COVER STORY

BEST OF JAX! 2015

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT, SPORTS & OUTDOORS

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BEST LOCAL COMMUNITY THEATER
Players by the Sea
Finalists: Theatre Jax, 5 & Dime
If you’ve never been, it’s easy to miss Players by the Sea in Jax Beach. But you’ll never forget FW readers’ selection of Best Local Community Theater after you sit in the dark and storied space, which this year celebrates its 50th season. Before your very eyes, the unassuming stage becomes a desert island, a street corner in NYC, even the 1963 presidential campaign trail. All the world may be a stage, but Players by the Sea is theater.

BEST LOCAL THEATER PRODUCTION OF 2015 “Hairspray” (Theatre Jacksonville)
Finalists: “Aida,” “The Coming Out Monologues” (Players by the Sea)
In a year where our country – and our community – was rocked by the real world pain and confusion of racial inequality and intolerance, it’s no surprise that a show like Theatre Jacksonville’s “Hairspray” finds its way to the top of our readers’ playbill. Inspired and poignant direction and choreography by the fabulous Curtis J. Williams breathed life and relevance into this hit Jon Waters property and sent viewers home thinking about equality and tapping their toes at the same time. And because it’s always an honor just to be nominated, it’s worth noting that PBTS’ gorgeous, textured “Aida” also made a splash with area theatergoers, as did the powerful, community-driven project “The Coming Out Monologues.”

BEST MUSEUM
Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
Finalists: Museum of Science & History, Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville
A few weeks ago, the Cummer raised enough funds to purchase “Pago, Pago,” a multimedia piece by artist Whitfield Lovell. The work consists of a portrait of an African-American soldier with vintage radios stacked underneath. It’s a highly unusual move for the museum, but one that doesn’t elicit shock among its loyal supporters. Year after year, the Cummer and its experienced, knowledgeable staff prove invaluable to the Northeast Florida arts community, displaying thought-provoking traveling exhibitions as well as nearly 5,000 works of art in the museum’s permanent collection.

BEST GALLERY
Southlight Gallery
Finalists: CoRK Arts District, Florida Mining Gallery
Showcasing more than two dozen artists, with a goal to “present a diverse selection of local artwork through ongoing exhibitions,” Southlight Gallery is the apex of display venues, according to FW readers. Located on North Hogan Street in Downtown Jacksonville, Southlight features such artists as Enzo Torcoletti, Grant Ward and Julianne French. The gallery’s monthly exhibit openings coincide with First Wednesday ArtWalk.

BEST ART EXHIBIT OF 2015
Project Atrium (Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville)
Finalists: White (MOCA), Southern Exposure (MOCA)
You may remember back to the end of last year when Jacksonville City Councilman Clay Yarborough compared the photograph of a naked pregnant woman to “porn.” The photo, taken by artist Angela Strassheim, was hung as part of MOCA’s popular Project Atrium series. Now in its fifth year, Project Atrium has received mostly favorable support from the community, save a few close-minded Bible-thumpers. “We are delighted to present such wide-ranging, monumental works from photographs to sculpture to painting over the past year,” Jaime DeSimone, assistant curator of exhibitions at MOCA Jacksonville, says of the BOJ win. “We are grateful to the community for distinguishing the artists’ colossal efforts to mount these extraordinary projects.”

BEST LOCAL ARTIST
Shaun Thurston
Finalists: Chip Southworth, Jim Draper
Arguably the most well-known visual artist in Northeast Florida, Shaun Thurston is always up to something. His artwork is literally splattered all over the First Coast, from restaurants to doctors’ offices to abandoned buildings around Downtown. And, according to Thurston’s Facebook page, he’s got a few more tricks up his sleeve. Be sure to check out his new ink on Bristol paper series and the self-portrait of him and his daughter he created for Haskell Gallery.

BEST PUBLIC ART
The Shark in Hemming Park
Finalists: Yates Parking Garage Mural, Shaun Thurston Murals
Did you know that having an extreme and persistent fear of sharks is called galeophobia? You do now. If you watched Jaws (or one of its three lame sequels) too often as a kid, not to worry, this public art piece will refrain from sneak oceanic attacks. “Spark Attack,” created by University of North Florida sculpture students for One Spark, is an eight-foot-tall breaching great white shark’s head that, to this day, floats in a Hemming Park fountain. We’re gonna need a bigger fountain …

BEST LOCAL ACTOR/ACTRESS
Steve Anderson
Finalists: Daniel N. Austin, Sadie LaManna
In a community so packed with local theatrical talent, it must be daunting for our readers to choose just one of the 904’s actors as Best of Jax. This year, the community has decided that – the envelope, please – Steven Anderson is tops in the local thespian scene. Steve’s no stranger to Northeast Florida audiences, having shared memorable and award-winning performances for years. This year, his portrayal of Bagger Vance in The 5 & Dime’s production of Al Letson’s original play “John Coffey Refuses to Save the World” at MOSH caught the attention of our readers, and the rest, as they say, is history. And in a scene proud to tout the likes of finalists Daniel N. Austin (clearly no slouch, as he won this BOJ category last year) and gorgeous, effervescent Sadie LaManna, that’s really saying something. 

