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Arts & Entertainment – Best of 2011

by The Staff on July 14, 2011 · 4 comments

Best Arts Complex (Classic)


432 State St., Schenectady

On any given night, Proctors may have a live performance on the mainstage, a movie being shown on the giant screen in the GE Theatre, an improv group making folks laugh in their “underground” space and something else again in their latest venue, Key Hall. And on that given night, when Proctors is humming with art and entertainment, there’s nothing else like it in the Capital Region.

Best Arts Complex (Futuristic)

The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy

The folks at EMPAC, if they were feeling cocky, could say something that seems outlandish but is true: Every venue at RPI’s 21st- (or 22nd-) century arts center is superb, from the grand concert hall to the theater to the two performance labs to the gallery spaces. (Hell, even the café is gorgeous.) And what is presented in these spaces is superb, too.

Best Museum

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

225 South St., Williamstown, Mass.

Has the Clark ever had a bad year? We can’t quite imagine it; we do, for sure, know that this has been a very good year for the Berkshires’ richest (in more ways than one) museum. The current Pissarro exhibit is a stunner.

Best GalleryAlbany Center Gallery_lz

Albany Center Gallery

39 Columbia St., Albany

This was a year of consistently strong exhibits and special events at one of Albany’s longest tenured galleries, under the stewardship of both former creative director Sarah Martinez and the new man in the post, Tony Iadicicco.

Best Contemporary Museum

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art

87 Marshall St., North Adams, Mass.

MASS MoCA continues to expand, thoughtfully and organically, into more and more spaces in the sprawling ex-industrial complex, and continues to impress with the art installed in those spaces. It’s cutting-edge work, international and regional, side by side and damn impressive.

Best Regional Museum (Mohawk Valley)

The Arkell Museum

2 Erie Blvd., Canajoharie

Traveling fine-art exhibits are just the icing on the cake at the Arkell. In addition to the permanent exhibit of Beech Nut-related items and works, there’s gallery space for local artists. And the current exhibit of 19th-century vernacular artists, Drawn to the Same Place, is the kind of rewarding window into the past that regional museums best provide.

Best Regional Museum (Hudson Valley)

Albany Institute of History & Art

125 Washington Ave., Albany

The folks at the Albany Institute of History & Art are truly dedicated to their mission of preserving, promoting and interpreting the art, history and culture of the Hudson Valley, and they do so creatively with the curation of their collection and their impressive fine art exhibitions. This year’s offerings ranged from the Husdon River school to the history of graphic design.

Best Blockbuster Small Museum

Norman Rockwell museum

9 Route 183, Stockbridge, Mass.rockwell_ww

The Norman Rockwell Museum never fails to blow us away. The museum brilliantly curates its core collection, examining Rockwell’s iconic work from fresh and important perspectives. And it consistently mounts exhibitions in pastoral Stockbridge that are worthy of the grandest metropolis. Just this year, the museum showcased the work of William Steig, Ellwood Smith, Jerry Pinkney and Blue Sky Studios, animators of the Ice Age films.

Best Family Museum

Berkshire Museum

39 South St., Pittsfield, Mass.

The Berkshire Museum does a lot of things right, but it does a truly spectacular job of interpreting its collections for visitors of every age. Each exhibit in fine art, and cultural and natural history has an interactive component for the little ones to explore, from an aquarium touch pool and a dinosaur dig to a stereopticon, traditional Native American drums and creative spaces in the Fiegenbaum Hall of Innovation. But this isn’t just a kid’s museum; there is plenty for the growed-ups to learn and explore.

Best Art Night

Troy Night Out

Downtown Troy

It’s the compact geography of Troy that lends a neighborhood feel to Troy Night Out. In addition to all the great gallery spaces around downtown and the events at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, you’ll find everything from social protesters to roller-derby recruiters working the crowds at Troy Night Out. It’s a blast.

Best Moveable Curator

Chip Fasciana

Painter, sculptor and founder of Albany Underground Artists, Chip Fasciana has a gift for unifying his creative colleagues. He may not have a gallery space to call his own, but his pop-up shows have become a significant facet of the Capital Region arts scene. His most recent curatorial adventure packed Lark Street’s former Planned Parenthood building with work by an impressive array of area artists.

Best Independent Curator

Samson Contampassis

Marketplace Gallery, 40 Broadway, Albany

The “underground” arts scene isn’t so underground anymore, and Contampassis has vaulted many of its players to the forefront at his Marketplace Gallery, which he recreated as a more vital space since suffering a fire two years ago. The gallery now hosts the work of local, national and international visual artists, as well as regular performance pieces, musicians and DJs.

Best Visual Artist


Eric Savage goes by Radical! and the young artists lives up to his name. Barely out of high school, Radical! has shown his bold, surreal work around the world and the neighborhood. He’s currently preparing for a solo show in New York City, but this kid has long since proved himself to us. He’s Radical! And he’s going places.

