We could chronicle the impressive shows they’ve hosted earlier in
the year, but we need only mention their current blockbuster: Picasso Looks at Degas. Add this to their
permanent collection, the concerts, lectures, film screenings, and family
programs, and the
This museum is justly celebrated for its superb children’s programming,
but the NYSM has always, through timely exhibits and engaging lectures, been
tuned into the cultural history of
Things are tough all over, but the Tang has continued to offer dazzling shows like the recent Fred Tomaselli retrospective, while offering lectures, family programs and concerts that serve to connect with the larger community outside the campus walls.
Best Curated Collection
Route 183, Stockbridge, Mass.
You might think that a museum that was built around one artist’s
body of work might have a limited scope. With the
Best Emerging Curator
The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media & Performing Arts
Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,
As Curatorial Assistant at RPI’s EMPAC, Emily Zimmerman demonstrated her potential with her first show, Slow Wave: Seeing Sleep. A graduate of Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies, she showed her training by deftly presenting a multimedia exhibition in an unconventional space. Her next exhibition is currently in the planning stages and we look forward to it with great anticipation.
It’s hard to compete with MASS MoCA in this category. Since it opened in 1999 it has consistently offered world-class exhibitions and programming. The space alone is worth a visit, as it shows just how industrial places can be converted into cultural centers that can transform the economy of the community as well as encourage development and tourism throughout the region.
Best Gallery (Commercial)
Carrie Haddad Gallery and Carrie Haddad Photographs
Anchoring opposite ends of
Best Gallery (nonprofit)
Route 203, Spencertown
Set in a tiny rural village in
Time & Space Limited
According to its website, TSL has been “expanding minds since
1973.” Located off the main drag of
Best College Gallery
Mandeville Gallery at the Nott Memorial
The Mandeville gallery is located on the second floor of the Nott Memorial, a spectacular 16-sided and domed Victorian building that is a national historic landmark. The gallery is a circular space that displays changing exhibitions of contemporary art, as well as exhibitions that address history and that demonstrate links between the arts and sciences. Like all good college and university galleries, it uses the many resources available on campus to highlight various disciplines and timely ideas. The exhibitions are creatively designed to make the best use of the unusual space in order to enhance the pieces on display.
Best Movie Theater
Spectrum 8 Cinemas
Another perennial winner. Astute, varied programming combined with a first-class cinemagoing experience equals “best.” And, yes, their snack bar is still tops, too. It’s a destination cinema for the entire region.
Best Neighborhood Movie Theater
More than any of the other urban multiplexes, the
Best Movie Theater Resurrection
When the longtime owner of the Crandell passed away, many feared that the classic small-town cinema, which opened in the silent film era, would never reopen. Serendipity, however, led to the folks from the Chatham Film Club taking over—and the Crandell’s back open for business.
Best Drive-in Movie Theater
Hi-Way Drive-In Theatre
10769 Rt. 9W Coxsackie
Drive-ins may seem antique, quaint or novel to those who have the misfortune of residing outside of the Capital Region but here we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to places to watch movies outside on the big screen while sitting in our automobiles. But our favorite is the Hi-Way Drive-In Theatre in Coxsackie. It is worth the drive to check out the joint's four screens, and choose between the plethora of double features. Inception and Predators, Salt and Grown Ups, Toy Story 3 and Sorcerer's Apprentice—there is something for everyone. Sometimes the interesting pairings alone make it worth the trip and the $8 admission.
Best Film Series
The Palace does it right: classic films in 35MM prints, with trailers, the odd cartoon, and admission (and concession stand) prices that are recession friendly. The best bargain in town.
Best Real Big Film Experience
GE Theatre at Proctors
Don’t let those faux, digital, extra-price large-screen pretenders fool you. The iWerks presentation at the GE Theatre at Proctors is the real deal, in the glorious 70MM format. There’s no better way to visit the moon or see dinosaurs come alive.
You might say the Albany Symphony doesn’t have much competition and, no slight intended to the many fine community symphonies, you’d be right. But that’s not the point. The high quality of what David Alan Miller and the ASO accomplish is worthy of recognition.
