Best of Knoxville 2013: Arts & Entertainment

Best Museum

Knoxville Museum of Art
The Knoxville Museum of Art isn't big, as urban art museums go, but the modernist white neo-cubist concept on the hillside of World's Fair Park does a lot with what it has. Once mainly a place for ever-changing exhibits emphasizing one contemporary artist or another, the KMA still offers such special displays of mostly current painting, sculpture, photography, and other media, but has now shifted its emphasis to include ongoing exhibits, ever-refreshed with new additions.

Its first permanent installation, Higher Ground, traces local art from antebellum landscapes to local impressionism to hardcore abstract expressionism of the postwar era, and a few unexpected diversions along the way. A newer ongoing exhibit launched this past winter, Currents, emphasizes new East Tennessee art.

Meanwhile, its every-Friday Live After Five music series finds an elusive niche between the nightclub and the auditorium, for those of us who like to experience jazz and blues in an appreciative setting (and at a time that allows us to make an early evening of it).

The museum's now expanding its garden space, and preparing for a major glass installation by local hero Richard Jolley. Once seemingly remote, it's at the center of what seems to be slowly evolving into a sort of arts and education district, with the STEM Academy across the way, a prospective Discovery Center in the works, and rumors of future dramatic projects. (J.N.)
Runners Up: East Tennessee Discovery Center, East Tennessee History Center, Frank H. McClung Museum

Best Gallery

Bennett Gallery
Runners Up: Art Market Gallery, Bliss Home, The Emporium

Best Artist

Rob St. Clair
Runners Up: Sarah Holland, Cynthia Markert, Beth Meadows

Best Theater Group

Clarence Brown Theater
Runners Up: Salome Cabaret, Tennessee Stage Company, Theatre Knoxville

Best Actor

Big Gay James, Salome Cabaret
The host of locale burlesque and vaudeville troupe Salome Cabaret has been nominated in this category before, "but I was listed under my real name, so I don't think I got many votes." As James Owens he's always been taller than most, and when he came out, friends and acquaintances would distinguish him from the crowd as "Big Gay James." And while he didn't care for it then, now "it's a badge of honor." Although he gave up acting in the mainstream theater at 20 after some years of working with the Oak Ridge Playhouse, his current role with Salome provides him with the creative outlet that he needs: "I'm inspired by the audience, I love making them laugh." (D.P.)
Runners Up: Dale Dickey, Lauren Lazarus, Andi Maria Morrow

Best Dance Company

Circle Modern Dance
Runners Up: Appalachian Flow Arts, East Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble, Salome Cabaret

Best Rock Band

Dirty Guv'nahs
See Best Band in the Best of the Best section, and Best Local Kickstarter/Indiegogo Project in Online Knoxville.
Runners Up: 10 Years, Black Cadillacs, Southern Drawl

Best Hip-Hop Group

When I texted Wil Wright that his act LiL IFFy had won Best Hip-Hop Act, I think his response was something along the lines of, "Holy shit, no way!" Wright has been a staple of the music scene for over a decade, but his former (and still extant) band Senryu had never placed higher than second in a BoK poll. Yet his Harry Potter-themed hip-hop act, which started two years ago as a joke, has suddenly landed him more success than he's ever had before.

LiL IFFy will be playing Bonnaroo this summer. Wright's hired Chyna Brackeen as his manager. His tour this fall, timed to coincide with his third album release, will be booked by a real, big-time agency. LiL IFFy is going places.

"It's hard to believe it's real," Wright says. "Every time I pay my car insurance, I'm like, this is 100 percent money I made rapping about magic." (C.W.G.)
Runners Up: Aftah Party, Jaystorm Project, Theorizt

Best Jazz Band

Knoxville Jazz Orchestra
Folks might once have assumed the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra was a nostalgia act, aimed at graying folks who sorely missed the days of Skitch Henderson. But under the baton (not really a baton) of trumpeter Vance Thompson, they've matured into a complex and sometimes daring band, breaking new boundaries with innovative shows. They even earned national praise last year for their album Christmas Time is Here, which NPR called one of the nation's top five Christmas albums for 2012. Downbeat magazine praised the album, too, hailing the band as a "25-piece juggernaut." (The KJO's not always quite that big.) Straying well outside their usual boundaries, they've been playing semi-regular lunchtime tributes to jazz greats at the Square Room, and a stripped-down combo, the Marble City 5, led by Thompson, plays every Tuesday night through August on Market Square. (J.N.)
Runners Up: Donald Brown, Frog & Toad's Dixie Quartet, the Streamliners

