2014 Best of Milwaukee Winners

Nov. 11, 2014
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Greg Koch

Acoustic Musician
Female Vocalist

Nora Collins

Brookfield singer-songwriter Nora Collins hit the ground running. Though she’s only a few years removed from high school, the country/folk/pop singer plays shows at a pace even the most seasoned professionals would find exhausting, and in recent years she’s shared stages with artists like Josh Thompson, Josh Turner, Lee DeWyze, Paul Thorn and many, many others. Her latest album, Only The Beginning, is a mostly acoustic affair that captures the intimate feel of her solo shows. (Evan Rytlewski)

Runners-up Acoustic Musician:

Jay Matthes

Hayden Skaggs


Runners-up Female Vocalist:

Amileigha Blue

Pam Duronio


Alt Country

Cover/Tribute Band

Rebel Grace


You’ll find quite a few hits by Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood in Rebel Grace’s playlist, which only makes sense, given the vocal resemblance of singer Amileigha Blue to those stars. Made up of past and current members of other cover bands including Chasin’ Mason and The Toys, the group also covers hits by country radio mainstays Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean and Thompson Square. (E.R.)


Runners-up Alt Country:

Hugh Bob and the Hustle



Runners-up Cover/Tribute Band:

Saving Savannah

J. Ryan Trio


Blues Band

Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys

There is no shortage of accomplished veterans in Milwaukee’s blues scene, but guitarist Reverend Raven can swap tales with the best of them. In his four-plus decades of playing the blues, he’s shared stages with legends including B.B. King and Junior Wells, and he brings that experience to his seasoned blues combo the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys. For their recent album Shake Your Boogie, the group piles high tricky guitar solos, blazing harmonica and plenty of sax. (E.R.)



Tweed Funk

J. Ryan Trio


Choral Group

Bel Canto Chorus

Milwaukee’s long-running Bel Canto Chorus remains true to its name, showcasing beautiful voices in material that challenges the singers without leaving audiences behind. Music Director Richard Hynson favors churches as concert halls for their acoustics. Perennial concerts include “Christmas in the Basilica” at St. Josaphat (Dec. 13-14), with its audience sing-along component, and a gospel-flavored Martin Luther King Jr. tribute at Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ (Jan. 17, 2015). (David Luhrssen)



Main Street Song & Dance Troupe

Milwaukee Choristers


Classical Music Ensemble

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has filled performance venues throughout the country and overseas—including Carnegie Hall 12 times over—with world and American premieres of works by composers such as Phillip Glass, Geoffrey Gordon and Roberto Sierra alongside familiar canon favorites. MSO flourishes under the leadership of Music Director Edo de Waart and many distinguished guest conductors, including the most prolific film composer of all time, John Williams, who has written for Star Wars, Saving Private Ryan, the Indiana Jones and Harry Potter series and much more. This orchestra doesn’t shy away from a good challenge and audiences can count on stellar performances time and time again. (Amanda Sullivan)



Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra

Frankly Music

Club DJ

DJ Breezy

A fixture of local clubs including The Eight and Kaña Mojito Club, Milwaukee’s DJ Breezy specializes in hip-hop. He puts old-school turntable techniques to work in the service of contemporary sounds, spinning sets that mix current hits from Drake, 2 Chainz, Kanye West and Bobby Shmurda. (E.R.)


DJ DMatic

The Enablers



Greg Koch

Greg Koch is a gregarious giant of a man whose outgoing personality helps define his music—and its wide appeal. Although he’s not a household name or a face familiar to readers of either People or Rolling Stone, Koch mapped out a successful career. He’s on the road 150 days a year between conducting clinics for Fender Guitars and touring the U.S. and Europe with his band. His latest album, Plays Well With Others, features songs co-written with Semi-Twang’s John Sieger and the contributions of a half-dozen of his favorite musicians from around the country. The music follows the blues-rock trajectory Koch set for himself as far back as the early ’90s, yet the presence of so many ace players pushes the markers farther down the road. (D.L.)



Joey Carini

Brandon Arens


Jazz Musician

Evan Christian

Evan Christian isn’t a jazz artist by most traditional measures, though you can often find him strumming away at some of the city’s most esteemed jazz venues, including the Jazz Estate. Rather than limit himself to one genre, the guitarist draws from a multitude of styles and influences, placing particular emphasis on the ornate sounds of Spanish flamenco. Depending on his spirit and whichever collaborators he happens to be working with, he also dabbles in blues, hip-hop, Latin music, acoustic rock and smooth, contemporary soul. (E.R.)



J. Ryan

Devin Drobka


Male Vocalist

Paul Cebar

Forty years after his first paying gig in the city, there may be no more colorful character and Milwaukee institution than Paul Cebar. He has the missionary zeal of a musician whose breadth of taste manifests in his own singular style as heard on the 2014 CD Fine Rude Thing. Although he is one of Milwaukee’s foremost musical historians, he chose his band name, Tomorrow Sound, “to put further emphasis upon the original, forward-looking nature of our artistic project,” he says. “We’ve listened long and hard to many vintage styles, but our thrust is forward.” (Jamie Lee Rake)



Jay Matthes

Trevor McCallister


Rap/Hip-Hop Artist

Fresh Cut Collective

For the popular Milwaukee hip-hop band Fresh Cut Collective, rap is more than just party music. Like jazz before it, it’s an ever-evolving dialect worth studying, deconstructing and pouring over. Fresh Cut Collective bring that same sense of record-collector obsession to their live shows, which draw not only from their own songbook, but from the decades of hip-hop tradition that preceded it. The group dedicated a recent performance, for instance, to covers of songs that inspired famous hip-hop loops, a clever homage to rap music’s roots. (E.R.)



Webster X

Streetz-n-Young Deuces


Rock Band


Even an acrimonious split between founding songwriters Sam Llanas and Kurt Neumann wasn’t enough to dampen Milwaukee’s enthusiasm for the BoDeans. Neumann has kept the band alive, releasing a new album sans Llanas—2012’s rollicking American Made—and carrying on as one of Milwaukee’s most dependable homegrown concert draws. As it turns out, the schism may have actually been good news for BoDeans fans. It’s given Llanas time to work on his fine solo albums, while freeing Neumann’s new BoDeans lineup to tour aggressively. Footage from the group’s American Made tour was compiled on their latest double live album, Amped Across America. (E.R.)


Vic and Gab

Moon Curse


Would white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan pose the same threat they do now if a mainstream Republican were president instead of Donald Trump?

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