Best Theater Company

Barrington Stage

30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass.

The area boasts a rare collection of top-notch theater companies, but Barrington Stage earned our top honor for their excelling across the board with innovative productions of classic and contemporary works and the award-winning developmental Musical Theatre Lab.

Best Broadway Experience


432 State St., Schenectady

Now that we’re a few years past the rebuilding that transformed Proctors, we can say this definitively: Everything that was promised, about both the Broadway quality of the shows they would be able to attract, and the success of these shows, came true. Proctors really is Broadway on the Mohawk.

Best Community Theater

Albany Civic Theatre

235 Second Ave., Albany

The folks at Albany Civic Theater have been mounting top-notch community productions for more than 50 years, and they’re good at what they do. Their entertaining and often challenging theater with a focus on characters is produced by a strong stable of veteran community actors, directors and technicians, and their experience shows.

Best Children’s Theater

Steamer No. 10 TheatreSteamer 10 Theatre lz

500 Western Ave., Albany

In their firehouse/castle on Western Avenue, Steamer No. 10 Theatre puts on artful childrens’ entertainment that is educational and fun—accent on fun. Their own productions feature impressive stories, costumes and performances, and many local parents wouldn’t know what to do without the seasonal Vacation Daze programs featuring jugglers, clowns and puppets.

Best Expansion

Schenectady Light Opera Company

427 Franklin St., Schenectady

While many arts organizations are struggling in a difficult economic climate, Schenectady Light Opera Company marked its 84th season by fufilling a million-dollar capital campaign and renovating a historic three-building complex in Schenectady’s arts district. The expansive new home includes a flexible 250-seat theater space, costume and scene shops, a cabaret space and facilities for other local arts and education organizations.

Best Literary Series

New York State Writers Institute

University at Albany, Skidmore College

The Writers Institute consistently brings in poets and authors worth reading, to give readings (and workshops), and it’s one of the Capital Region’s cultural bright points. The institute had another great year; and you can check this week’s calendar listings for info on its current summer program in Saratoga Springs.

Best Dance Festival

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

358 George Carter Road, Becket, Mass.

Some of the world’s best dance companies visit the Berkshires every summer, to perform in one of the most beautiful summer arts campuses we’ve ever seen. If that’s not the definition of “best,” we don’t have one.

Best Orchestra

Albany Symphony Orchestra

Sure, they had their Carnegie Hall triumph this year, but we already knew that maestro David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony are tops. A commitment to new music, passionate performances of the repertory and audience outreach are the hallmarks of our hometown orchestra.

Best Chamber Music

Union College Concert Series

Memorial Chapel, Union College, Schenectady

Last season’s line-up included regular visitors like the Emerson Quartet and Boston Camerata, pianist Yefim Bronfman and rising violin star Ray Chen. This fall marks the 40th season, held in the acoustically superb Memorial Chapel on the Union College campus and again will feature an array of astonishing talent for a fraction of the New York City ticket price.

Best Cinema

Spectrum 8 Theatres

290 Delaware Ave., Albany

The Spectrum offered the same kind of great films (and snacks) this year that have made them perennial winners—plus, now, 3D. That’s right, the Spectrum now has a 3D digital projector, so put on your special glasses and check it out.

Best Film Series

Palace Theatre

19 Clinton Ave., Albany

The good folks at the Palace outdid themselves this year, with well-attended screenings of everything from Viva Las Vegas to Chinatown to It Happened One Night, all shown in first-class 35MM prints on the big Palace screen. The vintage ads and featurettes were always a nice touch, too.

Best Film Programming

Time & Space Limited

434 Columbia St., Hudson

This is truly independent programming at its finest: important foreign films, challenging documentaries, American indie and youth cinema festivals. Don’t forget the filmmaker Q & A events, too.

Best Community Cinema

Crandell Theatre

48 Main St., Chatham

The new owners of the Crandell have more than made a go of it. They’ve thrived with a mix of second- and first-run features, fun revivals, the Film Columbia Festival and Sunday special screenings with the Chatham Film Club.

Best Club

Northern Lights

1208 Route 146, Clifton Park

With Wu-Tang, Snoop, Devo, Dinosaur Jr., Gogol Bordello and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs all gracing its stage in recent memory, one Metroland music critic was tempted to dub Northern Lights the best local club ever. Suffice to say, when top-tier acts tour through the area, chances are they’ll stop in Clifton Park.

Best Rock Club


17 New Scotland Ave., Albany

Next time you complain about contracting Hepatitis C from the Valentine’s bathroom, stop and think about how proud you’d be if you picked it up at CBGB’s. Valentine’s is one of the most legit, gritty punk clubs anywhere, right down to the urinal trough.

