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Wilmington Water Tours—38% votes

Dealing with the unexpected can be daunting for any business. Ask Wilmington Water Tours, who has experienced first-hand hardships that come with finding success.

“With so much revitalization of the downtown and Riverwalk comes the challenge of dealing with lengthy delays and associated extended closures,” owner Doug Springer says. His 46-foot catamaran, “The Wilmington,” docks at the foot of Dock and Water streets, where much construction has been taking place from downtown renovations. “Still, we greatly appreciate the vision of our city leaders in moving us forward to a point of national recognition as a model for others to follow.”

Wilmington Water Tours sets sail on various tours and excursions weekly, and lands their first win ever on our Best Of poll. They host Eagle Island Tours for a 50-minute narrated and educational jaunt that heads south under the Memorial Bridge to the State Ports. They do a Blackwater Adventure Cruise (Captain Doug’s favorite) up the northeast Cape Fear River to the upper reaches of the black-water system of the Cape Fear. Both tours are great for nature photographers or birders, who will get a peek of native plants and wildlife, including osprey, alligators, sea turtles, and river otters.

Romantics can board a sunset cruise to see the bright ball in the sky sink into the westward horizon and illuminate the river in hues of pink, orange, purple, blue, and red. Wilmington Water Tours often host live music and serve beer, wine and spirits to make for the perfect ending to a hectic day.

“Our business model has always been to be a part of the community and not so much a tourist based business,” Captain Doug explains. “Thus, we try to exceed every customer’s expectation every time, and constantly create new experiences so they return time after time. We build on what works and constantly incorporate what we learn from our customers and employees back into our business.”

They put forth efforts to give back to the community at large, too. Aside from focusing on exposing young minds to the importance of the region’s waterways and ecological systems, they work with the Battleship NC.

“They share the same passion and demonstrate it through their actions,” Doug tells. “School children, scouts and other groups across the state can register through the Battleship for a program we deliver called, ‘It’s Your River.’”

Between their full-moon cruises, down river maritime tours, and even offering a pirate school for the youngsters, staying busy is never a problem for Captain Doug and his shipmates. 2017 will see Wilmington Water Tours create new cruising experiences, programs and an expansion on their water-taxi services. “Not to let the cat out of the bag, but look for the soon to be announced ‘In Search of Series’ with Dr. Chris Fonvielle.’”

Other tours of Wilmington securing spots on the voters’ poll include Haunted Pub Crawl (37%) and Port City Brew Bus (25%). —Shea Carver

WEBSITE:—48% votes

Port City Daily has once again ranked on top of the Best Of polls for Best Local Website. Their five-year anniversary is this August, and the online newspaper is tightly knit with 98.3 The Penguin, 2017’s Best Radio station. “We usually follow [The Penguin’s] lead on how we get involved in the community,”  says Port City Daily’s managing editor Michael Kane. “However, we as a news staff have been discussing more ways in which we can get more involved in the community—within the confines of our company policies of no opining. That’s a goal.”

When Kane joined Port City Daily last July, ironically, he was brought in with the understanding their website was in transition. “Nothing major,” he clarifies. “Really, technical problems as we prepare to launch a new site template are the things that keep giving my staff fits.”

As they put the finishing touches on a more modern template, which Kane estimates will also make the site easier to navigate, Port City Daily recently launched travel and health sections. They’re also working to add a few more beats, including technology and science. “The news staff itself is in discussions on the best way to utilize the new tools we will be handed,” Kane adds. “How do we want to deliver a story? Each presentation can be as unique as the story itself, and we want to try different ways of engaging our consumers. And it all starts with the new template.”

While their continued evolution may help keep Port City Daily’s website saved in thousands of browsers, Kane credits their popularity to the reputation of reporters that preceded his arrival. Another transition his team recently faced was the addition of Ben Schachtman and Cory Mannion. They join Kane’s dedicated staff who not only live here but also “immerse themselves in the culture [and] frequent local businesses. They care about this region.”

While using a successful online platform to tell the stories from the community has been Port City Daily’s bread and butter for five years, they’ve also capitalized on their relationship with radio. “Having trusted DJs who read the articles and talk about it helps to remove a layer of skepticism new readers may approach smaller news with,” Kane says. “The ability for reporters to go on the air when needed, such as when a big story is unfolding, connects the reporters to the audience a little more than usual.”

Folks also click through (34%) and (18%) for Best Local Website. —Shannon Rae Gentry

NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher—46% votes

“There is always something new to do or see at the Aquarium,” Robin Nalepa says. It’s true that she may be a little bias as NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher’s public relations specialist, but the proof is in the pudding .. er, schedule: Annually they host Aquarium Summer Camps; Trick or Treat Under the Sea; Santa by the Sea; and Alligator Egg Hunt, all have become family traditions. The Aquarium also is currently involved in research to help sand tiger sharks, sea turtles and local frog species like the Carolina gopher frogs.

“The world-famous Weeki Wachee Mermaids will make a splash at the Aquarium March 10-12,” Nalepa continues to list. “Lorikeet Landing, an interactive feeding experience with colorful free-flying birds, opens mid-April to September. The Aquarium also hosts the 5K Race for the Planet, April 23, to celebrate Earth Day and raise funds for conservation. . . We are dedicated to conservation and saving animals, locally and globally.

The Aquarium has been a part of the Cape Fear community for more than four decades. In that time Nalepa estimates they’ve connected millions of people with animals, nature and each other. And now Wilmingtonians have voted them Best Tourist Attraction for four years in a row. “It is our honor to be part of the Wilmington community,” she says. “We are proud to have created a nationally-recognized aquarium where community members from toddlers to adults, choose to spend time together.”

From student field trips to weddings to family outings—when people visit the Aquarium they see animals they’ve never seen. As well they learn why wild spaces and wildlife matter. “Where else can you get eye-to-eye with an albino alligator, learn about a rescued bald eagle, and safely touch a shark?” Nalepa adds.

NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher is open daily to the public from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. To learn more about current and future exhibits, research or other outreach programs, visit

Other Best Local Tourist Attractions folks are frequenting are Airlie Gardens (28%) and Battleship NC (26%). —Shannon Rae Gentry

CROWD SURFING: Above crowd indulges in preshow food and beverages at The Beach Ball fundraiser for Surfers Healing and 2017 Best Of winners. Below (far right), Amy Feath, executive director of Carousel Center and runner up for Best Nonprofit, gets her silly on with coworkers and friends. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

CROWD SURFING: Above crowd indulges in preshow food and beverages at The Beach Ball fundraiser for Surfers Healing and 2017 Best Of winners. Below (far right), Amy Feath, executive director of Carousel Center and runner up for Best Nonprofit, gets her silly on with coworkers and friends. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

Tony Rivenbark
—39% votes

When someone sees Tony Rivenbark onstage, they are immediately impressed by his vast range of talent and professionalism. The actor has been a steadfast icon on Wilmington’s theatre scene since 1966—and not only because he is the executive director of the historic Thalian Hall, but because the roles he takes on crest an emotional swell of depth. In 2016, among his travels to see shows on Broadway or abroad, and running Thalian Hall, he acted in a bevy of impressive productions.

