Best Of 2008

Painting by Morgan Steele

Biggest star you’ve never heard of

Sleazy McQueen;

Here’s one method for re-establishing Orlando as a house music mecca: Recruit buzz-heavy NYC upstart DJ Sleazy McQueen to work for local label Eight-Tracks, then slap him with a bunch of O-town travel stamps and send him right back out. McQueen currently reps us as a resident DJ at New York’s Club Queso and has played noteworthy gigs around the world. The effect is that his fame (and ours) is quickly on the rise.

Best rehab success story

Garden Theatre of Winter Garden reopening
160 W. Plant St., Winter Garden

Too often these days, rehabilitation is little more than a revolving door of recovery and relapse. But the recently reopened Garden Theatre is a rehab success story that puts even Robert Downey Jr. to shame. Forty years after its movie-palace heyday, the 299-seat theater has been restored in spectacular Spanish courtyard style. They’ve just finished a successful inaugural spring season, and their first full season starts in September – but don’t wait that long to check out the latest freshly polished jewel in Orange County’s arts crown. 

Best new curator

Luanne McKinnon
Cornell Fine Arts Museum
Rollins College
1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park

When Luanne McKinnon took the reins of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum in 2007, she was the first new director there in almost 20 years. When the 2008 exhibition schedule was unveiled, it was apparent that change is good. With ambitious shows any progressive art institution could be proud of, McKinnon blew the dust off the Cornell – longtime visitors expecting to find the usual 18th- and 19th-century oils were instead confronted with works by the likes of Vanessa Beecroft and Kiki Smith, edgy site-specific installations and challenging gallery talks. The Louise Nevelson exhibit that opened in January was a get on par with UCF’s 2006 Noguchi show; hanging now is an exhibition of contemporary Japanese painting including work by Yoshimoto Nara. Orlando can finally hold its head up next to Miami in terms of contemporary art.

Best reason to buy a calendar

Day-of-the-week art events

It started a few years ago with an informal association of downtown art venues holding open houses on the third Thursday of the month. Then the Orlando Museum of Art got in on the act with their recurring receptions every first Thursday. Now, Third Thursday has gone legit with the Downtown Arts District’s support, and additional events like First Friday at Urban Think and the Comma Gallery’s Second Tuesday are sprouting like wine-and-cheese weeds. Whether you’re serious about seeing art or just about being seen, it’s nice knowing your social calendar is set for at least four nights each month.

Best pulling of strings

Orlando Puppet Festival

Last year, the third annual Orlando Puppet Festival delighted guests of its Oct. 26-28 affair at Mad Cow Theatre. Too bad not many people understand the depth of this event or how significant it is that Heather Henson (daughter of the great Jim Henson) pulls from her puppet network to bring in scores of cutting-edge performances, many of which are not for kids. Puppets are big in Orlando, and the 2008 festival deserves a rabid audience.

Best magic trick

CityArts Factory
29 S. Orange Ave.

Before our very eyes, the CityArts Factory keeps opening galleries in its tight space – just like pulling rabbits out of a hat. To date, there’s the Q Gallery, Pound, Keila Glassworks, Eola Capital Loft and the Kiene/Quigley Community Gallery. Coming in August is the Roho Latin American Art Gallery and Coffee (in the old Zulu space) and development is underway on the third and fourth floors for studios and offices that should be finished in late fall.

Best graffiti

The Pintura International Graffiti Conference

What started April 26 at Central Avenue Studios by the fresh Pintura Project collective is spreading like spray paint. Local writers of vision E.S. Barraza and Angel Carreras invited friends with a similar passion – from here, New York, Puerto Rico, France, China and Germany – to join together for a day of creative street art. Watch the numerous videos of the event on YouTube.

Best thespian

John DiDonna
Empty Spaces Theatre Co.

Here’s a man whose passion and determination for all things theater recalls Shakespeare; the Bard was reportedly so into his art that even late in life, when he was famous, he would stay up all night to paint scenery. DiDonna acts, directs, writes, inspires and supports, and he’s brilliant to boot. In the past year, he brought us Bathory, his original script about the infamous Hungarian countess of blood, as well as an ambitious tribute to Samuel Beckett on the playwright’s 102nd birthday. If his name is attached to a project, go see it.

