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Best of Milwaukee 2016 Winners: Music

Jan. 18, 2017
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Acoustic Musician

FIRST PLACE:
Keith Pulvermacher

Like plenty of country and heartland rock musicians before him, Keith Pulvermacher draws heavily from his small-town upbringing, coloring his hopeful acoustic songs with images of barns and tire swings and other memories of his youth. In a nod to his Wisconsin origins, he titled his latest album Midwestern. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Ian Gould
Chris Roland
Derek Sallman

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Alt Country Band

FIRST PLACE:
Chasin’ Mason

The Wisconsin quintet Chasin’ Mason isn’t alt-country in the traditional Uncle Tupelo/No Depression sense, but they aren’t your typical Nashville-style contemporary country band, either. Instead, on their latest album, Real Life Real Loud, they draw almost equal inspiration from classic outlaw country (think Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings), modern country standard-bearers like Tim McGraw and Keith Urban and rock bands like U2. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Chicken Wire Empire
Rebel Grace
Saving Savannah

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Blues Band

FIRST PLACE:
Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys

Milwaukee’s blues scene is tight-knit and competitive, but over the years, Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys have gradually worked their way to the top of the pecking order, thanks to memorable shows at just about every major blues festival in the region. Theirs is a distinctly Midwestern style of the blues: all boogie riffs, searing electric guitars and roaring harmonica. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
J. Ryan Trio
South End Blue Band
Tweed Funk

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Choral Group

FIRST PLACE:
Milwaukee Symphony Chorus

Founded 40 years ago by its first music director, Margaret Hawkins, the MSO Chorus is easily on par with its companion orchestra as a world-class ensemble. As current MSO Maestro Edo de Waart affirms, “The MSO has the good fortune of having a first-class volunteer chorus,” and “with a chorus of this caliber, the options for performing great works in the repertoire are immense.” The MSO Chorus can boast performances of all the major Classical choral masterpieces, from Wolfgang Mozart’s Requiem to Francis Poulenc’s Gloria and much more—an ever-expanding repertoire of our own consistently cohesive chorus. (John Jahn)

RUNNERS-UP:
Bel Canto Chorus
Mainstreet Song & Dance Troupe
Wisconsin Lutheran Choir

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Classical Music Ensemble

FIRST PLACE:
Bel Canto Chorus

On Easter Sunday, 1931, a small group of singers appeared at the chapel of St. Mary’s Hospital and performed Hans Gruber’s Festival Mass. Within a decade, they could count some 70 voices. It’s been steadily onward and upward ever since for Milwaukee’s Bel Canto Chorus, which sings regularly with the Milwaukee Symphony and Milwaukee Chamber Orchestras in such performance spaces as St. Josaphat Basilica, St. Monica Parish and Vogel Hall. Their wide repertory and professional polish make the Bel Canto Chorus a major part of our community’s cultural fabric. Winning this category is no mean feat; we have numerous high-quality orchestras, vocal groups and chamber music ensembles to boast of. (John Jahn)

RUNNERS-UP:
Concord Chamber Orchestra
Florentine Opera
Tontine Ensemble

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Club DJ

FIRST PLACE:
Antics

Few Milwaukee acts are more plugged into current trends in electronic music than the DJ/producer duo Antics. Like a lot of EDM acts, they first turned heads with their remixes—most memorably a massive remix of the Katy Perry hit “Part of Me”—but more recently they’ve made a mark with original tracks, including their blissful new house single “Your Love,” featuring singer Fabian James. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
DJ Breezy DJ King James DJ Shawna

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Cover/Tribute Band

FIRST PLACE:
5 Card Studs

The best cover bands often have a sense of humor about being a cover band. That’s certainly the case for Milwaukee lounge enthusiasts 5 Card Studs who, for the last two decades, have been performing their own fantasy version of a Las Vegas-style revue, complete with swinging, brassy covers of hits by acts like The Spinners, Neil Diamond and, of course, Tom Jones. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Blue Light Scene
Cherry Pie
Love Monkeys

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Electronic Artist

Photo credit: Conor Tarnowski
FIRST PLACE:
GGOOLLDD

Milwaukee is long past the days when it viewed its music scene as a horse race—a sort of competition to see which act might break out first. Still, it’s hard not to wonder what the ceiling is for a band like GGOOLLDD, an electro-pop group with such perfectly constructed songs, such a glamorous stage presence and such a savvy understanding of contemporary trends that they seemed like bona fide stars from day one. Milwaukee has never seen anything quite like them. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Antics
Wolfbiter

