Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
This past year saw Herculean achievements in set design, sound design, costume design, prop-heavy novelties, and large-cast spectacles. But none of them topped the simply staged Side Effects and the emotional, comedic, and dramatic magic it created with two people, a single set, and a narrative that explores mental illness in a modern marriage with profound insight. Universally, it was a play about the difficulty and fragility of relationships; specifically, it was about bipolar disorder and politics and the effect both have on human connection and disconnection. Playwright Michael Weller is one of the most talented writers in the country, and he couldn't have asked for a better director than Richard Jay Simon, who guided Deborah L. Sherman to the best performance of her career and Jim Ballard to one of three solid performances in his banner 2011 year. When everything comes together this well, a show like Side Effects raises the standards for every production around it.
Finding a cool dance club nowadays isn't the easiest thing, especially in Fort Lauderdale. Often, as soon as one opens up is as quick as it closes down. Occupying the old Automatic Slim's venue in Riverfront is Fifteen West, a hipper alternative to the velvet-roped clubs filled with snooty clubgoers. There is bottle service and VIP, but the dress code is relaxed. The DJs don't spin bad techno remixes, and the door guy isn't a total ass. In addition to dancing and drinking, the club has also started to host a slew of indie art shows. From preppy folks to tattooed crowds, the patrons at 15 West are an eclectic bunch.
At Swarm, which pops up every few months, there are no special invitations, dress-code requirements, overpriced cover fees, or strict rules to abide by. As event organizers Black Locust Society says, "Come one, come all. It's just about bringing people together. This is just what we do." Housed in a warehouse away from the madness of the downtown bar scene, Swarm is the place where partygoers go to let loose, listen to an assortment of live music — the lineup is always different — and take in a bit of local art. The Swarm crowd is completely diverse. Nobody cares about your race, musical interests, financial situation, or what you're wearing. It's all about the experience, and that it certainly is.
The DIY, Lake Park, music-focused venue brilliantly named the Snooze Theatre started life as a blues club called the Orange Door. C.J. Jankow and Jordan Pettingill of Cop City Chill Pillars and Love Handles began throwing events there before it graduated from blues to experimental. They currently run the place with Ed and Dan McHugh, the latter of the band the Jameses, and a bunch of supportive friends from the West Palm Beach and Lake Worth areas. The Snooze opened up a seat for the ass of a scene that needed a place to sit and grow after the closing of Club Sandwich. Sure, down south Churchill's has been friendly to quality and experimental music of all sorts, but this area needed its own spot to squat. The biggest indicator of the direction in which the venue would go was Zitfest, which featured two days of Florida's finest garage acts like the Jameses, Guy Harvey, and Jacuzzi Boys. The venue showcases local musicians and touring acts, and it's even doing yoga there and mixtape exchanges. The ladies of the Snooze have gathered forces to host their own getty, aptly titled That Time of the Month. Though the Snooze was closed for a few months after being raided by the Palm Beach Police County Sheriff's Office in January, it reopened with a vengeance and tons of noise. The red-checkered floor remains the same. There's the pink glowing bathroom and cheap drinks. And now you can tell the Snooze how much you love it by writing on the walls with chalk. How sweet.
If there is one area where many jam bands are lacking, it certainly wouldn't be in the hair department. Most of them have plenty of that, though it's often of the shaggy, unkempt variety. Rather, many jam bands are missing a good singer. Local jam heroes the Heavy Pets are not lacking in either of those categories thanks to frontman Jeff Lloyd. Lloyd not only has the prettiest head of hair this side of Terrapin Station but he's got a voice that ought to be welcomed on whatever cloud Jerry Garcia currently resides on. It is soulful, well-exercised, and, like his mane, quite pretty. Nowhere does Lloyd's voice ring out more beautifully than on the Pets' 2011 release, Swim Out Past the Sun. The album is stripped-down and acoustic, which not only makes it a wonderful, mellow addition to their catalog but also allows Lloyd's vocals to stand out and dazzle.
You might recognize James "Scarecrow" Jenkins as the former bull fiddler of Lake Worth's punkabilly band Viva Le Vox, but you also might recognize him because he's got a lotta look. Nowadays, Jenkins heads his own outfit, Loxahatchee Sinners Union, a rootsy Americana act that came about by accident. In an attempt to set out on his own, he ended up bringing in too good a cast of backup musicians for a performance. Thus, the band was born. He calls the sound "swamp gospel." With him at the helm, singing with the charisma and enthusiasm of a preacher, it's hard not to hear what he means. As a singer, he knows exactly how to manage his vocals, creating an emotional plane, complementing the jangle of the banjo and the wail of the accordion with either excited exuberance or with the haunting howl and growl of a campfire storyteller.