainly because I was in the odd position of reporting for a newspaper that didn't yet exist. Then there were all those River Park Square parking garage stories — we sure killed a lot of trees over that one.

But for some reason, the story that sticks with me is a profile of Craig Ehlo, the former NBA star who lives in Spokane and coached the lowly Rogers basketball team for a couple seasons. It was one of those moments when you realize that life can play out in sports.

Ehlo told me about how his own high school coach back in Lubbock, Texas, would take time out for his daughters during practice, driving home a family-first ethic that extended to his players — a message Ehlo wanted to share. My lasting image from the story is of Ehlo crouching down at center court before a game at Ferris, taking time out for his own young daughter and her friend while his team shot around. Although I almost never write about sports, I saw then that long after the wins and losses are forgotten, a coach's message really can stick. ("Call Him Coach," 2/15/01 — type the key word "Ehlo" into our story finder at www.inlander.com.)

Since we asked you readers to pick your favorite cover stories, we thought it would be fun to ask our writers to reveal their favorite assignments, too.

Managing Editor Sheri Boggs used her creative writing background to brainstorm a story on Inland Northwest Lit. "The fun thing was finding out there really is an Inland Northwest style of writing," she says. "It's grungy, kind of downtrodden and maybe reflects our economy and that Spokane state of mind."

Sheri says that story also ties into our annual set-in-the-Inland-Northwest Fiction Contest, which she spearheads every year around Christmas. "I like all our literary covers. You don't see that a lot, even among other weeklies, and I like that we do that here." ("Reading the Region," 7/4/02 — key word "Ryrie")

"The one that meant the most to me was the adoption story," says Michael Bowen, who was himself adopted as an infant. The pressure was double on that story, he adds, because it was our first edition with our new page design and it was also his first cover story as a staff writer.

And the story is very personal, as it details the trip he and his wife took to Russia to adopt their daughter. But the story struck a nerve in the community, too, he says: "Even months later, people would call out of the blue to share adoption stories with me." ("The Adoption Game," 1/11/02 — key word "Adoption")

Mike Corrigan is a yard-sale junkie, and when he picked up a late-1960s map of Spokane that detailed the locations of hundreds of bomb shelters all over the city, he knew he had a good story on his hands. About researching his cover story on Cold War bomb shelters, he says, "Basically, it gave me an excuse to get into old buildings. I'm fascinated by places you're not supposed to go."

"But it's topical, too," he adds, "since national defense is such a big deal now. The irony is that those bomb shelters probably wouldn't have helped with a major nuclear attack — but for a dirty bomb, like we hear about now, they'd be ideal." ("Sheltered Existence," 5/20/04 — key word "ICBM")

After a trip to Chicago to attend the organization's national convention, Cara Gardner says she was energized to write about the Take Back Your Time movement, which aims to gain more free time for working Americans. After it ran, she even helped the organization stage two events in the Inland Northwest.

"It was kind of like participatory journalism. The mainstream media just isn't talking about this stuff," Gardner says. "Writing it, I knew so many people could relate to it because nobody has any time." ("Time For a Change?" 7/1/04 — key word "Graaf")

As our newest reporter, Joel Smith's favorite cover story (on the Spokane aquifer) ran just last month. "Honestly, I didn't really know what an aquifer was," he says. But by spending a day with a hydrologist and taking in a couple of public meetings, he was able to find out more — namely that people were plenty mad about how their water source is being treated. That approach, he says, "made it more of a human issue and less of a technocrat issue." ("Digging Deeper," 2/10/05 — key word "cathode/anode")

We walk by homeless teens in downtown Spokane every week, but it took Leah Sottile to recognize an important story was right under our noses. Leah has long been interested in homeless issues, having founded a newspaper for the homeless, Rising Times, while still a student at Gonzaga University. Her motivation in tackling the subject, she says, was to make the problem more visible. The homeless, she says, "don't have to be seen as an inferior part of our society — they're just like us."

After the story, Leah received a lot of letters, even from parents of kids who had run away. But the one that meant the most was the handmade thank you card from the kids who live at Crosswalk. ("Kicked to the Curb," 7/29/04 — key word "Balum")

— Ted S. McGregor Jr.


Best "On the Street" Question We Haven't Yet Asked

Why do you live in Spokane?

This is not an existential question — leave that to the contributors who wondered "What should Spokane do?" or simply "Why do you live?" But the quality of local life is very much on readers' minds: Questions about why people moved to Spokane and then chose to stay here predominated among the suggestions we received. Of course, some wags got their digs in: "When people ask where you live, do you lie?" and "What does Spokane want to be when it grows up?"

One civic-minded contributor posed this query: "What should be done to make Spokane more fun for the retention of youth?"

(Oh, I don't know, maybe not use phrases like "retention of youth," which sounds like a bunch of teenagers with intestinal problems.)

If question-posers weren't thinking about how to improve their hometown, they were thinking about where in their hometown they might get lucky: best place to kiss, best place to do more than just kiss, and so on.

Several people have blunt concerns: "Gay or straight?" they ask, along with "How many people have you slept with?" But the trophy for Creepiest Person Bathed in the Television's Bluish Light goes to the individual who wondered, "Which newscaster would you most like to shag?"

Of course, when it comes to sex, some take more of a hands-off than inquiring-minds kind of approach: "Do you care what your neighbors are doing in bed? Why?"

All the questions about George W. Bush were critical of him: "President Bush: crazy or evil?" was one of the milder examples. One respondent did strive for fairness: "What question would you ask President Bush?"

Turning away from politics, some readers think that "On the Street" ought to serve their personal needs: "Do you know Kara?" and "Who is Jimmy Pang?" Two of my own favorites would send readers on scavenger hunts: "Have you seen my baseball?" and "What the hell happened to my sweater?"

