Everyone's ready to put this heavy year behind us. But even amid all the devastation, there were – and always will be – beams of life and light. So let's both honor the local superlatives duly and close the book on 2016 in one grand stroke.
The worst: Let's get it out of the way first. The historical avalanche of deaths in the music world at large spread to our city's music and arts scene like pestilence. Pulse, Matt Gersting, Big Makk and Morgan Steele all fell suddenly this year. They're missed, but their mark is forever etched.
Best live aid: But from that abyss comes exponential beauty, like when stoner-metal legends Sleep came all the way from California to aid Pulse victims (July 26). This wasn't some convenient repurposing of an already planned tour stop but a one-off ad hoc event of pure love. They came loaded with star-studded memorabilia to auction off, packed out the Beacham and rocked it like never before. We love you back, Sleep.
Best emerging locals: Autarx (raging and multi-dimensional gothic punk); Fiona (next-level face of rap personality Harry Hillard Morall III); Chakra Khan (astonishingly realized future soul project by Solillaquists Alexandra Sarton and Divinci); Howling Midnight (possibly Orlando's mightiest two-piece rock band).
Best local releases: Sales – LP; The Glorious Rebellion – Euphoric; Fiona – Goldbaby; The Sh-Booms – Usage Fee; Chakra Khan – Love Is at the Core; Laney Jones – Laney Jones; Junior Bruce – Endless Descent; Terri Binion – The Day After the Night Before.
Best single night: Oct. 5 was the concurrence of two rare engagements with indie legends. OW photographer Michael Lothrop hosted a living room show by Eric Bachmann and OYG Presents' Tierney Tough held a secret pop-up show by the Posies at Park Ave CDs. Though the bookings were initially incidental, the locations were within blocks and the promoters are friends, so they coordinated set times to make it an unforgettable double feature.
Biggest mystery: Moonstone Music Festival. From the big media announcement that brought me in closer physical proximity to Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley than I dreamed I'd ever be, to the bizarre lineup, to the postponement due to a "major cyber fraud crime," then finally to its total evaporation into thin air, Orlando's next big festival hopeful ended up being the year's biggest head-scratch.
Best reload: Sales. Currently, they're probably the most wave-making Orlando indie band, but they weren't equal to their status live – until now. At their Oct. 4 show (the Social), the duo debuted with a live drummer, immediately reconciling their stage show with their gleaming promise. Now, the Sub Pop-signed act is properly equipped to meet destiny.
Best intersection: Counterweight (Dec. 15). Time Waste Management and TMD joined forces to launch an audiovisual series highlighting atmospheric music and visual art in alternative venues. The debut wove experiments by credentialed musicians (from Fortune Howl and Ad Nauseum), custom visuals (Kate Shults) and a hallowed church space into an evocative union of concept and setting.
Best new venue: Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts. Fans of interesting but adult places like the Timucua White House now have another intimate outpost for jazz, classical and the like. The compound also houses a recording studio and art gallery.
Most promising new fest: Florida Is Loud Fest (Dec. 16-18). This homegrown, fiercely DIY idea organically blossomed into a three-day event representing a big, prime chunk of the state's heavy underground.
Best pork barrel event: Ho99o9 (Oct. 11, Spacebar). One of the underground's most intensely hyped bands right now finally came to town. It was at a small, arty neighborhood bar for free, and it was one of the year's most explosive engagements. And it happened because their manager, Mike Feinberg, is a local guy.
Best save: Carol Stein (Dec. 4, Timucua White House). The doors opened and everyone arrived for another Sunday event at the White House ... except for the scheduled performer. Luckily, local pianist-singer Stein was in attendance. Even luckier, Timucua founder Benoit Glazer convinced her to take the seat at the piano instead of in the gallery. And a doomed night was transformed into an extraordinary instance of spontaneity and incandescence.
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