Best Of 2015

2015 Arts & Nightlife Staff Picks: Cincinnati's best arts and nightlife as selected by CityBeat staff.

2015 Arts & Nightlife Staff Picks

  
Cincinnati's best arts and nightlife as selected by CityBeat staff.


BEST ‘FILTHY’ FOTOFOCUS PERFORMANCE
John Waters might bring to mind Divine, Baltimore or pencil-thin mustaches, but photography? The writer/actor/filmmaker/all-around pop culture icon also makes and collects art and photographs, which made him the perfect out-of-the-box candidate to headline 2014’s FotoFocus Biennial — a celebration of photography and lens-based art that took place last October around Over-the-Rhine and Greater Cincinnati. John Waters’ This Filthy World comedic monologue nearly sold out Memorial Hall’s 450-seat auditorium on Oct. 11. The 90-minute performance covered the 68-year-old’s long life and interesting career. Waters also had a photograph (“Inga #3”) on display in the FotoFocus exhibition Stills. Plans are already in the works for 2016’s featured artists. FotoFocus, fotofocusbiennial.org.

BEST REASON TO SEE A MOVIE ON THE WEST SIDE
The Western Hills multiplex was once a Showcase Cinemas, then Rave Motion Pictures, which was recently acquired by Cinemark Theatres. Usually new movie theater ownership does little to change the viewer’s experience, but Western Hills 14 got a significant facelift with the Cinemark takeover. The $1 million upgrade includes “luxury loungers,” oversized, comfy leather recliners with ample cup holders and elbowroom where small, creaky, pop-stained seats used to be. Sink into one of these bad boys and you’ll be tempted to stay for a double, nay, triple feature. Moviegoers can even look forward to a theater bar as a likely addition to come. Western Hills 14, 5870 Harrison Ave., Bridgetown, 513-574-4315, cinemark.com/theatre-1100.

BEST NON-LITERAL NAME FOR AN ART GALLERY 
Some people think the only reason to ever go to Camp Washington is for the chili. Not true. Last year, former Cincinnatians Cal and Skip Cullen moved all the way from San Francisco to open Wave Pool Gallery. It may seem like an insane idea — leave SF for this arctic tundra? — but they took an old firehouse and transformed it into an incubator of art and ideas. An actual pool doesn’t exist inside; it’s a metaphor for a “Midwest version of a beach,” and the name concurrently sounds calm and ferocious, much like art itself. Wave Pool Gallery, 2940 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington, wavepoolgallery.org.

BEST COMEDY CLUB TO GET NAME-DROPPED BY FAMOUS COMICS
Louis C.K. released his latest comedy special, Live at the Comedy Store, earlier this year, and those who purchased the show received a long email from C.K. detailing his 30 years of stand-up experience. “I worked in comedy clubs all over the country and I think I actually remember every single club,” C.K. writes. “My favorite clubs were the smelly little beer soaked places with dim lighting and low ceilings. Go Bananas in Cincinnati. The Brokerage in Long Island (still there). Penguins in Cedar Rapids. The Comedy Underground in Seattle.” Can you imagine seeing a young Louis work out new material on a Cincinnati stage? Peep Go Bananas’ schedule of touring comedians or stop by for Pro-Am Night on Wednesdays or the Funniest Person in Cincinnati Contest over the summer. You just might find the next big comedian in action. Go Bananas Comedy Club, 8410 Market Place Lane, Montgomery, 513-948-8848, gobananascomedy.com.