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Guitarist

FIRST PLACE:
Andrew Koenig

Andrew Koenig is what you might call a generalist. As one-fourth of the Milwaukee quartet The Thriftones, Koenig hopscotches on his guitar from folk, funk, rockabilly and country and nearly everything in between, showing off with a brisk solo whenever a song allows. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Aaron Jellish
Chris Roland
Dave Wacker

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Jazz Musician

FIRST PLACE:
Carlos Adames Group

“Of course you’ve got to have these little tinges of Spanish in it,” proclaimed the great Jelly Roll Morton, “in order to play real good jazz.” Born into a musical family with South American and Caribbean roots, percussionist Carlos Adames was surrounded by the right rhythms from a young, impressionable age. The Carlos Adames Group—featuring Elias Holman on keyboards, Tony Ayala on timbales, Conway Powell on bass, Adames on percussion and frequent guests—has been a staple of the Milwaukee music scene since 2012, demonstrating Jelly Roll’s insight into the Afro-Latin foundation of “real good jazz.” (Tyler Friedman)

RUNNERS-UP:
Jamie Breiwick
Ryan Janscha
Andrew Spadafora

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Metal Band

FIRST PLACE:
Cherry Pie

Recent years have deflated the popular narrative that Nirvana and the early ’90s alt-rock boom put a permanent end to hair metal. Nearly three decades after the genre’s commercial peak, reunited hair bands continue to draw reliable crowds, as do tribute bands like Milwaukee’s Cherry Pie, who cover hits from acts like Van Halen, Journey, Def Leppard and Skid Row. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Armageddon Awaits
Spiral Trance
Stories for Strangers

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Rap/Hip-Hop Artist

FIRST PLACE:
WebsterX

While most rappers flood the market with a constant stream of music, WebsterX prefers a quality-over-quantity approach. It’s working for him. When he releases a new single (or a gorgeous new video), people pay attention. This fall, ahead of a long-awaited new album, he released another stunner: “Blue Streak,” a hectic, psychedelic blur of a track that features one of his wildest, most daring performances yet. Even in a local rap scene crowded with talent, WebsterX stands out for his inventiveness and singular vision. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
D’Amato
IshDARR
Klassik

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Rap/Hip-Hop Producer

FIRST PLACE:
Klassik

As a solo artist, Klassik has released some outstanding records that fuse hip-hop, jazz and soul in unexpected ways. Those records, though, don’t tell the whole story of his contributions to the local rap scene. Klassik has done much of his best work in collaboration with other artists as a producer, mentor and muse, lending beats and verses to too many rappers to list (as well as a few rock bands, too). Lots of artists can make themselves sound good. It takes a special one to make everybody else around him sound good. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Mike Regal
Milo
Q The Sun

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Rock Band

Photo credit: Leonardo Mascaro

FIRST PLACE:
The Living Statues

The Living Statues missed the early ’00s rock revival by a good decade, which is the world’s loss: They would have fit right into the radio during the heyday of The Strokes, The Vines and The Hives. All of those bands eventually ran out of gas, but somehow The Living Statues manage to keep drawing blood from one of the world’s most exhausted stones. Their ripping latest single, “I Never Asked,” is yet another earworm. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Midwest Death Rattle
Mortgage Freeman
Never Doubt the Worm

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Vocalist-Female

FIRST PLACE:
Nora Collins

By now, Nora Collins has probably built an entire addition to her family home out of all these awards that she’s amassed. The Brookfield native has been collecting WAMI and Best of Milwaukee Awards since she was still in high school. She’s grown into a very different artist than she was five years ago, though. Her music has grown glossier and poppier, more in line with the slick sound of contemporary country radio. Her latest EP features her most fetching single yet, “Recover.” (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Alison Helf
Brianna Jackson
Alissa Weber

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Vocalist-Male

FIRST PLACE:
Jay Matthes

Jay Matthes is a traditionalist. The singer-songwriter’s latest album, A Drier Place, is proudly no frills—a collection of mostly acoustic bluegrass and American songs recorded without any kind of studio trickery. That naturalistic approach puts the emphasis where it belongs: on Matthes’ sturdy, grainy voice. Even when guest musicians lend a little instrumental flair to the songs, his voice remains their focal point. (Evan Rytlewski)

RUNNERS-UP:
Alex Congdon
Chad Hanish
Ryan Janscha

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