Arts & Entertainment

Writers’ choice

Illustration By Terry Allen

Best place to hear live blues while eating sweet-potato pie

Big Mike Balma’s winter shows at the Sacramento Horsemen’s Club
During Sacramento’s long, hot summers, Big Mike Balma books his blues shows into the Blue Lamp on Alhambra Boulevard because he says it’s too damned sweltering to do anything at the Sacramento Horsemen’s Club. But when the weather cools down, Balma will bring three or four Sunday-afternoon shows—each featuring several acts, at least one of which is nationally known—to the old paneled clubhouse. And he’ll make good use of the kitchen there, too. Whether he’s serving pulled-pork sandwiches, chicken, brisket, links or catfish with all the sides, it’s worth the extra cash just to chow down on the mouthwatering victuals. Just be sure to leave room for some sweet-potato pie.
3200 Longview Drive.

Best place for vertically challenged people to see concerts

Randy Newman could patch up his long-standing feud with short people by playing more places like the Empire, downtown Sacramento’s new mega-club that features extraordinary sightlines from everywhere in the club. The sky-high stage—visible even when you’re standing in the shadows of giants—also gives performers a sense of heightened spectacle, something bands like KMFDM have used to grand effect during appearances.
1417 R Street, (916) 448-3300.

Best excuse to drive to Winters

The Palms
When this venerable roots-music venue got booted out of its South Davis barn to make room for an apartment complex, it found new digs in a second-story room on Winters’ main drag, which added another 20 minutes or so to the drive for us music fans from Sacramento. But it’s worth it. The Palms continues to bring in some of the best touring folk, blues, country, world music and jazz acts, a testament to proprietor Dave Fleming’s booking acumen and good taste. No, you won’t see the latest emo-band sensation here, but if your tastes run toward the graybeardy, musically speaking, the Palms is one of this country’s finest venues—and it’s still a short drive away.
13 Main Street in Winters.

Best place to hang out on the third weekend of every month

Toyroom Gallery
Most people in town know about Second Saturday, when local art galleries stay open to show off the month’s visual offerings. But for those who missed those art openings, or whose tastes aren’t as high-end, the Toyroom Gallery, in the upstairs of a garage on an alley in Curtis Park, is the place to go. Every third Saturday, and the Thursday and Friday immediately preceding it, proprietors John Soldano and Craig Maclaine assemble some of the most outrageously stimulating group shows in town, featuring art that tends toward the affordable. Soldano and Maclaine are connoisseurs of the California lowbrow aesthetic—hot rods, tattoos and similar totems—and their shows, which begin around 6:30 p.m. and run until “late,” are a great place to meet other folks with non-buttoned-down sensibilities.
In the alley directly behind 2419 Second Avenue.

Best artistic way to spend $5.39

The Art-o-mat at the Crocker Art Museum
In 1997, artist Clark Whittington created the first Art-o-mat, a cigarette-vending machine he converted to sell art. The vending machine, which debuted at an art show in North Carolina, dispensed Whittington’s cigarette-pack-sized art for a mere $1. Now, seven years later, artists from 10 different countries are selling their artwork in the more than 71 active Art-o-mats throughout the country, including the cherry-red beauty at the Crocker Art Museum. At five bucks a pop ($5.39 with tax), the Art-o-mat gives everyone the opportunity to be a patron of the arts. Slip your golden token into the slot, pull the knob and—kerplunk!—your very own piece of original art.
216 O Street, (916) 264-5423,

Toyroom Gallery

Photo By Andrew J. Epstein

Best theatrical synchronicity

80 days of 80 Days at the B Street Theatre
B Street Theatre’s remarkable production of Jules Verne’s classic adventure tale Around the World in 80 Days actually ran for 80 days, or an amazing 11-week run, which shows that Sacramento will come out in droves for an imaginative, creative, innovative and well-acted production. It was easily one of the best shows in recent memory.
2711 B Street, (916) 443-5300,

Best farewell (theatrical division)

Vista Players
To Aram Kouyoumdjian’s Vista Players, which presented outstanding literary plays, including Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and Edward Albee’s The Play About the Baby. Kouyoumdjian folded the company when he moved to Los Angeles earlier this year. Apparently, the play didn’t go on, and the curtain came down.