“I had the privilege of doing a wonderful string of roles, including Gonzalo in [Dram Tree’s] ‘The Tempest,’ which won Best Play at the Star News Awards in 2017,” Rivenbark expresses. He also played the Old Actor in “Fantastics,” Franklin in “1776,”  the Nathan Lane role in ”It’s Only A Play,”  and the Monsignor in the New Year production of  “Sister Act.”  “All four productions were top notch and had great casts, great production values, and were extremely satisfying experiences and a whole lot of fun,” Rivenbark says, “so much so, I don’t think I can pick a favorite.”

Without slowing down in 2017, Rivenbark’s calendar already is marked up with upcoming shows. Aside from serving on the board of Dram Tree Shakespeare, he especially is excited to see their third production come to light this spring with “Comedy of Errors” at the DREAMS Garage. “The set is designed by Gary Ralph Smith and is under construction at this time,” Rivenbark tells. “It is going to be a wonderful theatrical experience and opens on Easter weekend.”

Smith, in fact, will set design three productions taking place at Thalian Hall Center of Performing Arts Cube Theatre in Ruth and Bucky Stein Theatre on the second floor of Thalian. “Deathtrap,” directed by Rivenbark’s friend and Wilson Center’s executive director, Shane Fernando, will open in May. Judy Greenhut will be directing Rivenbark as Al Lewis (the George Burns’ role) in August for “Sunshine Boys,” and Rivenbark himself will take on the directing reins come October with “Give Em Hell, Harry.”

The constant evolution of Thalian is something Rivenbark is thrilled to see—actually, it can be said for all of the theater scene in Wilmington. When he first started, Thalian only held four productions a year, as produced from Wilmington College Theatre Department and Thalian Association Community Theatre. This week alone, he is happy to praise 14 productions in rehearsal across town. “Not to mention two Broadway touring productions in the last two weeks,” Rivebark says. “The biggest change in local productions have to do with the renovations of Thalian Hall stage and support facilities which have provided a huge boost to the ability to mount large-scale productions, including much more options in lighting and special effects, and a very fine fly system. Also the choreography and performers in production numbers is generally of a higher quality and complexity than in 1966 when I was one of few male dancers in the city. However, there is room for a lot of improvement in set design and execution.”

Other thespians hitting our poll include Jason Aycock (32%) and Susan Auten (29%). —Shea Carver

Cape Fear Museum
—36% votes

This year’s top pick for Best Museum truly belongs to the Wilmington community. “We are a department of New Hanover County, so Cape Fear Museum is your museum,” director Sheryl Kingery Mays asserts. The Best Of win is important to their team, who manage to offer relevant, creative and unique exhibits and programs throughout the year.

“Getting recognition from our community means the world to us,” she adds. “It tells us that we matter to the community and that we are achieving our goals of reaching and engaging our constituents.”

Cape Fear Museum started back in the 1890s as a history museum but has since grown in scope and size. They added science to their coverage in the late ‘70s; expanded their facility in 1992; and most recently transformed one of their parking lots off of Market Street into a community park. The Museum now houses more than 53,000 objects in the collection to help tell unique stories of our coastal region. “As our population grows and diversifies, we constantly challenge ourselves to provide new and creative ways to engage our community,” Mays continues, “and showcase the history, science and cultures of our region through our exhibits and programs.”

The museum changes and grows  constantly, by adding engaging and interactive exhibits. They’ve most recently opened Space Place. With help from local GE employees, Space Place is inspired by and modeled after the International Space Station. Hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) interactives include a robotic arm, microscopic experiments and a glove-box challenge.

“Visual elements offer real-time information about the International Space Station’s location and daily operations,” Mays explains. “Visitors will also discover how astronauts sleep in space, examine the water cycle aboard the space station and engage in several rotating activities appropriate for all ages from preschoolers to adults.”

They’ll also open Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition “Patios, Pools and the Invention of the American Backyard” on March 18. With vintage photographs, historic drawings and period advertisements, the exhibit explores the evolution of the mid-century backyard. Visitors can explore local film and television production industry from the 1980s to present day at “Starring Cape Fear!” until October 1. Learn local film history from Dino De Laurentiis’ efforts to create the largest sound stage lot east of California to how North Carolina’s film incentives changed the industry in the Cape Fear.

“Artifacts from several productions including ‘Firestarter,’ ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ ‘Dawson’s Creek,’ ‘One Tree Hill’ and ‘Tammy’ are on view,” Mays lists. “It’s a rare opportunity to see a cape and the ear from ‘Blue Velvet,’ an ‘Iron Man 3’ mask, and the jet ski beloved by Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) in ‘Eastbound & Down.’”

Aside from visiting, there are many ways for people to become involved with Cape Fear Museum. Follow them on social media or their website at to see how to get involved or become a volunteer.

Runners up in the 2017 poll for Best Museum are Cameron Art Museum (35%) and The Children’s Museum of Wilmington (29%). —Shannon Gentry

MODEL TALENT: Thalian Association grans Best Theatre Company 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

MODEL TALENT: Thalian Association graBs Best Theatre Company 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

Thalian Association—58% votes

Being around for roughly 229 years and nurturing the civic, cultural and social life of a community tends to garner attention from its citizenry. At least that’s the theory from executive director Susan Habas who happily receives Thalian Association’s series of awards for Best Theatre Company. In addition to their theatrical productions on multiple stages, they oversee a number of community outreach programs across ILM. They manage Hannah S. Block Community Arts Center for the City of Wilmington; founded the Orange Street ArtsFest; offer one of the oldest youth theatre programs in the southeast; and offer free youth education programming and support for various groups like GLOW and Boys and Girls Club of Wilmington—all while staging multiple productions every year.

“This is accomplished with three full-time employees,” Habas reminds, “five part-time employees, a volunteer board of directors and an army of parents, actors, technicians and volunteers! [The Best Of award] means everything because our community is engaged with our productions and likes us.”

As a nonprofit community theatre group, which inherently has many challenges, Thalian Association’s arsenal of talented artists, volunteers and quality shows keep the spotlight on the depth of their work. It’s no wonder the association was named the Official Community Theatre of North Carolina by the State Legislature almost a decade ago. “We truly embody the spirit of a community theatre,” Habas adds, “onstage with our productions and off stage with outreach programs and theatre education.”

Aside from their regular 2017 season, Thalian Association is collaborating with Friends of the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA for a month of live theatre in July. Starting with “Mister Roberts,” opening on July 4 (with fireworks to follow), performances will be held Thursday through Sunday for three weekends.

