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your Best of the Chippewa Valley 2010 winners for music, art, and theatre

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BEST MOVIE THEATER

1st Place: Cameo Budget Twin
2nd Place: Micon Cinemas
3rd Place: Gemini Drive-In

Not to be budged, downtown Eau Claire’s Cameo Budget Twin remains the local favorite with a historically worn and slightly spooky building that offers an old-time movie experience without the bad technology. Older films – we’re talking by months – but who cares? This wallet friendly second-run theater keeps the prices low and the watchers happy. The massive Micon Cinemas takes a different approach, advertising recent blockbusters with cardboard frenzy and comfy seating. Still a summer love, the Gemini Drive-In provides double-screening, late-night fun for food-sneaking and noisy-snickering moviegoers. They’re even so nice as to provide battery jumps at the end of the night – talk about customer service. ­– KS

BEST MUSIC PERFORMANCE IN THE PAST YEAR

1st Place: Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers @ The State
2nd Place: Mojo Lemon @ Owen Park
3rd Place: Meridene + Jim Pullman Band @ Back Stage

Steve Martin wins awards. He’s got an Emmy, four Grammys, a Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, a Disney Legend Award, a Kennedy Center Honors award (whatever that is), and now a Volume One Best Of award. That one’s definitely going right to the front of his mantel. Martin came to Eau Claire in July and played at the State Theatre with the Steep Canyon Rangers, a bluegrass band. The show was said to have been in promotion of his new album, The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, which got a lot of attention and won a Grammy, but I asked someone who has no connection to Martin and hadn’t heard his music and she said it was to keep residuals from The Jerk flowing. Mojo Lemon came in second, but when you’re second to Steve Martin, you’re doing pretty well. Just ask Dan Aykroyd. The Mojo won Best Blues Band in 2008 and 2009, and in 2010 they played the second most memorable show in Eau Claire under the bandshell at Owen Park. Meridene and the Jim Pullman Band come in third place with a pair of performances at the Back Stage Concert Series, which presented mostly brand spanking new material. – AP

BEST PLACE FOR LIVE MUSIC

1st Place: Phoenix Park
2nd Place: House of Rock
3rd Place: Mabel Tainter

Let’s not bore ourselves with descriptions of the top three vote getters in this category. You probably know of Phoenix Park, the House of Rock, and the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts. What’s more interesting about this poll is the fact that Phoenix Park, the site of V1’s Sounds Like Summer Concert Series, got more than double the amount of votes of any actual music venue in town. Don’t get me wrong, I love spreading a blankie out and watching local bands in the cool breeze as much as the next guy, but the Phark can only have concerts for half the year. And if it rains, no show! The fact that a non-venue so easily dominated this category says something not only about how fantastic Phoenix Park’s events are, but also something about how our music venues might not be giving the general public what they want. – AP

BEST OUTDOOR VENUE

1st Place: Phoenix Park
2nd Place: Owen Park
3rd Place: Memorial Park

As the mercury starts to drop in our thermometers, we’re losing some great places to see music, at least until spring. Phoenix Park once again came out on top, boasting one of the most popular summer events in the city: the Sounds Like Summer concert series. Owen Park plays host to a wide variety of music in its historic bandshell, including the Municipal Band, Blues In The Park, and other events and concerts, which explains their second place status. Music In The Park, Blues on the Chippewa, and Grass on the Chippewa, which all take place in Durand’s Memorial Park, featured phenomenal performers all summer long, solidifying its spot in the top three. – TF

BEST JAZZ BAND

1st Place: UWEC Jazz I
2nd Place: Klenz/Walk Sextet
3rd Place: Memorial Jazz I

The music scene is a huge part of the Chippewa Valley’s identity, and jazz is an even huge-r part of that scene, so the competition for the number one jazz band spot in this poll is fierce. UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz I climbed to number one this year, and rightfully so. In June the ensemble was named “Best College Big Band” for 2010 by Down Beat magazine, making Jazz I a six-time Down Beat award winner. 2009-10 band members were both excited and honored to leave their legacy as “one of the Down Beat bands.” Finishing second is the Walk/Klenz Sextet, led by Jeff Walk on trumpet and Adrian Klenz on vocals. Their funky, unique takes on classic jazz standards keep them playing regular gigs all over town. Bringing up the rear is those talented teens, Memorial High School Jazz I. With an impressive history of national awards and a few famous alumni, these kids put in the sweat hours to raise the bar for school music programs everywhere. – LB

