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Cover photo by Leif Zurmuhlen

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Note to readers: The Best Of selections were compiled by Metroland staff members; Readers’ Poll results can be found at the end of each section. In addition, the best answers to our free-form Readers’ Poll questions appear under the heading "You Said It."

Best Ongoing Insult to Local Artists
Sculpture in the Streets

When we say “best” here, we of course don’t mean “best.” What we mean to say is “worst.” As in worst damn sculptures we’ve ever seen littering the streets of downtown Albany, or worst simulation of what life is like in American cities, or worst attempt to breathe life and/or personality into downtown. We are grateful that this is the last year the city of Albany has contracted with the organization that distributes those hideously “lifelike” statues by New Jersey sculptor J. Seward Johnson. And we hope—no, make that pray—that perhaps next year, if we’re really, really nice to Mayor Jerry Jennings and his cronies, they will spend the 40 grand usually dished out to Johnson to create a showcase for local visual artists instead.

Best Museum
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
87 Marshall St., North Adams, Mass.

Given the number of top-notch museums within easy driving distance of the Capital Region, singling out one as the best is a difficult task. However, MASS MoCA’s presentation of visual, performing and media arts has been consistently engaging and thought-provoking. The curatorial approach, which embraces risk (the current exhibit, for example, Game Show, includes a collaboration of artist Sophie Calle and novelist Paul Auster that the museum itself terms “bizarre and convoluted”) will have even the normally modern-art-averse discussing what they’ve seen—and that’s what it’s all about.

Best New Museum
Tang Teaching Museum and Gallery
Skidmore College, Broadway, Saratoga Springs

There was controversy surrounding the Tang even before the doors opened: Architect Antoine Predock’s building was attacked by Saratoga writer James Kunstler as being completely inappropriate to the conservative Skidmore campus (Kunstler referred to it sarcastically in an e-mail newsletter as the “temple of the cutting edge,” a reference to both the building’s sharp angles and the art therein). Director Charles Stainback and curator Ian Berry aren’t deterred by the criticism, though, believing as they do that an important part of the function of successful art is to generate discussion and community involvement. So, in addition to an impressive permanent collection, the Tang features works by such artists as Laurie Anderson and Vik Muniz in well- conceived shows sure to do just that.

Best Art Gallery
Davis & Hall

362 1/2 Warren St., Hudson

What better way to view art? Stroll in off the street into a lovingly renovated, clean and well-lit space in a storefront of a charming, historic building in an equally charming (though in an admittedly gritty way), historic downtown. Browse the ever-changing exhibitions of photography, sculpture and digital imagery inside until you reach the back of the gallery and . . . voila! A beautiful, compact sculpture garden tucked between the main building and the gallery’s carriage house. Expect to find works by such locals as playwright-artist-mayoral candidate Linda Mussmann and sci-fi, avant-garde digital-image-maker Vincent Bilotta, in addition to those of a diverse selection of accomplished sculptors and painters from across the country.

Best Old Art Gallery in a New Space
Albany Center Galleries at the Albany Public Library

161 Washington Ave., Albany

We fretted when we heard that the Albany Center Galleries was going to have to find a new location because the city planned to sell the Monroe Street building it called home for 14 years. We worried that the Galleries wouldn’t find a suitable space to do what it has done so well since it was founded by the late Les Urbach nearly a quarter of a century ago. But fortunately, our minds were set at ease this past March when we learned that our favorite art gallery had found a new home at the Albany Public Library. The 40-by-40 foot exhibition room is nowhere near as large as the two massive floors of space the Galleries had at the old location, but every time we visit, we know the mission of the ACG (not to mention the spirit of Urbach) is still alive. Space restrictions aside, the organization still does a mighty fine job curating, hanging and displaying the best and the brightest artists—both emerging and established—of the Mohawk-Hudson region.

Best Use of Public Space as an Art Gallery
The Albany International Airport Gallery

So young but already a mainstay, despite psychological barriers caused by typical airport conundrums. Not only is this light-flooded, glass-divided arena a perfect exhibition space, it has fabulous exhibitions showing regional, contemporary art (including wonderful site-specific installations), area museum collections and travelling national exhibits of regional interest. And it reaches hordes of all types of people.

