Most innovative arts programming (any artform)
Just Buffalo’s SRO series presenting internationally acclaimed writers in conversation seems to get more exciting every year; it’s a true citywide phenomenon.

Exhibition of the season (Fall 08–Spring 09)
Burchfield Penney Art Center Inaugural Exhibition
1300 Elmwood Avenue, 878-6011
Our first look at this magnificent new facility was impressive for so many reasons, but the inaugural installation of permanent collection works completely dispelled any doubts about the ability of WNY art to justify a museum. 

Place to buy art
Allen Street Gallery District
There were always more art galleries in Allentown than in any other Buffalo neighborhood, and the work you’ll find in them is almost always reasonably priced. Now they’re working together, with twelve openings on the first Friday of every month.

Coolest non-art museum or historic site
Excavated terminus of the Erie Canal
Combined with the Naval Park, a great-looking museum, and the nearby Erie Basin Marina, the new Inner Harbor—with its perfect blend of the actual and the replicated—makes for a nifty little day trip.

Most interesting season of plays (Fall 08–Spring 09)
Kavinoky Theatre
320 Porter Ave., 829-7668
In a year with many interesting options, the Kavinoky rose to the top with courageous choices that were creatively performed and stylishly produced. The WNY premiere season of Mauritius, The Farnsworth Invention, Heroes, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Is He Dead?, and Hot N’ Cole demonstrated the company’s inventive versatility without sacrificing their traditionally high standards.

Local production of a play
Sunday in the Park with George—MusicalFare
4380 Main St., Amherst, 839-8540
Stephen Sondheim should be proud, because MusicalFare pulled off a beautiful production from top to bottom. The wonderful ensemble performed his complicated compositions with masterful ease and remarkable sensitivity.

Live music venue
Sportsmen’s Tavern
326 Amherst St., 874-7734
Having already thrilled audiences for years with free performances by local and national alt-country, blues, and rock musicians, this revered neighborhood bar has upped the ante by adding a subscription series that offers audiences a chance to see big-name acts in an intimate setting.

Alt. Pick
Best live music venue
UB’s Center for the Arts
Okay, so it doesn’t quite offer the rock’n’roll grit of a Sportsmen's or a Mohawk. Big deal; that’s not what UB’s Center for the Arts is all about. What the largest of the three theaters in the CFA does provide—more frequently and consistently than most other venues of its size in the area—is solid, exciting programming in a variety of genres (everything from Broadway divas to jazz legends to David Byrne and Morrissey to rising stars, to say nothing of standup comics, dance companies, and various pop culture phenomena). Ticket prices are reasonable; the sightlines and acoustics are great; getting in and out of the place is no big hassle. In short, it’s precisely the kind of university concert hall a city of Buffalo’s size needs and deserves.
—Ron Ehmke

Son of the Sun
A little bit psychedelic, a little bit alt-country, a little bit garage-rock, a little bit dreamy early-sixties pop, and god knows what else, all delivered with the kind of confidence that suggests these guys could (and should!) make a splash nationwide.

Alt. Pick
Best band
If your hard rock penchant leans towards the trippy Satanification of the blues mastered by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, then honey, you best get familiar with Chylde. As I was getting ready to see Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger urinate on their legacy last summer at the Molson Canal Concert Series, this loud, ragged quartet smacked me upside the head in the most super-awesomest way. Chylde’s opening set of psychedelic metal suites made no bones about its Sabbath obsession, while still sounding fresh and relevant. The riffs were chunky, the solos wild, and the overall mood darkly invigorating. And while I didn’t catch much of the lyrics, they’ve gotta be at least as good as “People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time.”
—Joe Sweeney

Solo musical act

Armed with humor, history, political awareness, and some killer samples, Billy “Drease” Williams is a mainstay of Buffalo’s underground hiphop scene.

Local album
Maria Sebastian, Yellow Envelope
Hard to say what’s most impressive about the latest release from this veteran singer-songwriter: the high production values, the tremendous variety from track to track, or the sheer emotional range of Sebastian’s voice and lyrics.

Recent WNY-related book
Ginger Strand, Inventing Niagara
Strand has superbly researched and explored the good, the bad, and the ugly about our great wonder—and its highly problematic urban surroundings.

Alt. Pick
Best recent WNY-related book
Bruce Eaton visits Radio City
Has there ever been a cooler album opener than “O My Soul,” the “drink till we drop” first track of Big Star’s immortal Radio City? And has there ever been a sweeter tortured love song than “September Gurls”?

I’m the wrong guy to answer these questions—Bruce Eaton is a better choice. A frequent Spree contributor, Buffalo native, and programmer for the Albright-Knox’s stellar Art of Jazz series, Eaton is the author of the latest book in Continuum’s stunning 33 1/3 collection, in which noted writers tackle some of the greatest albums in music history—everything from Kick Out the Jams to If You’re Feeling Sinister.

