Best Museum, Best Art Gallery
KNOXVILLE MUSEUM OF ART
If the singularly impressive Dale Chihuly exhibit of glassworks last year wasn't enough to cement KMA's spot at the head of the museum category (again), then just consider what else came through its starkly designed white corridors in the last 12 months: M.C. Escher, William Glackens, and The Art of the Story: Works from the Kelly Collection of American Illustration. And to come: Andy Warhol, yet another summer blockbuster exhibit. If the works that get into KMA weren't so damned spectacular, it might get boring.
(Best Museum Runners Up: McClung Museum, Museum of Appalachia; Best Art Gallery Runners Up: Bennett Gallery, Hanson Gallery)
Best Theatre Group
You like them! You really, really like them!
For the second year in a row, Metro Pulse readers voted this spunky little upstart theatre company the fairest of them all. What's new this year is that the Co-op, led by Ms. Amy Hubbard, now has its own space, a spiffy little place out in Homberg that they're calling the Black Box Theatre. Coming up on their spring/summer menu is a Mother's Day tribute on May 13 with the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the Edward Albee classic, coming up in June. We'll be watching.
(Runners Up: Clarence Brown, Theatre Central)
Best Movie Theater
CINEMA ART @ DOWNTOWN WEST
When the old, rickety Terrace Theatre closed a few years back, Knoxville movie buffs wondered if we were going to have to make road trips to Nashville or Atlanta any time we wanted to see independent or foreign films. When Regal Cinemas converted its Downtown West theater to an ad hoc art house, we were hopeful but cautious—how committed would the world's biggest commercial theater chain really be to films that by definition appeal to specialized audiences? Pretty darn committed, as it turned out. Cinema Art @ Downtown West has consistently expanded its offerings over the past year, bringing a broader array of movies and getting them faster than ever (the lag between New York and Knoxville is now often a matter of weeks rather than months). And it's also become the home of Valleyfest, Knoxville's rapidly growing annual indie film festival. Even as Regal has had to cut corners elsewhere in its empire, Downtown West has stayed vibrant. Here's to another year of great movies.
(Runners Up: Wynnsong 16, Tennessee Theatre)
Best Dance Company
CIRCLE MODERN DANCE
Mark G. Lamb, Kimberly Matibag, Meg Beach and company are doing something right. Their leadership of Circle has kept this homegrown dance company first in our reader's minds for a couple of years now. It could be due to the fact that their shows have an open-door policy, in which almost all able choreographers get a chance to show their work, making for a delightfully eclectic evening. Circle also lives by the ethos that everyone can dance, regardless of age, training, and physical shape. As it turns out, they're right—this year's show featured a couple of wheelchair dancers who proved that you don't need to be on two feet to dance.
(Runners Up: Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble, Appalachian Ballet)
Since the days we first bragged that a Knoxvillian was actually in a major motion picture, An Officer And A Gentleman, David Keith seems to have been typecast in supporting roles, and usually in some sort of uniform—but he also usually wins this category. It fact, he wins so often we've thought about asking who your second favorite actor is, just to mix things up a little. Well, at least this year Keith has appeared in a relatively recent local production, with another one to come later this year; and at least he's been in a movie fairly recently (U-571).
The magnificent Johnny Knoxville (but are we sure he's acting?) was a distant second, followed by Steve Dupree, the only downtown boulevardier we know who has a big-screen film credit, followed by Brad Renfro, who has recently done most of his acting off-screen.
None of Knoxville's several talented live-stage actors who regularly appear at Clarence Brown, the Bijou, the Actor's Co-op Black Box, or Theatre Central registered as many votes as Mayor Victor Ashe did. Don't you all ever get out?
(Runners Up: Johnny Knoxville, Steve Dupree)
We keep falling for Patricia Neal like Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead, or Paul Newman in Hud or the giant killer robot in The Day the Earth Stood Still. The stroke she suffered in the '60s would have been a career-ender for lesser actors, but for Neal it seemed only a bump in the road; she's still active today, some years after she inspired a rehabilitation center in her hometown.
