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Critics' picks 

Best of Charlotte 2006

Best Art Gallery: McColl Center for Visual Art
721 N. Tryon St.
704-332-5535
http://www.mccollcenter.org

Or, more precisely, the three floors of the McColl Center for Visual Art. Never a dull moment at this place: AfroCubans, environmentalists, zombies, messengers from the Apocalypse, pantheists, abstractionists and a mess of damn good painters. This is the one place sporting the visual arts in Charlotte where you can go to feel welcomed, wary, exhilarated and amused at the same time, almost every time you go. The crucible of creativity burbles on.


Best Art Exhibit: Sights of War at the Light Factory at Spirit Square
Spirit Square
345 N. College St.
704-333-9755
http://www.lightfactory.org

This show provided Charlotte with a not-ready-for-prime-time view of man’s inhumanity to man, from Kosovo to Iraq. From laser guided bombs to children’s collateral damaged corpses, we were given a tour of death and destruction around the world. War is seen through photographs, installations and illustrations of terrorized Hutu refugees, Baghdad “safety” routes‚ and armor-piercing projectiles. A dried blood and fingernail-in-the-flesh tutorial; a deliberate, sober and honest show. Kudos to the Light Factory and her host city, Charlotte.


Best Local Artist: Meredith Hebden

Hebden grew up wandering the rural wilds of Pennsylvania thinking flora was as alive as you and me. She proves it with her photographs of flowers from her Charlotte garden. Hebden collaboratively conspires with her earthy delights to charm, seduce and capture our natural-born, too easily calcified love for nature. We’re surrounded; we surrender.


Best Commercial Fine Artist: Paul Rousso


By his own admission, he can “sell it, print it, draw it, shoot it, paint it, crop it, flop it, stretch it and hang it.” Rousso has work on display at the Bobcats Arena, the Convention Center, the JCC, the Aquatic Center, Harper’s and Mimosa. You can’t see much of Charlotte without seeing Rousso. Independent, arrogant, ubiquitous, intractable and a little insane, this homegrown artist is our own lunatic mix of Walt Disney, Vincent Van Gogh and Peter Max.


Best Curator: June Lambla for  Contemporary Landscapes ... Crossing Boundaries  at McColl Center for Visual Art
721 N. Tryon St.
704-332-5535
http://www.mccollcenter.org

Every city deserves a secular conscience in the arts. Independent curator June Lambla assembles shows that address social issues from fresh, unexpected and eccentric perspectives. Her collaborative assemblies engage without preaching, and instruct without scolding. Two shows at the McColl Center — Contemporary Landscapes ... Crossing Boundaries and Stereotypes: Confronting Clichés — made environmental concerns and diversity training ... well ... riveting. She should teach Al Gore her secret handshake.


Best Theatre Company: Children's Theatre of Charlotte
1017 E. Morehead St.
704-376-5745
http://www.ctcharlotte.org

Blowing the competition away, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte reached new heights from the moment it nestled into its new ImaginOn facility on 7th Street. Upstairs at the 570-seat McColl Family Theatre, it dazzled with the fantastic spectacle of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the inspired staging of The Shakespeare Stealer. Downstairs in the intimate 250-seat Wachovia Playhouse, the touring Tarradiddle Players found a congenial home — and an ideal showcase for old Diddle favorites like The Velveteen Rabbit and new explorations like The Yellow Boat. Tickets to the Magician’s Nephew this October, following up on the unprecedented success of the lauded Lion, will be scarce. But worth the hunt.


Best Local Actor: Scott Helm


While we don’t see him on local stages quite as much as we used to — or we’d like to — Helm has given us an imposing set of performances in recent years. Nobody’s presence was more powerful so far this year than Helm’s in The Shakespeare Stealer. A double dose of splendor marked that exquisite production, where he played Widge’s fearsome master to launch the Elizabethan adventure. Then he changed costumes and temperaments to become Thomas Pope, a positively Falstaffian member of the Bard’s Globe Theatre and Widge’s most memorable mentor. Helm may be best remembered for his bravura performance of dozens of roles in Rep’s Fully Committed. We also thought highly of his Beatty in Fahrenheit 451 last year.


Best Local Actress: Nicia Carla

A repeat winner from last year ... and the year before that. Range and consistency are what separate Carla from the legion of fine actresses we have in Charlotte. They’re also the qualities that assure Carla of remaining in the public eye whenever she chooses. Look for her in a Children’s Theatre production and you might find her terrorizing the anklebiters as the Witch in Hansel and Gretel. Next time you encounter her, she could be the adorable Fern in Charlotte’s Web, discovering the dubious charms of Henry Fussy with unforgettable relish. Carla is that rare comedienne who delves deeply while delivering the laughs.


