I just went through an entire year’s worth of On magazines, and you know what? It was a great year for arts and entertainment in the Yakima Valley.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members Leon Russell and Chris Hillman played The Seasons Performance Hall. Comedians Lily Tomlin and Brian Regan played the Capitol Theatre, and Wayne Brady played Central Washington University. Willie Nelson played the Maryhill Winery. Carrie Underwood played the Yakima Valley SunDome.
Aside from those visitors, there was plenty of homegrown talent on display. Local boy made good Cody Beebe expanded his Chinook Fest to new levels. Bands like Shoot Jake and Not Amy gigged all over town. And artists such as stalwart Delma Tayer and newcomer Andy Behrle contributed to the downtown Yakima renovation with their contributions to the “Windows Alive” public exhibit.
It would be folly to try to list all of the important people and events from 2013. So what follows is not meant to be exhaustive. It’s just a list of highlights in the form of On magazine’s annual “best of” awards.
This is a loaded category this year, but the winner is The Pack A.D. in July at Yakima Valley Hop Shop and Brew Supply. A case could be made for Band of Horses at The Seasons — or Bonnie “Prince” Billy with Mount Eerie, or Alejandro Escovedo, also at The Seasons, or Holly Williams at The Gilbert Cellars Cave — but that Pack A.D. show was rock ’n’ roll like I’ve never seen around here before. There were maybe 100 people there, but those of us who made it were treated to some seriously joyous noise from this Canadian garage-rock duo.
It has to be Carrie Underwood, who returned to the SunDome in February. And, sure, maybe this isn’t a true “best of”; to me, Willie Nelson at Maryhill was a bigger deal. And so was Gordon Lightfoot at the Capitol. And Tomlin. But I was at the Underwood show, and I can say without reservation that nobody drew a bigger crowd in Yakima this year. Those fans stood in the cold for hours, too, and it didn’t dampen anyone’s fanaticism at all. The show itself was all energy and glamour and well-produced commercial country slickness. I was impressed.
Best art exhibit
I am always a supporter of art outside of galleries, so “Windows Alive” really appeals to me. Of course, there were some great things in galleries, too: “10x10x10xTieton” was interesting, as always; “Yakima River Diaries” at CWU was a thoughtful, varied look at the river through the eyes of artists; and “Leo Adams: Art•Home” at the Larson Gallery was an apt tribute to one of Yakima’s real treasures. But “Windows Alive,” which opened in September, putting art in empty storefront windows downtown, takes the prize.
Best community theater show
My favorite was the Warehouse Theatre Company’s production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” a heady Steve Martin comedy directed locally by Megan Antles. Jackson Garlington played Einstein with an absurdly silly elan. Richard Harleman played Picasso with the right gruff bluster. And Scott LaBree stole several scenes as Picasso’s art dealer, Sagot. Company regulars such as Allen Van Vleck, John Beitel and Ryan Clinkenbeard rounded out the cast nicely. I laughed frequently and heartily.
I’m going with the freshly opened Cornerstone Pie in Ellensburg, because every college town should have a pizza joint this good. I also love Chinatown Cafe, Antojitos, Kabob House, Famous Burger and Teriyaki and about a dozen others. But, come on, man, Cornerstone Pie has a pulled-pork pizza WITH capicola. You’re not going to beat that this year.
Best local band
They’ve been around for a couple of years now, and they sound better every time I see them. This year’s best local band is Shoot Jake, which hit a high mark this summer as openers for Tommy Castro when he came through town. Founding members Ben Johnson and Lindsay Johnson, nee Lindsay Jacobson, are the rock ’n’ rollingest couple around. He plays blues-rock guitar like shattering glass, and she pounds on the drums like those drums kicked her dog. They play frequently. Go see them.
Lily Tomlin, in addition to being one of the funniest people in show business for about the last half-century, is also an incredibly accommodating interview subject. She answered all my questions about Tom Waits, her co-star in “Short Cuts,” and was thoughtful and generous throughout our phone conversation. I was supposed to have 20 minutes with her, and we went for about a half-hour before I ran out of questions and had to admit — to my eternal embarrassment — that I didn’t prepare for an interview that long. She was nice about that, too. Honorable mention in this category goes to Escovedo and Regan, each of whom was also a joy.
Bests in brief
• Best local beer: Bale Breaker Brewing Co.’s Topcutter IPA, which has become ubiquitous at local bars, for good reason.
• Best soon-to-be-Sasquatch!: Chinook Fest, the Naches roots-music festival that exploded in its second year.
• Best longstanding tradition I finally saw first-hand: Fourth of July fireworks launched from (seemingly) every driveway in the city of Moxee.
• Best assist: Akin Center Theatre, offering its space for “A Christmas Carol” after a condemned roof almost canceled the Warehouse Theatre Company’s production.
• Best free entertainment: Downtown Summer Nights, the new city-sponsored concert series that drew hundreds on Thursday nights during the summer.