Best Of 2008

Last winter, Toby Bonar issued the full-length Deeper Roots, a fine accomplishment that displays his songwriting/singing talents and striking acoustic guitar and National Steel work. Bonar’s fluid picking harks back to the likes of country blues greats like Mississippi John Hurt, but with a freshness that speaks to a contemporary young man’s myriad interests.

Steve DuMouchel gave the performance of the year in Stageworks Lobby Hero.
Steve DuMouchel gave the performance of the year in Stageworks Lobby Hero.

Playing a complicated cop in Stageworks’ production of Lobby Hero, DuMouchel gave the sort of riveting performance you only get to see every few years. DuMouchel’s Bill-the-Policeman was ultra-macho, ultra-slick, more or less committed to a moral life (except where sex was concerned), and exceedingly conscious of the figure he cut with his adoring public and his anxious policewoman partner (and lover) Dawn. As played by DuMouchel, Bill was a hero and a liar and a violent man who somehow eschewed violence. Every move he made suggested bottled-up rage, desire, danger; and there were moments when it seemed like the small stage of the Shimberg Playhouse couldn’t survive all this unexpressed energy. Unfortunately for theater lovers, most of the Dunedin-based DuMouchel’s acting is done for television and film; but maybe if we’re lucky, he’ll grace one of our stages again in the near future.

Scott dominated the stage in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean at American Stage, easily convincing us that yes, she was 285 years old, and no, age hadn’t diminished her authority — moral and emotional — one bit. Gem was all about Ester, and about Citizen Barlow (Leonard Williams), who had committed some terrible crime and who came to her to have his soul “washed.” Mesmerizing him and us, Ester informed him that what he really needed was a mystical voyage to the mysterious City of Bones — and then proceeded to take him and us on that journey. Tough and tender, wise and patient, Scott played Aunt Ester as if she were powerful enough to carry the whole suffering world on her shoulders and still have a few good words about compassion and tolerance. Acting like hers quivers the spine and warms the heart.

Weeks before the old Tampa Museum of Art building met with the wrecking ball, Avant Garde, the museum’s young professionals group, pulled off a coup that will go down in local arts history. Convincing the TMA’s board of trustees to approve a dramatic send-off for the beleaguered waterfront structure, Avant Garde culled work from dozens of local artists and filled the museum’s galleries — including those that once housed ancient Greek vases — with contemporary art; even the building’s exterior got a makeover courtesy of graffiti artists Bask and Tes One. With bands inside and out and an elaborate video installation featuring toasts to the museum from Bay area politicians and arts leaders, Retro Perspectives set the bar scarily high for future art parties.

Jenkins is about to start his 10th year as Jobsite Theater’s artistic director, and it’s about time that he was recognized for the major contribution he’s made to the artistic life in the Tampa Bay area. In a city that eats fledgling theater companies for breakfast, Jenkins managed to turn Jobsite from an unlikely, underfunded pipe dream into a veteran, much-beloved regional resource. Starting at Ybor City’s tiny Silver Meteor Gallery, he overcame erratic programming and the desertion of key actors to make Jobsite the dependably professional resident company of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. He had faith in a central group of actors and designers who have, over time, become first-rate, and he has overseen some of the most innovative, daring programming of any theater company in the Bay area. This year was not Jobsite’s best, but who else would have dared to stage Strindberg’s A Dream Play, David Mamet’s Boston Marriage or the bizarre Gorey Stories? It takes vision, pluck and luck to make a theater company successful, and Jenkins has it all. The local arts world wouldn’t be the same without him.

Shelby Lynne in concert at Tampa Theatre in July.
Shelby Lynne in concert at Tampa Theatre in July.

