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40 Marvels That Will Restore Your Faith in St. Louis 

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click to enlarge David Robertson. - COURTESY OF ST. LOUIS SYMPHONY
  • David Robertson.

Best Victory Lap

David Robertson, St. Louis Symphony

The 2017-2018 season marks the end of David Robertson's thirteen-year tenure leading the St. Louis Symphony. Robertson arrived in 2005, shortly after a contentious labor dispute between the musicians and management; at its lowest ebb, Powell Hall's doors were locked against the musicians. With his ready smile and a drive to restore lost glory, Robertson helped lead the symphony out of those dark days. Since his arrival there has been labor peace for the musicians and a return to prominence for the mighty orchestra, with well-received trips to New York, California and Europe. Robertson and Co. won a Grammy for their recording of John Adams' City Noir (the symphony's first such win since 1991) and expanded their fan base locally with exceptionally popular New Year's Eve "surprise shows" and low-cost concerts of new and experimental music at the Pulitzer. David Robertson leaves the symphony healthier, more respected and better equipped for the future. —Paul Friswold

Best Celestial Event

The Great American Eclipse

We are the most modern people who have ever lived. We knew well in advance that there would be a total solar eclipse this summer. We had seen the computer models and maps and the animated predictions of what it would look like at near-totality, and we understood the forces that were at work high above Earth as the clock ticked down to 1:17 p.m. on Monday, August 21, 2017. And yet, there was something unnerving about the encroaching darkness as the moon covered more and more of the sun. At the moment when St. Louis went utterly dark and all the streetlights came on, there was no technological device that could calm the queasy flutter in your stomach. Some things are simply bigger than us, no two ways about it. Watching the sky go out and then slowly come back on was an excellent reminder that in the grand scheme of things, CGI models and maps aren't the same as seeing it for yourself. If it gets just one of you to stop trying to capture every moment of your life in your phone's screen, it is a lesson well learned. —Paul Friswold

Mayor Lyda Krewson. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Mayor Lyda Krewson.

Best Glass-Break

Lyda Krewson

Five months after Hillary Clinton's dreams of the presidency ended in a shocking upset, St. Louis elected as mayor a candidate who had many, many things in common with the 2016 Democratic Party standard-bearer. It wasn't just that Lyda Krewson was a pragmatist in a race that had attracted some progressive candidates, or that she was the darling of the donor class, easily outraising what began as a roster of many, many opponents. It was also that she was a woman. To which you might say, "Duh" — but not so fast. While Krewson didn't run explicitly as a female candidate, wisely eschewing a strategy that touted the virtues of her gender, that she broke the glass ceiling in this old boy's club of a city was in fact remarkable. And her achievement was, if anything, made even more remarkable in that the candidate who finished second, city Treasurer Tishaura Jones, is also female. Men have run this city for centuries — and clearly, St. Louis was ready for change. Here's to the smart, hard-working woman who proved it could be done — and here, too, is to the prospect of many more women on top in years to come.  –Sarah Fenske

Best Place to Hear a Ghost Story

Missouri State Penitentiary

115 Lafayette Street, Jefferson City; 866-998-6998

Movies like Jailhouse Rock and The Shawshank Redemption provide a romanticized notion of what it means to be locked up, but let's be real — life in the "A" block is no treat. But for those who insist on faux cell time, might we suggest a trip to the Missouri State Penitentiary? Built in the 1830s when Missouri was still a relatively new state, the maximum security prison eventually became one of the largest in the country. Notable inmates include bank robber Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd, anti-war activist Kate Richards O'Hare and James Earl Ray, who escaped and later assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. All of that history and more comes to life during the Pen's smorgasbord of tours, which generally run two to three hours and may be led by a former inmate or a knowledgeable narrative guide. We know these walls can talk, though, so we'd rather put our money on the offerings focused on paranormal experiences. Learn about the unusual occurrences that have spooked the Pen's guards or try to find Casper himself during evening sessions and even overnight ghost-hunting investigations. Camping out in the penitentiary during the witching hour will only set you back $100, and you'll have plenty of wow-inducing stories about the now-closed institution that used to be the oldest operating penal facility west of the Mississippi River. — Allison Babka

click to enlarge Off Broadway. - NATE BURRELL
  • Off Broadway.

