Best of Springfield®




Since not-so-humble beginnings in 2013, this popular venue continues to pack ’em in, concentrating on touring, contemporary country bands, often on the national music charts, to draw a crowd. The North Dirksen Parkway showplace once was a popular late night dance club, perhaps the reason folks claim it to be best place to dance in 2015. Part of the not-so-subtle secret to Boondocks’ success lies in supporting popular local bands and hosting various benefits during nights when there are no cowboy hat-wearing bands pulling up in a tour bus from Nashville. Not just a country bar, the club expands to bring in classics, hard rock, Celtic and other genres if the mood strikes and the crowd shows up. Along with a nice staff, clean you-know-whats, a generous stage and ready-to-rumble sound and light show, this Springfield favorite delivers what club-goers want.
Runners-up Live Music Venue (small): the Curve Inn, Blue Grouch Pub.
Runners-up Place to Dance: Club Station House, the Curve Inn.

Tom Irwin & the Raouligans

There is no more venerable voice on the Springfield music scene than Tom Irwin. Over the last three or so decades, he has surely had more days onstage than off, including a rarely interrupted string of Sunday night rave-ups at Brewhaus (referred to affectionately, if somewhat sacrilegiously, by the Irwin faithful as “church”). The earthy, prolific songwriter has an upcoming album produced by one of his most famous fans, Wilco bassist John Stirrat, which promises to show Irwin’s versatility like no other recording so far. Depending on the occasion, Tom, who is also IT’s music columnist, can be seen performing his huge repertoire of original songs solo with his acoustic guitar, or else in conjunction with flautist and frequent collaborator  Theresa O’Hare, or perhaps shaking the walls with the Hayburners or even occasionally playing electric bass with reconstituted versions of his ’80s power-pop groups, The Strand and Condition 90. Most often, he is backed up by the Raouligans, a ragtag rotating rogue’s gallery of Springfield musicians, named for his late partner in musical crime, Scott “Raoul Brotherman” Neese.
Runners-up: The Deep Hollow, The Blue G’s

Elizabeth Eckert

Springfield’s favorite singer-songwriter of the female persuasion for the second year in a row, this talented vocalist and impassioned writer first hit the stage at age 5. A few years back she reached the Hollywood round of American Idol and now she adds her talents to acoustic trio The Deep Hollow and pop cover band Shenanigans. She also does plenty of theater vocal performances and once worked as a co-host on a popular radio morning program. Her first collection of self-penned songs, Retrospect, hit the shelves in 2011. Now she composes mostly with Micah Walk and Dave Littrell, fellow members of The Deep Hollow, with the brilliant results available on a CD coming soon and during their frequent live shows. To top off the best, the group won the American Songwriter magazine’s 30th anniversary song contest in late 2014 and performed at the anniversary bash in January of 2015 in the company of some fine music folks.
Runners-up: Maddie Brown of Lick Creek, Brooke Thomas


Captain Geech & the Shrimp Shack Shooters

Never a doubt or nary a worry, the sun comes up in the east and these guys take both these coveted music awards again and again. Headed by the J Bird himself and sponsored by Coors Light through Robert “Chick” Fritz Distributing, Inc., fellow Geechers Peter Geech, Majeeda Geech, Marc Geech, Buster Geech and Joker Geech, along with Kerry Ginder on sound, hop aboard the official CG & the SSS bus when it’s time to head to gigs. Using high-energy performance and excellent musicianship, combined with a savvy choice of songs that’s ever-changing with the charts, this popular and top-notch group knows how to entertain and does so all over central Illinois. Now get out and “get your Geech on” whenever you see these Jacksonville-based rockers rock the rockin’ world.
Runners-up in both categories: Shenanigans, Big Daddy Jasper

Hipbone Sam

Since the invention of Hipbone Sam as a band leader determined to have fun, make a living and share the excitement of live music with the crowd, Kevin Hawkins has taken the group to an incredible level in area entertainment. You can catch them on most every weekend night playing local bars and, lately, hitting the small towns in central Illinois. With bandmates Rick Mari (lead guitar, vocals), Rob Ross (drums) and Mark Riefler (bass) joining Hipbone (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) to create a fun atmosphere of energetic audience participation, the group continues to win every year in a BoS category with Best Blues Band being the most regular. This testifies to the variety of music performed by these seasoned musicians, ranging from originals, covers of many genres and, most importantly for our readers in the last few years, the way Hipbone Sam can sing the blues.
Runners-up: Black Magic Johnson, Hurricane Ruth

Mikee Connelly at the Curve Inn

A good DJ knows the crowd, the bar and the atmosphere to create and DJ Mikee Connelly is not only a good DJ, but the best, according to our readers. The active live music scene at the Curve is the setup for a full house, but it’s Mikee who keeps the folks happy, drinking and dancing until the wee hours of 3 a.m. after the live music ends at 10 p.m. When he hits the buttons for music, the place comes alive, claim admirers of the busy DJ and popular bar, and who are we to dispute the notion? As the “Curve” won in several categories this year and placed runner-up in several more, it’s no wonder the best Club DJ does the job at this favorite venue.
Runners-up: DJ Evo, Yatti DNY