Best New Venue (Club)

Club Helsinki

405 Columbia St., Hudson

How glad are we that Club Helsinki found its new home in Hudson after closing its doors in Great Barrington? Every time we’ve reviewed a Helsinki show this year, the writer has made some special mention of how cool this room is. We can’t say enough about the booking either. Showgoers should definitely put Hudson on their map.

Best New Venue (Coffeehouse)

Hudson River Coffee House

227 Quail St., Albany

Quail Street has been itching for a place like this. Owner Anton Pasquill has taken the first step toward making the student ghetto feel more like a college town by converting the old Hudson River Telephone Company building into an intimate café and performance space. Already, Hudson River Coffee House has become a breeding ground for new musical talent and, in the words of Special Agent Dale Cooper, they also serve up a damn fine cup of coffee.

Best Venue Worth a Drive (East)

Pearl Street Nightclub

10 Pearl St., Northampton, Mass.

We will take just about any reason to drive out to Northampton to do a little record shopping, drink a few drinks and rub elbows with the artsy co-eds. But add one of the spectacular shows, like say Deerhoof and Xiu Xiu to the mix, and we are in heaven.

Best Venue Worth a Drive (South)

Bearsville Theater

291 Tinker St., Woodstock

It’s not just the fact that Bearsville’s walls are covered in photographs of Woodstock’s bohemian zenith. Every show at Bearsville carries a bit of the musical magic that this Catskill town is synonymous with. With a view of the Sawkill Creek, it’s also probably got the best smoking deck in the region.

Best Band


It’s a three-peat. Duly spurning the Metroland cover curse and taking this title the past two years, Railbird released No One this spring, the best record of their career, were recognized as up-and-comers by Relix, and opened this year’s Roots Picnic. Things just keep getting better for the band we’re proud to recognize as the area’s best once again.

Best Band (Gone National)


Maybe it was that big tour they did with the xx, the fact Big Boi plugged their record on his website or the song they placed in the opening episode of MTV’s Skins. Whenever Phantogram play the Capital Region, it feels less like a big-deal homecoming and more like a regular big deal. Oh yeah, did you see Josh and Sarah playing with ?uestlove on Fallon? Shit.

Best Upgrade

Sean Rowe

No artist’s star rose this year like Sean Rowe’s. After touring on the merits of his Collar City Records-produced album Magic, venerable major label ANTI- signed the hard-working songsmith, rereleased the record and catapulted the Troy native in front of a national audience. We can’t think of anyone more deserving.

Best Rock Band

Charlie Watts Riots

Featuring members of venerated Albany bands of yore, from Bloom to Vodkasonics, Charlie Watts Riots have been called the Capital Region’s premier power-pop supergroup. United by a love for high-octane live rock & roll—and a snappy uniform of black ties and sharp suits—Charlie Watts Riots have the kind of pop smarts, stage presence and rock chops that few bands around can match.

Best Retro Rock Band


As far as Charmboy are concerned, rock & roll might as well have died when Alice Cooper’s original band dissolved in 1973. And by the sound of their debut Let It Feed, the power trio don’t seem to care. Theirs is rock of the hard and psychedelic variety—you know, the way it was meant to be.

Best Folk Rock Band

Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned

They’re a slightly different banned of hobos than you may recognize from years past, but a lineup change hasn’t slowed the B3nson troubadours. In advance of their first national tour this spring, Dunbar released the excellent Twelve Horse Riding Songs only to return with a 7” EP, Amnesia Moon Vol. 1, freshly pressed to wax.

Best Indie Rock Band

Around the World and Back

Shimmering guitars, Brit-pop vocal harmonies presented with a Lennon-McCartney vibe, manic drumming, powerful bass lines, undeniable songwriting, visceral live shows and an amazing new record, Big Beat, make Around the World and Back something truly special. Catch ‘em while you can—they have places to be.

Best Alt-Rock Band

Skeletons in the Piano

Every performance by Saratoga’s Skeletons in the Piano—who’ve gigged steadily around the region the past year—is more of a happening than just a show, livened up by shimmering onstage belly dancers, grainy silent movie projections and artwork being created in real time. That spirit of vibrant creativity, penchant for ’90s alt, and a swirling blend of dark hippie-hardcore rock, is what sets the Skeletons apart from the rest of the brooding-indie-rock pack.

Best Metal Band

The Viking

A group of ridiculously talented musicians working in the metal genre who know how to rock a party right. Devil horns and jazz.

Best Jam Band

Timbre Coup

It’s not quite fair to call Timbre Coup a jam band, but there wasn’t much competition in the genre of livetronic improg. What’s important is that the group have become a fixture on the East Coast jam circuit, climbing ever higher on festival bills, and landing a choice slot at Camp Bisco X.