Best East Village Gallery in the North
Changing Spaces

306 Hudson Ave., Albany

Though the exhibitions are still in a nascent stage, this place has got the vibe. Miles Davis pouring out and around, through the narrow gallery, bouncing off the visual art along the walls and out on to the street. And poetry readings, too. Watch it.

Best Movie Theater
Spectrum 7 theaters

290 Delaware Ave., Albany

The megaplex may have Jurassic Park III showing on three screens, but the Spectrum has taste, which translates into the best first-run movie booking in the region. While the theater does mix in some mainstream Hollywood fare to subsidize its more adventurous offerings, the steady stream of indie, foreign and otherwise non-mainstream films is what keeps loyal cinephiles coming back week after week. The theaters are human-scale and comfy, ticket prices are reasonable, and the concession—well, let’s just say that you should save room for dessert.

Honorable mention: Triplex Cinema (Great Barrington, Mass.) deserves props for opening little-known indies before anyone else in the region.

Best Second-Run Movie Theater
Proctor’s Theatre

432 State St., Schenectady

In this era when movies hit video five minutes after they finish their first run in theaters, the idea of second-run movies seems positively archaic. Perhaps that’s why it’s such a pleasure to see second-run flicks in an archaic space like Proctor’s—a gorgeously restored archaic space, that is. We love the low prices for tickets and concessions, we love the fact that the abundant seating gives us room to stretch out, and we love that the programmers mix art-house flicks in with studio fare. So save us the aisle seat!

Best Film Festival

Color us happily surprised that we had ample reason to create this category, what with festivals thriving in Lake Placid, Woodstock and other areas. While some of these festivals are expensive propositions catering to would-be filmmakers, FilmColumbia is still designed for movie buffs, so it’s an affordable opportunity to see cool new and/or out-there stuff. The festival locked its win last year by bringing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to the Capital Region months before it hit theaters, and by continually finding ways to help the big-time filmmakers who live out Columbia County way mix with local cinemaniacs. Keep an eye out for details about this year’s event.

Best Film Series
Time & Space Limited

434 Columbia St., Hudson

In addition to its myriad other efforts to stimulate and celebrate provocative art, TSL has consistently presented an eclectic schedule of classic-film screenings, meet-the-filmmaker events, and even tasty attractions like screenings of silent films accompanied by live, original scores. We dig TSL’s commitment to serious cinema, and to Hudson Valley artistes such as Rudy Wurlitzer and Monte Hellman, both of whom have shown and discussed their work at TSL.

Best Resource for Local Filmmakers
Upstate Independents

Now under the friendly leadership of Tom Mercer and Penny Perkins, this inclusive organization provides great networking opportunities through which would-be Spielbergs can hobnob with industry professionals and semi-professionals. We’re anxious for UI to unveil its new location (it has met at the Albany Borders for years), and we’re anxious to see the organization’s long-promised improvements to its Web site; both moves reflect the growth and member loyalty that keep UI vital.

Best Theater Company
Williamstown Theatre Festival

Williamstown, Mass.

No area theater can boast the record of top-flight actors (journeymen, craftsmen and justly famous), new plays, writers-in-residence and production values that the WTF can. In the past year alone, four of its productions have transferred to Broadway and off-Broadway. And it has just served as a workshop space for one of the funniest comedies we’ve seen in a very long time, Diva. Add to that the fact that Arthur Miller has been in residence here, and well, does one really need to go on?

Best Educational Theater Company
New York State Theater Institute

Other theaters have educational programs, but NYSTI is a company that was founded with a mission to bring the best theater possible to young audiences.

Honorable mention: Berkshire Theatre Festival for its multitude of educational programs, including one that supplies top-notch seats at no charge for students attending its shows.