Best foreign exchange

Maxim Gorky Theatre and Foothill Theatre Company
There were many worthy nominees at the Mondavi Center in this category. But we’ll give the nod to the Foothill Theatre Company in Nevada City for hosting a visiting production of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov by Foothill’s sister company, the Maxim Gorky Theatre of Vladivostok, Russia. The show was done in Russian, with a smooth English voice-over by a translator heard through radio headsets. Not only was the performance a rare opportunity to see Chekhov done in Russian by Russian artists, but they also sold out the house for each performance. This Nevada City-Vladivostok exchange is an ongoing program. We hope to have another chance to see these Russians in a few years.
Foothill Theatre Company; Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad Street in Nevada City; (530) 265-8587;

Best literary adaptation (stage division)

Sacramento Theatre Company
Local writer and performer Shahnaz Shroff and artistic director Peggy Shannon of the Sacramento Theatre Company transferred a short story by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni from the printed page to the theater in Arranged Marriage. Shroff also gets a “Best debut” nod for her performance. Second place for literary adaptation goes to David Pierini’s clever original script based on The Boxcar Children at the Children’s Theatre of California.
Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H Street, (916) 443-6722,

Best ‘Golly, it’s just crazy enough to work’ example

William A. Parker
Last December, local playwright and director William A. Parker staged a very low-budget production of his script Waitin’ 2 End Hell on a borrowed stage at Valley High School and also made a video of the show. Other than a review in SN&R, the production didn’t get a lot of attention. Then Parker got lucky: The play was picked up by a New York director, received an off-off-Broadway run and netted a favorable review in The New York Times.

Best musical (which most of us only knew from a lousy movie)


Photo By Larry Dalton

California Musical Theatre
This one goes to the revised/revived production of Flower Drum Song at the Sacramento Community Center Theater. It was actually a semi-rewrite of the 1950s Broadway original, seldom staged because it requires so many Asian actors. It was a beautiful rediscovery.
California Musical Theatre’s Broadway Series, (916) 557-1999,

Best natural acoustics

Mondavi Center
Hands down, the best acoustics are at the Mondavi Center, which features touring orchestras and other groups on a regular basis, as well as local groups like the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra and the Sacramento Choral Society. If you’re on a tight budget, try the concerts by the UC Davis Symphony. Tickets can run as cheap as a movie: $8 for adults and $4 for students.
UC Davis campus, (866) 754-ARTS,

Best new musicals

Convenience by the Sacramento Theatre Company and …And the Dream Goes On by California Musical Theatre
We’re still humming tunes from two original shows unveiled this season. Gregg Coffin’s Convenience (at the Sacramento Theatre Company) takes first place in this category. It’s a pick we would have made even if Coffin didn’t happen to live locally. The show featured Lucinda Hitchcock Cone, a professional who lives in Sacramento but generally works elsewhere. Second place goes to California Musical Theatre for its stirring original African-American show, … And The Dream Goes On, featuring powerful songs by Charlie Cooper, a script by Anthony D’Juan, choreography by Wanel Thomas and direction by Lisa Tarrer Lacy.
Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H Street, (916) 443-6722, California Musical Theatre, (916) 446-5880,

Best obscure musical (adapted from a great movie)

Fair Oaks Theatre Festival
Give us a little Sugar, a clever musical version of the classic movie Some Like It Hot. This one had catchy songs performed by a fun, kooky crew.
(916) 966-3683,

Best onstage mom

Julia Brothers in While We Were Bowling
She charmed the socks off audiences with her tender but inebriated character in this show at the B Street Theatre. Brothers has done it before; she also played a terrific mom in Off the Map at the same theater a few years ago.

Best theatrical performances by big men

Frank Jordan

Photo By Larry Dalton

Rick Kleber and Peter Story
Rick Kleber, who once played a character named Morbidly Obese Frankie, was priceless in the Children’s Theatre of California production of The Boxcar Children. Second place: Peter Story in The Underpants at the B Street Theatre. Story was excellent as a perpetually worried, small-minded, self-centered state employee—a character that was particularly pungent here in Sacramento.

Best revival of a play hardly anyone remembers

Disability: A Comedy at River Stage
Written by the late Ron Whyte in the late 1970s, this wickedly funny script packs a surprising sting in its tail. Kudos to River Stage artistic director Frank Condon, who worked with the script years ago in Los Angeles, for bringing it back from obscurity.
Cosumnes River College, 8401 Center Parkway, (916) 681-7364,

Best specialized chamber-music series

The Shostakovich Project
The Shostakovich Project at the Mondavi Center, featuring the Alexander String Quartet and lecturer Robert Greenberg, is a winner. This series, going into its third and final year, has proven to be a significant artistic and popular success. Greenberg provides the context: the composer’s difficult life in the Soviet Union under Stalin, walking a fine line between artistic integrity and political peril. The Alexander String Quartet provides the music: dark, introspective, twitchy and satirical. It’s music you’ll rarely hear on classical stations (too dangerous!), and the series has received virtually no notice from the local daily. Yet almost every performance sells out in advance, mostly through word of mouth. You can still get in; there are almost always a few last-minute “turn back” tickets that materialize at the door. Three programs remain in the series, covering the composer’s late quartets. Hear them on October 10, January 30 and April 3.
Mondavi Center, (866) 754-ARTS,