She’s one of those supremely talented artists who for one reason or another (or a million) cannot achieve real career traction. Shelby Lynne’s local debut concert (as far as we can reckon) was produced by Ruth Eckerd Hall as part of its “On the Road” series, and drew about 500 people to the 1,400-seat Tampa Theatre. No matter. Lynne, backed by a four-piece band, took a little while to get untracked, but once she started into songs from this year’s Dusty Springfield tribute CD, Just a Little Lovin’, she transformed the venue into her living room. This was not about spectacle; it was about communicating stories and feelings through song. Lynne, who possesses astonishing pipes, calibrated her emotions throughout, so that each time she would cut loose and belt, it had more impact. At other times, she had you leaning in to listen. When a woman came down front to dance, Shelby really perked up. “Let me have your purse, honey,” Shelby drawled, “it’ll be easier to dance.” In short order, a group of folks gathered in front of the stage (she grabbed a guy’s wallet and went through it); some of them were slow dancing. A special moment. It looked like Shelby thought so, too. Here’s to hoping she won’t be a stranger.

We’ve seen Pearl Jam when they were absolutely transcendent, as in their Bay area debut at Jannus Landing in the early-1990s. And we’ve seen Pearl Jam a little detached. This year we saw Pearl Jam rejuvenated. The band played on a no-frills stage for two intense, cathartic hours. Eddie Vedder, who can be a brooder, really looked like he was having fun — drinking periodically from a bottle of wine, he was a little silly, a lot loquacious — but more than that, the best rock vocalist of his generation sang with extraordinary power, uncanny range and absolute conviction. The four instrumentalists (along with Vedder, who played some guitar), having been together so long, intuitively find that balance between tight and loose. The venue was big, but the connection was total. The show is available in various recorded formats through We have a copy; it’s a terrific memento.

Radiohead mesmerized a nearly sold-out crowd of 17,000 on May 6, at Ford Amphitheatre in Tampa, with an edgy sonic and visual presentation unlike anything being offered on the current concert circuit. Long, narrow LED light columns changed colors with every song, and a wall of giant screens behind the band alternated between showing close-ups of the musicians and trippy visuals, which surely enhanced the experience of those attendees walking around with pupils the size of pancakes. Frontman Thom Yorke played acoustic guitar, numerous electric guitars, a drum kit and upright piano during the two-hour performance. Beat-heavy rave explosions like “Idioteque” were offset with such mellow, serpentine meditations as the deep-sea exploration “Weird Fishes” and the OK Computer standout “Airbag,” making for a progressive and wildly satisfying concert. For a complete review of the concert and photos see, the May 7 post at


The Mojo Gurus deliver rowdy rock ’n’ roll with a whole lot of twang and plenty of roadhouse ’tude, at once evoking the Stones, Sun Records and the thrill of a booze-fueled Saturday night. The band’s latest album, Let’s Get Lit With... The Mojo Gurus, is the ideal soundtrack for a dangerous backwoods drive to an anything-goes bonfire party. Kevin Steele is a frontman who has inked two national record deals over the years (his first band, Roxx Gang, was on Virgin, and Universal distributed the Mojo Gurus’ 2005 CD Shakin’ in the Barn) and he knows how to sell a good-times lyric. Backing Steel is a tight power trio featuring the visceral, heavy blues guitar work of Doc Lovett. And remember, the place to see the Mojo Gurus is on a Friday night at their favorite stomping grounds, Ringside Café in St. Petersburg.

Still shy of his 30th birthday, Brandon native Damon Fowler started playing out at age 14, wowing audiences with his Fender fireworks. In recent years, though, he’s evolved into an accomplished slide-playing blues-rocker known for his fat tone. He can also wow folks on lap steel and Dobro. Fowler has come into his own as a vocalist and songwriter as well, penning a batch of Americana-leaning numbers for his upcoming album, which is tentatively slated to come out early next year on the venerable blues label Blind Pig (Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy). The Damon Fowler Group — which also includes bassist Chuck Riley and drummer Scott Key — has been touring nationally since 2004. The trio’s local gigs, though, especially at their Skipper’s Smokehouse home turf, remain special occasions, both for the band and audience, many of whom have been following Fowler since he was a teen.