Best Chamber Music Series (Fall-Winter)
Troy Chromatics Concerts
Troy Chromatics Concerts will begin their 114th season in two months, but we’re not giving them this award for longevity. They may have scaled back the number of concerts they present thanks to the Great Recession, but they’ve kept up the quality of the performers they present.
Best Chamber Music Series (Summer)
Spa Little Theater, SPAC,
The SCMF has always benefitted by drawing from the best musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as the ace soloists who come to perform with them. But they also bring in high-quality chamber ensembles, too. And the Spa Little Theater is a lovely house.
Best Dance Festival
Simply the best. The best setting, the best programming, the most beautiful grounds and a wonderful sense of history. If you’re going to a performance, plan a day-long visit around it.
Best Dance Company
Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company
Another perennial winner, the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company, stays on top with quality performances at their home base, the Egg, and around the Capital Region. We also take note of their collaborations with musicians and storytellers, and site-specific works presented in fun spaces.
Best International Arts Festival
Still bigger than anything else around, this year’s festival celebrating the life and times of composer Alban Berg may be the best edition yet.
Best Community Performing
Hubbard Hall represents community arts at their very best. Their
recent expansion into the old
The Sanctuary for Independent Media
The folks at the Sanctuary for Independent Media are constantly
bucking the system with their revolutionary community media arts programming.
They draw world-class artists and activists to their humble
Best Underground Artists’ Hub
Greenbush Tape and
At any moment, down by the port, in the Greenbush Tape and
Best Improv Troupe
The Mop & Bucket Company
They can ad lib a full-length musical from audience suggestions one night, go head-to-head with competitive Theatresports another, and shape a story out of audience-created Play-Doh characters during intermission. Whatever they’re up to, their audiences are in for a dose of spontaneous hilarity.
Best Theatre Company (Classics)
Berkshire Theatre Festival
After 82 years, the Berkshire Theater Festival continues to eschew box-office-friendly light entertainment for significant and challenging works—their current season tackles everything from Beckett to Macbeth. And they do so with able artisty that imbues the classics with fresh power.
Best Theatre Company (Developmental)
Barrington Stage has produced a dozen world-premiers in less than a decade, and workshopped even more new works, many of which have moved on to stages on and off Broadway to great acclaim (including two Tony Awards and a Top 10 pick by the Boston Globe). Their dedication and success with new works has evolved in the last few years with the creation of their Musical Theater Lab and Stage 2, and we look forward to what’s to come.
Steamer No. 10 Theatre,
While many theater companies present staged readings as a side dish (including star-studded offerings from the major summer festivals), for the folks at Theater Voices, staged readings are their main fair. They consistently deliver powerful performances of important works, full of talent and free of charge.
Best Reading Series
New York State Writers Institute
The University at Albany
Last fall, the
Best Music Club (North)
63A Putnam St., Saratoga Springs
We were skeptical when we heard about a venue going into the old Backstreet Billiards space, but boy did Putnam Den blew away our expectations. The sound system is crystal clear and the stage is spacious and high (but not too high), such that you can enjoy a show from anywhere in the space. A most welcome addition to the downtown Saratoga music scene.
Best Concert Venue (Rock)
It ain’t rock & roll unless the balcony bounces when the audience dances.
Best Concert Venue (Grab Bag)
Empire State Plaza, Albany
We love, love, love the Egg. The Lewis A. Swyer Theatre is an intimate room; we have fond memories of seeing numerous jazz and folk shows there. (And Ralph Nader, but that’s another story.) The Kitty Carlisle Hart Theatre is much larger than the Swyer, but also retains a surprising level of intimacy—with lovely acoustics. And both venues are wrapped in a concrete egg. Amazing.
Best Venue Worth A Drive (Massachusetts)
Pearl Street Nightclub
10 Pearl St., Northampton, Mass.
So this one time we went to Pearl Street for one show (Mogwai) and like there was this other show downstairs (Electric Six) that we would have been equally happy seeing and we were like, “F-you Northampton for rocking so many awesome shows at once. Why doesn't Albany rock the shows like you do?” But then we realized we were seeing Mogwai upstairs in the gorgeous ballroom and everything was OK again. No need to take our meds. And the drive to gorgeous Northampton always makes things sweeter.