BEST LOCAL AUTHOR
Alan Parker
Finalists: Annette Myers, Ben Walker 
For the second year in a row, Alan Parker has risen to the top of the readers’ list as Best Local Author. The pen behind 2012’s “Daydream Believer,” a story of survival and ADHD, Parker slays us with honest humor that’s refreshingly unfiltered and incredibly brave in a world filled with small-minded critics.

BEST LOCAL COSPLAYER
Candy Keane
Finalists: Jenna Esposito, Envy Inferno
Whether she’s dressed as Maleficent, female Freddy Krueger, Æon Flux or Leeloo from The Fifth Element, Candy Keane’s dress-up game is strong. “I really enjoy supporting local events like GAAM, WasabiCon and CollectiveCon,” says Keane. “Jacksonville has a lot to offer the cosplay scene and I’m happy to be a part of it.” Keane is the owner of Three Muses Inspired Clothing, which opened in 2009 in Mandarin. She also has more than 190,000 Facebook fans and is a new mom. Talk about Wonder Woman!

BEST LOCAL COMEDIAN
Mark Alan
Finalists: Jim Thomas, Duane Fletcher
Any comedian can pull out enough one-liners to get a chuckle or two, but Mark Alan delivers more — much more. He’s a magician and a mentalist, who performs daring escapes while sending audiences into fits of hysterical laughter. Alan also creates and performs routines specifically tailored for school curricula, “Take a S.T.A.N.D. Against Bullying.” Alan’s website is worth a visit if only to check out the mean-mugging he enthusiastically displays on the landing page.

BEST COMEDY CLUB
The Comedy Zone
Finalists: The Comedy Club of Jacksonville, Latitude 360
For as long as we’ve had this category, The Comedy Zone has ruled — until last year, when upstart Comedy Club of Jacksonville snatched the title from the Zone. This year, our readers have rallied around the club that’s been making Northeast Floridians guffaw for a quarter-century. It’s conveniently located within the Ramada Inn in Mandarin, so if the hilarity renders you unable to drive — and the nationally known comics gigging there have been known to do just that — just get a room. Upcoming performers include John Witherspoon and Aries Spears as well as local comedians showcasing their skills every Tuesday and Wednesday.

BEST PLACE TO ATTEND A CONCERT
St. Augustine Amphitheatre
Finalists: The Florida Theatre, Freebird Live
Reggae legend Bob Marley sang, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Whether it’s a bad breakup, bad hair day or just a case of the blues, Northeast Floridians prefer to check into the St. Augustine Amphitheatre for a dose of music medicine. And with good reason. Situated within Anastasia State Park, the Amp is consistently recognized as one of the top outdoor venues in the country by Pollstar and has a hefty résumé of past performers including My Morning Jacket, James Taylor and Stevie “Welsh Witch” Nicks.

BEST LOCAL MUSICIAN/BAND
Whiskey Dogs
Finalists: Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, The Band Be Easy
A self-described “super group,” Whiskey Dogs come from a long line of well-known Northeast Florida musical ensembles, including The Attitudes, Radio Berlin and The Have Nots. Musicians Matt Morris, Frankie Phillips, Lorne Mays and Neal Karrer comprise this rock quartet, at it since May 2012, and likely it was the combining of fan bases from past projects that pushed them over the top with Best of Jax voters. That, and Whiskey Dogs seemed to be playing everywhere over the past year, from Rain Dogs and the now-defunct Landshark Café to Tom & Betty’s and Jack Rabbits.

BEST LOCAL DANCE CLUB
Mavericks at The Landing
Finalists: The Loft, Eclipse Jax
Afraid to dance in public because you haven’t since the Macarena? Then get your clumsy ass to the massive live music (all genres, not just country) venue nonpareil, Mavericks at the Landing, where competent instructors will guide you through the latest line dances so that new honey of yours won’t dump you before that all-important third date. Watermelon Crawl? Check. Tush Push? Check. Footloose? Checkity-check-check. And on Thursdays, the lessons are free from 8-10 p.m. Just in time to two-step your way into his/her heart. Whew!

