Best of Springfield®

Best of Arts and Entertainment


Best Original Band

Best Local Band Likely to Make it Big

The Station
Over 10 years of constant touring across the U.S. took The Station a long way from its humble beginnings in Chatham, Ill. Every step of the way the quartet concentrated on being an original band, from live jams to recorded releases. Even while actually playing more cover songs than most cover bands do (this Halloween they'll do the entire Dazed and Confused soundtrack at a local club), the group's dominant work is writing and performing original tunes. They just finished a nearly four-year run playing every Wednesday at Marly's Pub in downtown Springfield and were nationally recognized for cross-country consistency as Top Ten Road Dogs in 2006 and 2007 by Jambase, an online source for jambands. In between the steady gigs, the band released three studio CDs, and in 2008, Speed of Sound, a live double-disc set culled from the numerous road shows. Fronted by guitarist/vocalist/saxophonist Dave Littrell, and powered by Dave Carter on percussion, drums and vocals, the group jams out with Kevin Lemen on lead guitar and Josh Kerska on bass. It made sense to IT readers that the best original band should be the best local band likely to make it big and we agree.

Best Cover Band
The Dirty Ernies

F5 has won this category so many times it's practically a given, and with good reason. No other local group consistently draws such large crowds at various venues, year after year, than F5. Tom Gaskins, the last remaining member from the original F5 of umpteen years ago, acts as manager, agent and producer as well as key musician and vocalist. The group keeps the music fresh by bringing in new songs hot off the charts, attracting the young, going-out crowd so important to maintaining the most popular cover band in Springfield.
But wait a minute, what's this, the Dirty Ernies pulled a tie for first place with F5? Can it be, Lee, say it ain't so, Joe, is it the truth, Ruth? Yes folks, F5 shares the honor of Best Cover Band for 2008 with the Dirty Ernies. The up and coming rock band does a nice assortment of familiar tunes, doing what front man Courtney Grimes calls "something for everybody." Recently the winning bands split a bill during a local bar show and made a very nice pairing. With F5 jamming contemporary, beatbox-driven songs, and the Dirty Ernies doing classic and current rock, the two bands had your average crowd's typical musical wants well covered. And that, my friends, is exactly what the best cover bands are supposed to do.

Best New Band on the Scene
Best Band Name

The Dirty Ernies

According to Courtney Grimes, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the Dirty Ernies, an all-cover, mostly rock band, the group began their combined musical adventures about two and a half years ago. The group, consisting of Grimes, with Steve Gragert on bass and vocals, Mike Miller on drums and vocals, and Jeff Kruger covering the lead guitar and keyboards, mainly played shows outside of the Springfield area until this year, so to our readers, they are basically a new band. Speaking of our illustrious readers, they also declared the Dirty Ernies winners of the best band name in town. Let us ponder the possible origins of the name. Could it be a combination of the Dirty Dozen WWII movie with a plural Uncle Ernie, the happy pervert of the Who's rock opera Tommy? Nope. Grimes gives credit to bassist Gragert for basing the name on the delightfully crude lead character in Dirty Ernie jokes. If you need to ask what Dirty Ernie jokes are you probably don't want to know. The secret plan to the band's success is no secret, claims Grimes: "We don't take it all too seriously; we're just out to have fun." IT readers seem to think the plan is working.

Best Karaoke DJ
DJ Tracy
Karaoke by Cynthia

Perhaps our readers were puzzled by this combination category — there were only 75 votes total — but generally if you find a karaoke machine, a DJ is lurking nearby. Maybe folks were trying to make a statement, separating the karaoke from the DJ. You may laugh, but this is a very serious (and lucrative) business and some people don't like to mix the two electronic arts. No one really ran away in this category but Karaoke by Cynthia with DJ Tracy topped the vote-getting. Cynthia is a consistent winner when the karaoke category comes up and her friendly and supportive way — always nice credentials in a karaoke hostess — is the reason she garners enough votes to take the prize time and time again. Tracy covers for Cynthia as host at times and always does the DJ work, but he too, supports the attempts at singing along with the machine no matter how bad or good. The idea is to have fun, and readers seem to think Karaoke by Cynthia with DJ Tracy does it best.

2007-2008 SEASON
State Fair
Sacred Heart-Griffin

Karen Danner, the musical director at Sacred Heart-Griffin, immediately remembers why State Fair was so popular. "The kids really grasped it," she says, "and had a ball with it." Just as it sounds, it's the story of a family who goes to the state fair, so high school students around here can definitely relate to that. "Everyone did so well in their parts," Danner adds, "so the audience realized what they saw was a polished performance." The curtains opened for the production in March 2008, and three of the lead roles are now studying music or musical theater as colleges like Washington University in St. Louis and Illinois State University. "That's another reason it was so successful," Danner says. "We had so much talent."
Runner-up: Wizard of Oz, Rochester

Best Club DJ
David Isaacs
Trading Post Saloon

The talent of a DJ is to know his crowd and work in the right song at the right time to keep the groove paced yet exciting. To read the wants of a dancing mob, taking them where they want to go without disturbing the mood is the real trick. Good DJs stay current on the latest hits, yet can pull out classics just when they're needed the most, much as a good cover band picks and chooses familiar hits to wow the crowd. IT readers think David Isaacs at the Trading Post Saloon does it best with Patrick at Stella Blue coming in a close second. The Trading Post may not seem like the ideal room for a DJ, but Isaacs makes it work and the big crowds show appreciation for his handy way of picking the tunes. Patrick at Stella works the late-night downtown bar scene and keeps the place properly thumping. Shake your whatever-it-is those dancers are a-shakin' this year and keep those beats a-coming, let's get down tonight!