Best local reissue label

Porter Records

Believe it or not, there is competition for this title: Dedicated garage-psych reissuer Gear Fab is also located here in O-town. But Porter Records wins this one for the unmistakable personal passion that Luke Mosling pours into every release. Mosling, a dedicated collector of jazz and esoteric soul, kicked off the label with beautifully packaged reissues of a couple of OOP albums. A new recording by Finnish jazz pianist Heikki Sarmanto followed, and a rush of obscurantist hip-hop, arcane free jazz, private pressings and gamelan goodness is now in the pipeline.

Best movie experience for two bucks or less

Picture Show at Altamonte
130 E. Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs

Proving dollar theaters don’t have to be hygienically frightening, the Picture Show offers a good way to see the blockbusters and chick flicks you were embarrassed to spend 10 bucks on at the megaplex. Admission is never more than $1.75, and sometimes as little as 75 cents. What with the clean seats, pleasant staff and – gasp! – reasonably priced concessions, it’s easy to overlook the Gold’s Gym next door.

Best performance art

Brian Feldman

Sometimes wacky, often absurd and almost always worthy of a bewildered WTF?, Brian Feldman seems to have a lock on the “making obscure things into performances” department in Orlando. Since January he’s coordinated Pillowlando, Leap Year Day and Link 33, in which he rode one LYNX bus for an entire day to commemorate the end of a route. We may shake our heads at his antics sometimes, but at least he’s doing something.

Best place to drink beer while watching movies

Redlight Redlight’s Movie Monday
535 W. New England Ave., Winter Park

OK, so “movie night” isn’t the most ground-breaking idea ever. But this tiny beer bar is doing something unique with the concept: Each week has a theme, and they play not one, but three films related to it. (A recent week featured films about or starring Patty Hearst: Serial Mom, Guerrilla: the Taking of Patty Hearst and Cecil B. Demented.) There’s no cover, which leaves more money for beer.

Best purveyors of Bollywood films

Dattani Entertainment/Touchstar Cinemas Southchase 7
12441 S. Orange Blossom Trail

Since the demise of the Touchstar 8 in Altamonte Springs, the moviegoer looking for under-the-radar films has had few options aside from the Enzian. Dattani Entertainment is doing their part to diversify Orlando’s film offerings, featuring straight-from-Bollywood flicks weekly, and even sponsoring the occasional Indian pop star or sitar concert. Plus, the $5 starting ticket price is hard to beat.

Best new venue

The Plaza Theatre
425 N. Bumby Ave.

Though not technically a new venue – actually, it’s one of downtown’s oldest – last autumn was the first time in an eon that this grand space could claim true relevancy. First hooking up with powerhouse indie promoter Foundation in November, the spacious Plaza hosted a sold-out Tegan and Sara concert. Since then, the honeymoon has brought in a stream of major acts and kindled greater scene participation, including monthly performances by jazz great Sam Rivers.

Best display of sexism

Pinklight Bazaar’s ladies-only happy hour

OK, so the sexism only lasted for an hour, but damn if the organizers weren’t strict about it. The quirky, estrogen-fueled every-now-and-then event at Redlight Redlight (535 W. New England Ave., Winter Park, 407-644-2578, didn’t mandate that ladies wear pink or sprinkle themselves in glitter – though plenty of attendees did – but they did insist on keeping the boys at bay for the first 60 minutes. Giggles, cupcakes and champagne reigned for that hour, fueling a kind of ultra-girly feminism and bubbly solidarity.

Most improved music event

Anti-Pop Music Festival

Intelligent and underground-minded, its ethos was never in doubt. But it wasn’t until the third run of the annual event last November that Anti-Pop hit critical mass. With a big spike in both talent and attendance, it finally looked and felt like a real festival. Replication of that buzz next time will show that Anti-Pop is serious about becoming a regional player.

Best free shows

Park Ave CDs in-stores
2916 Corrine Drive

Since the move to their new space on Corrine, Park Ave CDs has stepped up its in-store game, attracting a steady stream of big-or-about-to-be bands to perform “meet-and-greets with acoustic performance,” as certain short-sighted promoters insist they be called. And thanks to a partnership with Full Sail University whereby students and staff make album-quality recordings of most of the performances, the sound is beyond great. Some of those recordings have been released (Snow Patrol, Porcupine Tree, Matt Nathanson); others remain hotly sought-after bootlegs (the crystalline Alexi Murdoch session and the VU-reminiscent Yeah Yeah Yeahs set, especially). And did we mention they’re all free?

Best show experience

Neptune on the Bus

Meet at a designated pickup spot. Board a converted, windowless bus (formerly a mobile police vehicle, on loan from West Coast musician John Benson). Rock out to a live concert while in traffic (by noisy experimental rock band Neptune from Boston). Get pulled over by the cops. How’s that for an urban adventure?