Best Theater Venue
Williamstown Theatre Festival

(Main Stage and Nikos Stage)

The intimacy of the Nikos stage is a perfect trying ground for new works, while the main stage simply has one of the most comfortable and accessible auditoriums—and then there are the stages and fly galleries, which seem to grant limitless possibilities to top designers. Let’s hope that the Williams College renovations and new buildings don’t ruin these essential spaces. Hell, WTF’s stages even have the right theater fragrance—a very subtle mix of greasepaint, spices and flowers.

Best Community Theater Venue
Zu-Zu’s Wonderful Warehouse

299 Hamilton St., Albany

A downtown gem in Albany’s Robinson Square, Zu-Zu’s is home to belly dancing, yoga, two very distinct improv groups, staged readings, local films, and original stage plays and musicals. “Intimate” and “cozy” define the space. Zu-Zu’s Wonderful Warehouse has a little bit for everyone, and great desserts, too. It’s off-off-Broadway ambiance without the need to wear all black or the worry about the parking.

Best Local Off-Off-Broadway Venue
Proctor’s Too

Funky, strange and challenging, its limited runs should always be checked out. You don’t need to head out to LaMama or Ludlow Street for cutting-edge performance art: Proctor’s Too, at Union College’s Yuhlman’s Theatre, brings the best of performance art and small-troupe conceptual work to the area. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do it often or long enough for most people to fully appreciate it.

Best Actor (tie)
Tom Bloom
Kris Anderson

Bloom has been at the Williamstown Theatre Festival for the past five seasons and has offered astute, emotionally accessible and utterly truthful performances for as many years. Whether in a lead or a supporting role, Bloom all but disappears into the multitude of characters he has created with consummate craft. Few, if any, actors in these parts can boast such a record. An unsung hero, he is due his recognition. Anderson does it all, from Steamer No. 10’s simple children’s fare to Curtain Call Theatre’s Fallstock plays to StageWorks’ contemporary plays to Capital Rep’s middlebrow comedies to short-form improv to Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. And he does it, to borrow the words of another critic, “as only as he can.” Anderson works everywhere, and you’ll always see him act the character, not just perform the lines and blocking.

Best Director
James Warwick

Warwick’s work at the Berkshire Theatre Festival is a fine counterpart to that of last year’s winner, Eric Hill. Last year he gave us the gritty, realistic prison drama Coyote on a Fence; this year he has shown his versatility and directed an airy, charming and very adroit version of H.M.S. Pinafore. A very classy fellow.

Best Dance Venue
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

Becket, Mass.

The dance mecca of the Berskshires continues to be tops in our estimation, not only for its summerlong seasons of dance performance by internationally renowned troupes—on two stages, three if you count the free performances and demos on the Inside/Out space—but also because it fosters and commissions the creation of new work, and brings arts-in-ed programs to area schools. Not to mention the fact that it’s a willing collaborator with other organizations to further the cause of dance.

Best New Dance Venue
Kaatsbaan International Dance Center


After many years in the planning, the first phase of the dance center that has been the dream of founders Gregory Cary, Bentley Roton, Kevin McKenzie and Martine van Hamel is complete and up and running at a former horse farm in the Catskill-region town of Tivoli. The $1.9 million Studio Complex is a gorgeous building with three studios, one that’s also equipped to be used as a 160-seat theater. Immediate future plans include the construction of a dancers’ lodge to house the dancers and choreographers who come to the center to create new material and perform.

Best Dance Company
Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company

Admittedly, the competition in this category isn’t exactly stiff, but Sinopoli’s modern troupe deserves our accolades because for the past 10 years it has continued to grow and improve artistically, consistently presenting high-quality work. Dancers from far and wide now come to audition for the troupe, and the company is constantly stretching its boundaries by finding new collaborators, performance venues and opportunities, including a residency this year at Kaatsbaan.

Best Small Press
Greenfield Review Press

Since 1971, Greenfield Review Press has published a sparkling list of diverse multicultural fiction, nonfiction and poetry, as well as recordings. The authors are African, African-American, Arab-American, Asian-American, Native American, Caribbean and Chicano. This plucky, socially engaged press survives in an economy dominated by giant corporate publishers and megabookstores, and has earned a national reputation.