Best Venue Worth A Drive (Connecticut)
70 miles away, just beyond the Berkshires in the snug little town of Norfolk, lies this meticulously refurbished 1883 vaudeville hall, with 300 seats, tables on the balcony, a bar and bistro downstairs. The booking is getting increasingly diverse and aggressive.
Best Venue, Past Tense
425 River St., Troy
Remember that awesome club in Troy with the handsome wood floors the spectacular balcony, the acoustics to die for? Whatever happened to that club? Can we have it back please? We want to go to there.
Best Venue, With Hope for a Brighter Tomorrow
Tess’ Lark Tavern
453 Madison Ave., Albany
The Lark has been shuttered since a fire gutted the building in early May, but the outpouring of community support for Tess and her staff that followed was inspiring, an inevitable return of karmic spirit. Whether the Tavern reopens at its original location or elsewhere, we look forward to its return.
The debate, or lack thereof, over whether or not Railbird were deserving of a second consecutive Best Band designation went a little like this: “Have you seen them play recently? Fuck.” The Saratoga Springs outfit show marked improvement every time we catch them and, judging by previews we’ve heard of the out-there material from their upcoming LP, their writing has caught up, or at least fallen in sync, with their considerable instrumental and ensemble prowess. Railbird is intimidatingly good.
Best New Band
The Dirty Stayouts
After a decade in which hipsters with synthesizers dominated the musical landscape and imminent collapse appeared on the political horizon, we’re gunning for a cleansing by fire in 2010. Someone needs to lead the revolution, and it sure as hell ain’t gonna be Coldplay. So we’re putting our ducats in punk-rock: Featuring veterans of bands like Trauma School Dropouts and the Erotics, the Dirty Stayouts are a tough but smart trio, playing hungry, 1981-style punk. Joe Queer of the Queers (who produced the band’s debut CD) reportedly called it “Black Flag meets Motorhead.” We call it music to start a riot to.
Best Musical Ambassadors
This time last year, we projected that it would be “only a matter of time before Albany [was] just another date on the tour itinerary” for Saratoga’s Phantogram. We’re happy to say we were correct: The last 12 months have brought a Barsuk Records debut, plenty of blog love, and international, high-visibility tours with the likes of the xx and the Antlers. This all means less frequent trips home for the duo, but we’re more than happy to see them out there representing the Capital Region on the national and, yes, world stage.
Best Band Name
Tee-hee, tee-hee . . .
Best Lead Singer
Singer Tommy Love has a 35-year history of fronting local acts, including Blue Machine, his recent classic-rock tribute band featuring members of Super 400. But despite the history, it still seems like Love beamed down to Troy from outer space, a time traveler from the hip-shaking, hazy rock & roll scene of the early ’70s. With a swagger to rival Mick Jagger, and a set of pipes that can pull off a perfect Robert Plant wail, Love entertains like no other frontman around (or maybe even from Planet Earth).
Best Metal Band
Schenectady’s the Viking are prodigious shredders who bash together prog-core like some of the best national acts around today. From jazz to sludge, to grind and back again, the Viking play like they just can’t help themselves. Their shows are crazy like old-school metal shows used to be, and they’re also well-read. What more can you ask for in your local metal band?
Best Punk Band
There are lots of great punk and hardcore bands from around the Capital Region these days, but our favorite has to be Albany’s Nuclear Family. A staple on Albany’s killer Loud Punk record label, Nuclear Family has a frenetic mosh-able energy, cool female-fronted vocals and relentlessly catchy tunes—all of which make them a great band to catch live or pick up on wax.
Best Rock Band
We’ve stuck these guys with the term “prog” before, but we believe, deep down, that Alta Mira are trying to write anthems. In fact, upon hearing their debut LP, our first instinct was to compare them to Albany pop-rockers the Wait, but “with a math problem.” So we’ll drop the modifier and just call them what they are: a kick-ass rock band.
