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Best Block Party: J Street Between 27th and 28th
They call it “The Bloc”—that sophisticated stretch of sheer indulgence that runs along J Street between 27th and 28th. It emanates at a wicked-fast vibrational rate, thanks to a constant throng of party-hearty types. Start with Margarita Mondays at Centro and end the week, perhaps, with a show at Harlow’s. In between, you can grab a slice at Papi’s, shoot pool at the Blue Cue or try out the latest hip restaurant on the strip (most recently, that would be Aura and G.V. Hurley’s). And then go home, sleep it off and do it all over again. theblocsacramento.com
Best Musical Multitasker: Ray Anthony Trujillo
Being a classical violin dynamo is one thing. But playing a mean sax at age 13 is something else again—and Ray Anthony Trujillo does both exceedingly well. It helps that his father owns a music store and served as his first teacher. But the young Trujillo is more than your average kid with a musical head start. On violin, he’s played with the Sacramento Philharmonic and is one of the Sacramento Youth Symphony’s star players. On saxophone, he’s been known to jump on stage with the big boys, improvising on jazz, blues and pop. And—get this—he even fronts his own jazz quartet. How many 13-year-olds do you know can say that?
Best Next Big Thing: Ryan Hernandez
OK, so we’re going out on a limb. But Ryan Hernandez’s voice is something to behold, alternately bringing to mind Al Green’s soulfulness, Stevie Wonder’s emotional intensity and John Legend’s dulcet tones—not bad company for a 24-year-old self-taught musician from Sacramento. (He also plays acoustic guitar and piano and does it well.) By mixing old-school classics like “Let’s Get It On” with new-school pop/alternative, Hernandez is a hit with what he calls the “16 to 60 crowd,” performing regularly at Bistro 33 restaurants and other local venues.
Best Spirit Lifters: The Voices of Praise
If you don’t feel a rush of exhilaration when you hear The Voices of Praise, you must have walked into the wrong church. The musical pride and joy of Center of Praise Ministries (at 23rd and Capitol in midtown) is only some 35-members strong, but fills up the massive church like 1,000 voices—and not because of the microphones. Whether singing traditional or contemporary hymns, worship choruses or anthems, this choir’s electrifying power will jolt you right out of your seat and onto your feet, just like a good gospel group should.
Best Little Girl With a Big Voice: Olivia Kaufmann
Somehow, we don’t expect big voices to come from small packages. But they can—and do, as 13-year-old Olivia Kaufmann has been proving to local audiences. The petite singer/actress with the powerful pipes performs with Sacramento Theatre Company’s Young Professionals Conservatory and is becoming an increasingly familiar face in local theater, jumping from the STC stage to Magic Circle in Roseville to El Dorado Musical Theatre, based in her hometown of El Dorado Hills. It appears the critics like her, too: This year, she was nominated for an Elly award.
Best Homegrown Fred and Ginger: Michael Eric Koptke and Chelsea Farrah
Like Fred and Ginger before them, Michael Eric Koptke and Chelsea Farrah are glamorously gliding across the stage of life with stars in their eyes. The dancing duo has won top honors in several ballroom competitions, including the Pro/Am Open (he’s pro, she’s am) at the International Grand Ball in San Francisco this past summer. They dream of becoming world champions—and if they keep wooing judges with their winsome waltzing, they just might make it.
Best Paintings by Numbers: The 50-50 Show
Fun, clever and affordable, The 50-50 Show features 50 works created by 50 artists in 50 days, most of them priced below $150. Do the math, and you’ll come up with a grand total of 2,500 tiny treasures. (They’re only 6 by 6 inches each.) Held at the 20th Street Art Gallery in midtown, the event sees its third anniversary in April 2009, and gallery owner Jim Ferry says he intends to continue the tradition. But get ready to fight the crowds: During Second Saturday this past April, the place was packed.
Best Beatboxer To Beat All: Antoinette “Butterscotch” Clinton
She goes by “Butterscotch,” sweet and simple. But there’s nothing simple about her ability to sing, beatbox and play piano—all at the same time. (Creating all those drumbeats and rhythms with one’s mouth and tongue is, in itself, an act of sheer contortionism.) This past year, the 23-year-old Davis native gained national attention on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” where she came within inches of winning. But the beatbox world knew her long before that: In 2005, Butterscotch was named the first International World Female Beatbox Champion. She subsequently claimed the West Coast Beatbox champion title, leaving 18 male competitors behind with nothing but microphone spit.
Best Show Stealers: Steelin’ Dan
Heads up, Steely Dan fans: Instead of waiting for their next tour, get your fix with local tribute band Steelin’ Dan. From the straightforward pop/rock of “Reelin’ in the Years” to the quirky, jazz-infected “Green Earrings,” even the most discriminating Dan fans will be hard-pressed to find flaws in Steelin’ Dan’s amazingly accurate arrangements and marksmanlike musicianship.
Best Way To Waltz Away the Hours: The Strauss Festival of Elk Grove
As you watch the dancers gracefully twirl around the stage, the women in colorful ballroom gowns and the men in dapper tuxes, it feels like old Vienna all over again—and that’s precisely the point. The Strauss Festival of Elk Grove, a tradition since 1987, attracts more than 30,000 visitors to swoon to Johann Strauss Jr. waltzes (played by a 32-piece orchestra) for its four-day run every July. The outdoor festival, staged at Elk Grove Regional Park, features a different choreographed storyline every year, so repeat visitors can be surprised every time. It’s perfectly enchanting—and perfectly free (if you don’t count the cost of parking).
Best Band To Hit It Big (Then Move Here): Papa Roach
The road may be their home most of the year—they’ll be touring the East Coast around the time you read this—but Sacramento is the “official” home of Papa Roach. (Translation: They have houses, wives and kids here.) Fronted by heavily tatted singer Jacoby Shaddix, this four-man band is nothing if not uncategorizable, merging metal with punk, alternative rock and pop. But it’s their dark, smoldering intensity that seems to distinguish Papa Roach the most, propelling them into mainstream orbit since their triple-platinum major-label debut (Infest) in 2000 and keeping them there ever since. (Translation: They’re big.)
Best Vocal Versatility: Beth Duncan
By day, longtime local broadcaster Beth Duncan is on the radio, reporting news and traffic; by night, she flexes her vocal muscles in a more sensual way: singing jazz. Wrapping her silky yet sturdy voice around standards like “’S Wonderful” isn’t entirely new terrain for Duncan—she once made her living as a singer—but she dropped out of music for a while before giving jazz a serious go. While broadcasting remains her bread and butter—you can catch her on 1380 KTKZ (AM), 710 KFIA (AM) and 103.9 The Fish (KKFS FM)—singing for her supper is what really feeds her soul.
Best Group to Wax Poetic—Bilingually: Escritores del Nuevo Sol/Writers of the New Sun
Members of this group write in Spanish, English or both—so their poetry readings, typically held at La Raza Galeria Posada in midtown, swing accordingly. Some even “code-switch,” mixing words from both languages, so if you drop in on one of their readings, you may want to keep your Spanish-English dictionary handy. escritoresdelnuevosol.com