New City Road

For the second consecutive year readers voted New City Road as the Springfield area’s favorite country band. With a mix of longtime players and relative newcomers, the group plays a wide range of songs from the country genre performed with stellar vocals and spectacular musicianship from Mike Webb (guitar, fiddle, steel guitar, vocals), Bekah Hurley (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin, tambourine), Ryan King (guitar, banjo, vocals), Harry Lounsberry (keys, vocals), Chris Harris (bass, vocals) and Max Harris (drums, vocals). The band, named after a rural highway south of town, started in 2012 and, after some personnel changes, the group continues to play at clubs all over town as well as festivals and fairs throughout central Illinois and beyond. As supportive fans like to say, “If you’re ready for the country, take a trip down New City Road.”
Runners-up: Brushville, Broseph E Lee

Jane Hartman Trio

Once again, the Jane Hartman Trio triumphs in the jazz category, taking the award for, at least, the umpteenth time. For years a regular performer in the area (and quite popular in St. Louis as well), Jane now spends most of her time teaching others to play music well in her position as a professor of music at Lincoln Land Community College. Her influence in local music reaches into another generation, as those learning at LLCC from this incredibly talented master musician, perform in the area scene. When she does hit the stage, you’d better believe the magic still happens. Whether through her fingers gliding on the piano or her voice soaring with melody and verve, Jane Hartman-Irwin is a classic performer of jazz, carrying the standard for this most unique and interesting of American-made music genres.
Runners-up: Shay On Sax, Frank Trompeter

Deezy Da Paperboy

Rapper Deezy da Paperboy is a regular face on the stage of Bar None’s longstanding hip-hop showcase, Torch Tuesday. In addition to capturing the  vote, Deezy was a big winner at this year’s Torch Tuesday awards, taking home trophies for artist, single and video of the year.  His bio at describes the artist’s “ever-increasing web presence, indescribable work ethic and devoted fans” and his album is available at and features the single “JFK.”
Runners-up: Co-Pilots, Trizzle

Micah Walk

Mr. Walk continues to walk away with this category, perhaps because he excels in both singing and songwriting, meeting the double dipping requirement with ease, gusto and a whole bunch of talent. The Girard native started playing in Springfield several years ago, spent some time trying out the Chicago scene and ended up back in the capital city, much to the joy of local listeners. You can catch him solo acoustic and with the cover pop band Shenanigans, but these days he directs his talents to The Deep Hollow, a trio of singer-songwriters, including Walk, Dave Littrell and Elizabeth Eckert. The group won the American Songwriter magazine’s 30th anniversary songwriting contest in 2014 and spent 2015 completing the work on a new album to be released sometime soon. Keep on singing and writing, Micah. Folks around here appreciate the sweet sounds and creative work.
Runners-up: Tom Irwin, Dave Littrell

Blue Grouch Pub

Karaoke is the great equalizer, allowing anyone with courage and daring to grab the mic, read the lyrics and become a part of the performer’s art. Springfield is very particular and proud of its karaoke heritage, with at least a karaoke show every night of the week and often several at a time at various venues. Karaoke singers know the host can make or break a night and Debbie Cakes does it well at the Grouch and several other bars around town. But this category is about the place, and this place, known as Springfield’s favorite neighborhood bar, nestled into a southside cranny on Maple Street, creates a fun and forgiving atmosphere so you can get your karaoke on like nobody’s business.
Runners-up: AMF Strike N Spare Lanes, Koo-Koo’s Nest


This sought-after category in the area scene, means a great deal to those creative artists spending night and day searching for expression through song. These fellers are in the right place at the right time, playing contemporary country while it’s the hottest thing out there and the songs are what makes an original band successful. Brushville plays all over live, but now they’ve started getting the radio airplay needed to break out into the big time, the necessary avenue for best original bands to take. Using songs that fit the mold and work on popular radio is important to making the charts and that’s what bandmates Brent Gillan, Marc Broomby, Darin Holthaus, Dustin Reynolds and Kirk Ellis did on their debut album by combining band-penned songs with ones from some of Nashville’s hottest writers. Write on, guys!
Runners-up: Deep Hollow, Broseph E. Lee


These guys would be heading for the Springfield Music Hall of Fame if we had one and most definitely have this category locked up, as they easily sweep the punk picture one more time. Part of the charm comes from the deft frontman work of Jeff Williams, combining humor and angst, with guitar music and lyrics, and the rest is added by brother Bruce Williams on bass and jumping. Through several decades (must we count them?), the Brothers Williams anchored the punk and skate scene band with various musicians joining in the fray. For quite some time Damon Soper (lead guitar, vocal screeches) and Wes Selinger (drums galore) complete the foursome playing the accumulated songs of NIL8’s catalog as they continue to influence generations of indie bands around town determined to make music on their own.
Runners-up: The Timmys, Looming

