The fifth-season “American Idol” winner’s success story actually began in Las Vegas. Stranded in New Orleans the night before Hurricane Katrina and unable to return home to Birmingham, Ala., Hicks was offered a free airplane voucher, and chose Las Vegas, where “Idol” auditions happened to be taking place. After a turn in "Grease" on Broadway, he made his triumphant return last year with a show full of heart, soul and good ol’ Southern charm. JP (Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-777-2782, parislasvegas.com)
Best indie-rock band
They consistently earn accolades from the Vegas music press (Best Live Band, etc.) for good reason — Rusty Maples perform with wild-eyed and literate abandon. Put aside for a moment any comparisons to folk-pop peers like Mumford & Sons. The Maples generate their own potent sound, equal parts Americana, indie and garage rock. Just listen to their anthem “Pockets” — soaring, bittersweet, shot through with the ache that comes with putting everything you love on the line. No wonder this Next Big Thing packs clubs here and beyond, everyone singing along and loudly. JK (rustymaples.com)
Best rock band
The People’s Whiskey
During the last two decades a number of great bands have struggled to rise out of the dust and detritus of our urban landscape. Classic punk and indie bands, especially, have been given a recent hand-up with the establishment two years ago of SquidHat Records, a label devoted to giving a platform for new bands of that ilk. One of the best has been The People’s Whiskey. Much of the best of classic punk and indeed rock and roll generally has folded in the lyrical and melodic traditions of country. The People’s Whiskey does exactly that. Like, say, The Replacements or The Meat Puppets or The Rolling Stones before them, the band does some songs we wouldn’t be surprised to find on a country jukebox, but isn’t afraid to rock out when the spirit moves them. Launce Rake
Best mashup rocker
Jeremy Cornwell of the Jeremy Cornwell Project
If you haven’t had the pleasure of basking in the acoustic stylings of Jeremy Cornwell, you haven’t hung out with me enough. First-timers may be mystified by the apparent black magic behind his sleight-of-hand, but rest assured he’s not evil — it’s just this high-tech looping thingamajig he’s sold his soul for. His sets are a treat. Especially so when he breaks into his patented mash-ups, in which “Sweet Home Alabama” transitions to “Ice Ice Baby” and “Bust a Move” before eventually segueing to the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme. Or the Cure melds with Lady Gaga, Lil Wayne and Ginuwine. You have to see and hear it to believe it. JB
With his incinerating punk band Deadhand, frontman-guitarist Brendan Scholz missed a major-label deal by a mohawk hair. So he dialed it down a bit with his latest project, Mercy Music. Using the wry songcraft of the Replacements and Graham Parker as a template, Scholz recently self-released a couple of indelible EPs, blending sophisticated pop structures with heart-rending lyrics. Try his Elvis Costello-meets-Chuck Berry rave-up “Repeat” or Stax-influenced ballad “The Sun Follows You” for a sample of this kid’s brilliance. JK
Best torch singer
She’s a classically trained opera singer from Houston who toured Europe before being cast in Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular. The show closed in 2012, and after surviving a cancer scare that threatened to rob her vocal cords, Hertzenberg, 36, decided to stay in Vegas, have a baby and start a band that’s already headlined Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center. Onstage, her voice is the centerpiece, a versatile and dynamic instrument that goes from gritty blues to angelic peal at the drop of a Julie London record sleeve. No one nails Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Me Like a Man,” Indigo Girls’ “Ghost” and Martin Sexton’s “Over My Head” back-to-back like Hertzenberg. She even raps like a gangsta-emcee! JK (kristenhertzenberg.com)
Best jazz band
Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns
Jazz bands have been catching colds in the shadow cast by Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns for 30 years. That’s because the 17-piece crew is always evolving, rotating out members — many of whom end up playing in headliner bands and shows around the Strip — while maintaining a scalpel-sharp, overdriven lounge sound that’s both extremely Vegas and off-the-wall enough to challenge the stereotype. But the real perfection in this outfit comes in its versatility. Meaning, if we had categories for best Latin or funk band, the Fat City crew would take those titles, too. Max Plenke (santafeandthefatcityhorns.com)
Best blues band
Scott Rhiner and the Moanin’ Blacksnakes
The Moanin’ Blacksnakes started playing in Las Vegas 10 years before the absurd Christina Ricci nymphomania flick "Black Snake Moan" came out in 2006. And while seniority might dictate king status, they bring substantially more to the table. We’re talking seriously talented musicians playing rough ‘n’ tumble music for whiskey and beer-backs in grimy bars, not background sounds for new-car-smell lounges on the Strip. They’re the best because they’re the champions of the off-kilter, the Mad Maxes of an overpolished musical wasteland, and the soundtrack of an aural rebellion.
