Best Of 2015

Best Music Festival Pivot
Photo by James Dechert

As the city’s most established annual festival, FMF has long become synonymous with major label business. But rather than topple with that crumbling paradigm, the organizers this year made some seismic and, frankly, surprising shake-ups. First, they ditched the headliners because the fallacy of paying big bucks for washed-up names finally sunk in. Then they got back to refocusing on unsigned, mostly indigenous talent. Finally, and most notably, they made the shows free, thereby removing all barriers to what this is all supposed to be about: the music.

Best New Imaginative Music Series
The Gallery at Avalon Island, 39 S. Magnolia Ave., 407-913-1426,

Exhibit turnovers are usually the least public, least artistic times of a gallery. At the hands of gallery director Pat Greene and the network of art-forward musicians in his orbit, however, the Gallery at Avalon Island now uses this brief window each month to present a relaxed but engrossing evening of live conceptual music that has so far included percussive, electronic, audiovisual and orchestral performances. It’s cultured, it’s progressive and it’s free (but donations gladly accepted).

Best Surprising New Indie Venue
445 S. Magnolia Ave.,

Of all the hype and expectation leading up to the opening of this new crown jewel of the city’s cultural scene, practically none of it was about music, or at least cool music. This was supposed to be your parents’ nightlife. But it’s demonstrated some real taste already by making smart moves like partnering with leading Orlando indie promoter Foundation Presents to do excellent shows like Hundred Waters, Mark Kozelek and Justin Townes Earle. Bravo and encore to that.

Best Expanded Local Tribute
Photo by Jim Leatherman

As if this musical celebration and remembrance of slain local player Ralph Ameduri weren’t worthy or virtuous enough, the fourth annual edition took a beautifully inclusive turn to become a catchall memorial to passed dignitaries of Orlando’s cultural scene. Expanding this year to specifically honor Sam Rivers, Mark Wayne, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Dave Gage, Jeff Kaplan, Tracy Irwin and Alan Jordan in the festival logo, it’s an event that reminds us that we’re all a kind of family here.

Best Leap Onto the World Stage by an Indie Band

That moment when the little homegrown indie band you’ve been rooting for from the beginning goes global, well, that happened during this year’s Super Bowl and it was Hundred Waters, an adventurous Florida act with Orlando ties. Their song “Show Me Love” was the defining score to a Coca-Cola ad that also doubled as an anti-hate, anti-bullying campaign. The placement was a major coup by their management, whose head also has Orlando roots.

Best New Dance Night That’s Not Downtown
Will’s Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave.,

The rise of Mills Avenue as the city’s deepest, most legit scene frontier continues to show nothing but exponential promise. But neither dance nights nor soul music (apart from the shining exception of Eugene Snowden’s Ten Pints of Truth) have been the strip’s specialty. Then along comes the local bastion of both, DJ BMF, with Soul Shakedown. The free Tuesday-night stand features dope, often-themed audiovisual experiences that prove the Will’s Pub floor is good for more than just pits.

Best Local Record Release Gimmick
Photo by Ashley Balanger

Orlando roots-rock paragon Mike Dunn has been mounting a nice comeback for the past year or so. The campaign’s, ahem, splashiest maneuver was developing an original beer to pair with the summer release of Dunn’s long-awaited new LP, Hard Luck Soft Rock. Brewed with Redlight Redlight’s Brent Hernandez, one of Orlando’s top craft beer authorities, Bock n’ Roll is a small-batch, bourbon barrel-aged bock. That’s how you toast your release in style.

Best Homegrown Music Movement
Photo by Christopher Garcia

If you’re not seeing what the rest of the world is seeing in regards to staunchly principled local label Total Punk, you’re missing one of the most glaring examples of pure punk ethos still pulsing not just in Orlando, but in the world. The second iteration of their masterfully curated music festival, Total Fuck Off Weekend, brought an international audience of smart, snot-hearted music fans to town and cemented the label’s touted neighborhood, Colonialtown, as an authentic scene better than a dozen Mills 50 beautification projects ever could.

Best Place to Worship Your Tiki God
Photo by Rob Bartlett
431 E. Central Blvd., 407-839-0080,

Some wicker furniture, grass mats on the walls and hula girls serving drinks does not a genuine tiki bar make – as any true tikiphile will tell you, tiki is not cheesy beach-themed decor and ukulele music. It’s a lifestyle, and people who are into it take it seriously. Which is why people who are truly into tiki culture like Aku Aku Tiki Bar, a Polynesian-themed oasis in downtown Orlando that embraces tiki culture like no other bar in town. The artwork on the walls is by tikiphile artists, the drinks served at the bar are authentic tropical cocktails made with quality ingredients (no drink mixes here), the decor is retro, the atmo is laid-back, and yes, there are real tiki god totems here, carved by genuine tiki artists. Stop in to Aku Aku, order yourself a Tigerfucker, marvel at the real pufferfish lanterns hanging over the bar and pray that Kane Milohai smiles upon you.

Best New Boon to the Milk District
2428 E. Robinson St., 407-228-0804,

Many of the creative spirits who formerly splashed about within the walls of the Peacock Room before it closed seem to have found a new home in which to hang their wild spin-art notions: Spacebar. After the bar committed to music culture by buying a native sound system and hiring techs to man it, an influx of concerts and DJ nights hit the venue, its BFF/neighbor Sandwich Bar and the back lot between them to create the latest, greatest party environment in the unsuspecting strip that looks so dead by daylight but thrives so vivaciously by night.