BEST ART SHOW BRINGING HOME THE ISSUE OF HOMELESSNESS
A one-night showcase of photographic portraits and accompanying audio interviews by artist and photographer Natalie Jenkins explored the question, “What does homeless ‘look’ like?” For her exhibition shown at Live(In) Gallery this past October, Project (re)Face, Jenkins invited Cincinnatians who have experienced homelessness to Franciscan Haircuts from the Heart for a free haircut, an interview and a portrait. The resultant pairing of close-up photos and oral histories reveal the wide range of circumstances that can lead to homelessness. Seeing the work at a gallery that also happens to be a home (hence the gallery’s name) really nailed the point home. nataliejenkinsphotography.com

BEST UNDERGROUND MUSIC AND ART VENUE
Several years after closing Publico, the gallery he co-founded in 2003 in Over-the-Rhine, Paul Coors has been hosting art and music shows at his walk-up loft apartment, The Ice Cream Factory, in the Brighton neighborhood since 2011. The nondescript apartment (which Coors has used as an unofficial incubator for his independent CDR label, CHOW, and publishing arm, Perfect Lovers Press) has served as a venue for an eclectic mix of visual artists (including Coors himself and fellow former Publico member Britni Bicknaver); poets such as Dana Ward and Cassandra Gillig; and local and international avant-garde musicians like Kate Wakefield, Helado Negro and Nicky Da B. The Ice Cream Factory, 2133 Central Ave., Brighton.

BEST PRE-IPHONE SELFIES
Before there were filters and duckfaces, a reclusive nanny named Vivian Maier was experimenting with street photography and self-portraits from the ’50s through the ’70s. The antithesis of today’s avid Instagrammer, Maier never shared her hobby or the images, leaving them locked in a storage unit for years. Historian John Maloof discovered and bought tens of thousands of Maier’s negatives at a storage auction, but she died in 2009 before Maloof could get in touch. Since then he’s made a documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, and loaned out photographs for exhibitions like A Quiet Pursuit, a FotoFocus exhibition curated by Artistic Director Kevin Moore. Of the 45 mostly black-and-white gelatin silver prints, 33 were selfies self-portraits. FotoFocus, fotofocusbiennial.org.

BEST TRULY INDEPENDENT LOCAL MUSIC FESTIVAL YOU HOPE NEVER GETS BIG
LastFest is a weekend-long music festival put on, by and for the young, independently minded music fan at Last House on the Left, a Punk house in Northside. The first night of the completely-DIY event last year featured mostly Hardcore/Metal bands (and an unforgettable final show of the night by Flesh Mother, who didn’t go on until nearly 5 a.m.), while the second night featured a ton of local Hip Hop and Post Punk acts, such as Eugenius, Evolve and Mardou. A whopping 14 bands played each night (hence some of the late start times). The enthusiastic supporters in the crowd and the totally independent group who organized and ran the Fest are what makes Cincinnati’s DIY community such a supportive and diverse group of people. Last House on the Left, 4328 Kirby Ave., Northside. facebook.com/lasthouseontheleft.

BEST ONE-MAN SHOW
You might think you know Bruce Cromer through his many years at the Cincinnati Playhouse as Ebenezer Scrooge. But he demonstrated his versatility and range in An Iliad at Ensemble Theatre, a one-man retelling of Homer’s great epic of the Trojan War. Like a timeless reincarnation of the poet, Cromer bemoaned the devastation and futility of warfare, painting lurid pictures with words and dynamic physicality and bringing the story to life playing heroic Achilles, conscientious Hector, coy Helen of Troy and ambitious Patroclus. Cromer had a great script to work from, but he made it memorable with a stellar performance. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-421-3555, ensemblecincinnati.org.

