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Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007 12:50 pm

Best of Arts & Entertainment

The best of the city

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Untitled Document BEST ARTIST

Ryan Thompson
A few of the messages posted on his MySpace page suggest that young Ryan Thompson may have undertaken a campaign to win this category, which he did, handily whomping the competition. Just this once, though, we’ll go ahead and give him the certificate (cash value $1.57), for three reasons: (1) many people campaign to win best-of awards, (2) he seems like a really nice kid, and (3) there’s no denying that he’s a damn good artist. It just so happens that his canvas is skin. That’s right — Thompson is a tattoo artist at New Age Tattoos. We browsed through his portfolio at the shop, and he’s got a really nice range. His work has a lovely retro quality to it, almost like vintage ads executed in Technicolor. We didn’t ask, but much of it had to be freehand, because, really, where would one get a cow’s head surrounded by cow-print stars? (Yes, some Springfieldian has this image emblazoned across his chest). Thompson is studying art, seriously, in college, and he’s one of a roster of tattoo artists creating images for skateboard decks. Plus, he asks potential customers to bring him coffee. Our kinda kid.
Runner-up: Mike Mayosky
BEST MUSICIAN
Tom Irwin
Sure, Tom Irwin writes the local-music roundup for Illinois Times. We didn’t choose the best musician — the readers did — but you won’t see IT putting up a fight. Whether he’s swaggering around the stage with Elvis Himselvis; hosting the Underground City Tavern’s Songwriters Circle; playing with his namesake trio; honing the musical prowess of his offspring, the Irwinites; or sitting on the stage alone, strumming away, Irwin is a pro. Aside from his numerous club engagements Irwin has been plugging away at his new release, Carry Me Home, which debuted at his 666th Sunday show at the Brewhaus on Aug. 15. The new LP is available at the Trout Lily CafО, Recycled Records, Brewhaus, and the Rock Shop. Runner-up: Micah Walk
BEST RADIO DJ
Jerry Roof WQNA(88.3 FM)
Hosted by Jerry Roof and Evan Branham, Boot Party, which airs at 6 p.m. each Friday on WQNA, is definitely not showcasing the mall or pop variety of punk music. Roof says that each week he prepares a playlist, with new songs accounting for a “good chunk,” but that listeners also like it when he and Branham present old favorites that don’t get a lot of airplay. “People who like that kind of music care about it very deeply,” says the 20-year-old Roof. “I dedicate a lot of time to it.” Clearly Roof and Branham’s loyal listeners appreciate it. Boot Party is simulcast on the Web; go to www.wqna.org.
Runner-up: Diggs, WQLZ (92.7 FM)
BEST ART GALLERY
The Blue Door
627 E. Adams St., 217-753-0262 The Blue Door’s colorful exterior is a preview to what’s in store for art lovers when they make their way through the entrance. Inside is a cornucopia of visual stimulation, courtesy of owners Martha Clements Wilday and Patricia Thornton and the 60 artists who display and sell their work in the fine-arts-and-crafts gallery. Launched in June 2005, the shop offers such artsy wares as handcrafted jewelry, children’s clothes, collages, watercolors, and acrylics. The art hanging on the walls (and sometimes the ceiling) is truly homegrown; most artists who display work live in or around the capital city. Runner-up: Prairie Art Alliance
BEST ARTS EVENT
Old Capitol Art Fair
The Old Capitol Art Fair certainly didn’t start out as the mighty and robust festival that takes over downtown Springfield each summer — in fact, in 1962, when the festival began, the budget was a whopping $1,000. Today Springfield’s overwhelming choice for Best Arts Event attracts more than 150 artists and takes up the streets surrounding the Old State Capitol Historic Site on the third weekend of May. Even if art isn’t your thing, food vendors and live entertainment, featuring local bands, abound. Junior art lovers can get in on the action as well; the kids’ tent features affordable art for young collectors to purchase. Runner-up: Edwards Place Fine Art Fair
BEST LIVE- MUSIC VENUE
Marly’s Pub 9 W. Old State Capitol Plaza, 217-522-2280
So why, you ask, does Marly’s Pub win again for Best Live-Music Venue? Do you think it’s because they have live music five nights a week when no other place in town comes even close — or could it be something else? Perhaps it’s because Marly’s is the only place in town with a good house PA and consistent sound engineer. Then again, some say that it’s because when the smoking ban hit, people didn’t have to go very far to get outside and puff those cigarettes, so attendance wasn’t drastically affected as it was in less efficiently designed clubs. As much as these other factors play a role, having consistent live music that rocks, encouraging those who like that kind of thing to attend, drink, dance, and enjoy the sounds of a good live band, is what makes a popular live-music venue. Marly’s Pub does just that by booking area and touring acts Thursday-Saturday, with local favorite (runner-up in this year’s Best Rock Band category) the Station jamming every Wednesday and Joe Frew’s open-mic jam on Mondays. Runner-up: Black Sheep CafО

