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Staff Picks

  The Best of Knoxville

Best Local Bluegrass Band
String Bean
Gosh, given Knoxville's roots and foothills location, it's a little sad how few of you voted in this category. But the winners shouldn't make any listener the slightest bit blue(grass). String Bean's core is the husband and wife team of Cruz and Bobbi Contreras, and they are usually joined by Cruz' brother and Bobbi's dad—keeping their new-fangled, old-school 'grass all in the family. While new to the local scene, these pickers have been winning converts at every gig, whether at the Great Southern Brewing Co. or over at WDVX. If that weren't enough, the banjo-ist is a dead ringer for the bearded guy in Deliverance.
Runners Up: Misty River, Dismembered Tennesseans

Best Local Blues Band
Give up the funk to the hardest working local blues/funk/groove band that begins with a B. Their music on any given night is 85 percent originals, with a cover or two tossed in to mix it up. Hey Watchiss has sold over 1,000 copies locally, which ain't too shabby. Last year's winner the Hector Qirko Band and the swampadelic Blue Mother Tupelo round out the category, and were narrowly edged out by the 'men, proving that Knox-town is just full of quality blues.
Runners Up: Hector Qirko Band, Blue Mother Tupelo

Best Local Jazz Band
Donald Brown
In Lucille's there's a huge concert poster from France with the face of a guy who looks a whole lot like the guy who's playing keyboards tonight. Yes, it's Donald Brown, internationally known recording artist who for the last decade or so has also been the star of UT's jazz program. You can also catch him on occasion at Harry's, at Baker-Peters, at Ivory's, and at the KMA. When Donald plays in France or New York, it's a big deal, but he plays in Knoxville—often with his combo, Early Bird—more nights than not.
Runners Up: Jazz Liberation Quartet, Marcus Shirley

Best Rock Band
Best Country Band
Best Male Vocalist
Best Local Music Release

V-Roys/Scott Miller
Featured in a prominent story in Billboard and, more recently, on NPR's Weekend Edition, the boys in the ties and sharp jackets rock this town whenever they play here, which is often but not nearly often enough. Their high point was their October album-release show on Market Square, which attracted an estimated 2,000 fans. That CD, All About Town—their second—won best local release, and has gotten national raves in Billboard, Stereo Review, and elsewhere. And Scott Miller's high-lonesome pipes won him best male vocalist, again.
Brass funk stylists Gran Torino came in second in the rock category, with String Bean second in the country category. R.B. Morris's "Knoxville Sessions" came in second in the music-release category. Second-place Best Male Vocalist was one Trey Lister, about whom we have learned little. (Morris was third.)

Best Female Vocalist
Nancy Brennan Strange
She's got a hell of a voice. She started out as a folk singer in the '70s, and sings in a country-ish band called Strange Company, but her forte is jazz torch songs and pop standards. She recorded an album in 1995 with pianist Donald Brown called Les Etoiles Mysterieuse. And it's no surprise she won this category again—it's almost unfair for other Knoxville singers to have to compete against her, she's that good. Go to the Treble Clef monument at Gay Street and Summit Hill Drive, and you will find her name inscribed there.
Runners Up: Jodie Mandross, Gabriella Iacovino

Best Songwriter
R.B. Morris
In December, Knoxville's beat poet laureate and electric-folk performance artist released a local CD, The Knoxville Sessions, with a packed show at the Laurel, to tide us over between his big-time national CDs on John Prine's Oh Boy! label. His first, 1997's Take That Ride, overwhelmed music critics from Toronto to Denver; his second national release—we hear it'll be called Zeke and the Wheel—is due out directly, and we can't hardly wait.
Runners Up: Scott Miller, Dolly Parton