BEST OLD & NEW OPERATIC STORYTELLING
For its 2014 summer season, Cincinnati Opera showed how singing and storytelling have evolved across four centuries. At the School for Creative and Performing Arts, audiences had the chance to see a bawdy, laugh-out-loud piece of Baroque entertainment, Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto (1651). Back at Music Hall, audiences were transported to the First World War’s “Christmas Truce” with a moving production of Silent Night, the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for music. America’s second-oldest opera company has the formula for giving operagoers a memorable sampling of the art form. Cincinnati Opera, cincinnatiopera.com.
BEST THEATRICAL HANDOFF
After a half-dozen years of artistic leadership at Know Theatre, Eric Vosmeier handed the keys over to Andrew Hungerford, a CCM master’s grad who has been designing sets for the Jackson Street company since 2007. Vosmeier was an energetic force there, especially pushing the annual Fringe Festival in creative directions and to new heights. The transition was announced late in 2013 and occurred seamlessly during the 2014 summer. Hungerford has brought a new kick of creativity with some new directors, staff and free performances on Wednesday evenings. Know Theatre of Cincinnati, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-300-5669, knowtheatre.com.
BEST VENUE FOR GETTING A MODERN DANCE FIX
If you’re looking to see modern dance in Cincinnati, you can count on the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater to deliver the goods. Several times a year, the mid-sized theater of the Aronoff’s trio of venues hosts performances from myriad companies across a broad range of contemporary styles. From local ensembles, such as the Jazz-tinged Exhale Dance Tribe and postmodern MamLuft&Co. Dance, to Contemporary Dance Theater’s Guest Artist Series (featuring national and international companies) and its annual Area Choreographers Festival, the 437-seat venue offers a rather intimate, no-bad-seat-in-the-house space to catch contemporary dance. Aronoff Center for the Arts, Jarson-Kaplan Theater, 650 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-721-3344, cincinnatiarts.org/aronoff-center.


BEST VENUE READY FOR A MAJOR COMEBACK
Music Hall’s little sister, Memorial Hall, the 1908 facility just across from Washington Park, is finally getting the attention needed to make it more attractive and functional. Funds are being lined up for an imminent $7.8 million rehab that will make the place more user-friendly (air conditioning, more contemporary seating and restrooms). Even before that work begins in earnest, the Friends of Memorial Hall put together some great programming — like a “Brews and Blues” evening in January and using the 600-seat hall as a venue for events like the Midpoint Music Festival. Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, cincinnatimemorialhall.com.

BEST DAMN DANCE WORKOUT
More than an ordinary dance workout class, DANCEFIX involves community — both within its many scores of die-hard devotees and its occasional flash mobs and other pop-up appearances in support of various local causes. Founded by professional dancer and choreographer Heather Britt, each hour-long class offers participants an intense, engaging aerobic workout with original choreography in myriad styles: Hip Hop, lyrical, Latin, Jazz and more. And it’s a friendly and diverse bunch to boot — a mix of folks of various ages and fitness/dance levels come together not only to work out, but also to have a sweaty blast. DANCEFIX classes are held at Cincinnati Ballet and Yoga Alive Kenwood. Cincinnati Ballet’s Otto M. Budig Academy, 1555 Central Parkway, Downtown, 513-621-5219; Yoga Alive Kenwood, 8110 Montgomery Road, Kenwood, 513-834-8043, dancefixcincinnati.com.

BEST CHANCE TO SEE BALLET DANCERS PUSH THE ENVELOPE
Catch Cincinnati Ballet at its most modern in the annual New Works season opener each September. As its name suggests, this program is designed to move dance forward, thanks to a broad range of big-name innovative choreographers, many of whom represent the cutting edge of the international dance scene. Of course, such boundary-pushing choreography demands top talent — enter Cincinnati Ballet dancers’ versatile terpsichorean prowess, which makes it all come alive. Audiences also enjoy the intimacy of these shows in a close-up space. (Until last year, New Works shows had been held in the Ballet’s home studios; now they’re in the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater.) Cincinnati Ballet, 1555 Central Parkway, Downtown, 513-621-5219, cballet.org.

BEST PLACES FOR A SKEE-BALL FIX 
Since downtown’s Mainstay Rock Bar closed down last year, where does one Skee-ball around town? Luckily, dive bar Down Under in Covington has you covered. While there are no Skee-ball leagues like Mainstay had (start your own!), Skee-ball is awesome. While you Skee-ball your parking meter quarters away, indulge in Down Under’s drink specials and watch sports on one of their many TVs. Dean’s Hops & Vines in Cheviot also has your Skee fix, if you happen to be on the West Side. Down Under, 126 Park Place, Covington, Ky., 859-261-9393; Dean’s Hops & Vines, 3722 Harrison Ave., Cheviot, 513-515-3215, facebook.com/deanshv