“This coming year [artistic director[ Chandler Davis has planned the most exciting youth theatre and main-stage Thalian Hall season in our long history,” Habas divulges. “We are excited about all the shows: ‘Young Frankenstein’ a Wilmington premiere and will be a monster of a show, and our youth theatre is reviving ‘Hairspray’ and premiering Disney’s ‘Tarzan.’”

Whether an aspiring actor, designer or theatre enthusiast, there are many ways to become involved with Thalian Association: audition, volunteer, donate, or simply attend performances. (Psst … season flex-ticket passes are available.) Opportunities, programs and productions are posted at

Other productions coming from Thalian Association include “Gypsy” from March 30 through April and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which encore will sponsor, May 18-28. They  also are celebrating Red Barn Studio Theatre’s final production, “Barefoot in the Park,” this month through March 26. (Read Gwenyfar Rohler’s review on pg. 19.)

Runners up in the 2017 poll for Best Local Theatre Company are Cape Fear Theatre Arts (22%) and Opera House Theater Company (20%). —Shannon Gentry

Thalian Hall—62% votes

Thalian Hall is a treasure among our cityscape. Aside from the fact it’s been operating in Wilmington since it opened in 1858, the historical structure acts as home to City Hall. Between the numerous performances, weddings, city hall meetings, and other miscellaneous schedulings, by the end of the 2016-17 season, Thalian will have hosted well over 600 events. It’s no wonder the space shot to the top of our Best Theatre Venue category to no avail.

So far, marketing director Gary Tucker says The Drifters have been their best-selling show this season. “Their combination of nostalgia and cross-generational appeal was hard to beat,” he explains. However, so much more is on the docket to enjoy.

“The hidden gem in the Thalian Hall Main Attractions Season is Mike Farris,” Tucker explains of the GRAMMY-award winner for “Roots.” “As people hear him play, they immediately recognize the talent and are getting very excited for his show on April 22nd.”

Just as well, bluegrass always makes for larger audiences in Wilmington, which is why Thalian’s Bluegrass Bash, featuring Best Band runnerup Massive Grass and Folkstone String Band, will be a hit. This is a first for Thalian’s Main Attractions Series: including local acts. “I think the community is excited to see some local bands being billed alongside the national touring artists,” Tucker explains.

While the theatre venue always draws crowds from the greater Wilmington area, they’ve been pushing harder to pull an audience from Brunswick County as of late, especially to appeal to the newcomers in the region who may be unaware of Thalian’s impact. Plus, they’ve launched gift cards this season that can be used for any shows in the main attractions, for community theatre or film, as hosted weekly by WHQR’s Cinematique.

The venue has undergone numerous updates and renovations during its centuries-old timeframe. But before it even existed, the lot at the corner of 3rd and Chestnut housed the Innes Academy and Theatre, which opened in 1806. “The Innes Academy, much like Thalian Hall-City Hall, was a dual-purpose building. On the ground floor was a 200-seat theatre that served as Wilmington’s performance space, and on the second floor was a private academy (the precursor to high schools if you will). It’s amazing to think this parcel of land has been used for performing arts for 211 years.”

Other theatre venues gaining applause on the poll are Wilson Center at Cape Fear Community College (26%) and TheatreNOW (12%). —Shea Carver

A PENGUIN LISTENER: Rich Leder, executive director of Brooklyn Arts Center, which works with Penguin 98.3 to host national touring concerts, accepts the award on behalf of the Best Radio Station 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

A PENGUIN LISTENER: Rich Leder, executive director of Brooklyn Arts Center, which works with Penguin 98.3 to host national touring concerts, accepts the award on behalf of the Best Radio Station 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

Penguin, 98.3—46% votes

Since their inception, 98.3 The Penguin has endured major changes and challenges since starting out August 18, 2003. First, they switched radio frequencies from 106.7FM to 98.3FM in 2010.

“No matter how much you try to prepare people, it’s always a challenge making sure they are aware of a dial change,” says Beau Gunn, The Penguin’s program director and vice president of Local Voice Wilmington. “We also moved facilities in 2016 and that was a pretty large undertaking, too.”

Nevertheless, Wilmington’s 98.3 The Penguin has taken home the encore award for Best Radio Station for the last 14 years. They’ve garnered readers’ love and votes pretty much since The Igloo started filling southeastern NC airwaves with an eclectic mix of rock, jamtronica, folk, Americana, and genre-bending and -blending acts from across the globe. Not only do they (hosts Beau Gunn, Kim Swinny and Eric Miller) cross over different musical genres in any given set, they also bring in local and regional artists.

“It’s a truly a special listening experience,” Gunn tells. “It’s not just about the music. It’s about the community and the lifestyle. . . . Whether it’s the historic support of local bands or the more recent addition to important, locally focused true news, we want to always be synonymous with Wilmington.”

Gunn and The Penguin team have put emphasis on “local” and bringing the community together through live music. The Penguin hosts weekly giveaways like Monday night’s Pengo at Mellow Mushroom (Oleander Drive) and Hometown Trivia on Wednesdays at The Pub at Sweet & Savory. They use concerts at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater to help raise tens of thousands for local nonprofit and community organizations through concessions sales. “Last year we raised a total of $42,000 for various booster clubs that volunteer at our GLA shows,” Gunn says.

Each season music fans eagerly wait for the next big surprise-act to hit a Port City stage, including Throne Theatre and Wilson Center, which Gunn utilizes as need be. But Greenfield Lake’s outdoor venue is what many look forward to every spring through fall. Their huge lineup begins in April with the Drive-By Truckers (April 19) and the sold-out Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats show (April 21). Gunn admits he gets amped for all of them, but especially those he calls “underplays.”

“[They’re] bands that usually play 5,000 or 10,000 cap venues but stop by Wilmington to play our little 1,000-seat venue,” he explains. “Tedeschi Trucks Band, Nathaniel Rateliff, Greensky Bluegrass, Drive-By Truckers … I could go on all day [laughs].”

These days snagging Sturgill Simpson is top priority, though Gunn says he’s a difficult (and expensive) act for a small venue. “It boils down to economics for him at this point,” he explains. “We will get him here one day, though. Take that to the bank. . . . We have one of our biggest announcements to date coming down the line. It will be a game-changer, so hold onto your hats!”

Readers can follow The Penguin’s Facebook page for concert announcements, contests and more, or visit their website at

Folks from our readers’ poll also love to tune in to Z107.5 (34%) and 91.3’s WHQR (20%)—Shannon Gentry

Foz in the Morning, Foz (Z107.5)—39% votes, 45% votes

Jason Fosdick, a.k.a. Foz, has been collecting Best Of awards for years. “My wall looks amazing!” he says of the display of awards aligning his Z107.5 office wall. He has two more to add to his collection in 2017, as he once again takes home prizes for Best Radio Personality and Best Morning Radio Show for Foz in the Morning.

