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CROWD SURFING: Sean Gregory and Cullen Seward from the band Signal Fire (nominated in the Best Band category) accept the award for GLA’s Best Music Venue and L Shape Lot’s Best Local Band/Performer win, and show it’s all about camaraderie on the music scene. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Greenfield Lake Amphitheater – 63% votes

It’s really hard to pinpoint what Best Of voters love most about Greenfield Lake Amphitheater (GLA); we just know they keep bringing home the “e” for Best Music Venue. GLA has a lot going for them: A beautiful outdoor setting, surrounded by 250 acres of lush gardens, Cypress trees, Spanish moss and critters; a 1,200-seat theater without a bad seat in the house; quality sound and performances; and relatively low cost to attend any show or event throughout the year.

Dave Pugh—recreation supervisor with City of Wilmington Parks and Recreation, which oversees the amphitheater—gives a great deal of credit to close-working relationships with promoters and their staffs, like The Penguin’s Beau Gunn (also a Best Of 2018 winner; see next page).

“The most rewarding part of our jobs is watching the quality and quantity of live music in our area increase year by year,” Pugh says. “The success of the amphitheater acts as a vehicle for the overall success of live music in our area, at our facility and others in our area. It is a great job to be able to make people happy!”

2017 was the most successful year yet for GLA, with approximately 30,000 patrons walking through the gates throughout the season. It’s a number, Pugh says, they hope to exceed in their 10th year.  Of all the stellar performances at GLA in 2017, GRiZmas in July run was the most successful. DJ GRiZ sold out both nights. Another sold-out fan- and staff-favorite was Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, who is returning in June 2018. Despite being a late addition to the schedule, Pugh says Beats Antique offered one of the most unique and entertaining shows of the  2017 year.

GLA’s season is starting early for 2018,  with their first concert with Chris Lane and Morgan Wallen on March 16, followed by Drive-by Truckers on March 24. “ [We are] hosting influential guitar legend Buddy Guy for the first time this year [on May 9 and] breakthrough artist Brandi Carlile will be performing [on May 11], and sold out in days,” he continues. The rest of their concerts continuously are being announced and listed at

However, other events abound, too, like the Azalea Festival Garden Tour Ribbon Cutting Ceremony (details coming) and a full run of Cape Fear Shakespeare on the Green in June. “In addition to the 20 to 25 concerts we have each year, the amphitheater may also be the site for this year’s Carousel Center Lighthouse Beer and Wine Festival in October,” Pugh foretells.

Changes to the amphitheater for the coming season include more local beer options, as well as improvements to food offerings with food trucks being on site. “We’re installing three-phase power, which will allow us much more range in our production options,” Pugh says. “Improvements to the green rooms to make the facility more welcoming to the artist that play our venue are on the list, too.” 

Wilmingtonians also venture to Brooklyn Arts Center (14%) and Wilson Center (23%) in downtown Wilmington to see their favorite artists.


NC Aquarium – 45% votes

“The spring is full of scales, tails and butterfly wings,” NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher’s Robin Nalepa hints of what’s to come at 2018’s Best Tourist Attraction. The aquarium currently hosts Florida’s Weeki Wachee Mermaids, who are spending their days swimming, twirling and flipping alongside marine life every hour, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., throughout March 8-11. “Visitors will have the opportunity to meet a mermaid,” Nalepa continues. “Additional mermaid activities include a scavenger hunt, crafts, photo ops and autographs.”

Weeki Wachee Mermaids has been one of their most successful exhibits in recent years, with nearly 10,000 people visiting the aquarium in just six days when it came to North Carolina for the first time last year. “We knew mermaids were popular; we just didn’t know just how popular,” she says. “This gave us an opportunity to entertain and share the importance of protecting the ocean. This year we have extended the mermaid visit to eight days and expanded the number of daily dives and activities.”

Weeki Wachee Mermaids is free with aquarium admission, and so is “DINOSAURS!”—the exhibit opening March 16. It features a 40-foot T-Rex, a horned Diablocertops and other prehistoric creatures, set to stalk the aquarium’s outdoor garden to greet visitors. They’ll be aflutter with exotic butterflies, beginning April 20, when the Butterfly Bungalow returns for the season. Surrounded by hundreds of free-flying species from all over the world, visits to the bungalow are separate from general admission, at $3 per guest.

Like the rest of the NC Aquarium team, Napela is excited about being recognized for connecting visitors to new experiences. She hopes it will leave them caring more about the natural world and the animals who inhabit it.

“Perhaps a child sees a sand tiger shark swimming for the first time, touches a bamboo shark, and leaves knowing we have to take care of sharks and our oceans,” she offers. “The best part of our job is when we succeed in making these powerful connections to help save species and protect the ocean.”

While the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher attracts thousands of visitors from outside the state annually, local encore readers continue to recognize their services as something for their families and friends to enjoy year-round. Some folks visit weekly, while families send their kiddos to summer camp—not to mention countless birthdays, first dates, engagements, weddings, and other events they host.

“Visitors recognize the dedication of our team to the visitor experience and to the animals in our care,” Napela continues. “Many now, too, recognize the aquarium cares about saving animals locally and globally, and are learning more about our conservation work with endangered Carolina gopher frogs, sharks and sea turtles. . . . [For example,] Save the Vaquita Day in July, was designed as a day of hope to help save the most endangered marine mammal, a tiny porpoise only found in a small area in the Gulf of California.”

NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher is open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; info can be found at Other Best Local Tourist Attractions are Airlie Gardens (29%) and Battleship NC (26%).



Morning Chill (Penguin, 98.3) – 40% votes

The Igloo at 98.3 The Penguin is on fire in 2018, winning three Best Of awards for Best Radio Station, Best Radio Personality (Beau Gunn) and Best Morning Radio Show with The Morning Chill, featuring Kim Swinny. Swinny’s signature smoky-smooth voice greets listeners on their early-morning commutes starting at 7 a.m. until noon, Monday through Friday.