Best Punk Band

Public Noise Concern

In the last year, Public Noise Concern (also known as PNC) signed to a Canadian indie label, released an EP, Yesterday’s Trash, recorded by hardcore-punk giant Don Fury, and released an online video for their song “Out in the Open.” Things are looking up for the pop-punk trio from East Greenbush. The three young women in PNC have been together since 2004, but lately their well-crafted and sassy blasts of pepped-up punk have attracted notice.

Best (Post-) Punk Band

Severe Severe

Severe Severe have only been a Capital Region band for a few years now after their move from L.A., but we’re willing to wager it’ll be even less time before they graduate to that hallowed gone-national category. Their stuff more than holds its own against the field of Cure and Joy Division acolytes, and their new record Break Up the Dance encourages you to do anything but.

Best Noise

Ghoul Poon

Shane Sanchez’s DNA is one long strand of fucked-up VCR tape. Ghoul Poon is what results when he tries to feed the cartridge back in the machine. We say this with the most flattering of intentions.

Best World Music

Taína Asili

Fronting la Banda Rebelde, Taína Asili is an ambassador to the future, as powerful in voice and presence as she is in her political convictions. With classical guitarist and husband Gaetano Vaccaro, she is a keeper of tradition, mining flamenco music for its elemental essence. With either ensemble, she’s one of the area’s most engaging performers.

Best Old-Time Band

Red Hen

Red Hen, the quartet of Allan Carr, Dave Kiphuth, Jane Rothfield and Linda Schrade, were hatched at the 2006 Clifftop Appalachian Mountain Festival in West Virginia, where they woodshedded for nine days straight and won top honors for Best Non-Traditional Tune. Rothfield’s straight-from-the-holler fiddling, Kiphuth’s masterful old-time and bluegrass banjo chops, and the superb singing of Scotsman Carr and Schrade makes them unbeatable for old-time string-band music.

Best Tribute Band


Calling them a cover band wouldn’t do them justice. Take reinterpretations of classic Rolling Stones songs—fronted by the sultry swagger of Capital Region vocalist extraordinaire Tommy Love and backed by the swanky rhythm section and struttin’ guitars of former members of the Decadent Royals and French Letter—and you truly get an experience. Catch them while you can as they bring the spirit of peak-era Glimmer Twins to a pub near you.

Best Scene Architects


It’s hard to imagine what the Capital Region music scene would look like without the influence of the B3nson Recording Company. The collective continues to serve as a model for independent musicmaking in the post-label era. And with their second annual Restoration Festival right around the corner, the group remains committed to Albany proper as much as to the artists they support.

Best Jazz Artist

Brian Patneaude

Brian Patneaude has a mantle full of these awards, but that doesn’t make the saxophonist any less deserving of this honor for yet another year.

Best DJ


Best DJ - DJ TruMaster

DJ TruMastr

DJ TruMastr is the hardest-working turntablist in Albany. Whether he’s at one of his epic Quintessence dance parties, doing Service Industry nights at McGeary’s, or hosting events at Red Square with J-Live (like the Whole Case-o-Dilla or Beat Shot Music Festival), TruMastr always has something cooking. The man hosted an entire evening of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Prince. What more do you need?

Best Hip-Hop Band

The Chronicles

With gigs backing J-Live at the Beat Shot Music Festival and the upcoming Bella Terra and Brooklyn Hip Hop Festivals, the Chronicles are making a reputation for themselves as the baddest live hip-hop act around. With jazz chops out the yin-yang and new tunes at their fingertips every time they pick up their instruments, the Chronicles are always fresh like a Yankees fitted.

Best Reason to Go Dancing


We haven’t seen lines this long or heard bass this loud outside the Fuze Box since those mythical days of the QE2. OUTPOST1 has been a monthly education in dubstep, juke, footwork, Bmore club and whatever other boutique electronic genres the event’s (inter)national guests bring to the decks, along with house DJs Deep Children and Party with Tina.

Best Secret Weapon

Jed Davis

He has worked with the Ramones and recorded with Jessica Simpson, was covered by Daniel Johnston, and invented electroclash. He plays in one band with Chuck Rainey, Jerry Marotta and Avi Buffalo, and just finished recording another with Steve Albini. Oh yeah, and he lives in Albany.

Best Album Design Artist

Phil Pascuzzo

With the Twitter bird and the jacket design for hundreds of books to his credit, Phil Pascuzzo is an accomplished graphic designer. But we know him best as the guy who makes the cover art for so many albums by so many local bands look so dang sweet.

Best Sound Engineer

Frank Moscowitz

Frank Moscowitz is way less scared of “phantom power” than the rest of us. The Collar City Sound engineer has lent his expertise on the mixing board to a countless number of local recordings as well as some of the most challenging live settings. He’s probably over at St. Joseph’s Church hauling cable for Rest Fest as we speak.