Best local band poised to conquer the world

Frank Jordan
Although the official Sammies critics committee voted Quitter’s Sender.Receiver the best local album, there was at least one vehement objection (from this writer). Local trio Frank Jordan’s CD Milk the Thrills, its second full-length set, was a dramatic leap forward. It managed to combine the textural sophistication of Led Zeppelin, the guitar-driven dynamics of the Cure, the overall sonic attack of Fugazi and the vocal pyrotechnics of the late Jeff Buckley with top-notch songwriting, to startling results. It was impossible to consider any other choice for best local CD. In a more perfect world, Frank Jordan, which just completed its next album at a studio in Ohio, would be as huge as U2 or Radiohead. This band is that good.
Devil in the Woods Records,;

Best theater company

River Stage
Once again, the honor goes to River Stage and its artistic director, Frank Condon, who put together a string of shows—Disability: A Comedy, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, The Conquest of the South Pole and The Laramie Project—that were funny, touching and troubling and said more about life than any other cluster of shows in the past 12 months.
At Cosumnes River College, 8401 Center Parkway; (916) 681-7364;

Best theatrical surprise

Sacramento Taiko Dan

Photo By Larry Dalton

A Single Woman, California Stage
California Stage (in a co-production with the Nevada Shakespeare Company) caught everyone off guard with a sparkling new play called A Single Woman. It was based on the life and writings of early feminist Jeannette Rankin, who was the first woman elected to Congress (before women had the right to vote!) and had a mind as tough as nails. Outstanding work by playwright and actress Jeanmarie Simpson.
California Stage, 1723 25th Street, (916) 451-5822,

Best ethnic theater

California Stage
In the past, we’ve honored Celebration Arts in this category, and that company continues to do good work with African-American and South African plays. But this year, we’ll give the nod to California Stage, which presented a bilingual French and English production of Molière’s Les Précieuses Ridicules, as well as two fine American Latino plays, References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot and Real Women Have Curves. Second place will go to the Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra, which does one big show each year in January. An honorable mention goes to Interactive Asian Contemporary Theater, for hanging in there despite a change of venue.
1723 25th Street, (916) 451-5822,

Best theatrical performances by men in skirts

Daniel Slauson and Bob Roe
Girlfriend, we loved the performances by two cross-dressing comic divas, Daniel Slauson in the Fair Oaks Theatre Festival’s Sugar and Bob Roe as Albin in Runaway Stage’s La Cage aux Folles.

Most boo-tiful holiday tradition

Delta King Theatre
We bestow this award for the Delta King’s annual Halloween scary story. Last year, it was Stephen King’s Misery, with “No. 1 fan” Annie Wilkes, who puts the dead in deadline. Adrienne Sher as the “cockadoody” Annie made us forget about Kathy Bates.
Aboard the Delta King, 1000 Front Street; (916) 995-5464;

Best conspiracy- theory television show

The Patriot View
On The Patriot View’s Web site, it states that “you do NOT have to accept Cookies for this site to work.” This notice, of course, speaks volumes as to the content of this popular public-access show. The content of the program takes root in the ancient story of Atlantis, and the producers go on to attempt to find correlations between the supernatural and the super-elite that control transnational wealth and power. Paranoids and skeptics alike tune in each Wednesday at 9 p.m. to catch host Ben Stoecker and his guest discussing global positioning systems, touch-screen voting, 9/11 and other controversial subjects. Will the coming election be a swindle? Does your phone click when you answer? Did those planes really cause those towers to tumble? Tune in to cable channel 17 to find out.
Access Sacramento; 4623 T Street, Suite A;

Best poetry for children

Those wonderful poetry-struck folks at the Rattlesnake Press have been absolutely prolific in the last year, adding a high-quality chapbook series and a great ’zine to an already-bustling local small-press poetry scene. But perhaps the most wonderful—and among the most intriguing—of their efforts is the kids’ poetry ’zine, Snakelets. The journal takes its name from the term used to describe baby snakes, and it reminds us that youthful poets may have “smaller fangs,” but they’re “just as dangerous” as their adult counterparts. Publisher and snake-wrangler-in-chief at the press Kathy Kieth notes that literary journals devoted exclusively to children’s poetry are quite rare, but she sees Snakelets as an important part of the Rattlesnake Press family, a place for the unique voices of younger poets.
Send submissions to 4708 Tree Shadow Place, Fair Oaks, CA 95628 or;

Best 1980s metal cover band

For many listeners, the 1980s represented the apex of heavy-metal excess. This was, after all, the high point of giant stadium rock and the very zenith of hair bands. Metaln is a band that perfectly pinpoints that style of music, playing all the hits (Judas Priest, Dio and Ozzy included) and a handful of originals in the same general vein. This is a band best listened to loudly (it’ll handle that part) and drunk (this is the part you need to pay attention to).