Swinny moved to the beach more than 16 years ago, and while commuting to Myrtle Beach to get her masters degree in counseling, she pounced on the opportunity to join The Penguin and dive into some music therapy. “Seriously, music’s power is the only thing as universal as love,” Swinny says, “and being able to share real music with our listeners and our community is a gift like no other. It truly does bring us together. Our Penguin family is something very special.”

Some show staples of The Morning Chill include 10 Til ‘Trivia every weekday morning just before 8 a.m. Their “Artist of the Week” starts at 11 a.m. Swinny says they’ll also relaunch their seasonal “Desert Island Set,” where listeners essentially get to play DJ for a full set of three of their all-time favorite, can’t-live-without songs they would take with them if deserted on an island.

“It goes without saying, the musician interviews are always fun,” Swinny adds of her job description. “Hanging with Michael Franti (our generation’s Bob Marley) or Willie’s rising-star son Lukas Nelson is never too shabby. But I have to say, our Local Voice Spotlight series gives us a truly unique opportunity to strengthen our community’s connectedness, by allowing us to shine our light on the everyday, local folks that make our home what it is. And isn’t that what we really all want: to feel connected to each other?”

It’s pretty easy to get on board with the positive Penguin vibes. Also, they actually play music all morning long. “As crazy as it may sound, that’s part of what makes it different,” Swinny observes. “The kind of music is the other piece. Listeners get to hear favorites they can’t believe they’re hearing on the radio, and get turned on to all sorts of new music they might never find otherwise.”

Swinny and her Penguin cohorts are most excited about celebrating 10 years of concerts at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater—which also won 2018’s “e” for Best Live Music Venue. They’re following a record season last year with popular shows like Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and other returning favorites we often hear on The Penguin. Like many Wilmingtonians who have already bought tickets to Lukas Nelson’s GLA show this June, Swinny is pretty fired about his return to the port city.

“I’ve said many times: Iit only takes once to see him and you’ll understand,” she tells. “He’s got it all: songwriting, serious guitar chops, stunning vocal skills (with a voice that’s undeniably like dear-old Dad’s and then some). Nice to know Willie’s torch is being passed on.”

Folks from our readers’ poll also sip their coffee to the sounds of Foz in the Morning (Z107.5) (34%) and WGNI 102.7’s Bob and Sheri (26%).


Beau Gunn (Penguin, 98.3) – 42% votes

“Radio personality” sometimes describes a host’s persona or character they’ve adopted for a show. Goofy voices and over-the-top sound effects might accompany the daily news or help introduce the next block of music. While 98.3 The Penguin’s Beau Gunn does not have a specific persona or character, per se, 13 years on local airwaves has given Wilmingtonians awhile to get to know him. Local listeners and encore readers trust Gunn’s voice enough to vote him Best Radio Personality for 2018.

“I am humbled to have even been considered for the award,” Gunn reacts, “and frankly, I think there are several other people on the radio locally that deserve it more than me. . . . I share this with every single person I work with. We are a team, and our company doesn’t exist without everyone that comes in to work each and every day.”

Gunn spins the latest and favorites in Americana, soul, indie, funk, and more, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, weekly on The Penguin (voted Best Radio Station 2018). Gunn also continues to wear many hats aside from radio host. Since earning his communication studies degree from UNCW, he’s gone from sales consultant to market manager, on to The Penguin’s program director, and vice president of Local Voice Wilmington.

“There are so many ‘best parts’ about my job,” he muses, “but I think the one that makes me the most happy is when we get feedback from our listeners about how a song made their day, or turned their day around. That positivity radiates through us and reinforces why we do what we do.”

Aside from his down-to-earth roots on radio, Gunn also owns and operates a concert production company serving Local Voice markets. He’s responsible for bringing a great deal of the best artists to The Penguin’s rotation and Wilmington’s stages.

“Two artists that absolutely floored me in the last 12 months are Lukas Nelson & Promise of The Real and The War On Drugs,” he offers. “Those albums rank one and two on my list of top albums.”

Considering the increase in Wilmington venues in recent years, such as CFCC’s Wilson Center and downtown’s The Shell—with more to come—Gunn anticipates a lot more growth and offerings to for Wilmington’s music market. He is particularly excited about the arrival of a multi-use space included in the passing of 2016’s parks bond, which includes the development of green space, water feature, gardens, children’s area, and performance area in downtown ILM. According to, park designers have created two concepts for North Waterfront Park, which will tentatively open in fall 2019.

“The [North Waterfront] Park venue is going to be a solid game changer,” Gunn offers. “The capacity is likely to be set at around 5,000 to 6,000, so there are plenty of bands on the wish list that have previously been too big to play GLA.”

Runners up in the 2018 poll for Best Local Radio Personality are Foz at Z107.5 (34%) and fellow Penguin cohort Eric Miller (24%).


The Penguin 98.3 – 52% votes

98.3 The Penguin has been on the same frequency as Wilmington music lovers since airing in August 18, 2003. Well, technically, they switched frequencies from 106.7FM. to 98.3FM back in 2010, but y’all get what we’re throwing. The Penguin plays a huge role in where Wilmingtonians get new music—whether on the radio or the live stage. They are recognized continuously on our readers’ poll, and this year they have snagged Best Radio Station honors once again.

“Things in radio can change in the blink of an eye,” says Beau Gunn, The Penguin’s program director and vice president of Local Voice Wilmington. “Like the old saying goes, ‘the only constant is change.’ Staying true to listeners and to the brand is our guiding compass.”

Gunn, who also won 2018’s “e” for Best Radio Personality, has been with The Penguin for 13 years. His ear and passion for music has been a driving force at the station, which adheres to the AAA format. With the Americana genre continuing to expand and gain momentum, he and his team keep their ears tuned in for the next Sturgill Simpson or Chris Stapleton.

“We are always trying to stay on the cutting edge of live music in Wilmington,” Gunn iterates of the station’s interviews, special guests and new music. “We never really know until it hits our ears, but when we know, you will know!”

