Best Bluegrass Band 2014 | The Short Straw Pickers | Arts & Entertainment | South Florida

It's all about the string. In an area where reggae reigns and indie bands rule the night, it's been incredible to watch the rise of string music in South Florida. The true bluegrass sound being emitted by banjos, upright basses, and fiddles throughout our bubble has been startling in the best way possible. Why simply jam when you could "jamboogiegrassicana"? That's what the Short Straw Pickers call their funked-up and homegrown style of bluegrass. They've earned the right to coin their own subgenre, considering this über-talented gang grew out of the orchestra program at Boca Raton's Lynn University. Lead singer and guitarist Jack Schueler has been around the local scene and is happy to reach peak performance with the Short Straw Pickers. Their debut album, Upon That Hill, was a huge gift from the band to the world and is propelling them to the road for a string of festival gigs. Whether it's at a festival or elsewhere, these pickers take pride in physically taking their music to as many people as will listen, which is a lot. The Short Straw Pickers bring style and incredible musicianship to the genre, respecting its pure state while flipping it on its head — as every band should.

Not all local jam bands are created equal. Some seem to run laps between the Funky Buddha Lounge & Brewery and the Funky Biscuit, which is solid. We need them — they make the scene what it is. But some local jam bands break through and travel the country delivering their slice of South Florida style to every corner of the U.S. No one does it better than Fort Lauderdale's the Heavy Pets, jamming their way through your most dancetastic live music outings. Whether it's a New Year's show, full-on festi, or random run-in, the Pets always make their way back home and into your hearts, no matter how far they tour. Your friend may have watched the Heavy Pets slay it in the middle of a sweaty mob at Bonnaroo, but you get to see them up-close and personal on a breezy Saturday night at Guanabanas. What makes the Pets extra special? They have side projects aplenty, cutting up the lineup to share the love so there's constantly music coming from the guys. This divide-and-conquer technique shows that the true passion of the band is to get music out in the open and to create with one another. Fact is, when the Heavy Pets, Fat Mannequin, Lather Up!, or the Sugar Dicks announce a show, the community comes out. And the community is everything when it comes to jam.

Move over, Taylor Swift, in a totally not-Kanye way. There is a newer, younger, fresher, potentially more motivated country singer/songwriter making power moves. Fiddle prodigy Maggie Baugh is slowly but surely taking over the local country scene. A mainstay at festivals and events, Baugh picked up her first violin at 6 years old and never looked back. Now the fresh-faced teen is proving she has the chops to make it as an artist. With the release of her first album, Only Good Things, Baugh showed that country music doesn't have to just be about losing your truck, wife, and dog. She wrote a song about middle school called "Middle School" — how adorbs. The songwriter isn't just in it for the street cred — she has a good head on her shoulders too. Baugh often raises money for Glycogen Storage Disease, a genetic liver disease her two brothers have. It's endearing to see so much talent stay on a kind and generous path. Her rise is still fresh but well-established. Baugh was invited onstage to fiddle her little heart out along with the Charlie Daniels Band for its megahit "Devil Went Down to Georgia." She killed it. Did we mention she's 13?

Spin around and point — did you find a reggae band? Tends to be the case on the live music scene in South Florida. And while we embrace everyone from the Sublime cover bands to 4/20-friendly acoustic solo artists as part of our beloved scene, some bands find a way to tip the scale in their favor. Fort Lauderdale-based Army Gideon has worked its way through the rest, emerging as a reggae force from Miami to Jupiter. Throwing down monster four-hour sets, the mammoth, seven-piece band (whose members have nicknames like "Cabbage" and "Spice") leaves it all on the stage, especially its message. Playing music with a purpose comes with the territory in reggae music, but Army Gideon finds a way to make universal love and Rastafari awareness the centerpiece of every show, song, and conversation. An authentic reggae experience in a sea of "I think this is a reggae band" knockoffs.

Coffee makes the world go 'round. The little red berry contains a bean ripe for roasting that can animate even the most sleep-deprived. This brewed delight is also what motivates and inspires unusual hip-hop guy Eric Biddines. He's unique in that he's got a cool Andre 3000-type voice, and his style is just hippie enough so that mixed with his smart raps, he feels indie as hell and like no other. But these days, the Delray Beach-based rapper is actually hitting the mainstream. His video for "RailRoads Down/Unfinished" blew up on MTV Jams just a few months back. In it, Biddines addressed the totally miserable topic of slavery. Luckily, it was tastefully and beautifully executed, just like his last album, Planetcoffeebean 2.He recorded about 50 songs for the release but used only 12. Planetcoffeebean is a place that exists in the artist's mind, with its own landmarks and creatures that he continues to develop through his magnetic music and badass brand and lifestyle. It's definitely harvest time for this creative and unpretentious rapper.