Best Front-Row Seats

Off Broadway

3509 Lemp Avenue, 314-498-6989

One of the many amazing things about Off Broadway is how easy it is to get the VIP experience. Because the tickets at the smallish music venue south of Cherokee are usually general admission, you just need to arrive reasonably on time, walk up to the stage and stand there until the show starts. That's it. This isn't advanced game theory here. You can even grab a tallboy and still have time to find a spot close enough to read the set list lying at the bass guitarist's feet. This feat is possible because most of the crowd lingers away from the stage until the last moment. There is an outdoor bar, and the patio feels so much like a backyard get-together that people like to just hang out. Off Broadway is a casual place, so that's understandable, but it also provides an opening for the more ambitious. All you need to do is beat them inside by a few minutes, and you'll find yourself with your knees pressed against the stage when the action begins. If you're the pushy type, you don't even have to get there early. Just wriggle through the crowd of polite Midwesterners and claim your place. —Doyle Murphy

Best Way to Get High

Gateway Arch Helicopter Tours

Riverfront at 50 South Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, 314-496-4494

It's no secret that construction surrounding the St. Louis Arch has put a damper on tourist-like activities downtown in the last couple of years. But the Gateway Arch Helicopter Tours are bringing the beautiful sites of St. Louis back to tourists and natives alike. The tours are located on the downtown riverfront, where construction finished last summer. Thrill-seekers can enjoy the bird's-eye view of countless St. Louis attractions on one of four tours: the Riverfront Tour ($37 per person), the Anheuser Busch Tour ($63 per person), the Botanical Garden Tour ($105 per person) and the Deluxe Tour, which visits these sites along with Forest Park, the City Museum and more ($150 per person). The actual flight times vary per tour from as short as two minutes to as long as twenty minutes. The operation runs first-come, first-served and does not take reservations. There are two different helicopters — one seats between two and four passengers and the other seats two or three passengers. Because, well, they want the helicopter to stay airborne, there are some weight restrictions, so inquire ahead of time if you're on the bigger side. The establishment, which accepts cash and credit, is open from April through November every day from 11 a.m. until sunset. — Sabrina Medler

Best Celebration of Art

Vibes Grand Arts Event


Vibes highlights local musicians, visual artists, fashion designers, chefs and more at its yearly "Grand Arts Event" in St. Louis. At Vibes, you can catch rising stars like Smino Brown and Bloom perform before they make it to the big stage, as well as check out the work of up-and-coming visual artists. The event began at Cherokee Street's Blank Space in 2012 and has been growing ever since. This year, for the first time, it was split into two separate days in different locations, promoting visual artists, merchants and chefs on one day and musicians on the second. Vibes is always packed and sells out quickly (one year, the event was "over-capacity after 45 minutes," notes organizer Sierra Brown), so repeat customers know to secure their tickets in advance. And families are always welcome, but after 9 p.m., the crowd's energy swells; you'll want to put the kids to bed and prepare for a good time. All art on display at Vibes is available for purchase, making it a great way to support local artists and get some new decorations for your wall too. —Taylor Vinson

Fatal Bus Accident. - JESSICA DONAHOE
  • Fatal Bus Accident.