While Gunn acknowledges folks are dialing in to The Penguin for the latest and greatest in tunes, he suspects the number one reason the station is now ingrained in the community  is its love of hearing “local people talking about local things, whether its local music, news, concerts or businesses.”

“Also, it’s a radio station reflective of their own musical tastes,” Gunn continues. “People generally like more than one music genre, and The Penguin gives them that and so much more.”

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

Voters on our readers’ poll also dial in to Z107.5 (33%) and 91.3’s WHQR (17%).


HOSTING A WIN (FINALLY!): Pineapple-Shaped Lamps comedy troupe (this week’s cover models) host the annual Best Of awards and took home their first win for Best Comedy Troupe in 2018. Above is the troupe, posing with encore’s Best Of Awards house band, Striking Copper.  Chris Brehmer Photography.


Pineapple-shaped Lamps – 51% votes

“Is this how Meryl Streep felt?” Pineapple-Shaped Lamps owner and artistic director Wes Brown asks after PSL’s win for Best Comedy Troupe. It was their first ever “e,” despite having graciously hosted the official encore awards party for five years. Their witty banter, skits and punny jokes never fail as they pass out all 141 awards year after year.

“We’ve always been happy just to be nominated,” Brown tells. “That recognition alone has always meant the world to us, and we were more than happy to keep going with a 7-year losing streak.”

PSL has about 60 members, made up of actors, writers, general crew, filmmakers, and improvisers—and more than a dozen of which are out-of-town alum who remain active players. The helpful numbers for Brown and company means he and others wear multiple hats. Never tied down to just comedy, or just theatre, they’ll host an awards show and turn around to entertain at a kid’s birthday party.

“2017 was a very big year for us,” Brown says. “We’ve changed up our format and have been experimenting with different types of shows, so the win has come at a really great time. We feel the appreciation and support from everyone and it’s been an absolute joy!”

Brown and most of PSL players were still in college when they started back in 2010. Admittedly, their lives were a lot simpler back then, with an “insane amount of free time” to dedicate to shows. They did their live weekly sketch comedy show, “Thursday Night Live,” at The Browncoat Pub & Theatre for five seasons (September 2010-December 2012). Over time they transitioned to an hour-long monthly show, “PSL Presents” at TheatreNOW (March 2013 – December 2016).

“We really pushed the boundaries with our sketches and what we could pull off on stage, and tried to incorporate our theatre background into the experience,” Brown says. “We took more time to write our shows; we spent more time rehearsing; we weren’t afraid to say ‘no’ to what our writers could imagine. It led us to be able to produce longer, themed-based shows that feel like a complete theatrical experience and less of just a ‘sketch’ show.”

Today most everyone has a full-time job—Brown works at WECT (Best Newscast winner, but more on them next week). Still, they manage to stay involved in the community, as seen with last fall’s larger-scale production, “Wilmington Horror Story” at The Bellamy Mansion and The Burgwin-Wright House. They’re already slated to bring back the immersive, theatrical haunted-house experience this October 25-27, as well as a few other shows for 2018: Improv Wednesdays at Dead Crow Comedy Room at 8 p.m.; their sixth annual all-female sketch comedy show “Ladies Room 6,” March 29-31 at N. Front Theatre; “In Sanity,” a full-length original horror play written and directed by Chase Harrison, will run April 12-15, 19-22, 26-29 at N. Front Theatre; and “Old Hobbits Die Hard,” a fantasy themed sketch comedy show will debut in May.

“We’re most looking forward to bringing back ‘Cannibal! The Musical (October 4-7, 12-14, 19-21 at Community Arts Center),’” he notes, “which we last performed in 2011. It’s an adaptation of Trey Parker’s (‘South Park,’ ‘The Book of Mormon’) cult film.”

PSL holds open auditions for each theatre production. Folks can keep up with their shows at and via social media. “We are also always looking for new writers and crew members,” Brown promises. “If you are interested in learning more, feel free to email us at or come out to one of our shows and speak with us afterward, we’d love to meet you!”

Also laughing all the way onto our readers’ poll for Best Comedy Troupe was Nutt House Improv Troupe (49%).


ART ACHIEVEMENT: Addie Wuensch accpets Bottega’s award for Best Art Gallery. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Bottega Art and Wine – 40% votes

“Bottega 3.0” is how folks around town lovingly refer to the 11-year-old art gallery, Bottega Art and Wine, that planted its roots on Front Street before moving to Princess and now landed in the Brooklyn Arts District on fourth as of November 2016. Its latest incarnation has taken Best Art Gallery for 2018, and comes with a larger space, more art work from over 100 artists, as well as events every night of the week to draw on creative people who want to hone and showcase their craft.

Mondays host a “Writers’ Night,” followed by “Starving Artists Tuesdays,” “Karaoke Thursdays,” “Jazzy Fridays with James Jarvis,” and “Drum Circle Saturdays.” Bottega continuously hosts live music as well.

“One of our busiest nights is our Wednesday singer/songwriter circle and open mic, hosted by Jake Newman,” gallery owner Addie Wuensch says. “You would not believe the talent that shows up on Wednesdays here. It’s truly magical.”

They also do poetry open mics every second and fourth Saturday, and on Sunday Funday they host DJs in the outdoor patio area, which looks like a garden Jean-Michel Basquiat crafted.

Art hangs on every wall space at Bottega, featuring every medium imaginable. Currently, the front room hosts the works of Brian Kerrigan and Luis Adorno, with Dennis Schaefer’s work that celebrates early 19th century jazz opening on March 9.

Bottega also works with local charities, including Walking Tall. Together they have hosted concerts in the back yard of the gallery to help raise money for their outreach program to feed the homeless. Walking Tall also helps them find employment and homes. It’s part of the ongoing appeal of the gallery to be welcoming to everyone. Their next fundraiser at Bottega will be held April 7.