Best local band you’ve never heard of

Nice Monster
Sacramento has the healthiest math-rock scene outside of the Southern states. Why is it, then, that you have never heard of one of the genre’s most exciting bands? Nice Monster takes the complex rhythms of math rockers like Pinback and swirls in two- and sometimes three-part-harmony vocals à la Minnesota soft-rockers Low. How can you go wrong with that combination? Now you’ve heard of the band, so go check out the band’s Web site for mp3s and more information.

Best dive bar

Time Out Tavern
The proprietor hates it when we call the Time Out Tavern a dive bar, but truth be told, it’s the coolest dive bar around. Broken glass in the parking lot, Harleys stationed out front and plenty of leather and lace within. There’s always a drunk to talk your ear off or a lady weeping over some broken-off love affair. If you’re going to need a night of heavy drinking, with the off chance of a parking-lot fistfight breaking out in the wee hours, there’s no better place. Pick a live-music night (classic rock and cover bands are the venue’s specialty), order a whiskey and prove you were born to be wild.
4729 San Juan Avenue in Fair Oaks, (916) 966-1953,

Best local drummers by the pound

Sacramento Taiko Dan
Rhythm. Spirit. Drum. These three words constitute an apt 15th-anniversary slogan for Sacramento Taiko Dan—an electrifying local nonprofit performance group that blends bold drumming with movement into an expression of Japanese and Asian-American culture. The group, with its throbbing drum beats and trance-like pounding, has to be seen and felt to be appreciated. In Japan, the kanji characters “tai” and “ko” translate into “big drum”—and that’s putting it mildly. Made from the trunk of one tree and sometimes weighing in at more than 600 pounds, the big drums were used more than 1,000 years ago in Japan to scare away enemies, bring on the rain, celebrate the harvest and communicate over long distances. Sacramento Taiko Dan now concentrates on teaching the ancient drumming tradition at its local dojo and performing regularly in schools and around town at charitable events and at annual occasions such as the Pacific Rim Street Festival in Old Sacramento. Listen to the boom of the huge drum—it is said to be the voice of Buddha.
(916) 444-5667,

Best combination of folk songs and horror flicks

The music of Bob Barango
You might know Bob Barango as Bob Moricz, the local cult filmmaker who led a pack of zombies down Midtown’s streets last July when filming his newest project, The Midnight of My Life. But he’s also a musician, and his live performances are full of the same dark energy and raw emotions he puts into his movies. In his lyrics, there are headless ghosts and vampire bats, there’s “always blood to mop,” and “the whole world relies on a beast and rider.” Horror has been a part of Moricz’ perspective since childhood, when the latchkey kid found it “incredibly liberating to watch sleazy horror movies in an empty apartment after coming home from school.” He now sees horror as the greatest kind of social criticism (which means he can’t go to the mall without thinking of Dawn of the Dead and shoppers as zombies). In Moricz’ music, within the percussive acoustic guitar and expressive vocals, you’ll find haunted places full of haunted people, struggling to get through the “funhouse of life” as best they can.,

Best outdoor arts event

Chalk It Up!
Locals who’ve spent years perfecting the fine art of chalking the sidewalk gather for three days of late-summer showing off at Fremont Park downtown, covering the sidewalks with temporary masterpieces that grow increasingly impressive throughout Labor Day weekend. Many of Sacramento’s favorite fine artists, most of them smeared head to toe in chalk dust, work away while local musicians play, vendors sell shaved ices, and sponsors—including SN&R—raise money to support arts education for kids.
Postal Mail Box No. 473, 1008 10th Street, Sacramento, CA 95814; (916) 484-5710; The event takes place at Fremont Park, at the corner of 15th and P streets.

Best local TV program

New Valley
The crappy economics of public broadcasting ensure that wherever you go, the programs on your local public TV station are pretty much the same. Antiques Roadshow, This Old House and The Suze Orman Show. Dull, dull, dull. But KVIE’s New Valley series is a wonderful exception. Producer J. Greenberg and his intrepid band of video raconteurs are wrapping up their second season of the well-crafted documentary series, which looks at the “big picture” issues facing the great Central Valley. Whether it’s the environmental costs of our population boom, the future of high-speed rail or the great economic disparities within the region, New Valley is doing the kind of thoughtful journalism that’s increasingly hard to find anywhere in TV land. That it’s homegrown makes it all the more remarkable.
KVIE, Channel 6; check for times.