Millionyoung eased off the emotional gas and amped up the groove for its side project, Chévere. The downtempo new collabo by Mike Diaz and Kristof Ryan is still chill but not chillwave like their other avenue for sound creation. Though Diaz is kind of the founder of Millionyoung, the Fort Lauderdale duo is totally equal as Chévere, cowriting their songs. And equally, they will inspire you to dance like a little kid to their twinkling beats. Though they say the music is the place where French house meets hip-hop, it's got a way-late-'90s lounge feel with a healthy splash of jazziness, saxiness, and sensual layered vocals. As Chévere, Diaz and Kristof toured in 2012, collaborated with Lex One and Lucian on a soulful project called Redrum, performed at Wynwood's inaugural III Points festival in 2013, and released their first EP, Love Changes. It's versatile as an album can be — one of the few releases you can use to party or rest. Definitely the finest electronica to emerge from the area in recent years.

Lady goes through a rough breakup. Where does she take her girls? To Cheetah, for a divorce party. Rough day at work. Where do bros go to vent? Cheetah. Dennis Rodman comes back from North Korea, gets swarmed by annoying media types. Where does he duck for cover? Thazz right — Cheetah. Each of South Florida's nudie bars has its special place in the strip-club pantheon: Some are durrty, some are clubby, some are known for Octomom appearances, and some go for the upscale-steak-house vibe. But it's Cheetah that's the most comfy, low-pretense, and accessible, like your neighborhood bar, or hell, like your own living room, complete with Xboxes, poker games, and cigars. And with $6 omelets, a happy hour that lasts from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., free lunch, and smoking-hot, superfun chicks who will entertain your girlfriend with a lap dance while you eat your cheese steak, really — why ever bother going home?

Courtesy of Gulfstream Park

To a true gambler, the best casino is the one where you win. A dirty back alley where you roll only sevens will always have a fond place in your heart, and if you go bust in a luxurious palace, you will never wish to return no matter how fine the Champagne they comp might be. But if you're going to spend serious time at the slots or the poker table, better to do it in a hygienic location, and since the 2006 renovation, no casino is less seedy than Gulfstream Park. The racetrack, which in February marked its 75th year, continues to be a pleasant place to make a wager. The poker room is pristine, and the hundreds of slots are in a smoke-free environment. There are plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants to spend your winnings in, and if your bankroll is low, watching the horses run won't cost you a dime — though the $2 bets will tempt you.

This hideaway in Hollywood would also win Likeliest Place to Spy a Hobbit. With its décor that emulates Middle Earth with the faux trees, dark lighting, and heavy tables, one could easily expect Frodo or Gandalf to sit next to you. Perhaps after a shot of the earthy-tasting house-brewed kava tea — served in a coconut shell with a chaser of wedges of pineapple — one might even see Bilbo or Gollum dancing in front of you, as the completely legal Polynesian brew has sedative and anesthetic effects. One shot goes for $5.50 while the flavored kava — whose flavors change by the day, from ginger to chocolate coconut to honey cinnamon and beyond — is $7.50. If the kava doesn't give you trippy sensations, Mystic Water Kava Bar's atmosphere and music, whether by DJ or occasional live band, definitely will. Bargain hunters will be happy to know that every weekday from 2 to 7 p.m. features a happy hour with a two-for-one special. Night owls will be even happier, as the bar serves kava seven days a week until 4 a.m.

Courtesy of Yellow Green Farmers Market

You'd think with our year-round growing season, there would be year-round farmers' markets, but many Florida markets are seasonal. Yellow-Green Farmers Market is one of the few permanent, year-round markets. It even has the added benefit of being under a roof, for those rainy or too, too sunny summer days. Located off of Taft Street near I-95, there are more than 300 booths in the 100,000-square-foot facility. You'll find copious amounts of all the usual greenmarket fare, from fresh produce to artisanal jams to stone crab legs as well as arts and crafts. There's also the Chillbar lounge, which is open on weekends and serves a wide selection of fresh and organic home-cooked fare.

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