“It’s always been a happy and safe space for all kinds of people,” Wuensch says, “and I think there’s this kind of positive energy that follows it, and attracts positive and kind creative people wherever it moves.”

Around the corner will be a Full Monty Sketch Comedy Club on March 11, along with a local author book release on March 24 and participation in the local arts festival, SARUS, with a closing installation on March 25. Plus, Bottega will have an Azalea Fest art vendor  walk on April 14.

As well, Bottega has started booking weddings in their outdoor courtyard for folks looking to marry their love of art with the love of their life.

Other galleries taking nods include Art in Bloom (36%) and Eclipse Artisan Boutique (24%).


GOLD STAR: Amy Mangus accepts the award for Cape Fear Museum at the encore awards party. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Cape Fear Museum – 42% votes

Cape Fear Museum’s director Sheryl Mays says they measure success by numbers: how many people they serve, average attendance for an exhibit and how folks react to the content they deliver. Well, encore’s Best Of numbers say they topped our poll for Best Museum for 2018.

“We appreciate our community’s interest and enthusiasm for the work we are doing,” she notes. “This win tells us we are on track and doing things right to provide engaging experiences for our community. [It encourages us] to continue to be more creative and innovative in bringing programming and exhibits to our constituents.”

They strive to engage and educate visitors through unique learning experiences, such as a recent Dino Day in February, which drew 1,300 children and adults. They also have seen success in their “Museum After Dark” series, featuring science themes, selfie stations, and food trucks for young adults 18 and older. Their “What’s Brewing In Science” has had an average attendance of 80 people heading to Waterline Brewery to talk about science topics, from artificial intelligence to de-extinction.

“As one attendee noted, ‘I never knew there were so many science nerds like me in one town,’” Mays recalls. “We spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing what will resonate with our audiences and what will inspire them to want to learn more about history and science. This process is an exciting part of our work and what we love about what we do.”

They’ll continue their partnership with Waterline Brewery and local academic community this fall. In two weeks, Cape Fear Museum will open their latest exhibit “PlayTime!,” which is another family-friendly showcase featuring toys and games from their own collection. They’ll host an adult opening party for a preview on March 15, with games, live music and food.

“Every six months we showcase items from our collection in a special small exhibit called ‘Collection Selection,’” Mays notes. “My favorite exhibit this year was our ‘Collection Selection: Family History As Local History.’ In 2015, the Estate of Dr. and Mrs. Samuel James Gray offered the museum some of their treasured family belongings. The exhibit displayed a wide range of items, from clothing and shoes to medical equipment, donated by the Gray family. It was an important display to show our residents how vital it is to preserve family items and stories to help others better understand our community and our history.”

CFM’s free annual Star Party at Carolina Beach State Park will return April 20 and 21 as part of the NC Science Fest. They will host two more “Museum After Dark” events in early summer and fall. In addition to their regular hours of operation from Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sunday 1 – 5 p.m., the museum plans to stay open late two nights a week this summer to provide more opportunities for citizens to access the museum.

Cameron Art Museum (38%) and Children’s Museum of Wilmington (20%) also topped encore’s poll for Best Museum.


WELLER WINS: Frances Wellers scores another Best Newscaster win for the Best Newscast in Wilmington, WECT. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Frances Weller – 41% votes

Sitting down before, after or during dinner for the local news, night after night, is a part of many household routines. In Wilmington  loyal viewers continue to trust and welcome WECT’s Frances Weller into their homes to deliver news of the day.

“I love the fact we are given the responsibility of informing our viewers about what’s going on in our community, state, nation and world,” Frances Weller says. “I’m deeply honored to win this award,. I laughingly say the encore awards are our version of the Academy Awards. The pride in receiving that plaque, in my book, is in line with being awarded an Oscar. I am very grateful.”

WECT (NBC affiliate) has been a broadcasting staple in the area for decades. Weller is partial to their “Plaid Pack” reports as of late, which are monthly segments to spotlight different cancers. Sponsored by New Hanover Regional Medical Center, Weller produces four reports a month that include educational and  informative testimonials from people impacted by various cancers. The goal is to spread awareness. “We give out actual Plaid Packs of useful information,” she adds. “The packs are given out by request.”

As of late, reporting on the opioid epidemic has proven to be one of the greatest challenges in Weller’s years on the job. A 2016 study found Wilmington to be the number one city in opioid addiction. Weller and company continue to dig for answers on how it’s affecting the community and more so how to end it.

As well, WECT is producing a documentary set to debut on April 4—the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination.  “The documentary will highlight the fact Dr. King was scheduled to be in Wilmington the night he was killed,” Weller details. “We hope to circulate the documentary in area schools for educational purposes.”

Away from the anchor desk, Weller is known for her community involvement, a la Fran’s Fans and Weller’s Wheels. It strengthens her connections to local viewers but more so the community at large. Yet, she gives credit to the entire news team for their dedication to Wilmington news.

“We have a great team that works hard to deliver a quality broadcast,” Weller adds. “We are the trusted station and we’re extremely proud of that position. . . . [We] report the facts. Our viewers have built a trust and that’s invaluable to my tenure.”

WECT’s Jon Evans (36%) and WWAY’s Randy Aldridge (23%) also made our readers’ poll for Best Local Newscaster


WECT – 70% votes

It seems we can no longer talk about journalism these days without someone crying “fake news!” It was a trend and challenge WECT’s news director, Scott Saxton, acknowledged last year. It continues to challenge his news team to rise above, even as they pick up another Best Local Newscast “e” for 2018. Saxton says they never rest on their laurels.

“We need to make sure we are solid in our information and we are confident in what we are reporting,” he says. “Consistency helps. People know what to expect from us. I can’t get in everyone’s minds, but I think now more than ever there is great confusion about what is real and what is fake, in terms of information sharing. Social media has created an industry of fake news that makes it hard at times to even agree on a basic set of facts.”