Best soon (we hope!)-to-reopen live music venue
The Bunkhouse Saloon
The Bunkhouse Saloon was close, comfortable, a place where we could grab a bite, a beer and some top-notch local and visiting rock and roll. It’s where we first saw Pan de Sal, Same Sex Mary, The Psyatics and so many other great bands. It was acquired by the Downtown Project, which closed it on July 1. It’s now been closed more than 190 days, but according to the city of Las Vegas, there have been some recent efforts to get local government approval for its redesign. We can’t wait — as long as it reopens with the same enthusiasm for rock variety that it used to have. LR (124 S. 11th St.)
Best theater company
People in the theater community might be sick of hearing it, or jealous of hearing it, envious of what it’s accomplished, or angry it hasn’t accomplished more — but the fact remains that Cockroach Theatre sets the bar for what locally produced theater can be here. It’s determined to build a theater that takes artistic risks while growing into a legitimate institution with enough structure (and audience) to support local artists. The troupe is driving the conversation about what theater’s potential is in Vegas, and the more people they can get talking about it, the better. Jacob Coakley (cockroachtheatre.com)
Best old-school showroom
Take the hike up to the third floor of the Riviera and you’ll see what a Las Vegas showroom was meant to be, a place to catch Tinseltown talent up close and personal, comfortably seated and with drink service at your command. It’s usually easy to snag a booth, but the action is at the tables down front. Jan Rouven’s Illusions dominates the venue right now, but if you’re ever going to see Charo or Connie Stevens shake one more time in Vegas, this is probably where it will happen. DM (Riviera Hotel & Casino, 2901 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-468-6748)
He’s got the range to tackle legit drama ("Death of a Salesman," "Stones in His Pockets"), seriously ass-kicking musicals ("Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"), campy comedy ("The Mystery of Irma Vep," "Blood Orgy of the Chainsaw Chorus Line") and is now crossing over into casino shows ("Pawn Shop Live!"). He never seems to stop working, and this unflagging energy finds its way onto the stage for his shows, which — despite their stylistic differences — all crackle with immediacy and urgency, showing off a sensibility that is populist but also clings to the transcendentalist promise of art. JC
Best “about time” news for playwrights
Quadranine Productions’ play readings
Despite oodles of actors, directors and theater companies in town, finding an active playwright is a relative rarity — and exactly why Quadranine’s bi-weekly play readings are such a necessity. In addition to providing a no-pressure venue for playwrights to hear their latest words spoken aloud, giving them invaluable feedback and direction, the readings also offer writing exercises, sparking new scripts and letting writers of all levels grow their skills — and their output. JC
After an ankle injury that sidelined her for many months, Lee returned to the stage last December as Sugar Plum Fairy in Las Vegas Ballet Company’s production of "The Nutcracker." Her warm, glowing performance was impeccable and made her our choice for best dancer of the year. A former soloist with South Korea’s Universal Ballet and for 10 years a principal dancer with Nevada Ballet Theater, she now co-directs with her husband, Kyudong Kwak, LVBC and Kwak Ballet Academy. Hal De Becker (lasvegasballet.org)
Best movie shot in Nevada
Nowadays, if it’s set in Las Vegas, it’s usually filmed in New Mexico. Ironically, the New Mexico-set Charley Varrick was filmed in the Silver State. Don Siegel’s lean, efficient, bank-heist thriller made use of the Courthouse Museum in Genoa, the Carson Valley Museum in Gardnerville, a Dayton trailer park and the Mustang Ranch Brothel, with Joe Conforte making a cameo appearance as himself. Walter Matthau’s robber-on-the-lam finally outwitted his Mafia nemeses in a memorable duel of wits shot at the Mustang Auto Wrecking Yard. DM
"This is what I'd do," says David Hardy of ArtVegas.com: Park at the Government Center parking lot on Grand Central Parkway. If you get there around 4:30 p.m., you can catch a glimpse of the exhibition at The Rotunda Gallery. The large space is conducive to large-scale installations and sculptural works. David Sanchez Burr’s “Beyond Sunrise Mountain” caught everyone’s attention last year.