Best Author
Stephen Millhauser

As D.T. Max of the Paris Review once said, reading Stephen Millhauser is like “watching a 3-year-old playing alone.” As Max implied, it seems Millhauser can forget himself in his writing and weave intricate worlds of fancy and fantasy out of the sticks and rocks and bits of mental clutter that he finds strewn across the literary wasteland. Unlike lots of authors writing contemporary fiction these days, Millhauser doesn’t just churn this stuff out. He crafts it painstakingly and carefully, and, much like a 3-year-old child, he loses himself in the delicate business of constructing the alternate realities into which he—not to mention we—can become lost. We are honored to call him one of our own.

Best Poet
Ed Sanders

Ed Sanders has been writing poetry since he went swimming in pursuit of a U.S. nuclear submarine 40 years ago. Though he’s still infamous for his 1960s folk-rock band the Fugs, Sanders’ recent work is a literary endeavor that involves transforming history into verse. The Woodstock bard’s multivolume epic, America: A History in Verse, and his long memorial poem, The Poetry and Life of Allen Ginsberg, are written from a zone where history and poetry dynamically intersect.

Best Artist
Michael Oatman

This is a guy who once filed an assault charge against himself as an art project. His endless fascination with identity formation seems a wellspring of inspiration resulting in conceptual installation pieces and psychological spaces, such as The Last Library (Kosovo Requiem), the chilling Sarajevo-inspired library room in the 1999 Mohawk-Hudson Regional. Or, more recently, Taken: 1[degree] the photograph, 2[degree] the confession, conceived for the University Art Museum exhibition, “Searching the Criminal Body.” Both of which, by the way, were nothing short of brilliant.

Best Band

Small Axe

A deeply talented band with an equally gifted support posse, who collectively churned out an astonishing body of recordings, video and instant-classic, old-school promotional posters over the past year. Not to mention playing some amazing concerts: Getting your ass kicked has never felt as good as it does when the Axe’s D.J. Miller, Jimbo Burton and Tom Hall are the ones giving you the boot. Add the trio’s inscrutable public persona and hellacious Fourth of July parties to the mix, and you’ve got as complete a package as you’re likely to find in these parts—even if it does contain a letter bomb.

Best Live Band
The Wait

We love hearing the Wait on the radio all the time, and we love listening to the CDs whenever we can, but the thing that really gets us excited when we think about the band formerly known as Sonorous is the way that we feel when we see them in concert. The Wait’s shows are the kinds of events that make you believe in rock & roll in all the ways that your adult cynicism won’t normally allow. Props to Brendan Pendergast, Ryan Barnum, Scott Livingston, Mark Connor and Art Pierce for letting us watching them grow up on stage—and for doing it so goddamned compellingly.

Best Singer-Songwriter
Paddy Kilrain

The whole concept of “one voice, one guitar” has seldom rocked as hard as it does when Paddy Kilrain throws down in concert, laying her soul out for all to inspect, then making damn sure that you pay attention to it. But there’s more: Her last album was a wonder, with Kamikaze Hearts and others stepping in to create one of the most unique-sounding records ever produced hereabouts. Or thereabouts, for that matter.

Best Blues Band
George Boone Blues Band

Singer-guitarist Boone and his cohorts have snagged this prize before, but what caught our attention this year was the group’s scathing new album, Stranger in My Hometown, which captures how Boone’s from-the-gut vocals and piercing leads interact with the passionate musicianship of his four sidemen. The George Boone Band play the real shit: angry, raw and tough as leather.

Best Band Name
Men Without Heads

While we don’t like to think of ourselves as morbid, the continuity between this year’s Best Band Name, Men Without Heads, and last year’s, Lincoln Money Shot, is pretty obvious. We can’t guarantee that next year’s winner will reference decapitation, but we must admit curiosity about what other shout-outs to the cranium-challenged will be conjured by local rockers.