Still, locals know WECT’s team lives here, and shares the same frustrations and celebrates the same wins as the community on which they report. Saxton felt a particular sense of pride they offered with coverage of last year’s Wells Fargo Golf Championship because of its impact on greater Wilmington. Pooling all their resources to bring as many angles and as much compelling content as possible, Saxton is most amazed by the teamwork his group shows during major weather events. 

“While we were fortunate enough to not have a hurricane in our region last season, we had some close calls,” he remembers. “There is the commitment on behalf of our meteorologists to make sure our community is prepared.”

WECT is hard at work trying to find answers with their investigative assignments. For example, Casey Roman’s “Fly A Sign” spent time getting to know who citizens often see on side of the road with signs asking for money, work or any helping hand. “Her approach was compassionate but also illuminating,” Saxton tells. “As journalists, we are charged with giving voice to communities that may not be typically heard. By shining light on issues in our community, we can help lead to a greater understanding and a better place to live.”

With changing lifestyles, Saxton acknowledges people don’t consume their news the same way as they used to. Rather than sitting down at 6 p.m. each evening, they can (and often do) absorb headlines anywhere from the palm of their hands. “That’s a big challenge!” he explains. “This is not the same industry it was in 2008 or 1998. You have to be willing to adapt and anticipate change to be a success.”

WECT also has new leadership under Vice President and General Manager Mark Mendenhall, who is a 20-year veteran on the business side of broadcast. They plan to build upon their ROKU channel and reach customers through the Amazon Echo this year. “We continue to add products onto new delivery systems,” Saxton adds. “We are also working on many long-form stories that don’t necessarily fit into the traditional newscast setting.”

Viewers may tune into morning, midday or evening newscasts on TV, or read and watch the latest stories posted daily to, Facebook, Twitter and social media apps.

News consumers also tune into WWAY (33%) and WSFX (7%) for Best Newscast.

VAMPIRE LOVE STORIES: Brannigan Carter’s “We Only Went Out at Night” wins 2018 Best Local Independent Film, starring Carolyn Foland in the lead role. Photo courtesy of Brannigan Carter

VAMPIRE LOVE STORIES: Brannigan Carter’s “We Only Went Out at Night” wins 2018 Best Local Independent Film, starring Carolyn Foland in the lead role. Photo courtesy of Brannigan Carter


We Only Went Out at Night – 40% votes

Though the Wilmington film industry took quite a hit a few years ago with NC government nixing the incentive programs, it doesn’t mean film isn’t happening in Wilmington. While major productions have largely avoided our area, there remains a strong base of creative people in town who continued to push  their love for filmmaking and doing so independently. They’re making their own things happen regardless if Hollywood comes a knockin.

Enter Brannigan Carter.

Carter’s “We Only Went Out at Night” is 2018’s winner for Best Local Independant Film. The short was shot on a shoestring budget and Carter found ways to get around needs like high-end editing or even location scouting.

“All was shot basically around downtown Wilmington for a zero dollar budget,” he says, “except the $5 I spent on fake blood for one shot.”
Carter wrote, shot, directed and edited the film.

“There wasn’t much sound design needed, as it’s narration driven,” he adds. “The only time we needed a boom mic, we hung it off a tree limb.”

The film, is a unique take on the vampire genre with a love-story twist. Originally he created it for the  2017 MyRodeReel Competition for RØDE Microphones.

“I do it every year and I always do a supernatural themed film,” Carter tells. “Oddly enough, the entire thing came about solely because of the available actors at the time.”

He cast local actress Carolyn Foland in the lead and as narrator of the film. Local actors Robert Gregory Cole and Aaron Beck played her love interests.

“Once I knew I had those actors, I came up with something we could do with that cast for cheap,” Carter says.

Readers can find the film on YouTube, including the original black and white cut for the MyRodeReel competition. Carter will continue his love for film and has plans to moving toward full-length films in the future.

“I have just finished the final cut for my own debut feature film, titled ‘The Brannigan Account,’ which will screen privately for cast and crew soon and will be on Amazon Prime later this year,” he notes.

Other films reeling the Best Of poll are Luv Life Entertainment’s “Beautifully Insecure/Still Beautiful” (29%) and “Drought” by Hannah Black and Megan Petersen (31%).


The Blue Post – 47%, 44% votes

When I was a kid, there was only one way for me to play video games. Atari and Nintendo existed, but they were too expensive for my family. We had to do what most kids had to do at the time: save quarters.

Three dollars worth of quarters could keep me busy for a couple of hours while standing in front of a massive computerized box full of wonder. The arcade was a special place for me and millions of other kids. Moving characters around with joysticks. Shooting things with imaginary guns. Riding pretend motorcycles and jumping over the pretend Grand Canyon. What I remember most of all is the smell of the electronics mixed with popcorn and candy. It hit me in the face as I walked in, and the olfactory memory lasted for days.

At the Blue Post, this year’s winner for Best Arcade/Game Room and Best Pool Hall, the smell is decidedly more hoppy, but the feeling is the same. What opened 20 years ago, The Blue Post boasts various video games, table games and of course pool tables. They’re first and foremost a bar; however, they cater to adults like me, who want to play while they drink.

“Harper Peterson and I were sitting in the back of a 1920’s taxi cab for about three days shooting a Lucky Strike commercial and had nothing else to do but talk,” says owner Barbara Weetman of the Blue Post’s origins. She and Peterson (now running for NC Senate), along with co-owner Gil Johnson, were looking to start a business.

“We went downtown and had a look and it just sort of took off from there,” she remembers. “We did it all out of our heads- there was no architect or designer, we just figured it out and jumped in.”

They wanted to build a community environment, Weetman says.

“We knew we wanted to create the kind of place that we would have a good time going to, and I guess we did.”

The Blue Post wasn’t always going to be a game room. Weetman admits she wasn’t on board with the idea in the beginning.

“Boy was I wrong,” she quips. “People like to have something fun to do when they’re out, and the old arcade games are a blast.”