At 5, take the free shuttle to Colorado and Main. Walk two blocks south on Main, turn right on Utah and left on Commerce. Blackbird Studios is halfway down the block. This co-op studio remains the proletariat of the Arts District. Then head north to the Contemporary Arts Center’s new space at 1217 S. Main St.
Continue to Charleston and hit up the Arts Factory. Trifecta Gallery is a must; owner Marty Walsh maintains a programming schedule that’s consistently top-notch, with exhibitions by Casey Weldon, Sam Davis and Philip Denker in the last year. The Joseph Watson Collection is next. Watson features his own compelling work, along with guest artists like L.A.-based street artist Shark Toof. Stop by Sin City Gallery on your way out. Owner Laura Henkel’s "12 Inches of Sin" is an annual juried exhibition highlighting erotic contemporary art.
Crossing Charleston at Casino Center, pause to ponder the 45-foot-tall paintbrush that’s programmed with LED patterns. It was the last work of noted modern artist Dennis Oppenheim, who died just before delivering the pieces in 2011. Its twin sits a few blocks east.
Next up is Brett Wesley Gallery. The midcentury modern-inspired building was the first in the Arts District specifically purpose-built as a gallery. Sperry and curator Victoria Hart focus on bold, conversation-sparking work, including recent shows by Giovanni Morales and Michael Wardle.
Back to Colorado and Main for the shuttle bus to the Government Center. Hop in the car and cut east on Bonneville, making a left on Sixth Street just past Las Vegas Boulevard. Park near Carson and hoof it one block to the Emergency Arts building, which stays open until midnight on First Fridays.
Tastyspace should be on your radar. The gallery and “home of visual awesomeness” sits in the northwest corner of the building. Proprietor Dana Satterwhite is an ex “mad man”; his small, bright gallery has become the flagship of EA. Jelaine Faunce and Erica Hauser were two favorites shown here during the past year or so.
Cruise by the bedroom-sized 5th Wall Gallery. The 10-foot-by-10-foot room is curated by four UNLV alums. Their focus on installation-based works has pushed the edge of the contemporary art scene downtown.
Wind down with a drink at The Beat (it sells beer and wine after 7). Seat yourself near the glass wall facing Fremont, and watch people file by with bottles of Miller Lite while you reflect.
David Sanchez Burr
Tough field — so many worthy artists — but in the end it had to be Sanchez Burr. His much-talked-about recent exhibits (New Citadel at the Cosmopolitan, Beyond Sunrise Mountain at the Clark County Government Center) have been innovative, daring and deeply thoughtful about such Vegas-relevant issues as transience, decay, randomness and the environment. Along the way, he has employed sculpture, sound and the creative labor of viewers. And his late, lamented Multiplexer gallery (it closed last year), which was devoted to cutting-edge video art, further attested to his readiness to lead the breaking of new ground. SD (davidsanchezburr.com)
Best artist to begin collecting now
If I were a Medici contemplating my delicious 2014 art budget, I would fund one of Yasmina Chavez’s edgy, weird and wonderful performative projects combining photography, sculpture, opera and Bhutto.
— Danielle Kelly
Alisha Kerlin’s work is on the uptick in 2014. Grab one of her elegant and deceptively simple pieces at MCQ Gallery this spring — before they get out of your price range.
— Brent Holmes
There are so many. Gun to my head, I would say Matthew Couper. His work is consistent, beautiful, intellectual, and supremely executed, exploring themes of culture and context in ways that appeal superficially to the novice and more thoughtfully to those seeking a deeper meaning.
— Dana Satterwhite
WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ GALLERY!