Best Country Band
The Back 40 Band

Last year, this tuneful quintet won the Sunrise Award, which recognizes career advancement, from the Northeast Country Music Association; this year, they got to open Countryfest, a huge outdoor concert featuring such A-listers as Diamond Rio and Jo Dee Messina. These accomplishments are well-deserved, because when we caught the Back 40 Band at the recent Northeast CMA show, they showed off chops to spare. Keep an eye out for the full-length disc the band say is coming soon.

Best Guitarist (Making a Statement)

Tom Burre
Bone Oil

Sure, Tom Burre’s guitar has six strings, and, yes, he’s playing chords and writing songs on it, just like all the other guitarists in town, but somehow the noises that come out of his amp don’t quite sound like anything we’re heard before, anywhere. Add an intelligent, exploratory songwriting ethos and a bucket of vocal techniques that would make a team of Tuvan throat singers take note, and you’ve got a true trailblazer of sound and vision.

Best Guitarist (Making a Living)
David Malachowski

He’s a player’s player, a multitalented musician, equally adept on acoustic and electric guitar, a bandleader extraordinaire and a sweet harmony vocalist, and he makes really good people sound even better when he plays with them. And yet, we locals often take him for granted because he doesn’t play club dates hereabouts—choosing instead to play sold-out concert halls across the country with the likes of Shania Twain, Commander Cody and Kim Simmonds’ Savoy Brown. Can you spell “envy”? We thought you could.

Best Pianist
Adrian Cohen

We said it last year, and we’ll say it again: Adrian Cohen is probably the hardest-working, most undersung pianist in our area. In addition to managing Albany’s newest music venue, the Larkin, Cohen is keeping his fingers nimble with regular appearances with his new jazz ensemble. We recommend keeping an eye on this guy because he’s going places. Though, for selfish reasons, we kind of hope he’s not.

Best “What’s a nice instrument like you doing in a place like this?”
Karen Codd

Kamikaze Hearts, knotworking

Cello: It’s not just for David Alan Miller anymore. Or at least not when Karen Codd is playing it. Her haunting, evocative cello work has upped the class factor at any number of local dives over the past year, while also making the already exceptional songs of Kamikaze Hearts and knotworking sound even better for her ministrations. More, please.

Best Front Man
Jack Nemier

We’ve got a lot of rock & rollers in town, but we’ve only got one true rock star, in the person of Arc’s Jack Nemier. He sings, he dances, he wears a feather boa with his cowboy hat, he talks, he yells, he hoots, he plays a beast of a bass and he strums a mean guitar, and he makes you stop what you’re doing so that you can pay attention to what he’s doing, whenever and wherever he does it. And, best of all, he knows that a great front man needs a great band—and Dave DeMott and Andy Hearn fit that ticket, and how.

Best Drummer (Kit)
Brian Buono


Brian hits ’em hard. Sometimes, he hits ’em with a mustache drawn on his face. Sometimes, he turns his kit sideways, for effect. Always, he hits the kit till it screams and yells—in synchronicity with bandmate Stephen Gaylord. Always, he is great.

Best Drummer (Minimalist)
Gaven Richard

Kamikaze Hearts

We can’t tell you with any confidence whether Richard’s laconic playing style and stripped-down kit are the result of a doctrinaire less-is-more musical aesthetic, or a pragmatic less-is-a-whole-lot-easier-to-carry philosophy. Either way, we’re more than impressed with what the Kamikaze Hearts’ drummer-vocalist is able to pull out of a single snare drum.

Best Percussionist
Brian Melick

Whenever we see Melick in his signature pajama-like outfits, we know that whatever band he’s playing with—his regular gig is with the McKrells, but he pops up in all sorts of places—will benefit from his melodic, restrained and innovative rhythms and decorations, whether he’s banging out a beat on bongos, shaping delicate flourishes on chimes, or, as we saw him do once, slapping out a rhythm by using a chair as an instrument.

Best Bassist
Jon Cohen

Cohen’s easy ability to transition through styles—jazz, rock, funk, other—is evidenced by the variety of bands for whom he’s played: tollbooth, Mitch Elrod’s Hick Engine Ears, the Erftones and the Weasels (the Weasels would be the “other,” by the way), just to name a few. He’s fluid without being noodly, powerful without being over-obvious, and funky without being, well, you know, funky.