BEST REASON FOR INDIE ROCK FANS TO GO TO THE SYMPHONY
It seems like only affluent old people attend the symphony, and one reason is because young people either can’t afford it or have no interest in listening to music that is 200 years old. But for the MusicNOW fest the past two years, Cincinnati-bred/Brooklyn-based group The National played an evening with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at Music Hall. Yes, your fave Indie band appeared at the symphony — National member Bryce Dessner heads up MusicNOW — so suddenly it was cool to be seen among the olds, and tickets were as cheap as $25. MusicNOW, musicnowfestival.org

BEST MOVIE THEATER TO SEE CONTROVERSIAL MOVIES
Remember late last year when North Korea (allegedly) hacked into Sony’s database, stole all their info and then brought down the movie The Interview? At this point it’s old news, but let’s not forget when those terrorists caused Sony to cancel screenings of the film. Before Sony overturned its ruling, Esquire Theatre made Cincinnati one of only three cities in Ohio (along with Dayton and Columbus) brave enough to screen the film on opening day (Christmas). The gambit paid off, too — the screenings sold out and peace was temporarily restored to the world. Esquire Theatre, 320 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, 513-281-8750, esquiretheatre.com

BEST REASON NOT TO LEAVE CINCINNATI FOR HOLLYWOOD 
Cincinnati has gone through phases of being a “movie town” and then not being able to even get a reality show to film here. With the advent of Ohio tax incentives, the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission has done its best to bring Hollywood to the Queen City. Since 2011, several major movies have filmed here: Cincinnati area native George Clooney’s The Ides of March; Cate Blanchett’s Carol; Mrs. Justin Timberlake, Jessica Biel’s The Blunderer; and Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead. Openings for the more recent Cincy-filmed movies haven’t been announced yet, but we have a feeling no matter what, Cincinnati will shine on the big screen. filmcincinnati.com. 

BEST MUSICAL PERFORMANCE BY A DOG
No, sorry, your dog howling along to ambulance sirens doesn’t count as a music performance. But a canine that plays treat-baited guitar, Se727, gave a concert at the Cincinnati Main Library’s experimental music series in September. No word yet on an engagement at this year’s Bunbury Music Festival — we hear his tour rider can be pretty demanding (squeaky toys, dog bones and tennis balls, mostly). You can sample the local pooch and his human friends’ music at se727.bandcamp.com.

BEST (AND PUNNIEST) LIBRARY BOOK DISPLAY
Libraries everywhere will often put up displays celebrating “Banned Books,” pieces of literature that the prudish think have no place in our society (including such scandalous works as Brave New World, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hunger Games and, worst of all, the Captain Underpants series). Locally, Steven Kemple of the Cincinnati Main Library’s Popular Library put a humorous spin on the practice, erecting a display spotlighting Band Books — books about Rock bands. We bet there is even some crossover — the debauched Mötley Crüe biography The Dirt would easily fit into both displays. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Main Branch, 800 Vine St., Downtown, 513-369-6900, cincinnatilibrary.org

BEST WEIRD ART GALLERY
The Bathroom Gallery, in the rear of the Northside building that houses Tacocracy, is just that: A restroom converted to an art gallery. But because it still has toilets, not everyone gets that you’re supposed to do your private business in another bathroom nearby and just use the gallery one to see the art. That necessitated the posting of a one-of-a-kind sign: “Please, no urination or defecation in the gallery.” Bathroom Gallery/Tacocracy, 4029 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-541-8226, facebook.com/tacocracy

BEST ANHEUSER-BUSCH-FREE ZONE
Sports bars and “Lite” beer populate the West Side, but Dean’s Hops and Vines is serving craft beer, great bourbons, wines and small bites in the heart of Cheviot. Dean’s is so committed to serving specialty drinks, they don’t even offer Anheuser-Busch beers. Formerly Luckey’s Irish Pub, the space got a fresh facelift and reopened as Dean’s in spring of 2014. The bar hosts regular beer, wine and liquor tastings and pairings. Best of all, escaping a basic beer selection doesn’t mean escaping affordability — prices are reasonable and happy hour specials are a steal. Dean’s Hops and Vines, 3722 Harrison Ave., Cheviot, 513-515-3215, facebook.com/deanshv.

