Since its reopening in the lobby of the Grandel Theatre in 2017, the Dark Room has rapidly become a hub of jazz in Grand Center. The space hosts live music every night of the week by St. Louis' finest musicians — Tommy Halloran, Kaleb Kirby, Anita Jackson, the Kasimu-Tet and the Ryan Marquez Trio are just a few of the sharply skilled acts that populate the venue's concert calendar. It's not just the jazz bringing people through the doors, though. The Dark Room simply oozes class, serving as a photo gallery, wine bar and restaurant as well, with small, shareable plates and an effortlessly cultured atmosphere that makes you wonder if you should have come clad in a blazer (but don't worry, this is a judgment-free zone). The jazzy soundtrack is simply the icing on the cake that is the Dark Room experience.
As a comics store, Apotheosis Comics & Lounge has plenty of the basics, including sections of new and used comics, manga and graphic novels. But in a short period of time, the multiple owners of the space have transitioned their South Grand shop into a truly enhanced comics store, with a Saturday night comedy series, regular musical performances, gaming instruction sessions and, as referenced in the name, Missouri's only comic book shop/bar. With a can-only lineup, Apotheosis actually complements the other bars on its block with a very representative sample of beers, wines and spirits, though the heart of the business remains rooted in its colorful stock. In a relatively short period of time, the store, located in the same space as the late, lamented Whiz Bam! video shop, has quickly become a staple of the South Grand scene; heck, it's already hard to remember the place without it.
Held in an oft-overlooked pocket of the riverfront, Artica's been hosting an annual arts festival just north of Laclede's Landing since 2002. Run by a board of directors with long histories within Artica's small, freewheeling organization, the event showcases a variety of on-site installations, generally built on a Friday for public enjoyment over a single autumn weekend. Every year, the event kicks off with Saturday's interactive Boat of Dreams Parade, in which attendees set compostable, floating totems into the Mississippi River; and it ends with Sunday night's The Burn of Our Lady of Artica, a controlled fire show setting alight the fest's largest temporary artwork. In between, there's a lot of time to roam through this old warehouse district, as you find art and art finds you.
By Monday, a few artists will be found at the grounds, breaking down their structures and displays, and after a couple more days, there's not a lot of evidence that the event happened at all. Save, of course, for the memories created by one of St. Louis' most-intriguing, long-running and public-participatory arts events. (This year's Artica will be held Saturday and Sunday, October 5 and 6, with an official, GPS-friendly address of 1322 Lewis Street. Or just look for the friendly weirdos and you'll be there.)
It's a little weird to single out Basil Kincaid here. Rather than standing apart, his work has largely been about weaving the world together, often literally in quilts and the shattered bits of St. Louis that he collects in his wanderings and then reimagines. He melds the Metro with Ghana, where he had a residency. And he is a master spider-web builder when it comes to connecting forces such as poverty and consumerism, broad historical themes and individual identity. He writes, performs and builds collages. One of his best-known projects, the years-long, multi-part Reclamation is itself a collaboration between Kincaid and fellow St. Louis artists Damon Davis and Eric "Prospect" White. So while he spends his days focused on the greater collective, the larger "We" of St. Louis can be united in a little hometown pride in a talent such as his.
With Beale on Broadway's highly lamentable closure at the start of 2019, St. Louis' lauded "Broadway Blues Triangle," which consisted of three roots-music-loving venues in close proximity to one another on Broadway, is now down to a straight line. Broadway Oyster Bar and BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups remain, and each still serves up a heaping helping of the blues every single day of the week. Honestly, it's pretty much a toss-up between the two as to which should be named the city's best blues club. But equivocation is for equivocators, whereas RFT is decisive, dammit, so we gotta pick a favorite — which means we gotta pick BB's. Why, you may ask? It's that sublime catfish po boy sandwich, a standout of the form. Sure, Broadway Oyster Bar has those delectable sammies too — they have a menu overflowing with delicious cajun seafood, in fact — but for our money, BB's version simply can't be topped. So by all means, head to BB's if you seek blues and tasty fried fish — but remember, it's also just a straight-line walk to Broadway Oyster Bar if you're still hungry for either when your time there is through.