Best Vocalist
Mitch Elrod

To segregate Elrod’s skills into categories seems to miss the point somewhat, as his approach to his craft seems unusually holistic. It would be easy, therefore, to regard his vocal cords as just another instrument employed in pursuit of expression. But, fact is, Elrod’s vocals are unusually expressive. His soulful singing incorporates all the wizened melancholy of blues, the exploratory phrasing of jazz scat, and the ecstatic melodicism of white gospel. And that’s a mouthful.

Best Saxophonist
Nick Brignola

Well, like, duh! Nick, you keep playin’, we’ll keep putting you in here.

Best Acoustic Band
Kamikaze Hearts

The Kamikaze Hearts have morphed a bit since winning last year’s Best New Band category, replacing the upright bass with cello, and the fine-tuning is a great boon. The Hearts may now be the area’s sole practitioners of alt-chamber-folk (with a nod to both slowcore and bluegrass): With guitar, brushed snare, cello, mandolin and great three-part harmonies, the Hearts have found the perfect sonic palette to paint songs that are literate and poetic, passionate and wry.

Best Pop Band
The Day Jobs

One of the most woefully under-recorded bands of the area (so far there is no commercially available product) the Day Jobs are nonetheless our favorite local example of the pop idiom—as the word is understood by the Brits. We’re talking about the post-punk, Beatles/Big Star-inflected, hook-rich stuff referred to on this side of the pond as power pop. The addition of ex-Lughead guitarist Nick Ferrandino has given the outfit extra depth and power, and the rhythm section of drummer Dan Bell and recently returned original bassist Mike Delano provide chest-pounding counterpoint to the bright, melodic inventiveness of singer- guitarist Rich Baldes’ compositions.

Best Retro Band
Rocky Velvet

Covers, originals, you name it, they got it. Cropseyville’s hardest-working quartet have tweaked their instrumental attack of late, working in an upright bass and hollow-body rhythm guitar that gives their sound more authenticity, and more variety, than it’s ever had before. Graham Tichy continues to astound on guitar, while Ian Carlton’s vocals get ever smokier, ever cooler, as he pushes the ripe old age of twentysomething. We’d have been dangerous if we’d been that good at anything when we were these guys’ ages.

Best Band That Jams
Funk Squad

Not jam band, mind you, but band that jams—in the most positive sense of that word. Funk Squad do just that and then some, but what they do has more to do with Funkadelic and Jimmy Smith and James Brown than it does with the Dave Matthews Band or Phish or the Grateful Dead. And that’s a good thing, we hope we don’t have to remind you.

Best Metal Band

They keep going . . . and going . . . and going . . . and we keep listening, except for when they’re touring Europe without us.

Best Breakthrough Waiting to Happen
The Clay People

For God’s sake, you record industry fools, will you wake the fuck up and make these guys the rock stars that they so obviously deserve to be? All it’s gonna take is a decent contract and some decent promotion—and then the Clay People will take it from there, and run with it further than just about anyone else is going to, here, there, or anywhere.

Best Punk Band

After taking “flat-out punk rock” as far as it could go, the Albany quartet switched gears by going back to punk’s earliest beginnings in pub rock—and replacing Loud Fast Rules with raucous Irish singalongs. Dublin-worthy originals and zippy interpretations of traditional tunes prove that for these blitzkrieg boyos, the wearing of the green is a perfect fit.

Best Solo Artist
Sara Ayers

The ever-intriguing Ayers, who creates entire netherworlds with only her sylvan voice and a computer, took a big step forward with the bewitching Sylvatica. Ayers’ intuitive explorations of mood, momentum and the mysteries of nature make her the match of any electronic soloist anywhere. If only we could catch one of her rare live appearances . . .