BEST ALL-AGES VENUE

1st Place: Acoustic Café
2nd Place: Phoenix Park
3rd Place: Infinitea Teahouse

Well, kiddos, here’s where you should be spending your weekends. If you’re in the mood for some food with the show, Acoustic Café offers a wide selection of hoagies, pita pockets, and soups in addition to its great coffees. Phoenix Park probably wins the age range award, with the Sounds Like Summer crowd containing every generation from the newborns to senior citizens. Infinitea rounds out the top three, offering a wide variety of music from folk to jazz to rock in a cozy, intimate setting. Any way you cut it these great venues do a lot to encourage growth in Eau Claire’s already impressive music scene. – TF

BEST FOLK PERFORMER(S)

1st Place: QuinnElizabeth
2nd Place: Brian Bethke
3rd Place: Feathe

Ladies rule in this year’s Best Folk catalog, nabbing two of the top three spots. The three sisters of QuinnElizabeth have been frontrunners on the folk scene in Eau Claire for sometime with their percussive folk songs and bright harmonies. Brian Bethke takes the second spot with his personal songs filled with stunning melodies simply performed on an acoustic guitar. The youngest of the three, Feathe, rounds out the category with their brand of folk-pop that has taken Eau Claire by storm in the last couple years, including two releases and a Midwestern tour. Too bad they won’t be sticking together. – TF

BEST ART GALLERY

1st Place: EC Regional Arts Center Gallery
2nd Place: Tangled Up in Hue
3rd Place: L.E. Phillips Memorial Pub.Library

Whether or not you consider yourself an artist, there are plenty of ways we all can enjoy a good work of art. These days, with so many different forms, it’s no wonder that the Valley seems to have an endless supply of galleries where people can see what local and national folks are up to. The Eau Claire Regional Arts Center once again rises to the occasion, continuing to serve as a center for live theater, comedy, music, and, of course, art. (Let’s just cross our fingers that their gallery expansion will happen soon.) Still home to a motley mixture of local talent, Tangled Up in Hue is a place where artists can have their own show and sell their works. The newly renovated L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library is also a place to look for art in a friendly setting. In this valley, there’s no reason to miss out on art, no matter what kind you are looking for. – KS

BEST PUBLIC ART INSTALLATION

1st Place: Garbage Goose, Banbury Place
2nd Place: Hands Across EC
3rd Place: Permanent collection at L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library

Back again after a year off, the category for Best Public Art Installation recognizes this year that waste can be, well, artistic. Whether you call it the Garbage Goose or the Garbage Swan, this guardian at Banbury tops ‘em all as it defiantly eyes any passerby. Reaching across the community, the Hands Across Eau Claire remain a favorite, adding spots of color and life to neighborhoods and buildings. Holding firm, the permanent collection at L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library still retains the love of the local folks with a rotating kaleidoscope of art for all. – KS

BEST ROCK BAND

1st Place: South Farwell
2nd Place: Sue Orfield Band
3rd Place: Daredevil Christopher Wright

This one’s a biggie, folks. Being the best band in Eau Claire means you’re the best in a surprisingly rich and diverse community of musicians. Over the past few years, Eau Claire has become known for its musicians as much as anything else it has to offer. That said, South Farwell, a fairly new bluesy-rock and country band, is your Best Original Rock Band of 2010. Composed of former members of the once enormously popular local group EasyChair, among others, the band named after a street is currently working on a follow-up to their debut album Tear Everything Down. Second place goes to the Sue Orfield Band, a project showcasing the award-winning saxophone talents of Sue Orfield. Most notably, she’s shared the stage with the Indigo Girls and Bo Diddley, and according to her MySpace page, she’s influenced by “everyone I ever heard, everything I ever saw, and everyone that ever touched my life,” so that’s a lot. The Daredevil Christopher Wright takes third place after a somewhat relaxing year for the band, in which they shacked themselves up in their parents’ house to write new material. Oh yeah, and they’re touring Europe for three weeks, too. Yawn. – AP

FAVORITE LOCAL VISUAL ARTIST

1st Place: Molly Marie
2nd Place: Jeremy Dwayne
3rd Place: Laurie Bieze

Visual artists are not to be missed, especially here in the Chippewa Valley. Sensual, creative, and heart-warming, Molly Marie Photography records (and revels in) the beautiful life. Popular for weddings and engagements, she also offers a look into the ultra-feminine with a boudoir line. Jeremy Dwayne Photography is a master of getting into the personal life, providing a diversity of services from senior pictures and portraits to weddings. Laurie Bieze, still her own gem of shining glass, retains her status as a master stained glass artist featured across the Valley in both public and private locations. – KS