Best Performing Arts Group: North Carolina Dance Theatre


Like Nicia Carla, another frequent winner. Daring, skill and national renown are the hallmarks of NC Dance Theatre. Whether here in Charlotte, bolstering its claim to housing the best athletes in town, or wowing the critics in New York City, NCDT has become the crossroads for the nation’s best choreographers and the most promising, versatile new dancers. Special kudos for the fine rebuilding job it did over the course of the 2005-06 season after being rocked by multiple defections, departures and injuries. It really didn't miss a stride, though most of Charlotte still isn't as hip to NCDT’s excellence as it deserves.


Best Local Comedians: Rodney Guillory and Nikki Frank of The Perch/Charlotte Comedy Theater
1212 Central Ave
704-372-7724

When you think comedian, the first image that comes to mind is stand-up. But Charlotte’s two best comedians are masters of both the improv and sketch comedy scenes. Nikki Frank and Rodney Guillory have been cracking up audiences for the past few years with their sharp wit and impeccable comedic timing. It’s just a matter of time before our two hidden stars blow up. See them before it happens. Each weekend, they’re performing at the Charlotte Comedy Theater or the Perch.


Best Movie Theater (Quality of Films): Ballantyne Village Theatre

14815 John J. Delaney Dr

The Manor has struggled ever since parent company Eastern Federal was bought out by the Regal outfit, so the emergence of Charlotte’s “other” art-house theater is definitely a case of “right place, right time.” Management has had to book some dubious titles as the venue attempted to make its presence known (The Sentinel, a big-budget Michael Douglas action flick, does not suggest “indie filmmaking” to anyone except maybe Jerry Bruckheimer), but with such alternative gems as A Prairie Home Companion, An Inconvenient Truth and Thank You For Smoking settling in for long runs, the theater seems to have found its stride. Now let’s just hope Charlotteans support the place — it’s often difficult to get the blue-hairs to leave Myers Park and the spike-hairs to venture out of NoDa, but this is worth the trip.


Best Movie Theater (Quality of Presentation): Ballantyne Village Theatre

14815 John J. Delaney Dr

Many will cite the expansive lobby. Some will focus on the auditorium’s leather seats. Yet others will appreciate the food and drink items for sale (sushi, gourmet desserts, coffee). And everyone will be thankful for the comfortable viewing experience. As for us? We dig the bar. Who knew that popcorn and red wine would go together so well?


Best Film Series: "From Busby to Bollywood: Classic Musicals"
310 N. Tryon St.
704-336-6217

The Main Library’s annual summer film series has taken this honor several times in the past, but perhaps never more deservedly than this time. That’s because a change in viewing venue (from the library to ImaginOn) has taken this venerable series to a new level. Plus, who can resist a schedule of great musicals ranging from Astaire elegance in Top Hat to hippie gyrations in Hair?


Best Video/DVD Rental Selection: VisArt
1945 E. Seventh St
704-343-3031

A repeat winner, again and again. A movie lover’s paradise (and still a secret to the masses, as evidenced by Blockbuster’s umpteenth win in this category over on the Readers’ side), this heaven-sent haven stocks close to 30,000 DVD and video titles, everything ranging from film noir to Japanese cinema to offbeat and experimental flicks unfamiliar even to us. But don’t think this store caters only to art-house enthusiasts: Box office hits abound, and entire shelves are dedicated to the popular exploits of James Bond and Abbott and Costello.


Best Local Author: Tony Abbott

Professor Emeritus of English at Davidson College and vice president of the North Carolina Writers Network, Abbott’s writing passions include modern drama, religion and literature, and creative writing with an emphasis on poetry. He has published two books on modern drama and four poetry compilations, and won the Novello Prize for his first novel, Leaving Maggie Hope, published in 2003. Author Lee Smith described this semi-autobiographical novel as “the most moving coming-of-age story I have read in many years.” Novelist Patricia Cornwell — a 1979 graduate of Davidson and a student of Abbott’s — described the book as “touching and riveting.” Thanks to such high praise, Abbott has remained quite busy lately, reading from his work and speaking to book clubs in and beyond the Charlotte area.


Best Independent Bookstore: Park Road Books
Park Road Shopping Center
4139 Park Road.
704-525-9239

Years ago, there was a scare when the former owner advertised that he was selling the business because he couldn't compete with mega-giant-big-box booksellers such as the Media Play retailer that lurked around the corner. Oh, the irony — and the beauty — that, as of a few months ago, Media Play is no longer in business. And Park Road Books continues to thrive. We think it’s because of the super-helpful service, commitment to customer relationships old and new, and an excellent (but not overwhelming) selection. Other plusses: a cheery children’s section, cozy reading area and greeting cards to accompany books you choose as gifts. For all these reasons, PRB gets our annual vote. Again.


Best Chain Bookstore: Joseph-Beth, Southpark
4345 Barclay Downs Drive.
704-602-9820
http://www.josephbeth.com

Open for just a little more than a year, the Charlotte location of this five-store chain has written a new chapter in retailing, hosting four book clubs, offering seemingly nonstop author events and kids’ story times ... even promoting local musicians during June’s “Music & Movie Celebration.” And — hello! — who wouldn't love Brontë, “a novel bistro and wine bar.” Sigh ... a bookstore with a wine bar. And catering. Now that’s what we call feeding the soul.