Best Glam-Rock band
The Erotics

Vinyl pants, feather boas, lipstick and lingerie—no, this ain’t the contents of the duffel in Tom Cruise’s closet, it’s just some of the reasons the Erotics are so entertaining. Combining the fierce musical simplicity of the New York Dolls with the theatrical excess of Hanoi Rocks, the Erotics are gonna remind you why rock & roll is so much fun: because it is really, really ridiculous. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Erotics have got all the crunch and muscle to force you to take them as seriously as you can take a guy in panties.

Best Jason Martin
Jason Martin

For the second year running. Man, can no one stop this guy?

Best Large Band
Alex Torres and the Latin Kings

We have a wealth of great big bands here, but in terms of originality and productivity, there’s really no contest. This year Alex and co. released a double CD, Elementos, and are putting the finishing touches on the next CD, Punto de Vista. They’re selling CDs all over the globe, and it’s only a matter of time before they break out, big time.

Best Rock Band

“If it weren’t for her I’d be another smalltown hardcore burnout I’d be living at the city mission eating soup and drinking sterno I’d be leeching like a hippy, lying like a lawyer I’d be losing like a family man I’d have drank so much by now they’d have had to take my stomach out be the father of six children by five women in four different towns got a good friend travis couldn’t kick the habit till the insides of his face caved in good friend John couldn’t carry on and he drowned himself in the bathroom sink and I look to them and look at you and thank Jesus Christ you’re here I could be leeching like a hippy, lying like a lawyer I’d be losing like a family man.”—Beef

Best Indie-Rock band

They make a damn ruckus, pounding out power chords with punk-rock fury and rock & roll attitude. They just rock. With two main songwriters—Bob Carlton and Rachael Sunday (and drummer Joel Lilley has been know to pen a tune or two)—the songs can vary greatly between Journey- influenced to Ramones-esque. Throw all that in with the fact that the threesome have been hard at work making records, playing gigs and touring the country since their inception in 1994. Dryer are a band who love being a band. How refreshing.

Best New Band

Knotworking came to our town in the form of Ed Gorch and Mike Hotter, when the two serendipiditously decided to relocate here from Kingston. They proceeded to win friends and influence people, and soon they were the buzz of the town—and deservedly so. They sing about love and yearning, heartbreak and loss, and seem to cover all the Neil Young-Whiskeytown-Uncle Tupelo-genre songs you long for. And recently, they’ve added a few more instruments—cello, mandolin, bass and drums—to offer an all-out rock segment for their adoring fans.

Best Alt-Country band
Coal Palace Kings

Coal Palace Kings are unstoppable these days—they just keep getting better and better. Named in these pages as Best Band to Get Drunk To a few years back—a moniker that still sticks, by the way—these guys have found their sweet spot. Holding Husker Dü, the Replacements, Neil Young and the Kings of Country accountable for their sound and ambition, the fellas in the band’s current incarnation have been playing together for a while, and it shows as they pump out song after song about love, life and death with a slow-burning fury.

Best Record Label
Equal Vision Records

Better known nationally than they are in their own backyard, Hudson’s Equal Vision Records have released a seemingly endless stream of high-octane, high-quality material over the years, introducing an entire generation of young people to the joys of hardcore, straight-edge style and otherwise. Just be careful about stage diving off your couch when you listen.

Best Concert Experience
Palace Theatre

19 Clinton Ave., Albany

Though some are partial to the cavernous Pepsi Arena, and others love the sprawling outdoorsiness of SPAC, for us there is nothing sweeter than being able to see one of our favorite artists at the Palace Theatre. We love the retro marquis, and the classic architecture makes us feel more dignified when the security guards are frisking us for contraband items. The setting itself is regal enough for a symphony, yet laid-back enough for a rock show. And best of all, there’s not a bad seat in the house. And you know what that means: no TV monitors necessary, because you’ve got a clear view to the stage no matter where you sit.

Best Outdoor Concert Venue
Agnes McDonald Music Haven Stage

Central Park, Schenectady

Easy parking, a wonderful hill to rest on, nice ice cream vendors, great sound, grass, sunshine, nature, music. What’s not to love? Especially for those of us who endured too many years of sitting on the asphalt in front of Central Park’s old stage.