Best new artist

Crutch and the Giant Junshi

The product of a stormy soul in fragile balance, the debut album for Nick Sprysenski’s solo project is a stirring work of unconventional beauty. Its raw fire has seared Crutch and the Giant Junshi into the scene psyche as the most poignant new talent. Along with upcoming releases by Happy Valley and Max Green and the Great Deceivers, this maiden release is also making a compelling case for Sleepy Bird Orphanage as the best new local label.

Best new micro-trend


With the meteoric rise of vigorous psychedelic bands like Strangers and the Future on Films in Space, both easy runners-up in the Best New Artist category, our indie scene is experiencing its next exciting development. With the impact that bands like the Black Angels, Dead Meadow and the Warlocks currently have on the international underground, we can actually say that Orlando is keeping pace. Hallelujah.

Cheapest fantasy camp

Rock Star Karaoke at Voyage
17 W. Pine St.

Anyone can belt out Journey at a karaoke bar. But what if a full band with puffy hair and leather pants were actually behind you playing at 11 while you hit that triplicate “going eh-nee-where” note? The dream can be yours every Sunday night at Voyage in downtown Orlando and, beginning this month, at O-Bar by UCF. It’s the closest your ass will get to stardom.

Best setting for next Eli Roth flick

The Dungeon
6440 N. Orange Blossom Trail

Metalheads rejoiced when the Dungeon opened up. Of course, nobody expected it to live up to its name quite so well. Essentially a warehouse shed, this no-frills venue offers any number of surprises upon the first step inside. Will your eyes fall upon the spanking center first, or the tatted-up, leather-bound hottie at the bar – or maybe the blood-speckled singer on stage vomiting up sludge metal? Either way, it’s a little scary.

Best bogart from a neighbor

Orlando’s love for Astronautalis

Our Jacksonville neighbors know about a lot that we don’t: pro football, mass transit, helping the homeless. But they couldn’t recognize good hip-hop if it bit them in their jaguar faces. That’s where we come in. To hear freestyle whiz (and Jax resident) Astronautalis tell it: “I love Florida/I love the sunshine/I love Orlando ’cause you were the first to give a shit about my rhymes.” We were. And you’re welcome.

Best bogart from us

Tampa’s love for the Sugar Oaks

There’s something about the laid-back pop of the Sugar Oaks that we just can’t seem to fully get behind. Maybe singer Eric Hayden’s Oberstian whisper is too earnest for our jaded city. Maybe they slept with our girl. Whatever the case, they’ve found a much more appreciative home in Tampa and mostly play for them now. It’s our loss and we totally deserve it.

Best bitter fans

Social Ghost street team

It’s tough to find a more artistically anemic band in Orlando than Social Ghost, but somehow they’ve been marginally successful in their arena. The magic ingredient: a rabidly hostile fan base that likes to pepper local music critics with outraged letters at every turn. Try saying nothing (as we’ve practiced for years) and the venom is only cranked up. We salute their certifiable dedication and look forward to many good laughs in the future.

Best bad marketing slogan

Knockout Image

“Come or don’t be seen” were the not-so-clever words used by Knockout Image on invitations for its March 1 affair called “The Event.” The event-planning business specializes in “elite talent for an array of modeling and professional dance needs,” according to the website. Too bad the choice of words and the images didn’t help dispel the myth that sexy models aren’t so bright.

Best nightlife stimulus

Art and music jams

It’s gotten ridiculous, with too many of the same artists and aficionados showing up again and again for one-night art shows featuring DJs, dance music and booze. OK, the kids love ’em (even seasoned art buyers aren’t clued in), but the trend is imploding due to oversaturation. Come on, creative types: You know what happens when the kids get bored.

Best venue not our venue

Caffe da Vinci
112 W. Georgia Ave., DeLand

About an hour outside our little confines lies a music venue that shouldn’t be a music venue. A coffeehouse? Absolutely. Art gallery? Sure. But watching the large pools of DeLand musical talent, from No Circus to Dish, along with top-notch national acts, play a stage that looks exactly like a Delta front porch? Color us jealous.

Best place to duck beer bottles

Handlebar and Grille
600 N. US Hwy 17-92, Longwood

When the Handlebar and Grille in Longwood, a longtime biker bar, decided to offer gig slots to indie-pop and struggling rock bands, they forgot to remove a couple of the stains from the welcoming mat. Besides the giant Stars and Bars, they failed to inform the clientele of the new feel-good vibe. The hilarious results led to some of the most gloriously dangerous heckling the local music scene has witnessed in forever. Duck!