Best Used Bookstore: Book Buyers
1308 The Plaza #F
704-344-8611

Is there anyone else? It seems that, year after year, we simply rely on Book Buyers to delight us with new (old) finds — from textbooks to classics to “how-to’s.” Part of the fun lies in discovering an unusual book that someone has dusted-off from their attic; the rest comes from knowing that you’re making a new home for an old favorite. Book Buyers carefully inspects each book that enters its inventory, so you can buy with confidence. A repeat winner, naturally.


Best New Band (Formed in Last 12 Months): Soulganic

If you have yet to see these guys live, you’re definitely missing out. Soulganic’s sound isn't easily labeled. It’s jazzy but not strictly so, thanks to that pounding beat laid out by Cory McClure and Lucas Torres. However, it isn't just Latin rhythms, either. You feel it; it’s organic, growing moment by moment with aural combinations that are pleasing to the soul. During every song, the rhythm invades your body, forcing you to take notice and dance, sway, move until it subsides or you drop (whichever happens first).


Best Local Band/Artist: Pyramid

A repeat winner from last year. The band’s about as large as Earth, Wind & Fire (some eight members, and that’s without frequent special guests), and damn near as quirky. Its long-awaited debut, The First American, wouldn't have sounded out of place on any major indie in the country, and why the group is not currently on tour with, say, Smog is beyond us. Except for the fact that most of the band members have other interests and passions and loves (not to mention wives), and, well, have you ever tried to get eight people to do the same thing for a month at a time? Music is the band’s life, but you don’t feel like the members would care all that much were it never to be their livelihood. Maybe that’s what makes them so good?


Best Emerging Band: The Sammies

The self-titled debut from the Wadesboro Four is already climbing the charts at influential radio stations like Seattle’s KEXP. Full of three-minute burners that run the stylistic gamut from the Ramones to post-punk, New Wave to Skynyrd, the Sammies’ unbridled enthusiasm and unpretentious approach reminds us why we fell so hard for rock & roll in the first place.


Best Local Songwriter: David Childers


Childers has won this award so many times that we should consider renaming it the David Childers Award for Best Local Songwriter. If you like your rock with a literary bent and delivered with the conviction of a Sunday sermon, Childers is your man. The Mount Holly native is equally adept at penning country weepers or incandescent rockers, and whether the topic is personal or historical, Childers’ songs always feel thoroughly lived in. He’s quick to credit his deserving band, the Modern Don Juans, but it all begins with Childers.


Best Local Male Vocalist: Anthony Rodriguez of Soulganic

Soulganic has been making musical waves in our neck of the woods with a blend of soulful jazz and shades of funk. Rodriguez has the NY falsetto that’s big enough to wrap around the music. Add Latin rhythms to the mix and it’s certifiably organic. Rodriguez is a snazzy bassist to boot.


Best Local Female Vocalist: Beth Chorneau


Whether scatting her way through a jazz classic or re-interpreting a torch song, Chorneau’s rich and smoky vocals conjure intimate nightclubs and candle-lit romance. To hear Chorneau is to be reminded that voices — and not just lyrics — also tell stories.


Best Club/Party DJ: Jason Herring, aka DJ Jah-Sun Rising

Herring is a big fan of local venues the Loft and Eden, where he spins on any given night. However, he still seems unaffected by the Charlotte scene citing not enough diversity while still managing to keep his ear to the underground talent pool personally and through his company Ten Millimeter Omega. As the fiery sun continues to rise in the east, we’re sure to find DJ Jah-Sun Rising doing his thing on the 1s and 2s and making Charlotte an all-around better place to groove.


Best Local Music Scene Figure: Michael "Kitch" Kitchen

Originally one of the founding members of Rare Grooves & the Soul Movement, now Kitchen brings us the Sol Kitchen. Through Sol Kitchen, Kitch brings in top acts steeped in that old-school soul Southerners love, including artists like Dwele, Van Hunt, Goapele and, most recently, Raheem DeVaughn. Having indeed performed a major service to Charlotte’s growing market, Kitch is well on his way to achieving what he calls “a vibe and energy similar to that of Funk Jazz Kafé ... of in of itself.”


Best Attempt at Ballot-Stuffing: Rory Lewis fans

Well, you can't say this local musician’s admirers aren't dedicated. After deluging the CL offices with often profane and usually incomprehensible e-mails earlier this year, the faithful then turned their attention to voting for him in just about every category imaginable in the BOC poll — Best Local Athlete, Best Local Charity, Best Museum, even Local Zero and Biggest Waste of Tax Money. Of course, CL has been putting out a Best of Charlotte issue for close to two decades now, so it wasn't hard — just time-consuming — for us to spot the duplicate (and therefore ineligible) submissions. Wow, if these people would use all that spare time to do something constructive (see our Best Activist winners for ideas), there’s no telling what they might accomplish!

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