Every weekday morning from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. Foz and friends talk the latest in news about love, life, stars, and style while playing a few songs in between. Wilmingtonians call in to chat and win fun prizes. However, listeners only get to experience a fraction of what actually goes on behind the scenes. Foz not only plays the role of host but program director, music director, imaging director, and director of performance and personnel for Sunrise Broadcasting’s four other radio stations (98.7 Modern Rock, Jammin 99.9, ESPN Wilmington or 95.9 AM630, and Sunny 103.7).

“The day starts at 4 a.m.—sometimes after 4 p.m.! ” Foz says. “Z is one of the most active stations on the planet, with contests, concerts, tons of remotes, music research, community involvement, appearances . . . lots of work is required to run this monster radio station! You really have to love something to do it for 12 hours a day. I obviously really love this job.”

Yet, he isn’t just a one-man show. After last year’s Best Of, Foz announced the departure of his then co-host Laura Chinni of Foz and Laura in the Morning. “Laura decided radio was not her passion and left the business, leaving a huge void in the AM show,” Foz describes. He then brought on Michaela Batten, owner of Soul Shoetique (7110 Wrightsville Ave.) and Bespoke Coffee & Dry Goods downtown (202 Princess St.) to join him onair. “And the ratings have never been better!” Foz exclaims. “Eva, Eva—for any Top 40 station in this town.”

Aside from switching up co-hosts, Foz notes the capability of the radio station itself has experienced a great deal of change and growth over the past 10 years. What Z107.5 is able to provide the community has grown with it.

“This year Z was able to provide 122 local teachers with school supplies for the year, help 20-plus families with food cards, gas cards, beds, whatever was needed in their situation,” Foz lists. “Being able to do so much good, and have so much fun at the same time—it’s a great time to be in the radio business!”

Foz also hints to a big year in cash giveaways—with thousands up for grabs from March through May. Concert tickets for Ed Sheeran, Jason Derulo and The Chainsmokers are coming up early in 2017, as well as a free apartment contest in May. “Big contest coming up this summer with Perry’s Emporium,” Foz divulges of the 2017 Best Jeweler. “Z gives away more prizes than other stations in town combined! Gonna be an amazing year.”

Runners up in the 2017 poll for Best Local Radio Personality are 98.3 The Penguin’s Beau Gunn (29%) and Eric Miller (26%). Folks from our readers’ poll also like to start their days with The Morning Chill at 98.3 The Penguin (34%) and WGNI 102.7’s Bob and Sheri (27%). —Shannon Gentry

SCREENED FOR EXCELLENCE: Actors Tamara Mercer, Abel Zuckerman and Cullen Moss happily accept the award for Best Film 2017 for “Finding Home.” Courtesy photo

SCREENED FOR EXCELLENCE: Actors Tamara Mercer, Abel Zuckerman and Cullen Moss happily accept the award for Best Film 2017 for “Finding Home.” Courtesy photo

Finding Home—42% votes

While Wilmywood is not where it once was was in hosting national filmmakers and high-budget productions—the Cape Fear community still houses independent-film organizations, festivals and advocates, a la Cucalorus Film Festival, Wilmington Jewish Film Festival, NC Black Film Festival and Working Films. Indeed, film is not dead in the hearts of Wilmingtonians and they have their favorites. This year’s Best Local Independent Film award goes to “Finding Home,” first screened locally at Cucalorus Film Festival in November 2016.

“This is a great honor,” writer and director Nick Westfall says. “I hope it influences people to make their own feature films.”

Starring local actors Cullen Moss, Tamara Mercer and Abel Zukerman, “Finding Home” is a small character-driven film about what makes a family and questions what family values can look like. Set in North Carolina, it also incorporates real-life issues in our state. Cortland (Moss) finds himself struggling professionally as fellow teachers protest legislation for education budget cuts. He’s fired from teaching, is divorced and now finds himself with a nephew, named Oscar (Zukerman), he barely knows.

“[Oscar] is both inquisitive and cynical,” Tamara Mercer, who plays the role of producer and Cortland’s long-time friend and a social worker, Sophie, in the film. “We catch lovely little exchanges in this tender new relationship. . . .  The writing, acting and onscreen chemistry are lauded in reviews and Dock Street Productions just hopes it encourages filmmakers to continue their craft in this state rather than moving elsewhere.”

Produced by Dock Street Productions in association with Lighthouse Films, their schedule was organized to the minute. With a handful of people, including co-producer Amber Adams, Westfall and Ethan Sigmon’s crew at Lighthouse Films, Mercer says they essentially made a full-length film happen in 11 days. “I mean these young guys and gals were hustling,” she adds.

“It’s difficult to say we faced challenges because it all felt like a dream,” Westfall says of the process. “Which sounds like pop-psyche gooey-ness … but I do remember production started at the beginning of the longest and hottest heat wave in eastern North Carolina history. The heat index one day was 135 degrees.”

Like many others, Mercer was working full time at her day job in production while filming “Finding Home” on weekends. It also meant balancing and even intertwining everyday life with shooting. She remembers hosting about 40 family and friends who came to town for her son’s high-school graduation, then waking up at 4 a.m. the next day to film at her farmhouse. “So I essentially had family leaving and a film crew moving in,” she continues. “I know the film crew was happy to partake of the graduation party food and crew lunch under the trees at the farm.”

While “Finding Home” will be screening twice at RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston Salem from March 30-April 9, the film can be streamed live in libraries and universities worldwide. Dock Street Productions also will have more announcements regarding distribution at

encore readers are also rolling out the red carpet for independent films “Killer Bees” (38%) and “The Vamprentice” (20%). —Shannon Gentry

REELING IN THE WIN: Marty Landau, Jonathan Landau and Devin McGee celebrate Jon’s win for Best Independent Filmmaker 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

REELING IN THE WIN: Marty Landau, Jonathan Landau and Devin McGee celebrate Jon’s win for Best Independent Filmmaker 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

Jonathan Landau—38% votes

“I think it all began for me when I was 6 years old. It was 1977, and I had just watched ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ for the first time,” local filmmaker Jonathan Landau remembers. When he walked out of the dark movie theater into the bright sunny afternoon, it was like a disorienting reality set in. “I remember thinking how amazing it was I had forgotten what the world outside was like,” he continues. “That was when I realized the power of great filmmaking and first motivated to make films.”

However, it wasn’t enough to predict the path Landau would take into filmmaking. He was in a band, Potty Cow, when he left UNCG for Boston to chase the touring road of rock ‘n’ roll. Though he says the band “crashed hard onto the coral rocks of Northern Mass,” somehow or another it led him to Wilmington, NC, in 1991. He began helping a buddy, Jeff Geen, make a low-budget film, “Island of the She-Devils” by Craig Edwards. “I started as a production assistant with no experience,” Landau remembers, “and by the end of the shoot had worked up to camera operator.”