As long as Patricia Neal's alive, it's the number two spot in this category that's interesting to watch, and this year it was Amy Hubbard, co-founder of the estimable Actors Co-op, who recently gained international attention when Gina, an Actress, Age 29, won laurels as Best Short Feature at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Hubbard hasn't given up on Knoxville yet, and we can still catch her at the Co-op's Black Box Theatre in Homberg Place. Jayne Morgan, whose own short film, The Sleep Seeker, filmed in Knoxville and winner of its category at Valleyfest, came in a close third.
(Runners Up: Amy Hubbard, Jayne Morgan)
Best Local Writer
There are times when I really hate Jack Neely. Like when I'm sitting in the adjacent cubicle and hear an incessant clattering on his keyboard, and I think, what is he writing now? It's sometimes hard for me to concentrate on whatever seemingly mundane story I should be working on when I think about how Jack might be addressing the development of Market Square by constructing sentences like these: "Men have forever been known to fall in love with beautiful, elusive, contradictory, bohemian women, and then to marry them and to try to force them into a much simpler, more manageable role, as faithful, obedient wives. It usually doesn't work out." You could do what Jack Neely does in his weekly Secret History in any town, and in fact most newspapers have history columns that regurgitate the events of 25, 50 or 100 years ago. Those writers fail because they miss the stories and motivations inherent in the battles, buildings, ordinances, elections and murders. They also miss the connections the past has to our own lives, and in this sense, Jack Neely isn't really a history writer. If you want to really understand Knoxville, you need to read Neely every week. We at Metro Pulse are thrilled to have him (regardless of our collective envy of his talent), and we're glad you are too. Of course, since Jack Neely is Metro Pulse's best writer, it's no surprise that he wins Metro Pulse's poll. There are other great writers who capture this city's character in their own way. The News-Sentinel's Sam Venable is one of them, and Venable consistently comes in second in this category (and, in fact, used to win it).
(Runners Up: Sam Venable, John Adams)
Oh for pity's sake. People, please. We know you like Jim Gray. We know you'd rather we just rename this category in his honor. We love his misty morning memories of mountaintops, his lonely leaning sheds out in lovely landscapes, his technically perfect renderings of all stripes of flora and fauna. We get it. We hear you. We validate you.
Now could you just open your hearts a little bit and let someone else in?
(Runners Up: Robert Tino, Rex2)
In this age of fancy computer games and movie graphics, it's refreshing that something real and of this world is what still grabs kids' attention most. When you think about it, how can video games really compete with elephants, lion cubs and a spider exhibit? Of course, there is the possibility that most of the people voting in this category were adults—and that this is the place they prefer to take their kids. Are they reliving childhood memories? Maybe, but we guess they're still simply fascinated with the polar bears and giraffes and other exotic creatures from far away.
(Runners Up: Chuck E Cheese, Fort Kid)
BAKER PETERS JAZZ CLUB
Who would have figured that way out near Cedar Bluff would be a smooth jazz club with character? But yes, even in homogenous suburbia, you can find something with a lot of class. It helps that the club is located in an 1850s-era home that is supposedly haunted and still has an interior door pocked with holes from Civil War minie balls. But give the folks at Baker Peters credit—it would have been easy to mar that historic character with plenty of schmaltzy decorations. They gave it the right mix of pop kitsch and authentic charm, and serve top-notch martinis, cigars and steaks. Oh, and then there's the jazz—only the best that Knoxville has to offer, with supergroup Boling, Brown and Holloway playing a weekly set. Step inside, and you'll forget there's a brand new convenience store out front.
(Runners Up: Lucille's, Sassy Ann's)
Best Rock Club
With the line-up Moose's Music Hall had in the past year, it would have been tough for anybody to beat them in this category. Yo La Tengo, the Flaming Lips, Elliot Smith, Guided by Voices, plus a steady rotation of local bands and national extreme rock acts—nobody else came close in bringing consistently high-profile rock 'n' roll like this Cumberland Avenue club.