BEST CONCERT OF 2015
Florida Country Superfest
Finalists: Welcome to Rockville, Shania Twain
“Yee, doggies!” Once again, this two-day, boot-scootin’-boogie-bacchanal brings home the Best of Jax honky tonk hosannas. Not unlike Woodstock, only with less brown acid and more gigantic trucks and cowboy hats, Florida Country Superfest continues to “wow,” “Shock’n Y’all,” and simply delight Folio Weekly readers with its continued primo line-ups of established and up-and-coming country performers. And this year was no exception, as Zac Brown Band, Keith Urban, Brantley Gilbert, Cole Swindell, Tyler Farr, David Nail, Colt Ford, Danielle Bradbery, and the Swon Brothers rocked EverBank Field, with tunes (possibly, we’re not sure) about weekend parties, hating your boss, hot-and-heavy barn-loft lovin’, cornpone cannibalism, gigantic trucks, and even more cowboy hats.

BEST DANCE STUDIO
Dance Trance
Finalists: Nancy Dance, Studio K
Dance Trance posters can be found next to posters for punk shows, the symphony, and miscellaneous fundraisers. They’ve taken the DIY ethos to heart, creating a strong community around those just want to DANCE! DANCE! DANCE!!! Break a sweat and feel the burn. Nancy Dance and Studio K: Simon Cowell says you were close ... but no cigar.

BEST GAY/LESBIAN CLUB
The Metro
Finalists: Hamburger Mary’s, Park Place
The Metro is more than a gay/lesbian club – it is a complex of different themed clubs and performance venues for one of the most unique forms of entertainment in Jacksonville (Did we mention one of the largest in Florida?). This Metro’s 13th year in a row to be named Best Gay/Lesbian Club in Jacksonville. Girlfriends, Metro may have three fabulous snaps, but not far off from rhythmic heaven is Hamburger Mary’s on the Southbank of the river and Park Place on the Northbank.

BEST KARAOKE PLACE
Austin Karaoke
Finalists: Monkey’s Uncle Tavern, Ginger’s Place
For nearly a decade, this Karaoke room has been accommodating the warbler within us all — we who just know we can belt out “American Girl” as well as TP or “Pony” better than Ginuwine. Karaoke can ramp up your self-esteem to Trump levels or tear it down to nothing — but you’ll never know until you try. Our readers, who clearly check their inhibitions at the door when they book a music room at Austin Karaoke on the Southside, have deemed the venue the Best Karaoke Place for the fourth year in a row.

BEST MOVIE THEATER
Sun-Ray Cinema
Finalists: Cinemark Tinseltown, AMC Regency 24
Housed in a historic building on Park Street in Five Points, Sun-Ray Cinema is a two-screen movie theater serving everything from spicy Portobello sandwiches and Sweet Pete’s candy to Bold City and Intuition brews and select wines. Open every day for matinee and evening shows, Sun-Ray is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team, Shana David-Massett and Tim Massett. “We met working behind the concession stand at another historic theater where Tim was also programming films,” says Shana. “We are excited to share new upgrades and raise the bar for movie-going in Jacksonville.”

BEST OPEN MIC NIGHT
Rain Dogs
Finalists: Underbelly, The Wine Bar
You’ve spent weeks toiling over GarageBand, forgone sleeping, lost weight, gained body odor, alarmed your loved ones, alienated your imaginary dogs, and for what?! Why, for this very moment, friend, standing onstage at open mic night, ready to debut your new original composition, “(Artisanal Tears 4 Peace) Jamericana Song for the Universe.” When Folio Weekly readers want to fire up the Looper Pedal and burn down the place (figuratively), they hit the open mic night at Rain Dogs in Riverside. Plus, if you totally bomb, the bar has a great selection of beers that will help you segue into the next phase of your blossoming career: “stumbling, crying drunk holding a Looper Pedal.”

BEST FESTIVAL
One Spark
Finalists: Jazz Fest, Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival
The Peter Rummell-funded One Spark is Jacksonville’s largest venture to take hold in years. You’ve been napping if you don’t know One Spark by now. Where else can you hear new tech ideas, nonprofit pitches, musicians ripping their hearts from their chests, and drink yourself into a stupor until the wee hours of the morning in Downtown Jacksonville over the course of a week(ish)? One Spark has emerged as the place to be in the Spring.

BEST TRIVIA EMCEE
Sam Mitchell
Finalists: Jamie Covert, Brandon Tomasello
For the past two and a half years, Sam Mitchell has been dropping knowledge at Harpoon Louie’s and O’Brothers Irish Pub in Riverside. Voted as Jacksonville’s best Trivia Emcee, Mitchell is driven to inspire others to get their trivia game faces on. For whatever reason, he is also inspired to toss more than 400 donuts to runners during the annual Gate River Run from his apartment in San Marco. He also wanted to let female readers know that he is very single.

