BEST BAND WITHOUT A CATEGORY
Oh my goodness, the bull ran loose when no category for country band appeared in the 2011 Best of Springfield list. Immediately fans of Still Kick’n and band members began a campaign to prove the popularity of one of central Illinois’ favorite bands. Still Kick’n folks should know they won or at least placed highly in every music category including rap/hip-hop, new band, rock band, jazz and blues. With a showing like that, what could we do but create a category just for this rockin’ country band featuring the twin vocals of Kelsey Hickman and Jen Campbell, band leader, vocalist and acoustic guitarist Pat McCue, steel guitarist Donnie Hinkle, bassist John Peters and drummer Bill Wikoff. Congratulations to Still Kick’n as Springfield’s all-around favorite band.
BEST BLUES ARTIST
Black Magic Johnson
When you say “the blues” in Springfield, Black Magic Johnson is the band you are speaking about and Mr. Black Magic Johnson himself, Reggie Britton, is the driving force behind the group. Joined by lead guitarist Alexis V. Rogers, multi-instrumentalist Dan Glover and bassist Bob Hagler, Britton plays the drums, blows a harmonica and sings the sweetest blues this side of the famed crossroads. Originally formed as a blues duo circa 2003, the group transformed into a full-scale band capable of gut bucket blues or a high flying pop song all done with impeccable style as a professional performance. BMJ intends to release a much-anticipated new CD in January of 2012 and continues to perform locally and throughout the Midwest on a regular basis. Cornbread, chitterlings and collard greens, indeed!
BEST DJ TALK RADIO HOST
Fast talking for sure, but it’s his fast thinking that makes Jim Leach the best of the bunch within the talk radio DJ world of our capital city. As the main morning man on WMAY 970 AM, Leach also captains the entire ship on Springfield’s only all-local, all-day station where folks call in to talk about the issues of the day. Known for his liberal stance which instantly sets him apart from those “other guys” on the airwaves, Springfield born and raised, he runs The Jim Leach Show with swagger and candor, tact and confrontation and a whole bunch of brazen bravado, all without ever seeming to take a breath. With the Butthead of the Week as a popular portion of every Friday program, Jim gives everyone a chance to pick a popular public puddinghead and nail them to the wall. Go get ’em, Jim.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL SHOW
Springfield High School
If ever there ever “the Wiz” there was, this was one, because, because, because, IT voters said it was. With more than 40 Springfield High School students participating in the cast – with Morgan Williams as Dorothy, Brenna Williams as the Scarecrow, Ronte Harris as the Tin Man, Matt Woodson as the Cowardly Lion, Yvette Purser as Evillene, Catie Lograsso as Addaperle and Neil C. Parker as The Wiz – portraying the main characters, this particular adaptation of Baum’s classic story infused with African-American culture, was outstanding in all respects of theater performance. Excelling in acting, singing, special effects, props, presentation and production, The Wiz was truly a gee whiz, as voters acknowledged the work of SHS alum and show director Craig Williams II and the choreography of Anna Bussing, vocal direction of Kellen Fant and musical direction of Damien Kaplan. “Believe in yourself” really does work.
BEST JAZZ ARTIST
No stranger to this category, Ms. Hartman should be given a lifetime achievement award as the absolute top personality in the Springfield jazz scene for all her years of good work making music that moves us. Her winning ways include a smooth, yet distinct, piano style, occasional sweet and sincere vocals and a set list of standards and surprises that keep folks coming back for more and continually voting her as Springfield’s finest jazz player. Currently Jane performs on occasion at Lime Street Café and with the Riverboat 5 1 while continuing her job as an associate professor of music at Lincoln Land Community College, where she teaches music theory classes and directs the LLCC Jazz Band as well as The Stolen Moments Band, a beginning jazz improvisational class. Thanks, Jane, for all the wonderful music.
BEST LIVE MUSIC EVENT IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS
BEST DOWNTOWN FESTIVAL
Blues & BBQs
If on Aug. 27 you were in the Springfield area and had $5, you either were or should have been on the street beside the Old State Capitol. There, blues star Jimmie Vaughan, on the anniversary of his brother Stevie Ray Vaughan’s death, kept an audience in awe as he seamlessly transitioned from behind-the-head guitar playing to a heartfelt tribute to his legendary brother. With fine weather wafting the aromas of dozens of food vendors, the night – organized by Downtown Springfield, Inc. – was one of this summer’s finest, and it’s hard to act surprised that IT readers voted the 2011 Old Capitol Blues and BBQs as this year’s best live music event.
Blues and BBQs, which keeps growing every year, was also voted this year’s best downtown festival. When the event won last year, IT noted new elements to the event, including children’s activities and a People’s Choice award for the best BBQ. This year, organizers expanded the event even more by adding a second full night of activities. With about 200 volunteers running the show, Springfield area residents couldn’t ask for a better deal, only sit patient and wonder, “What’s next?”
BEST LIVE THEATER VENUE/PRODUCTION
Our very own Springfield Muni is one of the largest, all-volunteer, community theater groups in the nation. With more than 50 years of experience providing the finest in musical theater to central Illinois, this jewel of an outdoor venue, set near Lake Springfield, supports four full-blown productions each summer, presenting popular American musicals on the stage. For IT readers, Hairspray was by far the choice for best production this season among all local productions. Directed by Craig Williams and produced by Whitney Rosen and starring Aimee Jarzembowski as Tracy Turnblad and Jesse Trieger as Link Larkin with the usual cast of many on the stage and behind the scenes, this contemporary show (on Broadway just in 2002) struck a vibrant chord throughout our community with a peculiarly positive message and plenty of fun music.