Best Overall Dance Club
The Underground/Egypt
Forget the bad publicity, the lost beer permit, the rumors. It's not closed, you won't get killed, and you can still buy mixed drinks here. But the real reason to come is for the music, the dancing, the ambiance, the freaky crowds, the thumping bass and flashing lights known to induce a chemical-free euphoria. There's simply nothing else like it in Knoxville. It's on par with the best nightclubs in Atlanta, and the decor is worlds above any other dance joint you can find. Plus, the club regularly features Knoxville's favorite disc jockeys; DJ Slink spins here, as does long-time favorite DJ Stormboy. All of which is why the Underground always wins this category. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and dance!
Runners Up: Lord Lindsey, Electric Ballroom

Best Dance Club DJ
DJ Slink
The Slinkster came into his own this year among Knoxville's dance scene, overtaking perennial favorite (and fellow Underground jock) DJ Stormboy. Slinkyboy knows his music, and he also knows what people like—manipulating a dance crowd and keeping them moving like it's 1999 (geez, it is 1999). Plus, the man they call Slink has the coolest name, which snot-nosed writers like to play around with.
Runners Up: DJ Storm, Boy Bill & DJ Sterl the Pearl (tie)

Best Rock Club
Moose's Music Hall
It doesn't look like much from the outside, but step inside and you know you're in a happening place. The cement floors, grungy feel and primo beer selection scream out for glorious, unpretentious live rock 'n' roll and funk, played as loud as possible. This same club—under the name Barley & Hopps—won the title last year. But while B & H was popular and cool, it couldn't quite make a go of it financially (much to our dismay). Thank goodness somebody recognized that it was too great a spot to sit empty. Enter an out-of-town entrepreneur to save the day—the same one who runs 5 Pts Music Hall in Birmingham, Ala. He's made several renovations and has brought in more diverse big name acts—from the Nevers to Kid Rock to Drivin' and Cryin'. Long live Moose's.
Runners Up: Longbranch Saloon, Bird's Eye View

Best Jazz Club
Baker-Peters Jazz Club
The next time you hear someone griping that West Knoxville has no class, no sense of history, no style, nothing but cookie cutter chain restaurants and ugly strip malls—take them out to this club at Kingston Pike and Peters Road. This antebellum home is where Dr. James Harvey Baker, sympathetic to the Confederates, was gunned down by Union soldiers (you can still see the bullet holes in one door). Some believe his ghost haunts this place and even blamed him for a succession of restaurant failures in his old home. But Baker-Peters has had no trouble attracting people here. Maybe it's the nightly jazz line-up, the fine steaks, the expensive cigars, or the dry martinis. Take your pick, it's all smooth and classy. And in the suburbs. Who'd have guessed?
Runners Up: Lucille's, Ivory's

Best Concert Venue
Tennessee Theatre
Last year, we predicted that the 70-year-old Tennessee Theatre would be our favorite venue for concerts, movies, and special events for the next 70 years. We've seen some greats there in the 12 months since, from Lyle to Lucinda to Willie to Bill, not to mention Gone with the Wind and Titanic. Consider 1999 year one. Only 69 more to go.
Runners Up: Bijou Theatre, World's Fair Park

Best Dive
Toddy's Back Door
This odd little place in the back of the upstairs of Toddy's Package Store is probably the place where the Beardenite most fears seeing his ex-wife—and at Toddy's, don't be surprised if she be lookin' good.

The Longbranch staggered into second place, with Opal's, the downstairs cross-street backdoor rival to Toddy's, in third.
Runners Up: Longbranch Saloon, Opal's

Best Gay Club
Rainbow Club
Shame on those three catty queens who wrote in to vote for "The City of Atlanta." Hmmph. How about a little homegrown, honey? Knoxville's gay bar scene has at last moved a step beyond just techno and disco balls. The Rainbow Club has breathed new life into both the Old City and Knoxville's gay culture. On your way in, stop and pay court to Knoxville's Grande Dame of drag, Miss Toni Carlisle, who always seems to be regally ensconced at the first table past the door. Belly on up to the bar for a brewski. Look around—the place is well-lit! You can actually see your trick before you drag him home—there'll be no blaming beer goggles tomorrow morning. Then, if you like, head to the black-painted back room for the requisite dancing and drag shows.
Runners Up: Carousel, Electric Ballroom