Ever since, Landau has worn numerous hats in the film industry: writer, director, producer. He doubled up on many duties when he wrote and directed “The Last Summer,” a 35 mm, coming-of-age film, set in 1981. That was 2001, and by 2004, when it was complete, it was on a festival run. “That production employed over 1,000 Wilmingtonians,” Landau proudly states. “A cool thing about that experience is I feel it is even more of a relevant timepiece now in 2017.” (Readers can can watch it for $1.99 at

Landau has been staying busy over the last few years with multiple projects to complete. He has directed, produced and co-written short films (“Pushing Buttons,” “Positive Impact,”  “The Vamprentice,” the latter of which was up for Best Film 2017 via encore and screened at 2016’s Cucalorus). With the help of his wife and producing partner, Marty Landau, he is preparing to see numerous releases attached to his name: David Ryder’s short “Cezanne,” Matt Malloy’s Webseries “Matthew,” Curtis Thieman’s pilot, “Dead Ringers,” and feature films like William Hoppins’ “Beyond the Living” and Billy Lewis’ “The Terrible Two.” In fact, “The Terrible Two”—a horror, paranormal film—will be screening this week, March 23, at Thalian Hall. 

“The project I am most passionate about shooting right now is my next feature film,” Landau says. He spent over a decade writing “Brand Spanking New,” a story about a 30-something schizophrenic man, Lamar Philpott, who has spent 20 years in and out of state psychiatric institutions. “Upon his most recent release, he stops taking his medicine and slowly drifts back into a 1940’s styled musical,” Landau explains. “It is a wildly emotional ride, fueled by new jazz, crime and romance, as Lamar attempts to ‘fix’ his perceived ‘curse’ and unwittingly casts himself center stage in his very own schizophrenic nightmare.”

Very much in tuned with the world-at-large and current societal obstacles, paradigms and even stigmas, Landau hopes to highlight issues that come with psychiatric care in America today. “We really do need to work on it in our country,” he says.

Other filmmakers rolling onto the poll are Rebecca Busch (35%) and Nakia Hamilton (27%). —Shea Carver

Jungle Rapids—46% votes

Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park has been around for almost 50 years. Since the 1970s, they’ve served generations of Wilmington’s families, as well as visiting tourists. “We have seen mothers and fathers become grandparents,” Eric Williams, Jungle Rapid’s dry park general manager, says. “We have seen kids that once came here for birthday parties, now come through these doors to clock in and work at the place they loved so much as a child.”

Aside from being a waterpark, with outdoor go-karts, rock-climbing wall, laser tag and more—it’s the bright lights and games of their arcade which tend to land them on our readers’ poll year after year. However, as Williams explains, it isn’t always easy staying at the top of entertainment and games. Their ownership and staff have always tried to learn from their experiences (and mistakes) to come out even better on the other side.

“The biggest challenge in reference to running a successful arcade is constantly refreshing your games,” he explains. “Doug Bryant, who handles all the purchasing for our arcade, has a great eye for what our customers love and he makes sure we add new and exciting pieces every season.”

Their card system they added back in 2013 also made arcade gaming virtually effortless—taking out the “middlemen” of coins and tickets. Players just swipe a Jungle Fun Card on the game reader and hit start to play. “The tickets that you once had to wait for as they neatly filed out of your favorite game are now instantaneously delivered to your Jungle Fun Card,” Williams continues. “Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of our card system is the fact that its implementation literally keeps tons of old tickets from ending up in landfills or from even needing to be recycled.”

Since Wilmington is the city Jungle Rapids calls home, they not only strive to be a place that makes locals never want to leave but make tourists always want to stay. Their fundraising program has also helped raise thousands for local schools and nonprofit organizations each year. They’re continuously revamping their wet and dry parks, too, for visitors and private parties alike—which can be booked at Their popular laser-tag arena was updated in 2016, and folks can expect new games in the arcade soon as well. “We also began enhancing the Kids Splash play structure as we plan for a May 20 opening of our water park,” Williams adds. “We are also already discussing another significant attraction for 2018. . . . We are going to continue to cram as much fun inside these walls as the space will allow.”

It’s also all fun and games at Blue Post (43%) and Ten Pin Alley (11%), who are placing for Best Arcade/Game Room. —Shannon Gentry

Ibiza—42% votes

Here’s the thing: Party-goers looking for the best place in town to shake their tail feathers need not search any further than downtown’s Ibiza Nightclub. First off, the backside of the three-story building looks like it could be situated on New Orleans Magazine Street. It’s got antebellum gothic flair with gorgeous drapes framing its balconies, and areas set up to lounge outside. However, inside is where the party is throwing down—usually on a packed dance floor welcoming all folks from all walks of life to join in on the grooves.

Only open every Friday and Saturday night, Ibiza has three DJs rotating its lineup from 10 p.m. to 2:45 a.m. DJ Elementary, DJ Bobby Z and DJ UK each bring a unique flair for the best dance mixes. But before they get the party underway, Ibiza hosts “Do Drag Me to Ibiza,” where the bets drag shows in the Port City take place until midnight.

“On Saturdays you can usually count on a special party or Go-Go dancers on the boxes to ensure everyone has a good time,” owner Charles Carver says. However, they also host special parties and events that tip the scale on edgy and fun.

In fact, coming up on April 1, they will host The Black Party/Fetish Ball. “Curiosity seekers and die-hard fetish fans will mingle for a one-of-a-kind experience,” Carver promises. They also will be bringing some of the biggest names in drag to Ibiza, including Miss William on April 7. And on April 13, they will put on a Miss Ibiza 2017 Competition. Registration begins at 7 p.m. for $50. There are multiple categories to be judged, including gown, onstage question and talent. The winner receives $150, plus bookings throughout the year and a tiara. First runnerup receives $100 and bookings throughout the year.The event will feature Amaya Hermosa, Ebony Addams, Tara Nicole Brooks, Lauren Scott, and Miss Ibiza 2016 Z’nia Addams (Tiffany Johnson).

There always is a free cover before 10 p.m., except for during special ticketed events. Likewise, drink specials abound to keep the liquid courage flowing so those dance-floor moves are flowing, too.

Other dance clubs keeping readers moving are Goodfellas Nite Club (33%) and Pravda (25%). —Shea Carver

HEADLINING THE WINS: Jon Evans and Frances Weller are all smiles for taking home Best Newscast for their network, WECT, again in 2017. Weller also scored Best Newscaster. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

HEADLINING THE WINS: Jon Evans and Frances Weller are all smiles for taking home Best Newscast for their network, WECT, again in 2017. Weller also scored Best Newscaster. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


In the age of “fake news” and hostile rhetoric about and toward media this days, news organizations have found themselves on the defensive when it comes to reporting on the facts. Even WECT, who wins Best Newscast year after year on our readers’ poll is not immune to scrutiny—garnered or not. Social media helps create a platform for discerning viewers and skeptics alike. WECT’s news director, Scott Saxton, says they simply respond by drilling the truth when a story is questioned. “It often comes to light that there might be a disagreement on a story or a sound bite,” he says. “People are passionate these days and it’s good to hear the feedback. As long as the criticism is constructive, we are able to work through any potential issues. It’s important we just keep talking.”