BEST LOCAL THEATRICAL PRODUCTION OF THE PAST YEAR

1st Place: The Wizard of Oz
2nd Place: Noises Off
3rd Place: Evening of Shel Silverstein

Menomonie Theatre Guild has officially caught our eye. Despite fewer resources than other area groups, MTG pulls their shows off with creative flair in show choice and staging. In the case of the L. Frank Baum classic The Wizard of Oz, the costume and acting ingenuity equally impressed. Noises Off, meanwhile, blew us away with their gigantic spinning set and unique marketing ploys, not to mention the slapstick comedy – an interesting self-reflexive show choice. Another group that has our attention is BareBones Ensemble Theatre, whose hilarious segmented show An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein was a perfect balance of comedy, music, and pushing the envelope of our local theater landscape (sex, profanity) in order to advance it. I’d be remiss not to mention Rent and Chicago, two other excellent performances from the past year (from Eau Claire Children’s Theatre and Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild, respectively). – TK

BEST DJ/HIP-HOP ACT

1st Place: Fathom
2nd Place: Breakneck the Mage
3rd Place: Frozen Tundra

It’s one thing to be at home, jammin’ out to some beats while holding a hairbrush as a microphone and watching yourself in the mirror, but it’s a whole other thing to actually be on stage performing in front of a group of people. You’ve got to have the swagger and the hip-hop state-of-mind; you have to be hip-hop. Plenty of us can be badass when we’re spittin’ some rhymes in the comfort of our own homes, but it’s 10 times more hardcore to have the audience rappin’ along to lyrics that you wrote. There’s no stopping Fathom, who has made his way into the number one spot this year with his sick beats and clever lyrics. Listen to the ebb and flow of Breakneck the Mage’s rhythms and you’ll find yourself tapping your foot and moving your head to the beat. The unique sound of Frozen Tundra can get anyone out of their seats and shakin’ on the dance floor. – LdF

YOUR FAVORITE LOCAL AUTHOR

1st Place: Mike Perry
2nd Place: Jerry Poling
3rd Place: Andy Patrie

Michael Perry has owned this category ever since the sensational Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time was published. Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting came out this past year. For those of us “jonesing” for that next Perry book, we get our fix reading his blog on sneezingcow.com. Jerry Poling, a former columnist with the Leader-Telegram, still delights readers who come across his sports books A Summer Up North: Hank Aaron and the Legend of Eau Claire Baseball and Downfield: Untold Stories of the Green Bay Packers. High school English teacher and occasional V1 contributor Andy Patrie scares me. Really. He is an expert on horror films and when he writes about them, he makes me want to watch them, and I get scared. – RR

BEST MUSIC FESTIVAL

1st Place: Rock Fest
2nd Place: Blues on the Chippewa
3rd Place: Country Fest

Of all the great music festivals in the area, Cadott’s Rock Fest was voted the very best. A lineup featuring Alice in Chains, Limp Bizkit, 3 Doors Down, and John Mellencamp, not to mention multiple beer pavilions and four-day camping is almost like cheating. The 3rd annual Blues on the Chippewa festival in Durand takes a close second place. As if 15 local blues bands over two days wasn’t enough, the free event also included a craft show, classic car show, and a motorcycle show! Behind the boot stompin’ strength of Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, and Darius Rucker (aka Hootie), Country Fest came in third place. The 2011 lineup is already being created and includes Carrie Underwood and Trace Atkins, so get your cowboy hats and coolers ready for another four nights of drunken shenanigans. – AP

BEST OPEN MIC

1st Place: The Mousetrap
2nd Place: Bottle & Barrel
3rd Place: Shari’s Chippewa Club

Hosted by the EverGreen Grass Band, The Mousetrap’s 10pm Sunday night open mic nights scored first place this year, not surprisingly since the bluegrassers make the event welcoming and a ton of fun for musicians as well as audience members. Second is The Bottle & Barrel’s open mics, taking place Wednesdays starting at 7pm and hosted by local cowboy/folk songwriter Jeff White. The B&B’s open mic nights also seek to be a musician hangout night (performers get a free drink), which may have earned the venue its high vote count. Shari’s Chippewa Club in Durand, which took third, features a variety of jam session nights (blues on first Sundays, bluegrass/old time jams on second Sundays, classic country on third Sundays), a live webcam stream from their website, and the option for a DVD of their performance. – TG