Eaton’s selection of Big Star’s Radio City is a classic one for many reasons. Alex Chilton’s Big Star is the legendary lost power-pop band behind three shoulda-been-chart-toppers: #1 Record, Radio City, and Third/Sister Lovers. The reclusive, often difficult-to-pin-down Chilton is deserving of a study himself, but approaching him through Radio is wise, as it is the quintessential Big Star album. Eaton discovered it the way many did—not through ad campaigns or radio play, as there really were none—by simply spotting it in a record store, and recalling something read in the pages of Creem. “I had a good feeling Radio City might be worth the six quarters,” he writes. Thus began a journey into Chilton’s universe, one which later brought Eaton into contact with AC himself; Eaton “reached [his] summit” on June 26, 1979, as Chilton joined the author’s band onstage at McVan’s nightclub in Buffalo, the first of several encounters.

In addition to the personal details, the book breaks down the Big Star sound and myth in stunning fashion. Fascinating details are unearthed, including the band’s own opinions (Chilton on “September Gurls”: “It’s not a song that grabs me to this day”), info as to why the album was not heavily promoted (“Columbia executives deemed the cover to be pornographic by virtue of a day-glo poster of the Kama Sutra partially visible in the background of William Eggleston’s cover photo”), to in-the-studio tidbits (Chilton on “O My Soul”’s guitar work: “I think that was probably copping the lick from Dave Edmunds”).

The book does not go into great detail regarding Chilton’s recent output, but it doesn’t have to. This is Radio City’s story, and as such, it truly demonstrates why Big Star is so important, and why commercial success never quite came to pass. But what’s most special about the book is the way Eaton captures the precise moment that a record changed his life, and what that means. It happens to many of us—it certainly happened to me—but to be able to put that feeling into words? It takes real talent, and Bruce Eaton has that in abundance. “To me, the definition of a great record is simple,” he writes. “When you finish playing it, you want to play it again.” For Big Star fans, the same is true of Eaton’s Radio City.
—Christopher Schobert

Most provocative experimental artist (any artform)
Brian Milbrand
There are those people who just think differently, and immerse themselves in their own self-constructed worlds; this multifaceted media/installation/performance artist is clearly one of them.

Art classes
WNY Book Arts
468 Washington St. 903-6875
There are those people who just think differently, and immerse themselves in their own self-constructed worlds; this multifaceted media/installation/performance artist is clearly one of them.

Most valuable patron of the arts
Blue Cross Blue Shield/Health Now
The broad-ranging art support of this major WNY employer seems to correspond to their expansive new headquarters; they fund the BPO, the Albright-Knox, the Burchfield Penney, and a host of valuable education and access programs. 

Arts administrator
Don Metz
In his quiet, down-to-earth way, Metz has committed almost three decades to the arts community of WNY; the Burchfield Penney’s RendezBlue mini festivals are but the latest example of his uncanny ability to interweave music, media, literature, performance, and visual art.

Arts bargain
Buffalo Infringement Festival
There are those people who just think differently, and immerse themselves in their own self-constructed worlds; this multifaceted media/installation/performance artist is clearly one of them.

Best of the season:
One theater fan’s picks
Superlative comparisons of the “greatest” or “best” are at best, either highly subjective or, at the very least, somewhat complicated. (Apples and oranges, anyone?) However, after savoring a long season of outstanding work, I can’t help but recognize some top-notch achievements.

David Lamb, The Farnsworth Invention (Kavinoky)
Lamb turned a complicated script (about the invention of television) with many moving pieces into a fascinating, well-oiled production.

Randall Kramer, Sunday in the Park with George (MusicalFare)
A musical that was undoubtedly a logistical, technical, and creative challenge became an expressive and artistic triumph thanks to Kramer’s thoughtful choices.

The Farnsworth Invention (Kavinoky)
Despite its classic setting and aesthetic, this fast-paced and thoroughly contemporary presentation was compelling from start to finish.

Sunday in the Park with George (MusicalFare)
Months later, songs from this production still resonate in my ears.

Tom Zindle
Along with some great supporting parts this season, Zindle’s lead role as a tortured soul in the Irish Classical’s The Cavalcaders best displayed the depth of his transformative abilities.

Joe Wiens

Anyone who saw Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story knows that Wiens was Holly in both voice and visage in this MusicalFare production.

Sarielys Matos
Matos hit all the marks as a passionate and vulnerable wife during a less enlightened time in Road Less Traveled’s A Little Bit of Paradise.

Jenn Stafford
Though George was the focus, Stafford’s Dot and Marie were the heart of the multilayered Sunday in the Park.

Tom Makar
Makar was both hilarious and convincing as a blind character in New Phoenix’s The Seafarer.

Loraine O’Donnell

In MusicalFare’s American Rhapsody, O’Donnell didn’t speak, but she sang and emoted volumes.

—Darwin McPherson


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