Best public sculpture
“Monument to the Simulacrum,”
by Stephen Hendee
Created for the 2005 Las Vegas Centennial, and containing a time capsule to be opened in 2105, this abstracted metal mountain — an allusion to the timelessness of local geography, but as seductively fabricated as the casinos we used to implode — was chosen a few years ago by a national art magazine as one of the country’s significant pieces of public art. In its refusal to indulge lazy Vegas symbols (not a martini glass or Elvis reference anywhere!), “Simulacrum” proposes an enduring authenticity that will still be relevant to the Las Vegans of 2105, even if they’ve forgotten what the Rat Pack was. SD (Lewis Avenue and Fourth Street)
“Cycle of Civilization,” by Zio Ziegler
This Life Is Beautiful remnant has got huge scale. It’s got dense, mad style. It’s got an ambitiously presumptuous title. It all adds up to the best dose of big-wall optic nerve in the valley. SD (On Seventh Street between Ogden and Stewart avenues)
URBS VS. ’BURBS: BEST ART GALLERY
Trifecta — Downtown
Over the last decade, has anyone been more consistent than Trifecta Gallery’s Marty Walsh? She has a solid stable of local artists — including Mary Warner, Casey Weldon, Su Limbert, Jw Caldwell and Erin Stellmon — and she brings in quality out-of-towners, too (see Tom Pfannerstill and his carved-wood “trash”). It’s a good sign for art lovers that the Contemporary Arts Center, Brett Wesley Gallery, Blackbird Studio and Tastyspace all seriously contended for the title. Scott Dickensheets (In the Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd. #135, 702-366-7001, trifectagallery.com)
Left of Center — North Las Vegas
The current exhibit typifies what we appreciate about this North Las Vegas space. Jevijoe Vitug’s Terra Infirma uses the forms of abstract painting to explore the impacts of oil spills, nuclear waste and similar environmental indignities. Likewise, the previous exhibit examined Hispanic culture, while others — including the gallery’s permanent collection — take viewers into African-American life. So it’s a gallery that’s friendly to art with a social conscience. And Left of Center serves as a community cultural center, with classes, workshops and mentoring. SD (2207 W. Gowan Road, 702-647-7378, lasvegasballet.org)
ODE TO … THE MOVIE “HEAT”
"Viva Las Vegas" and "Ocean’s Eleven" get all the eyeballs because they deliver all of the fantasy, but they don’t say this: “Well, I’ve been knocked down, blown up, lied to, shit on, shot at. I’m not a virgin, except in my heart. Nothing much surprises me anymore except what people do to each other.” Burt Reynolds delivers that line in the 1987 film "Heat," set in Vegas and steeped in the complexities of the city. When I hear it, I hear Vegas, and who better to play our metropolis than Reynolds? You may suggest alternatives — Sinatra, Clooney, Elvis. Sorry. They’re too pretty and glabrous. Vegas would definitely have a raven mustache to cloak its stiff upper lip.
The film was and is forsaken, to say the least. It was an embarrassment for writer William Goldman, who wrote "Marathon Man," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "All The President’s Men." It went through several directors, including Robert Altman and another who allegedly quit after being punched by Reynolds. Plus, "Heat" was a box-office failure.
But this city embraces busts, controversy and knuckles. They bolster "Heat"’s claim to the title of “Best Vegas Movie, Period.”
The movie is getting a “renovation” with a 2014 remake featuring Jason Statham. But I love the original for more than just my girlhood Bandit crush. The cinematography captures our monuments: a fully functional Vegas Vic, the Stardust, La Concha, Dunes, Frontier and Mint with neon signs ablaze, and downtown before the Experience and the shoes. Against this backdrop you see a host of Vegas clichés — hookers, mobsters, gambling addicts, Joey Villa punchlines — without apologies or glamour, save the lone silver-and-black pimp jacket. And then there is the hero, Burt as Nick Escalante, a Vietnam vet turned bodyguard, decimating bad guys with high-flying cowboy boots and an American Express card. Nick lives in Naked City, and his only dream is to escape to Venice, Italy. I know he’s only fiction, but whenever I watch "Heat," I wish I could let him know that Vegas has its own gondolas now. — Misti Yang