Best Art Gallery

1st: CityArts Factory, 29 S. Orange Ave.; 407-648-7060; (
2nd: Tatáme Sake Lounge, 223 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-628-2408; (
3rd: Orlando Museum of Art, 2416 N. Mills Ave.; 407-896-4231; (

Best Karaoke

1st: Big Daddy’s, 3001 Corrine Drive; 407-644-2844
2nd: O’Shucks Billiards and Pub, 7467 International Drive; 407-352-7892; (
3rd: Rockstar Karaoke at Voyage Nightclub, 17 W. Pine St.; 407-244-9600

Best Open Mic

1st: Austin’s Coffee, 929 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-975-3364; (
2nd: Natura Coffee & Tea, 12078 Collegiate Way; 407-482-5000; (
3rd: Broken Speech Poetry Slam at Stardust Video & Coffee, 1842 Winter Park Road; 407-623-3393

Best Festival

1st: Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival; (
2nd: Florida Music Festival; (
3rd: Florida Film Festival; (

Best Movie Theater

1st: Enzian Theater, 1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland; 407-629-1088; (
2nd: Regal Winter Park Village, 510 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park; 407-628-0035
3rd: AMC Loews Universal Cineplex at Universal City Walk, 6000 Universal Blvd.; 407-354-5998

Best Dance Troupe

1st: Voci Dance; (
2nd: Cinedance; (
3rd: DRIP; (

Best Theater Troupe

1st: The Rich Weirdoes; (Contact: [email protected]) (
2nd: SAK Comedy Lab, 380 W. Amelia St.; 407-648-0001; (
3rd: Mad Cow Theatre,105 E. Pine St.; 407-297-8788; (

Best Strip Club

1st: Dancers Royale, 5221 E. Colonial Drive; 407-281-0120; (
2nd: Rachel’s, 401 State Road 435, Casselberry, 407-767-2977; also 8701 S. Orange Ave., 407-858-9800
3rd, tie: Doll House, 5570 S. Orange Blossom Trail; 407-858-1319
3rd, tie: Diamond Club, 527 N. Semoran Blvd.; 407-737-2130

Best Dance Club

1st: Independent Bar, 68 N. Orange Ave.; 407-839-0457; (
2nd: Club Firestone, 578 N. Orange Ave.; 407-872-0066; (
3rd: Back Booth, 37 W. Pine St.; 407-999-2570; (

Best Live Music Club

1st: The Social, 54 N. Orange Ave.; 407-246-1419; (
2nd: Back Booth, 37 W. Pine St.; 407-999-2570; (
3rd: House of Blues, 1490 E. Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista; 407-934-2583; (

Best Club DJ

1st: Pauly Crush
2nd: DJ Docta Dawe
3rd: DJ Jimmy Joslin

Best Acoustic Act

1st: Tommy Treadway
2nd: Matt Butcher; (
3rd: Chris Burns; (

Best Electronic Act

1st: Yip-Yip; (
2nd, tie: A Scissors; (
2nd, tie: Attached Hands; (
2nd, tie: Kill to Win; (
3rd: Blood on the Dance Floor

Best Hip-Hop Act

1st: Solillaquists of Sound; (
2nd: S.K.I.P.; (
3rd: Daylight District; (

Best Indie Act

1st: Summerbirds in the Cellar; (
2nd: Mumpsy ; (
3rd: Baron Von Bear; (

Best Jazz Act

1st: Sam Rivers’ Rivbea Orchestra; (
2nd: The Cook Trio; (
3rd: The Windham Group; (

Best Latin Act

1st: Latin Express
2nd: Rico Monaco & Sol Sons; (
3rd: C Note; (

Best Metal Act

1st: Gargamel!; (
2nd: Empyrean; (
3rd: Hydrosonic; (

Best Punk Act

1st: Pop Suicide; (
2nd: The Attack; (
3rd, tie: Slippery Slopes; (
3rd, tie: Tooth and the Enamels; (

Best R&B Act

1st: The Legendary JC’s; (
2nd: The Gerry Williams Band; (
3rd: Très Bien; (

Best Reggae Act

1st: Mystik NRG; (
2nd: The Supervillains; (
3rd: The Goods; (

Best Rock/Pop act

1st: Megaphone; (
2nd: Hydrasonic; (
3rd: Mumpsy; (

[email protected]