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The Best of Richmond

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Best local artist

You weren't quite sure what we meant by this category (come to think of it now, neither were we). Half of you thought we were talking about visual arts and the other half thought we meant musicians. So we took your lead and broke this category into two.

Galleries may be fine for some artists. But the prolific Ed Trask, who wins your vote for best artist, prefers sides of buildings and entire walls of restaurants. His murals appear inside Stella's restaurant, on an exterior wall of Bandito's Burrito lounge (for now) and in other spots around the city. In an August 1997 interview with Style Weekly, he had this to say about his very public art: "I adore it. I love it. I can never get the feeling of paint off my hands."

As for musicians, singer/songwriter Janet Martin has been strumming her guitar around Richmond since the '80s. Today, her progressive country rock has given way to a more rock-oriented, rootsy sound. "It definitely ain't country," says bassist Mic Muller. When they're not playing in Richmond, the Janet Martin Band is working on new material for their forthcoming album.

Best place to buy music

Richmonders, pat yourselves on the back.

In a city that sometimes seems overrun with Wal-Marts, Targets and other chain monsters that get fat by crushing mom and pop, your best place to buy music is proudly not one of the corporate big boys: Plan 9 Music.

Plan 9 is the undisputed best place in town to buy vinyl, local music, used CDs, hard-to-find albums and your favorite popular music. They've got a massive selection, and if they don't have it, they'll certainly order it for you. Extra kudos to owner Jimmy Bland and his employees for helping local bands with the Plan 9-backed Planetary Records label, hosting in-store performances and having month-long sales on entire genres of music, like blues, bluegrass or Irish music.

Best local actor

Playing a sensuous and scary vampire, the darkly handsome Mark Scott made many a young girl swoon as he stalked the stage in Ashland Stage Company's production of "Dracula" last fall. But more folks might recognize him as the magician in commercials for Saxon Shoes. On the airwaves or the boards, Scott obviously has a devoted coven here, receiving five times more votes than his nearest competitor.

Second place honors were shared by Jan Guarino, most recently seen as the Wicked Witch in Theatre IV's "Wizard of Oz," and Tim Reid, who now spends more time as a director for his New Millennium Studios in Petersburg. Some readers used this category for political commentary, nominating Gov. Jim Gilmore, Former Mayor Leonidas Young, and Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin. Scary as it seems, we don't think these guys are acting.

Best dance club

For those of you who get your groove on the dance floor, Cafine's on Grace Street is the place to bump and grind. Hosting swing night Wednesdays with Eric E. Stanley's Bebop Boogie and Blues Revue, and the new all-too-hip-and-hot Latin night Fridays, Cafine's offers Richmonders a chance to catch dance fever. For blueblood ravers, Cafine's infamous Saturday night dance party assumes a name all its own: Boom! And for local techno heads, it's the place to see and be seen. One caveat: To say this crowd is diverse is an understatement. Here there are no wallflowers.

Best TV news personality

Did we really need to say local? Matt Lauer, Connie Chung and Jane Pauley do not count here. But they only garnered a few votes anyway. Heck, even "The Simpsons'" Kent Brockman pulled in a few votes, but it was our own TV royalty that topped this poll. Channel 12's Sabrina Squire is the person you most like getting your news — good or bad — from. Her partner at the anchor desk, Gene Cox, followed right behind in second place.

"I'm going to have to call my relatives and thank them," Squire says with a laugh. She must have a big family, because she pulled in a lot of votes. Squire joined the Channel 12 team in 1981 as an intern/trainee and worked her way up the rungs of the TV news ladder as general assignment reporter, Chesterfield County reporter and city reporter until she landed at the top — the anchor desk — in 1984. She and Cox have pretty much ruled the local TV airwaves most of the '90s.

Squire attributes the success of the team — and she always credits the team — to the stability that eludes many other local news outfits. (Channel 6, take notes.) Her first nod goes to a management that is "not only concerned with the bottom line." Squire believes audiences are responding to the collective efforts of producers, engineers and management when they respond positively to the on-air personalities "even if they are not aware of all the elements, all the cooks in the kitchen producing this product."

Squire says there are no prima donnas among the on-air team of Cox, Meteorologist Jim Duncan, Sports Director Ben Hamlin and herself. So that means there won't be a problem that she beat Cox out? "No," Squire says with a chuckle. "We like to pass it back and forth."

Best drive-time radio show

It's a true indication of the sorry state of commercial radio in Richmond when the city's best drive-time radio show is a national news program aired on public radio, WCVE 88.1. Although one smart-aleck among you voted for Howard Stern, whose voice hasn't been heard on Richmond radio since 1996, the majority of Richmonders have more discriminating tastes and chose National Public Radio as the best show to have your dial tuned to during drive time.

NPR's "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition" both received votes, as did the generic "NPR," a public radio network that produces a diverse slew of syndicated shows, everything from "Car Talk" to "Performance Today." It's clear that the majority of us want to be enlightened as well as entertained, and that intelligent, informative radio does have a place in Richmond. If only we had more of it.

Coming in second place was Q94, with B103.7 trailing behind by just a few votes.

Best place to hear live music

By a narrow margin, you voted Friday Cheers the best place to "hear" live music. Hear in quotations of course because no one ever pays attention to the bands during a Friday Cheers event. Mayo Island and Alley Katz were the close second and third, respectively.

So what is it about Friday Cheers? Is it the shrieks of 500 high school girls in your ear when Pat McGee performs there? The romance of waiting in line for the 6th St. Marketplace bathroom in an oxygen-free hallway? The fun of watching all those high school girls getting sort of arrested by the police for trying to outsmart the lines and go into the guys' bathroom? But hey, who are we to criticize? We were young once too. We think.

Best sports team

Baseball is America's pastime. And even though it doesn't always seem like it, Richmond, Va. is in America.

So it should come as no surprise that the Richmond Braves took home the title as best Richmond sports team, even though they're solidly ensconced in the International League's South Division cellar.

But as badly as the Braves are playing, they still edged out the Renegades, whose ignominious implosion against Mississippi in the Kelly Cup finals must have been a factor in the voting.

And in the Richmond Nostalgia file, one quintessentially backward-thinking local voted for the Richmond Rage, apparently oblivious to the fact that the Rage packed up and moved to Philadelphia in 1997, and last year the Rage's entire league, the ABL, folded and went the way of the Confederacy.

Best free event

Taking time out from nickel and diming is time well spent to Richmonders. Maybe that's why Friday Cheers remains packed every Friday of the summer and is once again your landslide pick for best free event. It's a great venue for at least attempting to listen to local bands like Fighting Gravity, Soul Food and Carbon Leaf. And what better way to unwind after a hard day at work than to surround yourself with several thousand sweating people jamming at a concert. The more laid-back atmosphere of Dogwood Dell (where you can sit down) came in second place and Arts in the Park finished third. There were more than a few votes for Innsbrook After Hours. People, it's not

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