Can you believe it? It's the last column of 2017. We made it. Wasn't so sure for a while. Maybe I'm still not. But, besides being one year closer to the abyss, you know what that means. Yes, yes, y'all, it's TLU's annual Underground Awards, where I lay down some of the highlights that defined the year in our city's music scene. Ready the champagne/tissues/tomatoes.
THE 2017 UNDIES
Best memorial: The scene honors Billy Manes. The premature loss of this beloved Orlando icon was a shockwave even in the music world. Beyond the local outpouring of love, which saw concerts donating proceeds to the Billy Manes Foundation, Duran Duran tweeted a farewell and Cindy Wilson of the B-52's and Five Eight both dedicated their Orlando performances to him.
Best new class: Indie promoters. As the promoters sidebar in our recent annual Local Music Issue illustrates, 2017 has kind of been the year of the promoter, underscoring the rise of some young emerging forces to further bolster Orlando's critical network of independent concert booking. Between a breakout year for Ugly Orange, the promising rise of Bad Balloon and Endoxa's smart expansion beyond heavy music, it could prove a pivotal year.
Best collab: The Six Shows of Christmas. Choosing cooperation over competition, Orlando music blog Shows I Go To partnered with other notable local scene-makers like Ugly Orange, Bad Balloon and the Vinyl Warhol to foster some timely fellowship by co-presenting a string of up-close house shows. Community, yuh!
Best new festival: Field Trip South (Feb. 24-25). Celebrating the subculture of garage rock, this new magnet event by former local Scott Sugiuchi (Hate Bombs, Hidden Volume Records) debuted with splash, verve and draw, pairing top locals with big national names like the Woggles and Southern Culture on the Skids. It was so successful, in fact, that it's returning to Will's Pub Feb. 16-17, 2018, making it one step closer to an official annual.
Best special edition: Southern Fried Sunday debuts Southern Belle Ball. In ongoing, hard-fought ways, 2017 is the year of women. Sisters have found critical mass and are rising up. So, besides being the most outstanding special edition of SFS in a while, the Southern Belle Ball celebrating the talent of Central Florida's ladies is also especially on time. Consider this a formal bid for Jessica Pawli to make this edition a tradition.
Best new local star: Aoife O'Donovan. Across the debut season of the Orlando Phil's groundbreaking new Women in Song series early this year, it came to light that Crooked Still frontwoman Aoife O'Donovan is now local via her marriage to the Phil's music director, Eric Jacobsen. Still waiting on that intimate club show, though.
Best new producer: Simon Palombi. Besides doing his own notable band the Woolly Bushmen, helming new records for a parade of Florida standouts like the Sh-Booms, Beach Day, the Wildtones and Andy Matchett is proof positive of an in-demand young producer.
Best guitars: Steven Head. Between vaulting Moon Jelly to Yo La Tengo altitudes and giving Acoqui some shoegaze rush, this guy is nailing the textures and tones that have defined an entire genre.
Biggest venue loss: Spacebar. Any time you lose a space like this art-forward, community-minded Milk District venue it's disappointing. But considering the recent salvo of announcements of significant new venues coming online soon – many of which involves Spacebar owner Tommy Mot – this casualty is going to be more than compensated for this coming year.
Best new hope: Downtown. It remains party central, as always. But with the exception of the perennially steadfast booking at the Social and the Beacham by Foundation Presents, it's been some years since downtown as a whole has been a genuine culture-mover. Now it looks like that may be about to change in major ways with all the new uprisings at the old Firestone complex (Blackstar, Odd Jobs and the Vanguard) and the replacement of Backbooth with Soundbar. This will be the biggest development to watch this year.
Welp, another noteworthy year in the books, fam. So I'm taking a column break next week to recharge and gear up for what's shaping up to be a whopping 2018.