The entertainment landscape in Yakima shifted drastically in 2012.
The Yakima Sports Center, which for years had been the place to be for live music, all but stopped hosting shows. (They’re starting up again, bit by bit.) Bill’s Place and Brews and Cues picked up some of the slack, while The Speakeasy continued to host shows as always. The Seasons Performance Hall and the Gilbert Cellars Wine Cave offered a mixture of top-flight pop acts and classical performances. And El Dos de Oro provided a new place for big-time Latin and hip-hop acts.
The Capitol Theatre, two years removed from the high-water-mark opening of the 4th Street Theatre, was forced to examine its identity in the midst of an economic downturn. Some longtime players in the local art scene took a step back — Noël Moxley with the Yakima Symphony Orchestra, Cheryl Hahn at the Larson Gallery, Scott Peterson from the YVCC music department — while others emerged.
On magazine was there for all of it. And, though I know there are plenty of worthy things I’ll leave off this list, I think the following is a pretty good representation of what was best this year in entertainment in the Yakima Valley.
Best big deal visitor
Indie rapper Aesop Rock, who played The Seasons in September, is not perhaps the biggest name in pop culture. But he is an acclaimed — important, even — artist at the top of his game, who came to Yakima and put on what was by all accounts one of the most dynamic performances this town has seen in recent years. Eight days after that show, he was on stage at San Francisco’s iconic Fillmore Auditorium, perhaps America’s most legendary rock ’n’ roll venue. That’s who Aesop Rock is. And we had him here for a night.
Louie Perez and David Hidalgo are key members of Los Lobos, the genre-defying rock group whose music shaped much of the Los Angeles scene for the 1980s and ’90s. Seeing them with just a few hundred others at The Seasons in January was the sort of intimate concert experience you get once every few years if you’re lucky. There were a lot of other contenders for this category — The Cave Singers at The Seasons, Priory at First Presbyterian Church, Chatham County Line at the Gilbert Cave — but I kept going back to that Perez and Hidalgo show. I went by myself, stood in the back and just smiled the whole time.
Best local band
Has there been a big local event this year that hasn’t featured Not Amy? The band, which began the year as a nascent trio, added a rhythm section and started rocking out a bit a few months into 2012. They were everywhere this year, drawing raves for their songwriting as well as for their performances.
I love barrooms like Bill’s Place, and there’s a special ambience to The Seasons, but nothing can top watching a band play on a hill overlooking the vineyard at the Gilbert Cellars Wine Cave way out in West Valley. The relatively new venue, which also has the advantage of selling Gilbert wine by the bottle, is among the truly beautiful places in the Yakima Valley. I’ll always remember seeing Chatham County Line there in July.
Best celebrity interview
Louie Perez was great and the email interview I did with Aesop Rock was more interesting than I expected given the medium, but the very best interviews always seem to be comedians. This year’s list included arena-level star George Lopez, hipster darling and sincerely funny guy Patton Oswalt and standup-circuit stalwart Brian Regan. Lopez, whom I’d found engaging in a previous interview, was less so this time. And Oswalt was a bit prickly. (I’m not complaining; he’s earned the right, and I wasn’t at the top of my interviewing game that morning.) But Regan was great. He was thoughtful, forthcoming and kind.
Best art exhibit
This was another tough one. Mighty Tieton hosted a half-dozen first-rate art events. Allied Arts had a real winner with “Skateboards Explored.” And the Larson Gallery had its typical lineup of solid art, splitting the difference between big names and up-and-comers. So I’m splitting this “best of” and naming both “Camp Mighty Tieton” and the Larson’s Joe Fedderson exhibit, “Terrain — A Survey,” the best. The former was a weekendlong celebration that included creation of a giant quilt through dancing on fibers. The latter was a compelling look at the work of one of the Northwest’s best artists.
Best play or musical
Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” at the Warehouse Theatre was the funniest Warehouse play I’ve seen. The entire cast was great, but the second-act pairing of Megan Antles and Mike Faulk (the latter of whom you may know as the Yakima Herald-Republic’s chief political reporter) really stood out. Each of them won a Winnie Award for the play, the Warehouse equivalent of a Tony.
I still love Ellensburg’s Valley Cafe for fine dining, and you can’t get better food for less than you do at Tacos Los Primos — not to mention Kabob House, Gasperetti’s, Sugar Thai and a half-dozen others — but this year my favorite is Famous Burger and Teriyaki, that little red-and-white shack of a joint at Lincoln and Fourth avenues. It’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s delicious.
Bests in brief
• Best high-society night out: the YSO’s “The Marriage of Figaro” in April at the Capitol Theatre.
• Best locally published book: poet Elissa Ball’s “The Punks are Writing Love Songs” published by Blue Begonia Press.
• Best tribute: (tied) “Cheers for Cheech,” the rock ’n’ roll memorial for Jason Dudgeon at the Sports Center in January; “Like Father Like Son: Joseph Golan Memorial Concert” by the YSO in February.
• Best one-hit wonder: Rick Springfield (above), who played this year’s Central Washington State Fair and is still dining on his “Jessie’s Girl” success from 1981. Say what you want; it’s a great pop song.
• Best last-minute addition to the local scene: Orion Theatre and Mickey’s Pub, the new brew-and-view joint downtown. The seats are comfy, and you can order a burger and beer while you watch a movie.
• Pat Muir can be reached at 509-577-7693 or firstname.lastname@example.org.