Best Way to Laugh 'Til Your Face Hurts

Fatal Bus Accident at the Improv Shop

3960 Chouteau Avenue, 314-652-2200

It takes guts to helm a live comedy show with a name evoking vehicular manslaughter. For nearly two years, though, Fatal Bus Accident and its four principal performers have demonstrated why the production is beloved within the St. Louis comedy scene, and especially by the core group of faithful fans who watched the show develop in its former home at the Heavy Anchor. Loosely framed as a "live talk show," Fatal Bus Accident serves as a crucible for the combined wits of comedians Stryker Spurlock, Amy Milton, Jeremy Hellwig and Jon Venegoni. At the height of the show's prowess — which it reaches with a remarkable consistency — the combination of lightning-quick jokes and plot twists means the audience can hardly process one absurd premise before another comes charging in from stage-right, possibly in the form of a person dressed up as bald eagle trying to eat Milton's liver or as a figure draped in green fabric who hops around and answers to the name "Portmantoad." Nothing is as it seems. Along with a supporting cast of some of St. Louis' best standup comics, Fatal Bus Accident incorporates video skits, show-specific zines and a love affair with time travel that goes much deeper than tired bits about becoming your own grandparent. With a recent move to the Improv Shop, Fatal Bus Accident aims to continue refining its strange comedy chemistry, brewing a show that is uniquely weird and weirdly wonderful. (Or as the Portmantoad would say, "weirderful.") —Danny Wicentowski

Best Tribute Concert Experience

An Under Cover Weekend

If there's one thing St. Louisans like — nay, love — it is tribute acts. There is a reason El Monstero, the city's premier Pink Floyd impersonators, are able to sell out the Pageant for a weeklong stretch every December. We also are home to Celebration Day (a tribute to Led Zeppelin), Grand Allusion (a tribute to Styx) and Shakey Deal (a tribute to Neil Young). We even have three separate tribute acts in town devoted solely to the Grateful Dead. Some of this can be chalked up to our location squarely in the midst of KSHE Country, but not all of it. For the last eleven years An Under Cover Weekend has found success painting outside of the lines of the classic rock set — and, in fact, expressly set the bar outside of that genre for its latest go-around. This year's iteration took place for the first time at Delmar Hall after years at the Firebird, with local acts tackling tributes to musicians spanning three decades of music: Night one was '80s night (Theresa Payne as Chaka Khan, Too Deep as Madonna); night two took us to the '90s (Blank Generation as OutKast, Fivefold as Third Eye Blind); and night three pushed into the '00s (the Fade as Justin Timberlake, Aida Ade as Erykah Badu). Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, it's the best tribute experience in town each and every year. And that's even with plenty of competition. —Daniel Hill

Best St. Louis Story

Christopher Parrish

A couple of years back, a young piano player from New York moved to St. Louis. Ethan Leinwand quickly found work, bands and creative opportunities. When Christopher Parrish, a piano man with similar, but not identical, interests in early twentieth-century music moved here earlier this summer, he found a kindred, welcoming spirit in Leinwand. But Leinwand is just one of many contacts that have encouraged Parrish, who's comfortable in jazz, swing, ragtime, stride piano and the blues. "I make a new friend every day," says Parrish, 32, who's as enthusiastic as he is dapper. "I make a new connection every day. Originally, I thought I'd move here and have to find a job delivering pizzas or washing dishes. But I haven't had to. I am shocked by the amount of support, generosity and graciousness of the people here. I really couldn't be any happier." An occasional player with Annie & the Fur Trappers, Parrish has also started a new group with TJ Muller and Jon Weiss, the St. Louis Ticklers, which has already found gigs. Again crediting the town's positive vibe, he says, "Everyone's been very supportive, especially given the style of music that I play. There's a terrific, burgeoning music scene here. There're no half-measures taken here, musically. Things are being done at a high level and I enjoy that." Though he's moved to town in advance of his wife, their temporary separation came with the idea of settling into a real community here; one with deep musical roots. "From a historical standpoint, St. Louis has always been a great city for music," Parrish says. "It was, and still is, an incubator for ragtime and of piano and vocal blues. Debatably the incubator." And, it appears, a place for new musicians to ply their trade in some of the oldest traditions we know. —Thomas Crone

Turn the page for more marvels, including our best private entrance.

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