Best Entertainment Complex for Families
Kicks Family Entertainment Center
2744 S. Sixth St., 753-2000

Inside this one building, there's laser tag, bumper cars, bowling, go-cart racing, and a movie theater, plus all the video games and air hockey and skee ball lanes you could want. Here's the thing, though: despite all these kid-friendly, frenzy-inducing features, it's possible for two or more mature adults to actually sit down at a table and enjoy a decent dinner while carrying on a conversation — and nobody has to yell to be heard. That's the beauty of Kicks Family Entertainment Center, where the logical layout — various dining rooms pinwheeled around a central buffet — allows parents to keep one eye on the youngsters while helping themselves to food and beverages. For certain occasions, that's a bonus worth the cost at Kicks. Plus, there are no dancing rodents.

Best Theatrical Production-Drama

The Elephant Man
Theatre in the Park, New Salem

The Elephant Man, originally staged in 1979 in London, made a successful run off and on Broadway, became a major motion picture in 1980, and has since undergone countless productions at numerous theaters across the country. The story, not exactly your average stage fodder, relates the true-life tale of Joseph "John" Merrick, a Victorian-age Englishman with extremely grotesque body deformities. In the play written by Bernard Pomerance, the dramatist expects the Merrick character to perform without using stage props or extensive makeup to demonstrate the deformities. When produced by the Theatre in the Park last summer, Matthew Husky became the Merrick persona, visibly astonishing the audience with his ability to portray the physically distorted man with no artificial devices. No doubt his performance was wonderfully coached by the directorial decisions of Valerie Parga, whose previous TIP production, The Miracle Worker, became 2007's top vote-getter for best drama. In filling out the major parts, Bruce Davidson portrayed the conscience-lacking doctor Frederick Treves, Deborah Kerley was the understanding Mrs. Kendall, and Bill Barton took the role of Ross, the malicious carnie boss. Congratulations to the entire production, including Kari Catton, executive director of Theatre in the Park, for guiding a venue primarily known for musicals and Lincoln plays toward cutting edge drama and music shows as well.

Best Actor
Gus Gordon

Gus Gordon is the perennial first place finisher in our Best Actor voting. Not only does he appear very much the Cincinnati Kid, newly arrived to our town in February 1990 at age 24, he's "the quintessence of making the grade:" of combining careers of singer/actor, weathercaster and family man, doing exactly what he wants to do. As he prepares for the opening of Pump Boys and Dinettes, a country-western musical review opening Oct. 24 at the Hoogland, his horizon extends all the way to the heights of The Little Theater of Sullivan, Ill. There he appeared last year in a 50th anniversary celebration of the landmark. The stage is a greater challenge today than yesterday when he appeared in studio at Channel 20 only on the 6 and 10 p.m. news. Today he's also seen at 5 p.m. on 20, 9 p.m. on Fox affiliate Channel 55, as well as in a column in the daily newspaper and on the Internet. "I have days and dinner breaks free for rehearsal." Gus hasn't taken a real vacation in years. "My career (in broadcasting) is important to me. The theater is where I go for fun."
Runner-up: Patrick Russell

Best Theatrical Production-Musical
All Shook Up
Springfield Muni Opera

"We were looking around for a show that had a lot of energy and appealed to young and old across the board," says All Shook Up producer Patti Joyner. "We looked at a lot of different shows, but even kids know who Elvis is." And apparently so do IT readers, who voted the 2005 Broadway musical consisting of all Elvis Presley songs best musical of 2008. Jason Goodreau, currently involved with studies at Cambridge University (yeah that one), gets credited as director, orchestral director, and with set design, plus as being the overall driving force behind the production, with able assistance from Mac Warren as assistant director. The best part of this "best of" though, is the young and capable cast that rode the wave of the fast-moving production. "We're able to do these fantastic shows because of the amazingly talented young people in Springfield," says Joyner. "It's like our own Midwestern Broadway." Backing up her statement are you IT readers who voted Urinetown, an Over the Moon Production (co-directors Paul Presney and Julie Guttas) staged as a fundraiser at the Rochester High School Fine Arts Auditorium with many, young, cast members, as very close second to All Shook Up.

Best art gallery
The Blue Door
627 E. Adams St., 753-0262

Leave it to IT readers to expand the concept of "art gallery" to include a shop that sells artists' wares. The Blue Door harvests all the best of 65 local and regional artisans and presents their work in a setting you can mosey through — kinda like an art gallery, exept with Average Joe pricetags. There's jewelry, clothing, accessories, fine photographs, paintings, pottery and furniture. We especially like the beautiful wooden pens made by Frank Thornton, the map and Monopoly jewelry made by Suzanne Schmid, and Debi Lorenson's pithy slate plaques ("Don't believe everything you think.") At least that's what we liked last week. Next week, it will undoubtedly be something new at The Blue.

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