Best Pop Band (Guitars)
The Charlie Watts Riots
A long line of great power-pop bands runs through the history of the Albany music scene, and the Charlie Watts Riots are keeping the torch bright. The Riots are everything we look for in a guitar-pop band: Big choruses with melody to spare, guitars that sound like jet engines, a whip-tight rhythm section, and suits fresh from the cleaners. Their Long Story Short album is, like many works of this style, equal parts homage and mission statement—practiced, polished, and with a lot of punch. Just the way we like it.
Best Pop Band (Synthesizers)
Beware! The Other Head of Science
Last year, we described Beware!’s sound as like a can of root beer filled with Pop Rocks, poured down the pants of a 7th grader, but with this year’s debut Big American Godzilla Party it’s clear they’re really more like said 7th grader let loose on Tokyo.
Best Rockabilly Band
The Lustre Kings
Mark Gamsjager and his crew are nationally renowned and in-demand for a reason: They’re simply a top-flight rock & roll band in the “classic” style. And they’re keeping good company: Rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson, who the Kings have been backing for the last five years, has a Jack White-produced “comeback” record on the way.
Best Community Organizers
Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned
The nucleus of the B3nson Recording Company, Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned have not only shown considerable promise for becoming a major local export, but a conviction toward making the local music scene the best it can be. They’ve played, hosted, booked, and organized more shows with more local and national bands than anyone else we can think of, but their biggest feat is yet to come. In August, they’ll be working with WEXT and the Albany Historic Foundation for the Restoration Festival at St. Joseph’s Church, an event that seems to sum up everything that they’re about.
Best World Music (for the Sake of Brevity)
Taína Asili y la Banda Rebelde
A band of Puerto Rican, Greek, Brazilian, Sicilian and Ghanaian descent who play rock, reggae, Afrocaribbean, Malian and Flamenco music. If you’ve got to call them anything, just call them good. Their debut War Cry launched them on a national tour of rock and hip-hop clubs, international festivals, and political gatherings, but we get to call them neighbors.
Best R&B (New School)
Mirk and the New Familiars
There was a rule at Motown that a hit had to be recognizable in the first five seconds. Mirk and the New Familiars certainly strive to be that catchy, but with a decidedly contemporary flavor, full of hip-hop, horns, and Mirk’s sharp-dressed vocal work.
Best R&B (Old School)
Solid Smoke abide by the rule that if it ain’t broke, keep playing those tunes for the rest of your days. Don’t hold the fact that they’re a cover band against them. These guys have mastered the funky classics, from Earth, Wind and Fire, to James Brown and Funkadelic.
Best Jazz Artist
There might not be such thing as an “Albany sound,” but the name Brian Patneaude is virtually synonymous with Albany jazz.
Best Big Band
Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble
It’s been a weird year for these guys. Just months after releasing their excellent, much-labored debut Live at the Lark Tavern, the venue that was their monthly home burned down. Homelessness hasn’t slowed the 18-piece though, and these guys remain one of the coolest jazz acts around.
In their short time together as a band so far, the folksy-indie outfit the Landlines have been making a name for themselves quickly, in part due to their frequent opening gigs for the stellar Rhode Island roots-rock band Brown Bird. Featuring former members of 81 Tranzam and the Whiskey Council, and current members of Slick Fitty, the Landlines are just getting revved up—
and we look forward to seeing where they’re headed.
Best Acoustic Blues
Although drums aren’t heard in the country blues recordings of the 1920s and early 1930s, that hasn’t stopped skinman Dale Haskell and acoustic slide-guitarist Mark Tolstrup from forging a formidable duo serving up Delta classics and Tolstrup’s vintage sounding originals. Haskell sings lustily in a style informed by Southern rock; Tolstrup sounds like a modern day Son House. The combination works like a mojo hand.
Best Traditional Folk
Annie and the Hedonists
Before Bob Dylan shook things up in the folk world with his celebrated originals, coffeehouse crooners sang previously owned ballads, blues, and labor songs. Led by chanteuse extraordinaire Annie Rosen, Annie and the Hedonists go back to those roots with skillfully arranged covers of timeless songs from many genres. No folk outfit around can match them.