The Pilot Light, as charming an indie-rock hole-in-the-wall as the Old City has seen in years, did manage to come within a few votes of the heavy favorite.
(Runners Up: Pilot Light, Campus Pub)
Best Gay Club
Sweat flew as he whipped his head around to the cutting-edge music the DJ was spinning at this downtown club. Lights flashed. Eardrums pounded. He danced around the sunken floor, stopping only to groove with friends or get a drink from the bar. Another Friday night at the Carousel, the best gay club in Knoxville.
(Runners Up: Rainbow Club, Lord Lindsey)
Best Dance Club
Since The Underground/Egypt's demise, the Lord Lindsey has stepped up to the dance club plate and hit it right out of the park. While the weekend nights are full of hot DJ action until 3 a.m.; this Hill Avenue fixture also hosts The Closet on Thursday night, the place to be if you love to dance to DJ Storm. You just can't say that you've lived in Knoxville 'til you've had a night at the Lord Lindsey.
(Runners Up: Cotton Eyed Joe, Michael's)
Dance Club DJ
TIE: SATOSHI and SPECIAL K
It ain't easy being a club DJ in Knoxville, because there aren't that many places where real DJs can play these days. Still, there's certainly an audience for hip hop, dance and techno in all their various forms. At his or her best, the DJ becomes a performer. Tied for first place is the versatile Satoshi, who spins both hip hop and drum-and-bass, and has gotten regional attention for his skills. You can hear him every Tuesday evening at the Electric Ballroom. Also tied for first place is Special K, a DJ who spins house music. An inch behind both of them was DJ Storm, a former winner in this category.
(Runners Up: DJ Storm, DJ Trey)
Best Strip Club
THE MOUSE'S EAR
"Huh-huh, huh-huh, huh-huh. Hey, Beavis. Those chicks are naked. Huh-huh, huh-huh."
(Runners Up: The Katch, Bambi's)
Best Local Bar, Best Dive
TODDY'S BACK DOOR TAVERN
If you ain't been to Toddy's and you ain't rubbed shoulders with them what does, you ain't much in the eyes of West Knoxville's most discerning males and least snooty females. It may look like a beer joint, 'cause that's what it is, but it's a far cry from the dive the Back Door was when Faye and Shorty ran it a couple of long decades back (Shorty once emptied the place by swinging a garden spade over the tables to stifle a friendly quarrel gone sour). About the only risk you take these days is getting hit by a wrongly-flung horseshoe from the pit beside the elegant entryway or being nailed by one of the engaging epithets that tend to float up and down the bar, unlimbered by some erstwhile honky tonk angel who's trying to coax daddy home through the phone over by the men's room.
(Best Local Bar Runners Up: Union Jack's, Applebees; Best Dive Runners Up: Carousel, Opal's)
Best Sports Bar
BAILEY'S SPORTS GRILLE
If there's a Mark McGwire of sports bars, it's surely Bailey's Sports Grille in the Kroger shopping plaza near Cedar Springs. In addition to the normal accoutrements—lots of well-kept pool tables, an especially huge assortment of oversized TVs—Bailey's has something few other sports bars can lay claim to: really good food. Crisp, nicely-seasoned salads with out-of-the norm ingredients (Arugula! In a sports bar!). Burgers magnifique, cooked to temperature. And let us recommend the Bailey's soups—wondrous concoctions, like their killer beer cheddar, served up in an unnaturally tasty bread bowl. And if you just wanna drink and watch baseball or golf or goldfish races or whatever the hell else is on ESPN, the Bailey's beer selection is also superb.
(Runners Up: Rick's Place, Rookies Sports Bar and Grill)
City Brew, the latest Regas-run version of the already historic Gay Street pub, won this category by a frothy head. They don't serve lagers, but show us how much variety you can get out of ales; unlike its predecessors, City Brew even brews ales for the delicate Budweiser-addicted palate.