Best Club Venue (ambience)
Northern Lights

Clifton Country Commons, Clifton Park

Yeah, it’s in a strip mall, and yeah, that mall is in Clifton Park, but we don’t hold the location against this professionally operated showcase. With an 850-person capacity and an open-minded booking policy, it’s the closest thing yet to a replacement for the late, great J.B. Scott’s. Sight lines are clear from every angle, the sound is reliably good-to-excellent, and the air- conditioning actually works. What else does a patron need? Just one more thing, and NL has it: A side bar to alleviate drink-order overflow at the club’s frequently jam-packed performances.

Best Club VENUE (Booking)
17 New Scotland Ave., Albany

Valentine’s has had some rough spots over the past few years, but owner Howard Glassman has ridden out the storm, coming out the other side smelling like a flower that resembles the smell of guy who owns a bar—or something. And when it comes to booking, Valentine’s still books the heavy hitters: Guided By Voices, Frank Black, Alejandro Escovedo, Grant Hart and Young Fresh Fellows, to name but a few. And the club has the added benefit of offering a larger stage upstairs and a smaller one downstairs, where local bands and acoustic shows fit right in to the homey atmosphere. On any given week, you’d be hard pressed to not like something happening at Valentine’s.

Best Club Venue (Twilight Zone)
The Dream-Away Lodge

Becket, Mass.

Out on a rolling rural route in the Berkshires, perched atop a little rise, sits the Dream-Away Lodge: tavern, restaurant, live-music venue. This is a local watering hole as envisioned by David Lynch. Catering to year-round locals as well as the artsy-dancey, high-culture crowd that occupies the Berkshires in the summer, the Dream-Away is as weird a little cross-community, petri-dish experiment of a venue as you could wish for. The Wednesday night open mikes have ’em gathered indoors by the fireplace and outdoors around the firepit, strumming, singing and chatting improbably about both the new 3.8 liter in Walt’s Monte Carlo and the influence of Mark Morris’ Canonic 3/4 Studies.

Best Open Mike
Lark Tavern

453 Madison Ave., Albany

Every Wednesday at the Lark Tavern, you can catch both nervous newcomers and seasoned vets of the local music community testing their mettle at open mike night: working out the kinks in new material, stretching their creative legs by performing left-field cover songs, and yukking it up in ad-hoc alliances. MotherJudge, Mike Eck, Bryan Thomas, the guys from knotworking and Kamikaze Hearts, Kevin Maul—even a harp-blowing assemblyman—have all been seen winging it in the Lark’s back room. So grab your own noisemaker, head on over and scrawl your name on the legal pad.

Best New Venue
The Larkin Lounge

199 Lark St., Albany

A labor of love for booking manager Adrian Cohen, the Larkin has added a fresh blast of jazz, acoustic and alternative music to the downtown scene. In a nearly forgotten space that once housed a restaurant frequented by legislators and your parents, the downstairs has been transformed into a comfy, more contemporary restaurant and bar, while the upstairs has been reinvented as an intimate music room where patrons crowd the tables and actually pay attention to what’s happening onstage. Thanks to Cohen and the Larkin, the “other” end of Lark Street is definitely happening again.

Readers’ Poll Results:

Best Band
1. Hair of the Dog
2. The Lawn Sausages

Best Solo Musician
1. Michael Eck
2. Paddy Kilrain
3. Ernie Williams

Best Venue
1. Valentine’s
2. Saratoga Performing Arts Center

Best Movie Theater
1. Spectrum 7 Theatres
2. Hoyts Crossgates Cinemas

Best Art Gallery
1. Albany Institute of History & Art
2. Albany Center Galleries, Fulton Street Gallery (tie)

Best Performing Arts Organization
1. Capital Repertory Theatre
2. Saratoga Performing Arts Center

Best Visual Artist
1. Gary Masline
2. Wendy Williams

Best Filmmaker
1. The Mascucci Brothers
2. John Sayles

Best Author
1. William Kennedy
2. Richard Russo


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