The Blue Post has become a must-stop establishment in downtown Wilmington. It’s always been the go-to bar in the alley between 2nd and Water streets. And Weetman is thankful.

“We love the support Wilmington has given us for the past 20 years,” she says. “We feel a really strong commitment to the community and hope we keep going forever.”

They’re planning a 20th anniversary party in 2018, so follow The Blue Post on Facebook for details.

Orton’s Pool Hall (31%) and Ten Pin Alley (24%) continues to attract billiards lovers, while Tin Pen (12%) and Jungle Rapids (41%) bring in kids of all ages for game-room fun!

SPOOKY WINS: Holli Sapperstein accepts the award for Best Tour of Wilmington for the Haunted Pub Crawl. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

SPOOKY WINS: Holli Sapperstein accepts the award for Best Tour of Wilmington for the Haunted Pub Crawl. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Haunted Pub Crawl – 39votes

Back in my days of frequenting pubs, most of my time was spent underground at Lula’s. My future wife and I posted up at the bar for a few pints most nights and chatted with the staff and the other regulars.

One of my favorite weekly events was when the Haunted Pub Crawl would come in. Led by a costumed guide, the group crowded into the tiny space and listened to the guide tell stories about the place and the otherworldly-inhabitant, Cooter the Ghost. I don’t remember Cooter’s backstory exactly, but it had something to do with an escaped slave. The group ate it up, listening as the guide described Cooter’s plight in his deep, theatrical baritone. Then they drank, because that’s what you do on a pub crawl.

Downtown Wilmington is packed with historic buildings, and many of those buildings house drinking establishments, and with history and drinking come stories. Someone died at this place, a pirate used to frequent that place, there was a jar of severed ears at this other place. The Haunted Pub Crawl is a great way to hear the more gruesome of those stories while enjoying a drink or three. The two and a half hour tour is also a great way for both locals and tourists to discover new places for eating and drinking.

Along with their more family-friendly Ghost Walk, the owners of Haunted Wilmington have been operating tours since 1999. They also offer a Hollywood Location Walking Tour which shows off filming locations for Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, and many others. The Ghost Walk has been named one of the top five ghost walks in America by USA Today and has been featured on The Learning, Discovery, History & Travel Channels, MTV’s Fear, Haunted TAPS & The Daily Buzz.
The Pub Crawl is offered at 7:30 Wednesday-Saturday from through June at a cost of $17.50 plus tax. Tickets are available at or at the Black Cat Shoppe, 8 Market Street.

Wilmington tours garnering more hot votes include Springbrook Farms Horse-Drawn Carriage Tours (25%) and the Ghost Walk of Wilmington (36%).


The Reel Cafe – 42votes

You don’t have to be able to sing to enjoy a night of karaoke. You do need a little courage, and if you’re like me, some social lubrication to loosen up your inhibitions. The Reel Cafe, this year’s winner for Best Karaoke, has your lubrication, but it’s BYOCourage.

Invented in 1971 by Daisuke Inoue in Kobe, Japan, Karaoke quickly caught on as a form of entertainment in Japan, and over the decades the fad has spread. Inoue was awarded the Ig Nobel Peace Prize (a satirical award for trivial achievements) in 2004, for “providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other.”
It’s an apt description of karaoke: When it’s bad, we tolerate it, because we know we might be next in line to sing. And could we really be much worse than the drunk woman singing It’s Raining Men at her bachelorette party?

The Reel Cafe has you covered for two nights of karaoke.Friday nights are hosted by Dj Paul, and Saturdays are run by DJ Mic in their second floor sports bar. If karaoke isn’t your thing, the Reel offers four bars on three levels, including their downstairs outdoor courtyard and a scenic rooftop bar. Live acoustic music is frequent in their courtyard, and the rooftop plays hosts to larger acts, including an upcoming appearance on April 14th by Drivin’ and Cryin’ and an April 21st show by Zion Rootz.

While you’re checking out the entertainment, the Reel offers a full menu featuring steamers, burgers, sandwiches, and tasty pasta and steak entrees. They offer tons of specials, including $2 tacos every Tuesday and $4 mimosas and Bloody Marys for your Sunday Funday. They also have a late-night menu for those of you with the post-party munchies.

Folks can follow the Reel Cafe on Facebook for the scoop on upcoming events.
Other local spots readers like to practice their pipes at include Katy’s Grill and Bar (41%) and Banks Channel Pub and Grille (17%).

WINNING WORDSMITH: encore writer Gwenyfar Rohler pauses for a smile and a win with her love, Jock Brandis, as she takes home the “e” for Best Writer 2018 at the annual awards party, held at Brooklyn Arts Center. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

WINNING WORDSMITH: encore writer Gwenyfar Rohler pauses for a smile and a win with her love, Jock Brandis, as she takes home the “e” for Best Writer 2018 at the annual awards party, held at Brooklyn Arts Center. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Gwenyfar Rohler – 57votes

Every great writer tends to read great writing—so it’s no surprise this year’s Best Local Writer owns a bookstore. Encore’s contributing writer Gwenyfar Rohler is no stranger to our readers’ poll. Her bookstore, Old Books on Front, took home the award for Best Local Bookstore again in 2018.

“I really do love the classics,” Rohler says of her favorite books and authors, including Agatha Christie, Sharon K. Penman, Jean Plaidy, Shakespeare (“the Stephen King of the 1500s”), Hellen MacInness, Sarah Addison Allen, to name but a few. “But I would like to remind people that most of the classics started off as commercial writing. They have survived because they speak to people on an emotional level, not because they are pretentious.”

While Rohler’s “Live Local” column, theatre reviews and “Carpe Librum” book reviews fill encore’s pages regularly, Wilmington readers have seen her in Salt Magazine and heard her commentaries on WHQR’s airwaves as well. Rohler’s beloved dogs Hilda and Horace and life partner Jock Brandis make pretty frequent appearances in her work. “All three are way more optimistic than I will ever be,” she observes. “Trying to see the world through their eyes is a good change of perspective. They also hear almost everything aloud before it goes into print.”