BEST OUDOOR CONCERT SERIES
SOHO Music Fest
If there ever was a “little outdoor concert that could” story, the SOHO Music Fest would be the main character, puffing along with an “I think I can, I think I can” until the “I knew I could, I knew I could” came rolling out. Organizers Eric Welch and Tara Stapleton-McKinzie started the festival in 2004 as a charity event for the local Sojourn House, naming the event SOJO Fest after the organization and out of respect for abolitionist and women’s-rights activist Sojourner Truth. Last year they changed the name to SOHO Music Fest when the Sojourn House declined to accept any responsibility for — or charity from — the event. Because the 2007 fest had the best audience turnout ever, the smoothest operation, and, some feel, the strongest performances, perhaps replacing the “J” with an “H” was an excellent move. Whatever happened, it’s the only downtown music fest that receives no public funds whatsoever, not for bands, advertising, or workers; it’s all done for the love of the event through the hard and dedicated work of the promoters. Somehow they’ve managed to do what no one else has: stage a successful two-day downtown festival using all local bands and volunteer help while making it a peaceful and enjoyable all-ages charitable event. Let’s hear it for private enterprise. Runner-up: Taste of Springfield
BEST COVER BAND BEST ROCK BAND
F5
F5 is known more as a Top 40 dance band than as a rock band, but this perennial favorite managed to dominate both categories this year. After all, rockin’ the house doesn’t always mean two electric guitars, bass, and drums played really loud. F5 does a great job of learning current hits, continually updating the band’s song list and performing with gusto, verve, and bravado. Frequent headliners at area festivals and beer tents, F5 draws crowds in, enticing them into dancing, singing, and just generally acting wild and crazy, which is what those youngsters like to do when they go out to party. Face it, folks, you can talk about your classic-rock bands, your blues bands, your jazz bands, your country bands, and even your tribute bands — all of which in this town are mainly cover groups — and say how well they imitate, duplicate, and otherwise replicate other people’s material, but, when it’s all said and done, F5 does the most popular music of the day. Runner-up, cover band: Broken Stone Runner-up, rock band: The Station
BEST SINGER
Micah Walk
When Micah Walk came on the local music scene, early in the 21st century, there was a distinct buzz around town about the guy with the great voice, quiet demeanor, and powerful original songs. Remarkably enough the general buzz has continued over the last several years, proved by Walk’s continued popularity in the Best of Springfield voting, his undeniable knack for consistently drawing crowds at local nightclubs, and, most important, the way people talk about him around town. You can hear the respect in their voices when Walk’s name is mentioned. Even after relocating to Chicago last spring, he packs the house whenever he’s back in the capital city, which is at least every other month. Right now Walk and his band are preparing songs for a new recording, to be released sometime in early 2008, that will no doubt earn him yet another Best of Springfield award next year. Runner-up: Debbie Ross
BEST JAZZ BAND
Jane Hartman Trio
Ask anybody in town his or her favorite local jazz performer, and nine of 10 (those who know any at all or anything at all) will pick Jane Hartman. Notice, though, that they won’t say “Hartman” or “Jane Hartman”; they’ll say “Jane.” It’s because people feel as if they know Hartman personally — and she cultivates that feeling when she performs. Did you know that Hartman is the bestselling recording artist in Springfield? In a fairly accurate survey she’s way ahead of the nearest rock, folk, bluegrass, and classical groups, especially when you include her out-of-town sales. (Over the years Jane has done quite well in St. Louis). From her very popular gospel recordings to her renditions of jazz standards and ageless Christmas songs, Jane (though you’d be hard pressed to get her to admit it) sells more CDs than anyone else in town. But, as she would be the first to note, she owes her high level of popularity in large part to the excellent musicians (Gene Haas on bass and Brian Justison on drums) with whom she keeps company. Runner-up: Frank Parker’s Jambalaya Jam Band