BEST FEST DEBUT
A Country music festival seems like a brilliant money-making plan, but organizers of last year’s inaugural Buckle Up Music Festival (the same folks behind the big Alt music fest, Bunbury) did a great job of not just featuring the “big hat” Pop Country acts, showcasing a wide range of more eclectic Americana artists. So Country fans who went to see Alabama or Willie Nelson could also catch (and possibly get turned on to) critically acclaimed Roots acts like The Lone Bellow, Drive-By Truckers and Sturgill Simpson, as well as great locals like Noah Smith, The Tillers and Arlo McKinley. After being purchased (along with Bunbury) by Promowest, the fest will take 2015 off and move from Sawyer Point to Blue Ash’s Summit Park in 2016. buckleupfestival.com.


Liberty's Bar & Bottle
Photo: Jesse Fox
BEST HIP BEER/WINE, BAR/CARRY-OUT SPOT
You know Over-the-Rhine has changed dramatically when visitors to the neighborhood are willing to park north enough on Main Street to throw a rock and hit Liberty. That’s just what is happening today as one of the newest additions to OTR is also one of its northern-most attractions: Liberty’s Bar & Bottle at 14th and Main. Though it is much more wine bar than neighborhood corner store, Liberty’s offers the best of both worlds with 20 rotating craft beers on tap and 15 wines available by the glass — including half-pours — along with 60 bottles of wine and 40 more craft beers in its retail selection. Throw in a sleek space with chalkboard menus and a couple TVs for sports, and Liberty’s can pretty much function as whatever type of drinkery you like best: wine bar, craft beer hall, sports-watching spot or general cool hangout. It’s also a convenient stop before a show at the newly renovated Woodward Theater. Follow Liberty’s Facebook page for updates on rare tappings and the latest wine offerings. Liberty’s Bar & Bottle, 1427 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-429-2461.

BEST NEW CONCERT VENUE
The owners of popular Over-the-Rhine music club MOTR Pub know what they’re doing when it comes to putting on a show (Dan McCabe and Chris Schadler are two of the area’s most important booking agents in recent history), so local music lovers had reason to be excited when they took over the 100-year-old building across the street from the club and turned it into the beautiful new Woodward Theater. Since opening in November, the 600-capacity venue has showcased local bands as well as some of the national acts coming through town that have outgrown MOTR’s relatively small stage/room. Bookings so far have included San Fermin, The Church and Barrence Whitfield and the Savages. Woodward Theater, 1404 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, woodwardtheater.com.


BEST FLASH FROM THE PAST
Although Rosemary Clooney’s nephew George is the one making headlines today, the girl singer who grew up in Maysville, Ky., and Cincinnati made her own name back in the ’40s and ’50s. Her rise, fall and comeback were neatly documented in Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical at the Playhouse. It was like a trip back in time at the Cincinnati Playhouse’s intimate Shelterhouse, where performer Susan Haefner wonderfully captured the essence of Rosie’s singing career. Local audiences flocked to see her through the holidays in a twice-extended run to the middle of January. Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, 962 Mt. Adams Circle, Mount Adams, 513-421-3888, cincyplay.com. 

BEST TRUE “SOUND OF THE CITY” MUSIC RELEASE
If you pay attention to local music, you know there is no particular “Cincinnati sound.” That’s because of not only the diversity of genres that are popular locally, but also because Cincinnati artists (at least the ones with endurance) strive to create something unique and not just mimic the hot band of the day. But a true “sound of Cincinnati” did emerge on the compelling 2014 project Cincinnati Dronescape, whereby several area artists were given field recordings of “found sounds” gathered at various sites around town (for example, from under the Western Hills Viaduct and Brent Spence Bridge). The artists then took the sounds and worked them into unique, ambient compositions and soundscapes, which were compiled for the release. cincinnatidronescape.bandcamp.com.