Though it never had a "Pub" to their brew, the New Knoxville Brewing Co., the five-year-old brewery which ended its half-decade as Tennessee's only bottling brewery just a few weeks ago, garnered enough votes to land it in second.
(Runners Up: NKBC, Hopps)
Best Concert Venue
Well, it's not the Fox, maybe, but it's close, and the sound is good, and the aisles are imminently danceable if the fire marshal's not around. It's a gorgeous old dowager of a theater, gilded and marbled and festooned with oddities that lend it the charm that packs 'em in, even if the acts aren't as uptown as the hall itself. And that old marquee is marquee all the way.
(Runners Up: Bijou, World's Fair Park)
Best Jazz Act
We've said it before, and we'll surely say it again: Donald Brown is a jazz luminary, a big-league piano and keyboard stylist walking in our midst and tickling his magic keys for just five bucks or so a pop at a handful of local bars. We've made jokes in the past about how folks in Japan or whereverabouts would be pleased as punch to catch the maestro in those sorts of venues at that price, but those weren't really jokes. In a world of musical midgets, Brown is the Jolly Green Giant. Good to see him recognized, if only in our own humble forum.
(Runners Up: Uptown Bogarts, Marcus Shirley)
Best Blues Band
HECTOR QIRKO BAND
This local blues icon should cut an album and title it, with apologies to a certain Southern rock outfit, Pronounced "Hec-tur Kir-ko."
But though some folks in Knoxville still can't say his last name correctly, they certainly like his music. Qirko's guitar stylings are a winning mix of cool Albert Collins terseness and Albert King grit, and his band plies a smooth, easy blues with smoky hints of rock and jazz. You might find more low-down 'n' dirty bluesmen around, but you'll rarely find one more tasteful.
(Runners Up: Blue Mother Tupelo, The Boogeymen)
Best Female Vocalist, Best Bluegrass Band
ROBINELLA CONTRERAS, ROBINELLA AND THE C.C. STRING BAND
Their songlist may not be for bluegrass purists, but nobody can touch Robinella and the C.C. (for Cruz Contreras, the mandolinist) String Band; they got far more votes than the winner of this category usually does. While much of their music isn't strictly bluegrass—a show at Barley's or Union Jack's is likely to feature some ragtime, some torch songs, and, when the mood strikes them, even some bossa nova. But no one questions they do it well. Robinella's affecting, fragile-as-glass soprano can make you ache.
(Bluegrass Band Runners Up: Pine Mtn RR, Eric Lewis; Female Vocalist Runners Up: Jodie Manross, Sarah Jordan)
Best Local Music Release
On their second full-length compact disc, Gran Torino offers more of the same. And that's a good thing when the same is funkified and groovalicious Big Band rock, an eight-piece guitar-and-horns thing that melds Tower of Power and Stevie Wonder and P-funk and Grand Master Flash, a butt-bumpin' amalgam that's hotter than muscle-car chrome in a hot summer sun. Don't let the CD release deter you from attending one of the band's local shows, however; the Torinos are a phenom always best enjoyed live.
(Runners Up: Left Foot Down, Surface)
Best Radio DJ
In case you're not a fan of FM's WNFZ 94.3 "Extreme" radio station, please be aware that we are not making this up. This man's chosen nomme de broadcaste is indeed "Boner " (Huh-huh, huh-huh-huh), and he has indeed been chosen Knoxville's favorite disc jockey. All snideness aside, however (if that's at all possible), some ears here are pleased to have at least one radio station in town devoted to playing overly-loud rock 'n' roll (even if that does include Korn), with boneheads like Boner on-hand to play it. Of course, some of the others are not quite as pleased, but they can write their own damned "best-of" spotlights...