BEST LOCAL ROCK BAND
Hipbone Sam Band
Whether acting as an amiable open jam host or a gregarious front man for his band, Hipbone Sam (a.k.a. Kevin Hawkins) instills a constant and spirited presence on the local music scene. From humble beginnings as a solo acoustic guitarist hosting various open mics, HBS now presents two weekly jams (Tuesdays at Koo Koos Nest and Thursdays at Blue Grouch), featuring the full-band, jam experience for lucky onstage guests. Combining that with gigging nearly every Friday and Saturday night at a some local club (and plenty of Sundays afternoons, too) makes him the hardest working man with a band in Springfield’s bar business arena and a deserving winner of this coveted award. Other bands in the running include Nil8, GRIM, Lazer Dudes and Screamin’ Vatos.
BEST LOCAL THEATER PERFORMER
Well known about town from his nightly appearances as chief meteorologist on WICS Newschannel 20 since 1990, Gus Gordon began acting in local community theater the year after his arrival in central Illinois from Cincinnati, Ohio. His character portrayals and local productions over the next 20 years are too numerous to mention, giving Gordon a deservedly honored spot in area show business history. IT readers regularly bestow the tribute of whatever “Best of” category comes closest to describing the good work of the ubiquitous performer and producer. This year, of the many performers mentioned, Gordon outdistanced them all quite handily. In 2011 he portrayed the Cowardly Lion in the Muni’s The Wizard of Oz, plus presented shows at the Hoogland through his Gordon Productions. Honestly it’s hard to imagine Springfield theater without the influence of Gus Gordon. Congratulations Gus, and thanks for the memories.
BEST MORNING RADIO SHOW
KISS FM Morning Grind
Of all the cut-up, cranky, kitschy, killer, cantankerous, corny, cordial, caring, corporate and countless morning radio shows on the air, IT readers decided the Morning Grind on KISS-FM 99.7 is the best in Springfield. Featuring the ballsy and brash Bondsy in charge, with Brandi Booker as friendly, female foil and C-note being the large, straight and silly man, plus Sarah, the unsuspecting intern, they go the wacky and wild way from juicy personal stories to national news items or basically whatever blows up their collective skirt to create entertainment. You’ll see them all over town at various events in the KISS jeep working with the community to spread the good word. A quick look at You Tube videos from the DJ booth webcam shows insect eating, a guy-on-guy lap dance, the ghost pepper challenge and a 6 Mississippi kiss, all in the name of keeping you listening to the radio in the morning.
BEST NEW LOCAL EVENT
Downhome Music Festival
Seems like these days there’s a music festival every weekend in downtown Springfield, but no one’s complaining here. Of the new fests in 2011, the Downhome Music Festival came in as number one. Other popular events received lots of votes, but they weren’t necessarily “new.” Downhome, designed as a showcase for homegrown bands, gives bands the entrance fees to divide equally, thereby making sure musicians get paid. Perhaps this led to the popularity of the show or maybe it was the wonderful all-day-long lineup of original music or maybe all the beer. Whatever the reason, the event, brainchild of Shane Turnage and Michael Conneely of the Celtic Mist Pub, Nate Short of the Brewhaus and Josh Catalano of several bands and bars, roped off two city blocks at Seventh and Washington, got local food vendors involved and made quite a party for downtown Springfield. Good luck for next year, though it won’t be “new” anymore.
BEST NEW BAND
Dave Littrell Band
As the frontman and main composer for the Station, Dave Littrell established the Chatham-based group as road warriors, traveling for years across the nation and specifically the Midwest as a progressive electric jam band staple. Last year Littrell began focusing on more acoustic and introspective material, ending up with a beautifully recorded CD, Now I See (2011 Planet Playground Records) and a new eponymous band, featuring the musical talents of Jeff Cunningham, Mason Baran and Tony Kirk. Dave Littrell Band headlined several local festivals this year while performing regularly at various area clubs and Littrell plays every Thursday at The Creek in his hometown of Chatham. This category brought votes for a large group of new bands, including Joshua Catalano and the Dirty Thoughts, Midnight Rush, Elizabeth Eckert, Closing Time, Seeing Daylight, Two Trick Pony and Leaving Ashland, only a few of the more than 50 groups mentioned. Perhaps Springfield is the place to start a new band.
BEST PLACE FOR KARAOKE
Sluggo’s AMF Strike and Spare
2660 W. Lawrence Ave., 787-6111
Springfield does love its karaoke, as poignantly apparent from the many listings found weekly in IT’s pub crawl. Nothing cements this observation more than a visit to any karaoke night at a local club and a gander at the intrepid entertainers. But of all the myriad opportunities available to wannabe starlets to warble the night away, locals voted Sluggo’s as the best place to be seen and be heard. Perhaps it’s the special Karaoke Cocktail or the mere fact of Sluggo’s longtime support of the karaoke scene or the special talents of host Greg Bomke or the peculiar combo of strikes, spares and gutter balls with singing words on a screen. Regardless, the combination of factors produced a winner among IT readers.
Runner-up: DJ Up All Night at the Blue Grouch
BEST RAP/HIP-HOP BAND ARTIST
Within the burgeoning Springfield world of rap and hip-hop (we’re finally getting there) more than 30 different artists (including one apparently called “Springfield has hip-hop?”) received varying amounts of votes, but local rockin’, rappin’, hip-hoppin’ band Gypsy Collabo left them all in the dust by a huge amount. Conceived in 2002 when the rock band Tipsy Gypsys met up-and-coming hip-hop collective Collabo, the group prides itself on combining a modern pop appeal with an old-school band approach, creating a blended style particular to Gypsy Collabo members David Hale III, Derek Anderson, Jon McGrath, Colin Helton and Matt Scherer. Other artists receiving honorable mention include Agent Orange, Deuce Fam, 95 Mental, DBO and C-Note.