BEST LIVE MUSIC CLUB
Mavericks at the Landing
Finalists: Underbelly, Freebird Live
While there’s been much talk (about 20 years’ worth, but who’s counting?) about making The Jacksonville Landing an exciting place to go, the music hall Mavericks has been diligently bringing in a variety of noteworthy musical artists. And while the venue generally focuses on up-and-coming country acts, they’ve also featured rock, rap, and reggae, including 2014 shows by Tyler the Creator, Craig Morgan, Howard Jones, Shooter Jennings, The Lacs, Earl Sweatshirt, and Tribal Seeds. With a capacity of 1,700, you have plenty of room to move, while sipping on your libation of choice. Upcoming shows include Buddy Brown, Josh Abbott Band, Clay Walker, Newfound Glory with Yellowcard and Tigers Jaw, and The Dead Presidents Tour featuring Gent & Jawns, Meaux Green, and Valentino Khan.

BEST LOCAL DRAG SHOW
Hamburger Mary’s
Finalists: Bo’s Coral Reef, The Metro
There’s no party like a drag show party at Hamburger Mary’s! The “open-air bar and grille for open-minded people” might have started on the West Coast, but “Mary’s Girls Drag Revue” has become a Jacksonville institution. Whether it’s a bachelor/bachelorette party, a mid-week pick-me-up or wild weekend, our readers’ choice for Best Local Drag Show is never a ‘drag.’

BEST BEACH
Atlantic Beach
Finalists: Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach
Between the natural forces of erosion and the meddling of man, Northeast Florida’s beaches are in a constant state of flux. Though it needs dredging every few years to ensure some of the the region’s wealthiest don’t lose their oceanfront assets to Davey Jones’ Locker, the white sands of Atlantic Beach — which begin parallel to where Atlantic Boulevard meets S.R. A1A and runs north to Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park — are consistent in their ability to provide solitude, unmatched beauty, and communion with nature.

BEST PLACE TO BIKE
Baldwin Trail
Finalists: K.A. Hanna Park, Riverside
A stretch of 15 miles of paved, environmentally-stimulating trails covering a wide terrain — uplands, wetlands, and pine flatwoods. It doesn’t get much better than this. Baldwin, just west of Downtown Jacksonville, is an animal-lovers dream, a spot known for bird, reptile, and other critter habitats. Perfect for an out-and-back journey along this converted railway line with plenty of places to stop like the Camp Milton Historic Preserve rest area.

BEST SURF SPOT
The Pier
Finalists: The Poles, The Jetties
You didn’t hear? Surfing’s no fun. It’s not cool. You shouldn’t try it. The Pier: not good there bro. Sorry. Ditto The Poles and The Jetties. Alas, it’s no use. The pier (aka Jacksonville Beach Pier), in its newest incarnation on First Street and Fourth Avenue North — its concrete pillars providing the optimum catalyst for sand to pile up and harden — it still produces some of the wedgiest, punchiest waves anywhere in Northeast Florida. It’s fun there. And everybody knows it. The silver lining: Fight through the crowds and catch a good one, and show your friends how bitchin’ you are courtesy of the photogs from the local surf report always lurking about.

BEST PLACE FOR PEOPLE-WATCHING
Jacksonville Beach
Finalists: St. Johns Town Center, 5 Points
Looks like it came down to specific criteria: Our readers prefer to watch people strolling by clad in swimsuits of all styles, colors, coverage and non-coverage rather than watch people scurrying by with arms full of bags and packages emblazoned with high-end stores or people shuffling by in porkpie hats and funky faded black T-shirts, vaping to their hearts’ and lungs’ content. Once again, Jax Beach takes the Best People-Watching category.

BEST ATHLETE IN NORTHEAST FLORIDA
Blake Bortles
Finalists: Tim Tebow, Josh Scobee
Really, Jacksonville? We have to respect the readers’ votes, but, as of writing, after the example he set in year one and in the Jags opening loss to Carolina, surely we can do better than hold Bortles up as our best example of athletic prowess in Northeast Florida. His future may be bright, but then again, the QB for Lee High School looks fairly promising. There’s also the swim team captain at Episcopal High School or the point guard for Raines’ JV squad. 

BEST PLACE TO KAYAK/CANOE
Kayak Amelia
Finalists: Black Creek Outfitters, St. Johns River
Sure, we have nice beaches, a growing Downtown center, and a real live NFL football team, but the clincher for visitors to Northeast Florida is the natural landscape, which falls effortlessly into a bevy of waterways. And the best way to experience it all is up close and personal — in a kayak. Kayak Amelia is perfectly situated in the marshlands between Amelia/Fernandina and Jacksonville for some of the best ecotourism this side of the Mississippi.

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