(Runners Up: Andy and Allison, Gunner)
Best Radio Station
A bit of a puzzler here, since 102.1 and 93.1 swapped formats right in the midst of our balloting. But since only four of the ballots explicitly opted for "star 102.1," we're guessing most of the votes were intended for Knoxville's favorite oldies station (which you can now find at 93.1, where the top 40 station used to be). The choice may say more about the demographics of our voters than anything else, but it's hard to dismiss the consistent appeal of the oldies format. Sure, they tend to play the same things over and over, as if there were only 100 or so songs released during the entire decade of the 1960s, but the selection is mostly choice. And if you happen to turn it on while Elvis is in the rotation, or Chuck Berry or Little Richard or the Beatles or Stones, you can bet you've got the most revolutionary thing on the Knoxville airwaves for those couple of minutes. Now if they'd just give Frankie Valli a rest...
Also, a special nod to second-place finisher WDVX, the station in a camper that, with the smallest budget and lowest power in town, stomped all over the rest of the big-money contenders.
(Runners Up: 89.9 WDVX, 107.7 WIVK)
Best Radio Talk Show
HALLERIN HILL, WNOX (990 AM, 99.1 FM)
Another perennial winner, Hallerin Hilton Hill still manages to wake up, perk up and tick off more Knoxvillians per minute of airtime than anyone else in town. Hill's three hours of morning radio can encompass anything from inspirational evangelizing to down 'n' dirty political mudslinging to straightforward educational and public service discussions on a range of topics. Whatever Hill's own biases, and they're often not hard to discern, what makes his show both entertaining and valuable is his willingness to turn over the microphone to just about anyone. And however emotional his callers or guests might get, Hill almost always manages to remain the good-natured calm at the center of the teacup tempests.
(Runners Up: Mancow (WNFZ, 94.3), Sportstalk (WNOX 990 AM, 99.1 FM)
Best TV News
WBIR, CHANNEL 10
Best TV Anchor
TED HALL, WBIR
The surprise isn't that WBIR won the best news category—it always does, just as it consistently takes all comers in the ratings—but that it maintained such a commanding lead in a year that saw the retirement of beloved anchor Bill Williams (a runner up for Knoxvillian of the Year). Williams' phase-out happened slowly, with new guy Ted Hall first taking over the 11 p.m. newscast and then easing into the prime 6 p.m. seat last fall. There were those who wondered whether Hall's lightweight reputation from his years of hosting the station's Live at Five program would hamper his stature as a newsman (his biggest previous story was finding a disoriented Margot Kidder wandering around an airport). But 'tis not so, apparently. Far from holding Channel 10 back, Hall easily picked up Williams' mantle in the Best of Knoxville balloting, walking off with the "Best TV Anchor" honors far ahead of co-host Robin Wilhoit and WATE's Lori Tucker. Of course, former Channel 10 guy Gene Patterson's return to the airwaves via WATE happened relatively recently, so we'll have to wait 'til next year to see if he helps Channel 6 make any headway. For now, Hall and WBIR reign unchallenged, straight from the heart.
(Runners Up: Robin Wilhoit, Lori Tucker)
Best TV Sports
When Bob Kesling took over from the retiring John Ward as the radio voice of the Vols, he had a big set of shoes to fill, and he's still trying to get the fit just right. Mark Packer's new job—moving from his B-team slot behind Kesling to the varsity as the lead sports anchor at WBIR—wasn't quite as daunting, but Kesling had been a significant and comfortable presence on the network for years, and Packer's risen admirably to the task, offering clean, energetic sports reporting for the top local network.
(Runners Up: Jim Wogan, Nick Paranjape)
Best TV Weather
For a guy in a profession that's unilaterally criticized, sneered at, and distrusted, WATE's Matt Hinkin is a remarkable specimen: friendly, personable, and, more often than armchair weathermen like to admit, he's usually right. So go stand out in the rain to see if it gets you wet, if that's what you want; we'll stick to Hinkin's nightly forecasts on Channel 6, thank you very much.
(Runner Up: Todd Howell, WBIR)