Accepting critical feedback helps WECT evolved the needs with their viewers. Though Saxton can’t speak for the more than half-century of the station’s coverage, he can attest to how much has changed in just his seven years. With more ways to consume news fast, it’s created a daily challenge to meet demand. “There is intense pressure daily to share information as quickly as possible,” he explains, “but we have to run it through our processes to make sure it’s sourced and accurate before moving forward.”

Out of thousands of local stories WECT has covered in its time, last year’s coverage of Hurricane Matthew really helped bond their team. It was a “perfect storm,” Saxton describes, in terms of when it hit our region and how they were able to strategically and safely prepare for coverage that would last throughout a weekend. “Several people stepped up,” he continues. “Our general manager made sure that we had all the resources we needed to cover the story all day on air and on digital.  . . . We were the only ones on the air for hours at a time and we heard several nice comments from people in the community who appreciated that we were here for them during the storm.”

WECT plans to keep building trust among its viewers in 2017 by finding more ways to get feedback and dabbling in new ways to provide content. “We’re considering opening up an advisory board with volunteers from the community who want to help us improve our news product,” Saxton divulges. “The idea is to involve current viewers, and even those who don’t often choose WECT as their news source, in an ongoing discussion about what stories, topics or issues that may be getting overlooked. It’s another way of sourcing feedback and ensuring equitable storytelling.”

Viewers may tune into morning, midday or evening newscasts on TV, or read and watch the latest stories posted to daily. Other news, weather updates and community stories may be followed on Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps. WECT viewers are also encouraged to report leads at for news-related stories and for non-news related material.    

Folks are tuning into WWAY (22%) and WHQR (10%) for Best Local Newscast as well. —Shannon Gentry


“Tennessee Whiskey” by Chris Stapleton. “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. They’re just a few songs Kelly Baucom often hears echoing across the bar at Katy’s Grill & Bar and Jerry Allen’s on Friday nights. “There are too many great performers to only choose one [that stands out,]” he explains.

Baucom, business partner to owner Jerry Allen, is accepting this year’s award for Best Place for Karaoke on behalf of the South College Road bar and grill. While Katy’s will continue to grow their playlist throughout 2017 and beyond, they’re also planning to continue their “longstanding tradition of being a place that makes everyone feel like a local.”

Aside from being ILM’s favorite place to belt out Top 40s, classic-rock hits and country ballads, they have a mean menu of $3 cheeseburgers everyday and 59-cents wings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Comfort food and fried munchies abound, too. Anything from fried pickles and mini crab nuggets, to hand-battered onion rings and Scotch Bonnet Lane nachos are just starters on the menu. Dozens of dishes keep performers sated from “Jerry’s Kickin’ Chicken” list or off their seafood and other “special stuff” menus.

“In addition to Friday night karaoke starting at 10 p.m.,” Baucom continues, “there are specials [on] Miller Lite and Bud Light pints ($2.50), Jim Beam Fire ($4), KB’s KY Signature Drink ($4) and Jager/PBR combo ($6).

Shy guests who don’t want to sing along at karaoke can find lots more to do at Katy’s. Pool, ping pong and cornhole are just a few games patrons can enjoy. Tuesdays welcome musicians for open mic and a half-price menu from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. College night on Wednesdays lets the DJ take over the tunes. Game-day fanatics can also watch the latest March Madness nail-biters on their many TVs, too. “And [it’s] a great comfortable atmosphere,” Baucom adds. “We have great staff, great food and great customers!”

Folks can check in with with daily specials, karaoke and other happenings at Katy’s on their Facebook page. Folks should note the restaurant and lounge hours are a little different. The restaurant opens at 7 a.m. from Monday-Sunday—serving breakfast until 11 a.m.—and close at 9 p.m. on Thursday and Sunday, and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The lounge is open Monday-Saturday at 11 a.m. – 2 a.m., and Sunday 12 p.m. – 2 a.m. Folks can see all of their menus, specials and event calendar online at

Also singing their way to the top of encore’s poll are Silver Dollar (24%) and Willoughby’s (19%). —Shannon Gentry

FOR THE ART OF IT: Dianne Masi shows off the firts Best Art Gallery award that Port City Pottery and Fine Crafts received on the 2017 poll. Courtesy photo

FOR THE ART OF IT: Dianne Masi shows off the first Best Art Gallery award that Port City Pottery and Fine Crafts received on the 2017 poll. Courtesy photo


A decade ago this week—on April 1, to be precise—Port City Pottery and Fine Crafts made its soft launch to the greater Wilmington community. Focused on showcasing work of three-dimensional crafts from local artists, the gallery was the first of its kind locally. It attached artists who didn’t have a gallery or brick-and-mortar establishment to sell their art.

“We developed a business plan to operate as a co-op and invite exclusively local artists to participate,” Louise Giordano says. “As a co-op, all members pay rent and work three or four days a month and do all the behind-the-scenes work to keep the gallery functioning. With this business model, unlike traditional galleries that take up to 50 percent commission, our artists receive 80 percent to 90 percent of sales.”

The gallery represents 19 artists working in a variety of mediums, from pottery to pine-needle basketry, jewelry to wood, fiber to glass, mixed media to gourds, and more. Artists who are showcased come selected by a jury. “Some artists come to us, asking to be considered,” Giordano says. “Others’ work we have seen and then invite them to consider joining us.”

The gallery features two artists each month and launches artist receptions on Fourth Friday gallery night downtown. Currently, needle felter Donna Loftin and Graham Pelletier, who works with alcohol inks, are on display. Come the end of April, they will showcase all of their artists as part of their 10-year anniversary celebration. They will have the event catered on April 28 with door prizes given away throughout the evening. “We will culminate our Anniversary Year with a closing party on the Fourth Friday in March 2018.”

In May they’ll showcase the work of metalsmith and jeweler Sara Westermark and Dianne Masi, pine-needle basket and gourd artist. They often even utilize themes to help inspire artists throughout the year, whether it’s celebrating the holidays in December or doing something like “By the Sea” in the summer.

“We invite ideas from all of our artists, and if a suggestion seems pleasing or interesting, we are likely to try it,” Giordono tells.

Other galleries hanging votes on our poll are Art in Bloom (35%) and Eclipse Artisan Boutique (25%). —Shea Carver



Listeners hear his voice everyday at noon on the Penguin. But before Eric Miller was gracing the airwaves with his Southern drawl, he was crooning to the masses with his extremely popular Americana band, L Shape Lot—which once again has swept the poll as Best Band/Performer. Having been around for 16 years now, it’s not a surprise that their popularity continues to rise, with Alex Lanier (vocals, guitar), Rick Williams (vocals, bass) Mykel Barbee (vocals, drums)  rounding out the group.

“Mykel is the newest member, been with us for two years now, and did the job we all thought was impossible by taking over for John Kovalski, when he left the band,” Miller says. “We couldn’t be more thankful to have had Mykel interested in the spot, his drumming chops are top notch, and he is a great guy, with great energy that really meshes well with us as friends.”

