Best of Knoxville 2014: ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Best Museum

Knoxville Museum of Art
It's one of Knoxville's best buildings, a grand 20th-century marble structure designed expressly for looking at and thinking about art. It's home to the Alive After Five series of jazz, soul, and blues concerts, and hosted Steve Reich during Big Ears. And the rotating selection of touring exhibits by artists as important as Ai Weiwei, Thornton Dial, and Ansel Adams are complemented by what's become the single best collection of East Tennessee art from the 19th through the 21st centuries, on display on the upper floor of the Knoxville Museum of Art—which now includes Richard Jolley's monumental steel-and-glass sculpture/installation "Cycle of Life," unveiled earlier this month. (M.E.)
Runners Up: Beck Cultural Exchange Center, East Tennessee History Center, McClung Museum

Best Gallery

Emporium Center
Runners Up: Bennett Galleries, Bliss Home, UT's Downtown Gallery

Best Artist

Cynthia Markert
Cynthia Markert has been known for painting wistful flappers, ballerinas, and shadowy divas on canvas, paper, and plywood for decades. What are they doing? What are they thinking? They are riddles, and that's why people hang them, and also why they sometimes steal them. (Cynthia's website includes a Wanted list.) Her enigmatic work has seemed relevant to Knoxville's surprising revival in ways hard to put a finger on, but they seem to represent the city's elusive wallflower spirit. Those who know Markert know she works in other media, like photography. A few years ago, she created an intriguing set of cards called "My Knoxville," many of which make you look twice, convinced these exotic pictures must be from Knoxville, Portugal—but no, they're all here. But she's known other places, like Asheville, where she has frequently exhibited, and Washington, were her work is in some museums' permanent collections. (J.N.)
Runners Up: Bobbie Crews, Ammi Knight, Rob St. Clair

Best Theater Group

Clarence Brown Theatre
Runners Up: Children's Theatre of Knoxville, Flying Anvil, Salome Cabaret

Best Actor

Big Gay James of Cabaret Salome
Runners Up: Carolyn Corley, Roy DeLaRosa, Jayne Morgan

Best Dance Company

Circle Modern Dance
Founded in 1990, Circle Modern Dance has certainly been living up to its motto: "Everybody is a dancer, and every body has the right to dance." It demonstrates what the art of dance can achieve both on and off the stage. The group has created opportunities and collaborations between professional artists, community members, and underserved populations through education and performance. (C.T.)
Runners Up: Appalachian Ballet Company, Salome Cabaret, Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble

Best Rock Band

Dirty Guv'nahs
See Also: Best Band in Best of the Best
Runners Up: Black Cadillacs, Black Lillies, Cutthroat Shamrock

Best Hip-Hop Group

LiL iFFy
Who knew that local pop savant and Senryu leader Wil Wright was a rap wizard, too? And when we say rap "wizard," we mean that in the most literal sense, given that most of LiL iFFy's lyrics pertain to… Harry Potter lore. An avowed fan of the still-culturally-ubiquitous J.K. Rowling fantasy series, Wright reportedly founded iFFy in 2011 as a means of overcoming writer's block he was experiencing as frontman of Senryu. Though it may have seemed like a gimmick at the time, the idea had staying power. And three albums later, iFFy has a cultish underground following among Muggles everywhere. (M.G.)
Runners Up: Black Atticus, Party 9erz, the Theorizt

Best Americana Band

Black Lillies
Former Ccstringband leader Cruz Contreras has the Midas touch when it comes to music—that, and more talent than should rightly be vested in any single human being. The versatile pianist/stringsman stepped out to sing when he founded the Black Lillies, and that was a winning move. His harmonizing with fellow lead vocalist Trisha Gene Brady defines the Lillies' classy, neo-traditionalist sound, along with the sterling musicianship of Contreras, guitarist Tom Pryor, and the rhythm section of Robert Richards and Bowman Townsend. The Lillies are now arguably the hardest-working band in Knoxville, road warriors who have played the Grand Ole Opry stage more than 20 times, and top-notch recording artists who have cracked the Billboard Charts and CMT playlists without big-label backing. (M.G.)
Runners Up: Cutthroat Shamrock, Mic Harrison & The High Score, Guy Marshall

Best Jazz Band

Knoxville Jazz Orchestra
With the University of Tennessee boasting a top-notch jazz program, Knoxville has long sported a wealth of jazz talent, especially for a city its size. The 15-year-old KJO avails itself of that talent, with a roster that includes a host of former students and past or current instructors from the UT program—players like renowned bassist Rusty Holloway and drummer Keith Brown. And of course leader Vance Thompson, a Maryville native who earned his undergraduate degree at UT before heading west to Chicago, then coming home to found KJO. (M.G.)
Runners Up: Frog & Toad's Dixie Quartet, Kelle Jolly & Will Boyd, Swingbooty