Just as often Rohler is inspired by her community in ILM, where she was born and raised. “I think many people who write have a sort of constant narrator going in their head,” she continues. “I write about my own life and the people around me, so I get to channel that voice, which does a lot to keep me sane. I need to read everyday and write everyday or it gets very, very bad in my head very quickly.”

Most recently Rohler started publishing a biweekly series in encore, “Singing in the Dead of Night,” based on the tragic story of Brandon Lee. This year is the 25th anniversary of his death on the set of “The Crow,” which was filmed here in Wilmington.

“A few years ago I wrote a nonfiction piece about the film ‘The Crow’ for Salt Magazine,” she tells. “While interviewing people, and researching the tragic and needless events around Brandon Lee’s death filming the movie, I realized it was like an Agatha Christie mystery novel: there is a dead body on the floor and 18 different stories about how it got there.”

“Singing in the Dead of Night” is told from the perspective of the film crew, who watched Lee give the performance that ultimately cost him his life. However, because so many folks refused to speak on the record or be quoted about Lee’s death, Rohler realized fictionalizing the tale allowed her to use material while protecting her sources’ identities. “It also allows for the ability to look at the story from different angles,” she adds. “Wilmington is (was) a film town, this is explores one of the darkest moments we experienced as a community, that many people have never resolved or finished grieving.”

Once Rohler finishes “Singing in the Dead of Night,” she’ll begin working on her book about Woodstock in 2018—which will mean a cross country trip in her VW camper bus (The Argus) next spring. “There is a possibility that ‘Death Bed: The Play That Bites’ might get an out-of-town workshop (we’ll see),” she divulges.

“Getting to write every week is a dream come true,” Rohler continues. “It is surprising that anyone reads it, but it means the world to me. I am just so humbled and filled with gratitude it is overwhelming. . . . We have so many talented writers in this community to even be noticed is a surprise.”

Also penning noteworthy works locally are Benjamin Schachtman of Port City Daily (34%) and independent author Todd Sherman (23%).


Ibiza – 45votes

When Wilmingtonians are ready to unwind and shake their groove things at the end of a long week, they consistently vote Ibiza Nightclub as the best place to do it. Open Friday and Saturday nights—as well as no cover every “Wine Down” Wednesday Karaoke—Ibiza has three DJs rotating its lineup from 10 p.m. to 2:45 a.m. “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 said after last year’s victory.

Ibiza also hosts special parties and events, such as “Drag Me to Ibiza,” where the best drag shows light up the dance floor until midnight. Coming up on March 31 for $10 admission is a Full Moon Rave, featuring Wilmington’s best EDM, electric and hardcore hits spun by DJ J. Stevens. (Psst … Wear your glow gear!) On April 12, they will put on their annual Miss Ibiza 2018 Competition. Categories include talent, gown and an onstage Q&A, and there’s a $300 cash prize, crown and more on the line for lovely contestants. (Pre-register before April 1 for $50 or after for $75 at Party goers also can mark their calendars for what is “bound to be the biggest, messiest foam party to hit Wilmington yet”: Ibiza’s Black Light & Foam Party is scheduled for April 21. Fair warning: wear foam-friendly attire!

While admission prices may vary for special ticketed events, there always is a free cover before 10 p.m. on regular nights. Likewise, drink specials abound whether folks are busting a move on the dance floor or not.

Other dance clubs keeping readers movin’ and shakin’ are Goodfellas Nite Club in downtown Wilmington and Jimmy’s at Red Dogs in Wrightsville Beach.
Other dance clubs stepping their way onto the poll are Goodfella’s Nite Life (30%) and Jimmy’s at Red Dogs (28%).


Thalian Hall – 61votes

According to USA Today, Thalian Hall was just allocated one of the “Top 25 Must-See Buildings in North Carolina!” encore readers agree, as the historic site continues to win Best Theatre Venue for the last two decades or more on our readers’ poll.

The fact Thalian brings more than 20 theatre productions a year to Wilmington—not to mention sells over 200 tickets to other events and hosts over 400 units of activity, whether it’s a meeting, rehearsal or concert—is a testament to its strengthening of our local arts community.

“It’s a very tricky exercise in logistics,” according to executive director Tony Rivenbark (see below).

While it’s the only theatre left standing, as designed by John Montague Trimble, one of America’s foremost 19th-century theatre, (and is the only one left with capabilities to use a Thunder Roll, a sound-effects contraption that was popular in 18th and 19th century theatre), it continues to see updates. It went through a major renovation a few years ago, and this year Rivenbark says he will continue renovation plans with the city to improve its lobbies (Thalian Hall shares space with our local government offices). As well, they will update entrances, dressing rooms and security, plus a new heating and air system.

Rivenbark hopes the nonprofit will be able to fund a completion of an “homage” curtain based on the original one in the old lobby. “It’s the oldest one in the country,” he notes.

While he has a lot of plans ongoing for Thalian and especially the Cube theatre, a smaller side stage, adjacent to Thalian’s main stage, what keeps Rivenbark continuously coming back is rather simple. “It’s never dull,” he promises.

Other venues topping the poll are The Wilson Center at CFCC (30%) and TheatreNOW (9%).

THEATRE STALWART: Tony Rivenbark shows off the “e” for the Thalian Hall venue, which he oversees, as well as for Best Thespian 2018. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

THEATRE STALWART: Tony Rivenbark shows off the “e” for the Thalian Hall venue, which he oversees, as well as for Best Thespian 2018. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Tony Rivenbark – 56votes

If people can solidify themselves institutions within their community, Tony Rivenbark tops the list—especially in the arts and entertainment sector of Wilmington. Rivenbark has been executive director at Thalian Hall (see above) since the ‘60s and has shepherded numerous shows through our town, just as well as has acted in many. His love for the stage began when he attended Wilmington College and studied under Doug Swink. But a love for the stage far preceded his college years.