Best Americana Band

The Black Lillies
Runners Up: Barstool Romeos, Dirty Guv'nahs, Guy Marshall

Best Blues Band

Jenna and Her Cool Friends
Jenna Jefferson has been singing the blues in Knoxville for two decades now, starting at jam sessions at Sassy Ann's and moving on to the R&B and funk outfit Jenna and the Accidentals and now concentrating on the straight-up blues with her Cool Friends. The Cool Friends—Jefferson, Keith Ford, "Detroit" Dave Meer, Michael Crawley, Ben Maney, G. Glyn Lloyd, and Kevin Redding—are a fixture on the local scene, performing several times a month at venues as varied as Mulligan's, Preservation Pub, the Shed in Maryville, and Knoxville Museum of Art's Alive After Five series. They turn the classic blues into a funky, soulful, groovy party—one that you'll soon be able to enjoy at home, when the band releases its anticipated debut CD. (M.E.)
Runners Up: Big Jon and the Nationals, Pistol Creek Catch of the Day, John Worley's Cornbread Blues Band

Best Cover Band

The Coveralls
Runners Up: the Breakfast Club, King Super and the Excellents, Pop Rox

Best Live Performance Series

WDVX Blue Plate Special
Can you name something else this cool that's not copied from what's going on in some other city? Every day, Knoxvillians, unlike almost all other Americans, can see bluegrass, old-time, blues, folk, jazz, and unclassifiable performers from all over the world, usually two a day, for an hour, for free. The live radio show happens almost every day but Sundays at the Knoxville Visitor Center on Gay Street, which is also the permanent studio of WDVX, the independent public radio station that famously started in a camper in field. Inspired by Knoxville's long and fruitful tradition of lunchtime live-audience radio on Gay Street, and hosted by the literally colorful host, Red Hickey, Blue Plate has hosted everybody from Bela Fleck to Trampled by Turtles. (J.N.)
Runners Up: KSO Masterwork Series, Rhythm & Blooms, Tennessee Shines

Best Concert Venue

Tennessee Theatre
Runners Up: Bijou Theatre, Pilot Light, Preservation Pub

Best Karaoke

Toot's Little Honky Tonk
Runners Up: Bullfeather's, Marie's Olde Town Tavern, Ray's ESG

Best Live Comedy Venue

Side Splitters Comedy Club
It's a regular laugh riot at Side Splitters, and that's no joke. This waggish West Knoxville club keeps the fun coming with a regular slate of witty travelers including funny famous names and uproarious unknowns. There's always a good time to be had, and the club features neat packages for major holidays that keeps both gift-givers and gift-getters in good humor. (D.P.)
Runners Up: Preservation Pub, Tennessee Theatre, the Well

Best Rock Club

Pilot Light
The little hole in the wall that could is now officially a Knoxville institution. Since opening in 2000, the tiny Old City club has hosted some legendary and near-legendary international acts (French band Ulan Bator recently played one of its first-ever U.S. shows there) and hot-stuff buzz-bin bands (the Black Keys played there long before they won any Grammy awards). The club has also been the unofficial headquarters for some of the city's hippest bands, like the Royal Bangs, the Vaygues, the Mutations, and owner Jason Boardman's own White Gregg. It may not look like much, from either the outside or inside, but few venues have ever had the kind of long-term impact on Knoxville music as Pilot Light. (M.E.)
Knoxville: Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria, Preservation Pub, Square Room

Best Gay Club

Club XYZ
If you're still in the dark about Knoxville's thriving and faaaabulous gay scene (and, yes, you do spell that word with the multiple a), this bar is the place to discover it. The diversity of the vibe appeals to a multi-generational and pansexual crowd. Weekday happy hours have a neighborhood bar vibe that one heterosexual regular describes as being like a "gay Cheers." But nights and weekends bring out the best of local gay pride when owner and entertainer Richard Cameron, aka Raz, and the merry band of XYZ Queens get the drag on, and when the dance floor gets crowded, happy, and just rowdy. The very popular Night of 1,000 Dollys has passed for the year, but you'll want to plan ahead for the next year's incarnation of what may be the most faaaabulous local club night of them all. (D.P.)
Runners Up: Carousel, Club eXile, the Edge

Best Dance Club

Sassy Ann's
If you're just driving past the place during daylight hours and you haven't been keeping your ear to the ground, it might be easy to mistake this 120-year-old Victorian house for not much more than a big old house. But inside the venerable three-story bit of history, the beat goes on in ways that attract a large and culturally diverse (gay, straight and indifferent) crowd who rock the night away with one of the best dance parties in town. (D.P.)
Runners Up: Latitude 35, NV Night Club, Southbound

Best Club DJ

DJ Slink (Heath Shinpaugh)
Runners Up: 4matiks (Forrest Kurth), DJ EricB (Eric Bennett), Fast Nasty (Matt Keaton)

Best Adult Entertainment Club

Mouse's Ear
Runners Up: the Ball, the Katch, Emerald Club

Best Poker Night Venue

Downtown Grill & Brewery
Runners Up: Bucket Head Tavern, Latitude 35, Ray's ESG

Back to the full list of Best of Knoxville 2013 winners!