Best Blues Band

The Black Cadillacs
You know, we love you guys. And we love the Black Cadillacs, too. But … they're not. really. a blues band. You know that, don't you? Sigh. In any case, they are a blues-based rock band, and a damned good one at that, shades of the Stones and the Small Faces, with a dash of Black Crowes and echoes of contemporary Southern rock in the vein of My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon, et al. So we'll give you a pass this time. But next year, do your homework. (M.G.)
Runners Up: Cornbred Blues Band, Jenna & Her Cool Friends, Kitty Wampus

Best Cover Band

If you've ever been to a Coveralls show, then you have some idea of just how freakin' over-the-top Coveralls shows can be. Nattily-dressed and musically chameleonic, the ‘ralls are blessed with an unerring sense of the tastes and energy levels of the crowd at hand. And they can roll out an expansive repertoire that includes everything from classic Rawk to hair metal to ‘80s pop-radio favorites. A sure-fire hit in any setting where the beer flows freely and the call is out for good-time rock ‘n' roll. (M.G.)
Runners Up: Chillbillies, Pop Rox, Steel Eagle

Best Live Performance Series

Blue Plate Special
It's easy to think of WDVX as that bluegrass station, but there's a lot more going on at 89.9 on the FM dial, from blues and rockabilly to international music and folk rock. Nothing showcases the station's diversity like the Blue Plate Special, an hour-long concert broadcast live on the air from the Gay Street studio six days a week. There's really no limit on who might show up—the New York Celtic band the Yanks, say, or the new-style old-time band the Howlin' Brothers, from Nashville, or the local beatnik-inspired jazz-folk combo Jack Rentfro and His Apocalypso Quartet. (M.E.)
Runners Up: Einstein Simplified Comedy Improv, Rhythm N Blooms Festival, The Square Room Showcase

Best Karaoke

Toot's Little Honky Tonk
Runners Up: Bullfeathers, Club XYZ, Marie's Old Time Tavern

Best Live Comedy Venue

Side Splitters Comedy Club
Okay, technically it's the only "official" comedy club in Knoxville. But Side Splitters has certainly earned its BOK title with a regular roster of popular national, regional, and local comics, plus an open-mic night to groom up-and-comers. Local fave Spanky Brown honed his comic chops here. And the likes of Tom Arnold, Chris Tucker, Carlos Mencia, and Gilbert Gottfried have all made Side Splitters a stopover whenever they're trekking through our corner of the Southeast. (M.G.)
Runners Up: Carleo's Nightclub, Preservation Pub Speakeasy, Twisted Mike's Taproom

Best Local Comedian

John Upton
In a scene newly bursting with striving young comedians—comedy nights have popped up like weeds over the last couple years, giving rise to a fresh crop of aspiring local comics—John Upton has drawn more yuks, and fewer yucks, than all the rest. In the words of another popular local stand-up: "That dude is funny!" (M.G.)
Runners Up: Jeff Blank, Erin Donovan, Waylon Whiskey

Best Rock Club

Pilot Light
The smallest rock club in town is officially the best rock club in town, for the second year running. Even if their shows don't start until like 11 p.m. and that's too late for me because I'm old. Even if owner Jason Boardman never, ever, ever has soap in the bathrooms and they have no mirrors, because lord knows no self-respecting indie rock girl would ever want to apply lipstick or something. But all that aside, there's no better place in town to see cutting-edge music and rock out. Like, actually R-O-C-K. And not only are the bands good, the sound is good, which is absolutely something not to be taken for granted. Head out to a couple of shows with your ear plugs—and don't forget some hand sanitizer. (C.W.G.)
Runners Up: Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria, Preservation Pub, Scruffy City Hall

Best Gay Club

Club XYZ
One of the things that distinguishes Club XYZ from other gay clubs in the city is that, at heart, it's just a regular old neighborhood hangout that's also home to some drag shows. In fact, the bar's happy hour and Karaoke Nightz (Wednesday and Sunday) are frequented by a wide swath of interesting people who visit to pass an enjoyable afternoon and evening without carnal intentions beyond cocktails and conversation. But as the night progresses, the club becomes high holy gay and all the more fabulous for it. Owner and resident Head Drag Queen in Charge, Raz, keeps things lively, funny, and happily risqué. (D.P.)
Runners Up: The Edge, Kristopher's, Sassy Ann's

Best Dance Club

Sassy Ann's
Runners Up: Carleo's Nightclub, Hanna's Old City, South Bound

Best Club DJ

DJ Eric B, Southbound
Runners Up: 4Matiks/Forrest Kurth (Sapphire), Big Gay James, DJ Quietstorm

Best Adult Entertainment Club

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