BEST BLUES BAND

1st Place: Mojo Lemon
2nd Place: Left Wing Bourbon
3rd Place: Howard “Guitar” Luedtke

Blues is an incredibly tricky genre to work with, but if done correctly can be mesmerizing. With that said, Mojo Lemon is certainly one act worth seeing. The band has been playing for over a decade and basically covers it all, from Hendrix to Muddy Waters, and has now won for the third year in a row. River’s Edge bar in Durand is where the members of Left Wing Bourbon honed their skills, consequently making it to second place in this year’s poll. They play Chicago-style blues with a twinge of classic rock; they basically just like to blow up the stage. And then there’s Howard Luedtke. The guy’s unofficial middle name is “Guitar,” so that should be telling in and of itself. He’s opened for acts such as George Thorogood and the Destroyers, and Joe Louis Walker, just to name a few. – RT

BEST HARD ROCK/METAL BAND

1st Place: No Loving Place
2nd Place: Truth Before Treason
3rd Place: Drunk Drivers

Heavy, brooding melodic rockers No Loving Place firmly maintained their spot at the top, eking out another year of dominance as the area’s best hard rockers. Despite the grinding, hair-swinging mayhem they command, No Loving Place took to the Phoenix Park labyrinth this summer and played an acoustic set, providing new textures that compliment their music’s original devil horn-wielding purposes. Durand metal band Truth Before Treason came in just shy of first place, and the band that really ought to go down in local history as the best bar band of all time – Drunk Drivers – swerved into third this year, down from second last year (probably because the number of their live shows wanes every year). – TG

BEST COVER BAND

1st Place: Brass Monkey
2nd Place: The Pheromones
3rd Place: Cats Ass

Boasting themselves as “the world’s greatest Top 40 R&B/Rock cover band,” this year’s winner certainly has something made of brass. Starting out by winning this year’s competition is a very good start, however. Put on your Ryan Seacrest hairdos and go find out why our voters are currently idolizing Brass Monkey. The Pheromones place second in the poll for the second year in a row. Their blend of classic and modern rock is sure to attract anyone looking to party. They specialize in recreating memorable riffs and reasons to bodysurf. In third is the always- classy Cats Ass. This four-piece band plays mainly classic and modern rock (with some newer stuff) and will have you clawing for more. – RT

BEST BLUEGRASS BAND

1st Place: Evergreen Grass Band
2nd Place: East Hill Bluegrass Band
3rd Place: Seeger Boys (tied)
3rd Place: New North String Band (tied)

On the heels of the release of their first CD, the EverGreen Grass Band takes first choice for Best Bluegrass Band. This comes as no surprise to their fans who always appear at their shows in great numbers and are seen singing along to the original tunes that the band has made their trademark. A well deserved second choice is the East Hill Bluegrass Band, who, since making their debut at that Minneapolis bluegrass institution Dulono’s earlier this summer, are now firmly on the “picker’s radar.” Tied for third are the New North String Band, featuring the amazing Trent Cuthbert, and the charming family band The Seeger Boys. Now all Eau Claire needs is a festival featuring all four of these bands. How about it, WHYS? – MG

BEST ANNUAL EVENT

1st Place: Chalkfest
2nd Place: International Fall Fest
3rd Place: Taste of Eau Claire

Rearranged since last year’s favorites, the best annual events in the Chippewa Valley remain steady salutes to art, culture, and food. Scrumptious all around. This year, Chalkfest managed to avoid the plague of storms that have been our bane all summer while the artists packed a punch of creativity and color on the sidewalks of Wilson Park. The International Fall Festival remains a center of cultural and worldly excitement, providing performances, goods, and food for eager carnival lovers. Third place finisher Taste of Eau Claire keeps it local, providing entertainment with samplings of delicious edibles that make you remember that really, no one cares about a summer diet. – KS

BEST JAM BAND

1st Place: The Excellent Adventure
2nd Place: Downers Grove
3rd Place: Big Deeks

The phrase “jam band” has a generalized stigma that brings to mind month-long concerts with drum circles in a campground, lots of drugs, and Phish. The moniker and stereotype hardly do justice to our local versions. The Excellent Adventure is a jam supergroup defined by rockin’ solos and damn good fun, which is why we simultaneously celebrate them and mourn them as they’re put on hold with the export of frontman and coolest-dude-everyone-knows Bill Hamilton. Their twinge of funk rock is taken a step further with Downers Grove, whose new original material at the Sounds Like Summer Concert Series this summer were a huge hit. Big Deeks don’t fit the traditional sense of the genre at all, but you’ll find them playing classic rock covers regularly at O’Leary’s and The Pioneer (Menomonie). – TK