BEST LOCAL BAND MERCH TREND
Someday soon you’ll be able to go to a concert, visit the merch booth and pick up a poster, a T-shirt and … a six-pack of craft beer? A pair of local bands got a head start on the should-be-bigger trend with their own distinct, limited-edition brews. Last year, rockers Ohio Knife teamed up with the Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. to help create Ohio Knife Amber Ale, while Blues crew The Whiskey Shambles worked with the brewers at Rivertown Brewing Company to create Shambling Southward – Dubbel Barrel Blues. ohio-knife.com; whiskeyshambles.com.


BEST OOH-LA-LA
Audiences for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performances have fallen in love with Louis Langrée since his tenure began in 2013. He brings French charm, world-class connections and joie de vivre to his role as the CSO’s 13th music director, and his warm enthusiasm for Cincinnati is cause for celebration. He’s not limiting his impact to Music Hall, either. In January, he spent a day at the nearby School for Creative and Performing Arts coaching 14- to 18-year-old musicians in a rehearsal for Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony.” Afterward he told everyone how much he loves being part of the life of the city. cincinnatisymphony.org.

BEST EXAMPLE OF CINCINNATI MUSIC’S RISE IN THE NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT
Never have so many Cincinnati-spawned bands been featured on network television. In 2014 Wussy was featured in a segment on CBS This Morning, Buffalo Killers made their network TV debut on Last Call with Carson Daly, Walk the Moon did Late Night, Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show in support of its most recent major label release and The Afghan Whigs impressed David Letterman with their performance on his Late Show

BEST “OHIO VS. THE WORLD” MOMENT, BLUES-EDITION
Ohio’s got the Blues bad/good. Ohio accounted for five of the 16 finalists at the 2015 International Blues Challenge in Memphis (which featured Blues acts from across the globe, including Cincinnati’s The Whiskey Shambles and The Sonny Moorman Group). At the end of the Challenge, Cincinnati-based Blues artist Noah Wotherspoon won “Best Guitarist” honors, while his group came in second in the “Best Group” competition. blues.org.

BEST RADIO SHOW EXPANSION FOR LOCAL MUSIC LOVERS
Though our optimism was cautious when, in 2013, it was announced that local Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia, Inc.) radio station The Project (100.7 FM/106.3 FM) was introducing a new weekly program featuring only local music, we felt much better when it was revealed that cincymusic.com was presenting the program and longtime Cincinnati music fixture Venomous Valdez was hosting. The CincyMusic Spotlight shows (airing midnight on Sundays) have been consistently excellent and even led to local artists being added to The Project’s regular rotation. Even better, in 2014, Northern Kentucky’s WNKU (89.7 FM) picked up the same crew for the CincyMusic Soundcheck program, which airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. You can find links to podcast versions of the shows at cincymusic.com. cincinnatiproject.com; wnku.org.


BEST MUSICAL HOMECOMING
After a successful comeback tour in 2013, the locally spawned Afghan Whigs bucked the “cash in” reunion trend by not only releasing a new album (Do to the Beast), but releasing a new album that stands with the band’s best material. The group’s only area appearance on its world tour to promote the new release was at the MidPoint Music Festival last September where the band played a great show to an enthused crowd at Washington Park. Singer Greg Dulli said it was their first outdoor show in Cincinnati the band had played since its earliest days, when the group performed in someone’s yard for a party. mpmf.com.

BEST JAZZ LEGACY CARRIED ON
Besides its dwindling popularity amongst younger music fans, local Jazz suffered another big blow in 2014 as the Blue Wisp Jazz Club (which has had various locations since it opened in the ’70s) shuttered the doors of its most recent space downtown on Race Street. But the legendary house band, the Blue Wisp Big Band, didn’t close up shop with its namesake. Fans have followed the band, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, as it has done residencies at clubs like Japp’s in Over-the-Rhine and West Side club The Pirate’s Den. facebook.com/bluewispbigband.