But the Self-Serving Citation goes to the reader who asked, "Who is the next rising star from Spokane? Brooke Lafleur?" (Not surprisingly, that reader's name is ... Brooke Lafleur.)

Two of our philosophically minded but grammatically challenged readers asked, "Why are women stupid" — just like that, without any end punctuation. (Both are men.) But don't women at least know how to use question marks?

Still, there's no need to assume that we live under a perpetual cloud of disillusionment. We received plenty of civic-minded, can-do questions: "What's the best thing about Spokane?" and "When you leave town, how long is it before you're dying to get back?" and "What have you done for Spokane lately?" and "How can we revitalize/attract more people downtown?"

Creating a sense of synergy, accomplishing civic projects, re-energizing our downtown core — these are all worthy goals.

If only we could attain them, surely we would improve our retention of youth.

— Michael Bowen

2nd: Questions about sex; 3rd: Questions about President Bush


Best Cover Story We've Published

River Park Square

If there's a crooked parking garage deal anywhere in town, The Inlander is on top of it. At least our readers think so. We loved your River Park Square/River Park Square garage/River Park Square exposed/River Park Square financial fallout story, they say. Interesting, in that The Inlander hasn't run a cover story on River Park Square since December 2001 ("River Park Square for Dummies.").

After that, to be frank, people voted — if they voted in this category at all — for covers they recalled from recent issues, perhaps from whatever covers they actually had lying around right there in front of them: Nearly all the big vote-getters came from the last two months (including "From Monet to Modigliani," "Domestic Arts" and "What's the Big Idea?").

Cara Gardner and Leah Sottile's joint venture in comparing our neck of the woods to southern Idaho, however ("Is Boise Better?") hails from last December. Clearly, it struck our collective insecurity nerve.

Votes for Joel Smith's aquifer story were typical in spanning the range from exact quotation of the cover headline ("Will the Tap Run Dry?") to acceptable paraphrase ("The Aquifer — it's about time") to amiable vagueness ("the one about the water").

But whether you liked our 2004 elections coverage or our cover packages on women in business, vermiculite in Libby, the LC school shooting or Spokane's nightlife, we know that that we're appreciated ("too many to choose from," "they're all good").

Of course, there are also the responses that can bring a self-satisfied journalist back down to earth ("Like I can remember" and "I don't know or care"). And don't forget the votes crediting us for writing cover stories that we never actually wrote — you know, our cover stories on Go Go Burrito, Ron Jeremy, the WASL and Johnny Carson.

Perhaps our cover stories simply aren't captivating you. Did you know that we also have a crossword puzzle and "I Saw You" and cartoons and stuff?

— Michael Bowen

2nd: (tie) "Will the Tap Run Dry?" and "Is Boise Better?"


Best Section To Read Each Week

Film Section

For us Inlander staffers who have a specific part of the paper to helm, the results of this category were highly anticipated indeed. Would it be our news coverage, our in-depth treatment of everything from the aquifer to the war in Iraq, or would it be our award-winning arts writing on the fluffier aspects of life in the Northwest - notably, where to eat, who to go see and what's in town? Although it was a close race, pure cinematic escapism won out with "movie reviews" "film listings" and even one highly specific vote for "The Scorecard" taking the lead. From regular Inlander film reviewer Ed Symkus's weekly musings to staff ratings on midnight movies and our recently returned Take Two feature, it's clear our readers look here first when figuring out what (and when) to see.

Coming in an ultra-close second is our excellent Music/Nightlife section with the masterminds behind that section — Mike Corrigan and Leah Sottile — getting several mentions by name. And finally, what is entertainment if you're too hungry to enjoy it? Our weekly restaurant reviews turn the spotlight on breakfast, lunch, dinner and often, that perk-a-licious meal-in-itself, coffee. It's a tough job, as they say, and we're more than happy to deliver.

— Sheri Boggs

2nd: Music/Nightlife; 3rd: Food/Restaurant Reviews


Best Thing to Add to The Inlander

More Comics

An alarming number of you want us to add a crossword puzzle. It's not that we have anything against crossword puzzles — in fact, we love 'em. It's just that we wonder how you've missed it — David Levinson Wilk's "Pop Culture Crossword," which has been running on our Coffee Break page in Classifieds for more than two years now. But an even larger number of you want us to run "more comics" or "different comics" or simply to run our comics larger (or as one reader amusingly put it, "a free magnifying glass to read 'This Modern World'"). A few votes came in for specific comics (Lynda Barry's "Ernie Pook's Comeek," for instance) as well as for "the same comics that run in The Stranger." And speaking of The Stranger, some of you requested more "escort ads," as well as the enticing weekly appearance of the infamous "Cabana Boy."

Second place was a tie between things we're already doing — it's just that y'all are insatiable for more, more, more — specifically, more business news and more Music and Nightlife.

We weren't surprised to see that our readers would like to see more sports coverage in our pages, but we were amused by how many of you think we should maybe "hire a conservative for a change." One reader says he assiduously avoids Arianna Huffington's commentaries; several others said they'd just like to see a "more balanced viewpoint." And finally, "Events for Teens" or some variation thereof rounded out third place. Our favorite, however, was the reader who wanted an "Eyesore of the Week" column, with "full-color pictures shaming property owners into cleaning things up." Heh. Nothing like seeing that couch on your front porch showing up in the pages of The Inlander.

— Sheri Boggs

2nd: (tie) Business News; Music and Nightlife; 3rd: (tie) Sports; Conservative Viewpoints; Events for Teens

Publication date: 03/24/05

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