BEST THEATRICAL PRODUCTION (MUSICAL)
Grease
Springfield Muni Opera
Directed by Carly Shank at the Muni Opera, Grease was the big winner — and not just in the “Best of Springfield” poll. This summer, Grease broke all previous box-office records in a production that kept moving, singing, and dancing. Shank and her team of designers and high-octane performers gave the whole thing a great new look and energy. Grease, which has become a phenomenon, has just opened in a new production on Broadway. This is a show that will be around for a long time. Runner-up: Miss Saigon (directed by Paul Presney Jr., Springfield Muni Opera)
BEST DANCE FLOOR
Rockin’ Robin 2909 N. Dirksen Pkwy., 217-528-5200
Don’t be scared away by the old-warehouse look of Rockin’ Robin, because on the inside it’s all party. Neon lights jive to a random mix of hip-hop and dance music on two darkened dance floors, and for those coveted slow numbers a spinning disco ball drops down to join the mix. It’s easy to see why Rockin’ Robin has grabbed top honors in the Best Dance Floor category for two years running; people of all ages and styles hop on the dance floor to get down with their friends or with their special someone. Unlike the crowded party joints downtown, Rockin’ Robin offers its dancers plenty of open space and the freedom to really get wild. Runner-up: Catch 22
BEST RADIO STATION FOR MUSIC
“The Edge,”
WQNA(88.3 FM) 
There’s no shortage of radio stations in the capital city, but WQNA is one of Springfield’s music stations. Here’s the difference: Set your radio dial to any one of the FM stations that spin Top 40, country, or religious tunes, and you’re guaranteed to hear the same songs over and over. The folks at WQNA, on the other hand, like to mix things up. The station’s summer schedule features almost 60 unique programs and DJs — everything from Lisa Hensley’s electronica-and-techno Esoterica program to old-school hip-hop and soul from Jammin’ 1 John Forslund with Back in the Day. WQNA is staffed by volunteers and operated by communications students from the Capital Area Career Center.
Runner-up: WFMB (104.5 FM)
BEST THEATRICAL PRODUCTION (PLAY)
The Miracle Worker Theatre in the Park, New Salem
Theatre in the Park’s production of The Miracle Worker, directed by Valerie Parga, featured powerful performances by Madison Holcomb, Cynthia Higginson, and Nancy Cole. Holcomb’s performance as Helen Keller was unforgettable. This Porta High School student made us believe her every move and respond to young Helen’s howling plea to be understood. The flying-food fight scenes between Holcomb and Higginson, portraying Annie Sullivan, were brutal and real. Runner-up: The Last of Mrs. Lincoln (directed by Phil Funkenbusch, Union Theatre, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum)
BEST ACTOR OR ACTRESS
T. Duncan Parker
Audiences love T. Duncan Parker, who played Doody in the Muni’s smash success Grease. The Springfield High School student, very much at home on the stage, is one of those kids to keep watching. With his great sense of comedic timing and a strong singing voice, Parker impressed Carly Shank, who directed him in Grease. “He is not afraid of challenges,” Shank says. “A lot of what he was encouraged to try during rehearsals were pretty geeky things. Duncan embraced these suggestions and took risks that led to new and better character choices. He cracked me up in rehearsals, and it all paid off in the end!” Parker, an accomplished instrumentalist as well, was also the lead in last winter’s High School Musical at Sangamon Auditorium. Runner-up: Gus Gordon