The band has hundreds of songs in their catalog and has released eight albums over the years. Together they play around 200 gigs (give or take) a year. Though they don’t travel as much as they once did, they do attend festivals and special events. However, when they aren’t playing together as a unit, Eric and Alex are playing around town weekly as a duo. Lucky for fans, however, the full band is planning on adding more performances around town this year. Perhaps, their most well-known annual event to date is the Toys-for-Tots drive they hold each December at Brooklyn Arts Center.

“We are constantly blown away by its success,” Eric tells. “What started as a humble little idea of just doing for others and a couple boxes of toys has grown into quite the event of music and helping others. We literally had about 50 or so toys the first year, and this past year (the fifth annual), we were able to donate over 1,500 toys to Marine Corps Toys For Tots.” To date, Eric estimates having donated upward of $40,000 worth of toys to the cause (above picture shows the band amongst donated items). “But the event is less about us and more about the generosity of those that attend the event, so we are just humbled by the amount of love and energy in the BAC on that night,” he adds.

He also can be seen around town hosting open mics, such as every Tuesday at Goat and Compass, sponsored by Hourglass Studios. In between, though, he’s holding down his DJ job and tinkering around with the idea of recording another album. “We have a handful of unrecorded tunes, but would need to add more to make it an album, just have to see what happens,” he says.

Other bands rounding out the poll are The Midatlantic (28%) and Massive Grass (25%). —Shea Carver


It’s no surprise Wilmington’s favorite outdoor venue is surrounded by 250 acres of a 5-mile biking/walking trail through lush gardens, surrounded by flowers, Cypress trees, Spanish moss, birds, turtles, ducks, and other critters—ahem, gators. The natural setting of Greenfield Lake Amphitheater just amplifies the magic of seeing live music in its 1,200-seat theater through the warm months. And, boy, oh, boy, do they have quite a roster for the 2017 season to impress.

The Best Concert Venue for 2017, according to encore readers, will host many greats like Drive-By Truckers (April 19), Nathaniel Ratecliff (April 21), Mandolin Orange and Chatham County Line (April 29)—and that’s just April. Coming in May, concert-goers will be inundated by the sounds of Dawes (May 4) and Greensky Bluegrass (May 14), while June welcomes Shovels and Rope (June 10) and Tedeschi Trucks Band (June 16). Gary Clark Jr. will shred the amphitheater on July 18 and St. Paul and the Broken Bones will have everyone hopping the soulful Motown train on the 28. And we haven’t even gotten into the dog days of summer yet.

Readers can keep up with all the upcoming shows online at and in encore weekly, wherein we run the schedule for local concerts.

As if the amphitheater itself isn’t enough to keep folks entertained with live music, its annual Shakespeare on the Green festival takes place every May and June, held by Cape Fear Shakespeare. It’s celebrating 25 years in 2017, and will present “As You Like It” as well as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” through its youth sector.

Other Greenfield Lake Park amenities include a skate park, playgrounds, paddle boat rentals, open space, shelters, picnic areas, grills, concession stand, lighted facilities, passive area, and of course planting beds.

Wilmingtonians also venture to Brooklyn Arts Center (21%) and Throne Theatre (14%) in downtown Wilmington to hear their favorite tunes. —Shea Carver


Wilmington’s Clyde Edgerton is taking home the award as readers’ most favored local writer again this year. The creative writing professor at UNCW has a dozen books under his belt, including 2013’s “Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers”—a perfect read for first-time dad’s this Father’s Day. Three of his works have become stage productions as well, including “Walking Across Egypt” and “Raney,” as well “Killer Diller,” now showing at TheatreNOW.

“It’s an honor to see anything adapted from my stories hit the stage in Wilmington,” Edgerton said, “given the fine directing, producing, and acting talent in Wilmington.”

Edgerton’s debut novel “Raney” is well-known among his fans. The comic love story follows the marriage between a small-town Southern Baptist and a liberal librarian who are united by their love for country music. (Perhaps a story of compromise for the greater good is one we should all revisit these days.) A fan of Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty, Edgerton’s brand of humor is relatable to many Southerners—even if poking fun a bit.

“I’d been privy to many funny family stories and a talkative cultural community,” Edgerton told of his inspiration after 2016’s Best Of win, “a community that had held me pretty close to several fires that made me feel simultaneously nurtured and wounded by life in the South as I knew it while growing up.”

While “Raney” was first published in 1985, its Southern Revivals edition now includes a new introduction by Edgerton and preface from editor Robert H. Brinkmeyer Jr.

Edgerton has published a series of short stories and regularly contributes to literary publications like Wilmington’s Salt Magazine, too. He dabbles in other artistic endeavors, such as painting and playing music. Since starting with acrylics in 2007, he’s moved on to oils and plein-air. He was also the featured artist of 2015’s Azalea Festival. His series of landscapes, portraits and more can be seen and purchased at

Local writers Gwenyfar Rohler (33%) and Todd Sherman (24%) also found their bylines on encore’s poll. —Shea Carver

POWER DUO: WECT’s Frances Weller wins Best Newscaster for 2017 and poses with her friend and personal trainer, who also took home a win, Lamaine Williams.  Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

POWER DUO: WECT’s Frances Weller wins Best Newscaster for 2017 and poses with her friend and personal trainer, who also took home a win, Lamaine Williams. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Reporting the news live is an unpredictable endeavor. Just ask WECT’s Frances Weller, who attests to planning and staging hundreds of live shots. Anything can still happen during live TV … especially when fire is involved. The scene is the annual New Hanover County Relay for Life, with rows of luminaries lit in honor of loved ones who had battled cancer or were undergoing treatment. “My photographer, who, bless his heart, had a reputation for accidents, was going to walk backwards during my live shot so that I could walk forward on TV and show the luminaries,” Weller recalls. “As I suspected, he stepped right into one of the burning luminaries, slightly setting his ankle on fire. Onlookers helped put it out quickly. He really was not hurt, but my side was from laughing hysterically. Thank God he laughed with me!”

Folks know Weller from tuning into her evening newscast on WECT (2017’s Best Local Newscast) or her many community outreach initiatives, such as Fran’s Fans for folks who need help beating the heat of summer. She’s also taking home 2017’s award for Best Newscaster.

“I’m not sure I can even put into words how much it means to me to be recognized by encore readers,” Weller says after her seventh win. “I’ve been with WECT for a very long time and I never take for granted the loyal viewers who still watch every evening and still depend on me as their source for news. To be honored as their favorite newscaster is a blessing. My appreciation runs deep.”

Community involvement helps her better connect with the people she’s reporting to every day. “It also gives them a chance to see who I am away from the anchor desk,” she explains, “which is so much more than a television news anchor. We live in a wonderful community and I always feel like I’m talking to family and friends when I’m telling the news of the day.”