BEST NEW MUSICAL HALL OF FAMERS
Did you know there are still “jug bands”? Did you know there is a renowned jug band in Cincinnati? Did you know that jug band was recently inducted into the Jug Band Hall of Fame? Well now you do. The long-running Cincinnati Dancing Pigs, who formed in the late ’60s and have played monthly at downtown bar Arnold’s for the past 30-plus years, were inducted into the Jug Band Hall of Fame in September. In early December, the old-timey Americana outfit celebrated with a show at Arnold’s (where else?), where they also released the wildly entertaining new album, Goin’ to Cincinnati. cincinnatidancingpigs.com.

BEST REASON TO WATCH AMERICAN IDOL (FOR A FEW WEEKS, AT LEAST)
It seems like whenever someone local pops up on one of the many singing competition shows on television, it’s usually a complete unknown. So it was a pleasant surprise to see fantastic local singer Jess Lamb not only audition for the show, but actually make it through to the Hollywood round. Lamb has been a fixture on the local club scene the last few years and performed at the 2013 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards ceremony (a short clip of which was used in her introductory “bio” segment). Alas, inexplicably, Lamb did not make it past “Hollywood Week,” but given her skill and this new exposure, don’t be surprised when she moves on to bigger and better things. jesslamb.com.


BEST MUSEUM CONSERVATION PROJECT
Local collector Mary Baskett had loaned her very colorful and avant-garde “pneumatic dress,” designed by Naoki Takizawa for Issey Miyake’s 2000-2001 fall/winter collection, for a 2007 Cincinnati Art Museum exhibition, but it started to leak air after an extended period of being on display and inflated. The museum had long contemplated a restoration/preservation project, but it was finally finished in 2014 by textile conservator Chandra Obie. Baskett proudly wore it at a museum event in August. There have been discussions but no formal commitment about donating this dress to the museum. If that happens, it’s doubtful it would be worn again. Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, 513-721-2787, cincinnatiartmuseum.org.

BEST FILM-RELATED ACADEMIC CONFERENCE
Last March, University of Cincinnati hosted the second-ever International Zizek Studies Conference, devoted to the theories of Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian theorist/writer/radical thinker who especially loves film. The dynamic Zizek himself addressed a packed house on the final day, entertaining the crowd with eccentric observations about films ranging from Ashton Kutcher’s The Butterfly Effect to Bela Lugosi’s White Zombie to the campy 2012 flick, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer, which Zizek said he prefers to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. zizekstudiesconference.com.

BEST ORIGINAL RESEARCH BY A CINCINNATI LIBRARIAN
For an October panel discussion at the Cincinnati Main Library about Junior McCants, the late King Records singer whose rare 1967 single “Try Me for Your New Love” netted $15,099 in an auction, the library’s Brian Powers tracked down family members who had no idea that McCants — who died at age 24 before the record could be officially released — had developed such a following among collectors over the decades. Their observations about this, as well as their pleasure at seeing him finally get some attention, made for a touching evening. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Main Branch, 800 Vine St., Downtown, 513-369-6900, cincinnatilibrary.org.

BEST AUDIENCE-PARTICIPATORY THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE WITH ART
For the Contemporary Arts Center-sponsored presentation in May of poet/dancer/playwright Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s red, black & GREEN: a blues, the actors used a wonderful revolving set designed by artist Theaster Gates that evoked housing in the black communities in which the play was set. Audience members were invited to wander onstage before the show to see the actors and the artful set up close, adding extra levels of depth and intimacy to the show. Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, 513-345-8400, contemporaryartscenter.org.

BEST INTIMATE AND CHALLENGING JAZZ CONCERT
Cincinnati’s Jazz scene is wanting, especially for the kind of exploratory, rigorously creative new music that is not chained to the clichéd everybody-gets-a-polite-solo-on-a-standard approach. One exception is the long-running, somewhat-under-the-radar Loft Society, which in August brought to its Clifton Heights loft studio the great Free Jazz drummer and composer William Hooker, who not only played fantastically, but also emotionally exhorted the crowd to think about the relationship of Jazz to freedom. Hooker then stayed to talk to everyone about the power of music. Events like this are irregular but should be cherished. The Loft Society, 119 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights, 513-559-9220, loftsociety.com.