BEST NEW FESTIVAL OR EVENT

1st Place: Back Stage Concert Series
2nd Place: Rock-n-Roll Kickball Classic
3rd Place: Haunts of Eau Claire Bus Tour

The consensus is in: everyone loves a backstage pass, or at least the illusion of one. The Back Stage Concert Series takes place on the stage of the State Theatre, cozied up behind the towering red stage curtain. It’s this allure, coupled with extremely likable local bands (and the restlessness of a Thursday night) that carried this new Volume One/State Theatre partnership to success. The second-best event according to y’all is the Chippewa Valley Rock-n-Roll Kickball Classic, which brought out droves of kickers to Cinder City Park in Altoona on Memorial Day Weekend, all clad in colorful team T-shirts. The rockin’ local bands brought out another wave of spectators. Third-most popular is the Haunts of Eau Claire Bus Tour, which gathered up some brave souls for a 1.5 hour bus ride, in which UWEC Players (in character as famous killers) pointed out and elaborated on the ghostliest spots in Eau Claire. – KJ

BEST NEW BAND

1st Place: The Finesse
2nd Place: The Michael Rambo Project
3rd Place: Dead Dogs (tied)
3rd Place: The Heart Pills (tied)

Eau Claire’s music scene saw a whole lot of action in 2010, and a few of its biggest stories were from new bands. After reuniting in ’09, The Finesse, formerly Wes and the Finesse, released its debut EP at the House of Rock at the end of July. Songs in the Key of G is a funk-infused rock tribute to Douglas Greenhalgh, the Chippewa Falls High School band director who died in a bus accident in 2005. The newly formed Michael Rambo Project has been hard at work hitting just about every venue in town with its epic Coldplay-esque rock/jazz combo. A four song self-titled EP is available at themichaelramboproject.com, as are a few unique videos from a series called “The Michael Rambo Project Does Things,” where The Michael Rambo Project does some things. As most great ideas in Wisconsin are, The Dead Dogs was born from a love of booze and rock n’ roll. Its sound – raw and rambunctious, comparable to Tom Waits, if anyone – is well fit for the Valley. Making a big splash in the indie scene this year, The Heart Pills created a grungy bar-band sound that could only be possible with cheap instruments and by joining a bit of talent with a whole lot of creativity. Also, they hit things with pans. – AP

BEST BAND NAME

1st Place: Sassy Magoo
2nd Place: Daredevil Christopher Wright
3rd Place: Duncan Ninja

In all honesty, and by my own fault, I’ve never heard Sassy Magoo’s music. If it’s anything like their name, I’m bound to be impressed. I do know the inspired sounds of indie-folkers Daredevil Christopher Wright and the dynamite funky-town dance songs played by Duncan Ninja. Normally I’d do a little bit of research to find out what Sassy Magoo sounds like, but for this poll I simply don’t have to. For this poll, all I need to know is that every band in town, even the Daredevil and the Ninja, fell short of Sassy Magoo in 2010. No other band in the Chippewa Valley can say they accomplished what Sassy Magoo accomplished. Sassy Magoo did something that multiple local touring bands and professional recording artists couldn’t. Sassy Magoo got a whopping 278 of your votes, because Sassy Magoo had, without a doubt, the Best Band Name of 2010, and it was Sassy Magoo. – AP

BEST TOURING STAGE PRODUCTION

1st Place: Whad’Ya Know?
2nd Place: Ron White
3rd Place: Reduced Shakespeare Company

The State Theatre produced the what’s-what of stage performances this year; it’s telling that they hosted the area’s top three theatrical gigs. Wisconsin Public Radio’s comedy, interview and quiz show Whad’Ya Know? with Michael Feldman proved to be the number one hit. Second came the cigar smokin,’ whiskey drinkin’ Blue Collar Comedy alumnus Ron White. Well done, ECRAC. Well done. The touring physical comedy troupe for the quick of mind and short of time, The Reduced Shakespeare Company, scored third place for tickling our sensibilities with razor-sharp renditions of Shakespearean plays. – TG

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