Weller started her career in 1982, and has since transitioned from reporting for just one screen (TV) to at least three (laptops, iPads and smartphones). “Digital news has changed the entire industry,” she observes. Weller and her team have started a new monthly series of reports as well. Based on a monthly report Weller did for over 15 years on breast cancer, which she followed with reminders for viewers to call a friend to do a breast self-exam. It was called “Pink Pack” and Weller says she’s certain the series inspired women to get suspicious lumps checked early.

“Now we are broadening our scope and looking beyond breast cancer,” she tells. “Each month we will look at a different cancer. We’ll talk with patients and doctors and look at the latest research. The new segments are called Plaid Pack—plaid because of the different colors of ribbon that represent different cancers.”

New Hanover Regional Medical Center sponsors the segments, which air on the first Monday of each month on WECT’s CIM, midday at noon, 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.

WECT’s Jon Evans (40%) and WWAY’s Randy Aldridge (17%) are also topping 2017’s list for Best Local Newscaster. —Shannon Gentry


When our editor-in-chief reviewed “Rock of Ages” back in October, she and her theatre companions pleasantly were surprised—even floored—by the production. “That’s the best show Thalian Association has produced in years,” one of her dates exclaimed. Apparently, lots of people agree, as “Rock of Ages” is taking a bow with this year’s award for Best Theatre Production.

While the show was a premiere for local audiences, the 2005 musical by Chris D’Arienzo ran for 2,328 performances before closing on Broadway on January 18, 2015. “Rock of Ages” also was made into a film in 2012, starring Julianne Hough, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, and Tom Cruise.

It’s a simple story of a small-town Kansas girl, Sherrie (Meagan Golden), who moves to L.A. with dreams to become an actress. She meets a few seedy characters who run the famed Bourbon Room on Sunset Strip—Dennis (Mark Deese), Lonny (Tony DeLongo) and Drew (Ty Myatt)—and lands a job that leads her through the underbelly of the City of Angels’ rock world. Trouble really starts, however, when two show-stopping German real-estate moguls fly in to raze the Bourbon Room, and the fight to save the music begins.

Speaking of music, director Anthony Lawson enlisted Amanda Hunter’s band, with Jared Cline shredding electric-guitar solos throughout each performance. Their choir’s “Heaven” in Act I was one of the standout songs of the whole show, as well as hits like Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is,” Damn Yankees’ “High Enough,” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” in Act II.

Thalian Association promises more top-notch productions for the 2017 season as well, including American-musical classic “Gypsy” (review on pg. 19), now playing through April 9, and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” May 18-28 (sponsored by encore).

Also garnering standing ovations on our poll for Best Theatre Production are “Bonnie and Clyde” (30%) and “American Idiot” (26%). —Shannon Gentry


Jeff Battle started putting needles on records back in New Jersey, while deejaying in high school. He began with house parties in ‘93, and when he started UNCW, that’s when the cash flow increased. His first paid gig came around ‘98. “I’m pretty sure Outkast was played that night,” he remembers.

Fast forward 19 years later and DJ Battle is a bonafide spinster in clubs in the Port City, and he’s racking up “e” awards left and right, taking home the 2017 Best DJ category. He spins at Proof Bar and Lounge every Wednesday and Thursday nights, as well as at Reel Cafe’s rooftop bar on N. Front Street every Friday and Saturday nights. He continues playing the most popular dance tunes of today (Bruno Mars is a fave) and yesteryear (Outkast included).

“Every night is different, and I’m a fan of so many different types of music,” DJ Battle tells encore. “The biggest challenge is finding work as a new DJ while still learning the craft.”

But Battle isn’t one to chase all the latest hip gear. In fact, he’s had the same turntable since he started.   “Also the equipment is very expensive and can take a long time to accumulate,” he notes.

Aside from keeping dancers happily grooving on the floor, he also makes time to give back to the community at large. He works with nonprofit organizations annually, including Love Is Bald. “I’ll be working with them again this summer with their fashion show,” he says. He is also partnering with his friends at Tavern Law for a new outreach program that combines resources and talents to help people. Though he’s mum on the details, he denotes much excitement on what lies ahead.

Other DJs spinning on the poll are Brian Hood (30%) and Brandon “Bigg B” Hickman (26%). —Shea Carver


At 10 years old, Mary Ellen Golden took oil painting classes and realized she would be an artist for life. She moved on to work more in acrylics and watercolor—the latter for which she’s most known today, some 42 years after taking classes with Virginia Fouché in Charleston, SC. “I enjoy watching the wet paint move on the paper,” Golden explains. “Watercolor is at its best when it is allowed to do its thing and create beautiful effects on the wet paper.”

In 1977, Golden and her husband came to Wilmington and founded Golden Gallery. Come November they will be celebrating 40 years of business in downtown’s Cotton Exchange. “I plan to put up an exhibit of paintings I own, done by artists who have taught me through the years,” Golden tells. “I also plan to have drawings for prints both on Facebook and in the gallery. We will hold an in-house drawing in the gallery during the Azalea Festival next weekend for a print I painted last year.”

The print shows light pink flowers daintily blooming as they retract light. In fact, flowers and light are what most inspire Golden. She loves how rays of sunshine hit blooms or shine through leaves. The same can be said with reflections in water and on glass, both subjects she has mastered and often are integral to Wilmington—such as the nine river scenes she has painted. She also loves images of barns, flowers, the ocean, marshes, and birds.

“Having missed the classes in figure and portrait painting, most of my paintings with people tend to be looking in the other direction,” she quips. “One of my very favorites is ‘When the Mists Rolled Back’ from the end of the Gower peninsula in Wales. I love the atmospheric quality of the light and light is what I love to paint. I have a recent ‘Winter Light’ with the light streaming through the vines and trees behind the house. I also love poppies and ‘May Poppies’ is the most dramatic painting I have ever done.”

Golden has taken the Best Artist category for three years now. Wherein she used to paint daily, today she mostly picks up the brush on Tuesdays. Managing her artistic outreach with running a business and raising a family throughout the years has created obstacles in time management. However, today she can be seen running around with her camera to capture bluebirds nesting in her yard. “There were four blue eggs a couple days ago and when I went out after I got home tonight, both mom and pop went into the box with food,” she explains.

Art in general, whether creating it or selling it or working with other artists, has given Golden emotional and mental sustenance throughout her career. Aside from being a distraction from worries or tension, getting caught up in the act of painting is a place of sacred repose.

“The energy in the paintings pleases me when it speaks to other people,” she notes. “I have made so many connections in the last six months that take me back in time and recall memories from way back. A gentleman in Salisbury contacted me and found a painting of the Garden Tomb in the back of the closet in a house he had bought 20 years ago. He was moving and rediscovered it, and my name was on the back, with information saying I had painted it in Huntington West Virginia in 1969! I have no idea how it made its way to Salisbury, NC. That was my acrylic period.”

Nick Majik (30%) and Candy Pegram (23%) round out the poll.  —Shea Carver

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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