Best Contemporary Folk
With All Fours, Swamp Baby made good on the promise of a knotworking-Orange spin-off collaboration that has existed strictly on the stage these past couple years. Recorded in an old church, the disc injects droning electric guitars, hovering fiddle and spooky electronics into Nick Matulis’ ambient acoustic material. Haunting in the best sort of way.
Best Farm-to-Table Folk
We Are Jeneric
With last year’s Animals Are People Too and the full-time addition of horns and a rhythm section to their ranks, Jen O’Connor and Eric Krans have outgrown last year’s designation as Best Folk Duo for something befitting both the new scope of their project and their back-to-the-land ambitions.
Best Throwback to 1992
Skeletons in the Piano
For a few years in the early-’00s, as Nevermind was breaking grunge to mainstream audiences, it seemed like every type of music that had been popular up until that point crashed into each other. Bands like Alice in Chains and Faith No More brought ’70s doom and ’80s thrash together with pop and psychedelic sensibilities to help birth the term “alternative rock.” Saratoga’s Skeletons in the Piano sound like a product of that time, recalling those bands but also the Melvins and the Doors. Heavy, weird, and way cool.
Best Throwback to 1962
The Red Lions
Your dad might have been in high school when bands that sounded like the Red Lions were on the radio. And that’s what makes their peerless chamber pop such a treasure. Eric Margan’s deft ensemble arrangements make even his most grandiose statements feel intimate; his songs seem to be written with no mind to any of the popular music this century, which makes it all the more hip in our book.
Composer and instrumentalist Holland Hopson has been a contributor to the region’s avant-garde music scene for the better part of 20 year—whether it’s vocal excursions that meld Gregorian chant and Dada, or soprano sax forays that come pretty close to “straight-up” jazz, the breadth and range of this iconoclast’s musical journey has always been intriguing, albeit way outside of the box. Hopson’s recent blending of traditional tunes (performed with vocals and banjo) and subtle electronics has turned him into one of the area’s most mesmerizing and memorable live performers. Catch him if you can, as his local shows tend to be few and far between.
Best Genre Slayer
The guy’s studied with the best and has been playing jazz gigs in town forever, but don’t try to pin his style down. His long-awaited debut Angel Dust proved that George can shred metal, classical and funk as well as jazz.
Best Noise Wrangler
Jason Cosco/Grab Ass
Be ye warned: Jason Cosco’s noise experiments, either solo as 1983 or with Grab Ass, are not for the faint of heart. This is the skull-crushing, spine-tingling hard shit, but it’s incredibly rewarding if you let it fully infect you.
Best Father-Son Combo
The Tichy Boys
Granted, father-son musical combos are fairly rare, but Troy’s Tichy Boys would get top honors in the category even if father-son acts were a dime a dozen. Featuring professor-of-rock-and-roll Dr. John Tichy—founding member of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen—and his son Graham, a guitar virtuoso in his own right, the duo combine a lifetime of musical knowledge with all the vim and vigor of a couple of young rockabilly cats.
Best Draft Pick
For those bands that like recording music somewhere other than their bedrooms, the Capital Region is home to a number of great production studios. And this year it got one more when New York legend Don Fury opened his new facility in Troy. Fury’s resume, which includes legions of hardcore classics, makes him an appealing co-conspirator for national acts as well as locals. Everybody wins!
We’ve seen a few area bands secure record deals in recent months, perhaps none more deserved than the one Sirsy inked with Tucson, Ariz., label Funzalo Records. Not only does the band’s hard work pay off in increased national exposure, but they’re now just one degree of separation from Radiohead—as part of the Funzalo deal, their latest album was remixed by Paul Kolderie, the guy who produced Pablo Honey. Upgrade!
Best Music Series
Garage Bands in the Garage
This is the work of some very cool and somewhat sneaky librarians, hosting rock shows on the loading dock at the Albany Public Library’s main branch. First get the kids to rock and then maybe they’ll read. Brilliant.
Best Music Curation
From symphony orchestras to Japanese noise rock bands, world-class hip-hop DJs to guys playing pianos with teddy bears, the EMPAC music programming is borderline schizophrenic—which makes the venue one of the coolest places to see a show. No matter your expectations, every performance is a surprise.