The tragic shuttering of beloved blues venue Beale on Broadway at the very start of 2019 turned the local blues scene on its head. For nearly twenty years — eighteen years, three months and three days, to be exact — the bar and venue had been a reliable place to take in some roots music by some of the city's finest performers. As one-third of the famed "Broadway Blues Triangle" alongside nearby venues Broadway Oyster Bar and BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups, Beale on Broadway helped to make that particular portion of downtown a point of pilgrimage for local blues fans, who flocked from all over the metro area to see a show. Local legends Roland Johnson and Kim Massie performed at the juke joint's last shows on January 2 and 3, with audiences spilling out into the street during their performances — a proper send-off for a space that gave the city so much for so many years.
New Line Theatre's production of Joe Tracz and Joe Iconis' Be More Chill was highly anticipated, because how often do you see a musical in St. Louis while it's still a first-run show on Broadway? Co-directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor gave us a show that was razor sharp in execution and far more entertaining than even the word of mouth promised. The songs were clever and sharp, the young cast impressed with their naturalistic performances and the plot felt familiar and yet fresh. There are many iterations of the "outcast kid becomes cool" trope, but few use the heady combination of science fiction and Mountain Dew to offer a warning about the dangers or over-reliance on technology. With a little luck, New Line's production of Be More Chill could become a yearly event, like the forever-returning touring production of Wicked.
What a difference a chief curator can make. Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis chief curator Wassan Al-Khudhairi arrived at the museum in August 2017 with a mandate to rethink both what CAM meant to St. Louis as a local institution and to engage with the national and international art world. Since her arrival, CAM has landed major exhibitions by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Superflex, Amy Sherald, Trenton Doyle Hancock and Christine Corday, all of which prove definitively that CAM is on the right path. The artists are more diverse, the work shown is more rigorous in addressing contemporary issues, and St. Louis — and the world — has taken notice. Various outlets (the New Yorker, Artsy, Vice) have covered these shows and artists, which keeps CAM in the national dialogue. Meanwhile, the Great Rivers Biennial continues to promote local artists, and St. Louis has a contemporary arts institution that looks more like the actual city.
It seems like every band in St. Louis has logged hours at Firebrand Recording near Westport Plaza. Hidden away in an industrial area, this is a popular place to record anything from albums to audiobooks to podcasts. Since Brian Scheffer opened the studio's doors in 2006, Firebrand Recording has built a strong reputation as being the affordable-yet-professional go-to studio spot in town.
From established musicians who need to record a commercial bit to young bands that crawled straight out of a basement practice space, this top-of-the-line studio has everyone covered. One day the studio might host Richard Fortus from Guns N' Roses, and the next it could be local heavyweights like Fister. You never know what you'll find in this studio. Firebrand even has an in-house studio dog, Roscoe, who will help you make your recording extra special. Roscoe is by all accounts a very, very good boy.
Not content to perform at traditional arts venues alone, Flo STL has been active in creating events that live and breathe within spaces built specifically to the needs of their vision. This fall, for example, the company has brought to life a three-part performance piece called Secrets of the Bower House, which kicked off at the St. Lou Fringe Festival before a stop at a converted south-city basement and is scheduled to finish at downtown's annual Artica.
Curated by Blaize D'Angio and Audrey Simes, the pair more than live up to their mission of creating
"contemporary, immersive, dance theater. We are collaborative in nature, fluid in membership, and
multidisciplinary in form. We create art using practices that fulfill our needs and desires for deep play, exploration, and detail-oriented work." To date, the young choreographers/dancers/directors have been successful in making thoughtful, site-specific work that captures the imagination of even those with only a passing familiarity/interest in contemporary dance.