BEST POLITICALLY RELEVANT PANEL DISCUSSION AT AN ART MUSEUM
For a November discussion related to the Eyes on the Street photography exhibition at Cincinnati Art Museum, Associate Photo Curator Brian Sholis got both Cincinnati police chief Jeffrey Blackwell and civil rights lawyer Alphonse Gerhardstein to discuss "Art and Privacy" in an age of anxiety, where cameras are recording everything everywhere. For those who remember the Robert Mapplethorpe show, it’s always good to see a law enforcement official at a museum who is not trying to arrest someone. Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, 513-721-2787, cincinnatiartmuseum.org.

BEST EXTENDED THEATRICAL MONOLOGUE 
The one-person theatrical adaptation of Joan Didion’s acclaimed memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, an anguished but poetic rumination of the death of her husband and extended (and ultimately fatal) illness of her daughter, is a tough, cathartic project to pull off. But Cate White, who starred in it in December as part of the Cincy One Act Festival of plays at College Hill Town Hall, was magnificent at portraying Didion as she addressed the audience in a small, intimate setting. She was assisted by director Lyle Benjamin, lighting designer Chris Carter and projection designer by Doug Borntrager. It deserved the revival it got this year. cincyoneact.com.


Katkin digs deep into his vast record collection for each week’s two-hour show on WAIF (88.3 FM).
Photo: Khoi Nguyen
BEST TRULY “ALTERNATIVE” RADIO SHOW
Ken Katkin’s Trash Flow Radio, a staple of WAIF’s Saturday afternoon (3-5 p.m.) programming on the radio dial at 88.3 FM, offers the best Indie/Alt/Experimental rock (and weird asides) since the glory days of late local DJ Michael Riley. Katkin’s playlists are blissfully unpredictable (something rarely if ever said about radio anymore). A recent set list featured Coma in Algiers, Bonnie Prince Billy (covering Hot Chip), Sun Ra, Burl Ives, Human Hearts, Swearing at Motorists and more. He also does great interviews and has an impressive “day gig” as a constitutional law professor at Northern Kentucky University. waif883.org.


BEST BAR EMPIRE IN THE MAKING
Local mixologist/entrepreneur Molly Wellmann is a well-known figure in the local bar/nightlife scene, her tattooed visage having appeared in numerous media over the years, from the TV news to national websites and even cool newspapers like CityBeat. Wellmann has turned her love for booze — and its history — into a growing collection of the area’s best bars and most creative endeavors. Now under the umbrella of Wellmann’s Brands, her ever-expanding craft cocktail empire includes Neons Unplugged, Japp’s Since 1879, The Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar and Myrtle’s Punch House. Wellmann recently announced her latest work: designing a new cocktail menu for local restaurant magnate Jeff Ruby. The menu includes 10 or so recipes created exclusively for Jeff Ruby restaurants, and Ruby’s staff has been trained on the history behind the drinks as well as the meticulous techniques used to create them. Wellmann’s Brands, @Wellmannsbrands on Twitter; Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment, jeffruby.com

BEST SUSHI SPOT DOUBLING AS A KARAOKE BAR
It’s easy to envision oneself putting in a reservation at Kaze OTR for a celebratory dinner or popping into the Japanese gastropub’s beer garden for happy hour during pleasant weather. Nestled among these complimentary spaces is Kaze’s bar area, an almost secret-feeling space in the back that even offers its own separate entrance — just look for the red neon sign reading “BAR” above Kaze’s side door on East 14th Street. What happens in this cozy modern bar area after hours is nothing short of magical, if by magical you mean post-restaurant-hour karaoke craziness in a space that holds its own against even the best contemporary OTR bars. Named one of the city’s top five karaoke nights by Cincinnati Magazine in 2013, Kaze’s Wednesday night sessions are still going strong today. Kaze OTR, 1400 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-898-7991, kazeotr.com