Old Capitol Blues & BBQ

Neither rain, nor heat nor chilly weather diminish Springfield’s love for this event as it continually rates as a favorite festival among our readers. Moved to the first weekend of October for 2015 due to the disastrous heat wave of last year, folks still flock to the celebration of all things blues with a bunch of BBQ included. Local blues performers vie for a chance to represent the Illinois Central Blues Club at the International Blues Challenge during the annual contest held during the shindig hosted by Downtown Springfield, Inc. Promoters use a mix of mostly local blues-based bands topped off by well established out of town groups, making for a fine recipe for a popular festival. And we’re pretty sure the aroma of smoked ribs, briskets, shanks and various other hunks of meat adds to the deep and abiding popularity of the downtown doings.
Runners-up: SOHO, Downhome Music, Beer & Art Festival

The Locals

Thanks to a solid space for underage bands to play and learn, along with a generation of parents very supportive of kids making music (all hail rock ’n roll), we can now consistently offer this category to our readers. Our 2015 winners, The Locals, with Mike Butler (guitar/vocals), Carter Bibb (bass guitar) and Liam Coffey (drums) play all kinds of music, including soft-rock, punk, pop, alternative and a good dose of whatever, plus, thank goodness, a bunch of original songs. All three musicians attend high school and participate in school music programs. Along with occasional shows at the Black Sheep Cafe, our official all-ages venue, the boys in the band played the Radon Lounge, the SOHO Music Fest and the Illinois State Fair Apex Stage. Oh yes, by the way (btw, to some of you), they’re always looking for gigs, so check out their Facebook page and give them a go.
Runners-up: Young Luck, Room for Five

Ric “Skippy” Major

Ever since we began offering this category, readers picked Skip as the best guy around for turning the knobs and tweaking the sounds of bands, artists and musicians all over town. Major started running mixing boards back in the ’70s and hasn’t stopped yet, with no end in sight (or sound). Often a familiar face at festivals and bars, in recent years he’s concentrated on making the Curve Inn an ideal place for live sound, one of the many reasons this popular venue receives so many accolades. Skippy also continues to run his Middle Option Music, the one that says it’s okay to make a living doing what you love by taking that option in the middle and making it work. The outgoing and personable sound guy is an unofficial historian of the local scene, considering his decades of service to sound through countless bands and numerous gigs.
Runners-up: Rich Harrison, Matthew “Jr” Graves

West Side Story - The Muni

Starting with one of the most acclaimed and successful tales of all time, (hey, it’s Romeo and Juliet all over again, folks), that special spark that is the magic of The Muni gave this musical production a flair and finesse to reach the “Best” in our readers’ eyes and ears. Directed and choreographed by Anna Bussing with Julie Ratz as her able and vital assistant, aided by Craig Williams II as artistic director and DJ Schultz as vocal director with Jake Smith filling the producer shoes, the famed story came alive at the summer theater near the lake. With the Jets, the Sharks, the songs and Bailee Brinkman as Maria, no wonder this was the wonder of the live theater season. With the Legacy Theatre and Theatre in the Park both represented in the runoff, one can see how varied and vast the local theater scene has become with an incredible pool of talent on all sides of the curtain brightening up the stage.
Runners-up: Mary Poppins - Legacy Theatre, Grease - Theatre in the Park

Diane Dietz as “Mary” in Mary Poppins - The Legacy Theatre

The moment Mary Poppins came slowly sailing through the air to make a grand and magical entrance from the back ceiling of the Legacy to the stage, the audience reaction of oohs and ahhs said it all. Diane Dietz, a relative newcomer to the Springfield theater scene, simply stole the show by being nothing less than fantastic in this iconic part so ingrained into the social fabric of American culture. It doesn’t hurt to have brilliant songs to sing, ones that the audience can easily join in on, plus a cast and staff of impeccable quality to work with, but when it comes to taking it to the bank, Dietz simply became Mary Poppins, convincing all within the room, and that is the true test of a successful theatrical performance. We must add that many other female performances were considered exceptional in 2015, making this category hotly contested and well represented with incredible talent.
Runners-up: Bailee Brinkman - West Side Story - The Muni, Mary Kate Smith - Next To Normal - Hoogland Center for the Arts

Jim Leach - Children of Eden - Theatre in the Park

Best known for his gutsy and vital role as a radio show host on WMAY-970 AM and a multiple winner in the “Best of” category for his work in that position, along with many official awards from his professional broadcasting peers, this year Jim received this accolade from our readers. Leach, a longtime supporter and actor in local theater, performed the ultimate role as “the Father,” better known to us as God, among a cast of biblical characters based on the Book of Genesis. As the “kids” grow up and interact with the “father,” lessons of life are learned and shared with the audience through music and song. We can’t not mention the tragic fact that Jim, and all of us, unexpectedly lost his loving wife, Lisa, during the production of this show. Jim carried on with his part – who knows how – and we are honored to bestow this “Best of” award, with heartfelt congratulations to a performance well played.
Runners-up: Greg Floyd “Bert,” Mary Poppins - Legacy Theatre, Adam Sprouse - GREASE - Theatre in the Park

Diane Dietz as Mary in Mary Poppins
Diane Dietz as Mary in Mary Poppins

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