“[I’ve loved theatre] since watching ‘I Married Joan’ and putting on my version of her terrible play where the cast went to one place and Joan and the scenery arrived at another,” Rivenbark tells. “I did it in the backyard using a closing and a sheet for the stage.”

He took on his first role as a dancer with a small speaking part under Swink in the 1920’s musical, “Good News.” Even then he was given some of the best advice: “Play to the deaf old lady in the back row.”

Such words of wisdom continue to carry merit today in all his roles, including Al Lewis in 2017’s “Sunshine Boys” at Thalian’s Cube theatre.

“I don’t remember [receiving] any bad advice except, casting a heavy Cordelia,”

Rivenbark tells of Shakespeare’s daughter in “King Lear,” whom he has played throughout the years and even recited the monologue in 2016 during the tuning of Wilson Center. In fact Rivenbark easily has been cast in over 200 productions, with 140 different roles. His love of moving people to emotion helps coddle his love for performance art—“making people laugh and cry when possible,” he tells.  And he will be able to continue to do so this year, as he takes on several more Cube Theatre concept productions, such as playing Felix in the older “Odd Couple” and the title role in “An Act of God.” He also will do “Souvenir” with Cindy Colucci and “Suddenly Last Summer” with Kitty Fitzgibbon.

Rivenbark just celebrated turning 70 last week. A birthday roast was held in his honor, as the theatre community and friends came out in droves. It’s no wonder he continues taking home the “e” for Best Thespian for numerous years now.

Other actors scoring votes on the poll include Maggie Andrews Miller (39%) and Anthony Lawson (20%).


Sarah Rushing – 41votes

It’s been a big year for local artist Sarah Rushing. She has been immersed in mural projects that take her paintings onto a larger canvas and in turn a larger audience. She was commissioned to do the paintings seen for Vivian Howard’s famed Greenfield Street eatery, Benny’s Big Time, which opened mid December.

“[Benny’s owners and famed NC chefs /restaurateurs] Ben Knight and Vivian Howard purchased one of my pieces a couple of years ago for one of their restaurants in Kinston,” Rushing tells, “so they were familiar with my work.”

Rushing also did a Christmas-themed, interactive window display painting for Kevin Rhodes of Palate on North Fourth Street. Next, she’ll be doing a large rooster on the side of Rx Restaurant and Bar, on Castle Street, where she features her art work inside on the walls and hosts numerous art shows annually.

“My style works well with the atmosphere there,” she tells, “and it’s always nice to have access to a commission-free space. I’ve been very lucky to have been given the freedom I have there; Rx has become my own personal gallery and I’ve been able to display the works of so many artists there. Currently I am focusing more on my own work rather than curatorial projects, which has been a healthy shift for me at this time . .  The challenge murals bring has been a welcome one.”

But none of the projects have meant as much as the current catalog of work she has focused on and been consumed by. A new series will celebrate memories of her life with now-deceased fiancé Ben Privott, who died unexpectedly almost two years ago.

“My life is different in almost every way now,” Rushing admits, “so painting those moments allows me to keep him close. . . . I have finally arrived at a place where I can look back on our time together and truly appreciate it in a more peaceful way.  . . When I feel satisfied with them all, whenever that may be, I’ll look for a place to exhibit them.”

Rushing can’t think of one defining moment that made her an artist; she simply always has loved painting and the arts in general. “I think you’re an artist when you feel you don’t have a choice in whether to create or not—you just have to.”

She attended UNCW and studied studio art, as well as completed an independent study with Pam Toll. This year she has been taking drawing classes with Michael Van Hout, interpreting his wire sculptures through paint and canvas.

“I’d like to continue to pursue public art,” she tells of her future dreams, “ as well as focus on getting a good system for producing prints established to expand my current market.”

Other artists making marks on the poll are Mary Ellen Golden (39%) and Allan Nance (20%).

TECH WINS! Michael Kane and Benjamin Schachtman of show off their award for Best Local Website. Photo by Jessica Russell

TECH WINS! Michael Kane and Benjamin Schachtman of show off their award for Best Local Website. Photo by Jessica Russell

WEBSITE: – 43votes

Local News. Brews and Bites. Business. Health. Lifestyle. It’s pretty easy to navigate when searching for what’s relevant in all-things local.

Last year Port City Daily was putting finishing touches on a more modern template for their award-winning website, which took home the “e” again for Best Website in 2018. Managing editor Michael Kane estimated these updates would make the site easier to navigate, as well as include a new health section. Here, they cover the latest news, tips and alerts in local health issues (seasonal allergies, GenX, cancer rates, etc.). They were also working to add a few more beats in technology and science.

“The news staff itself is in discussions on the best way to utilize the new tools we will be handed,” Kane added. “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 saved in thousands of browsers, Kane credited their popularity to reputable reporting. Not to mention, their tight-knit relationship with 2018’s Best Radio Station 98.3 The Penguin. While using a successful online platform to tell the stories has worked well for six 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 said. “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 frequently log on to (31%) and (26%).

TRICKS FOR THE TRADE: Best Party Entertainer is a new write-in category for 2018, which was won by No Sleeves Magic, founded by master magician Michael Rosander who performed at the 2018 Best Of Awards Party on Feb. 24 at BAC. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

TRICKS FOR THE TRADE: Best Party Entertainer is a new write-in category for 2018, which was won by No Sleeves Magic, founded by master magician Michael Rosander who performed at the 2018 Best Of Awards Party on Feb. 24 at BAC. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


No Sleeves Magic – 48votes

When Michael Rosander was 5 years old, his great grandfather showed him his first magic trick. It sparked a hobby he began to explore at 17 when he worked as an actor at Tweetsie Railroad. He began studying the craft more and more, and now, all grown up and rearing his own family, the hobby has become a career. Rosander owns and operates No Sleeves Magic, a kids camp and family entertainment program that allows him and his staff to perform over 250 events a year.

“Currently we offer six completely different, including the magic tricks within, family shows to choose from whether it is a birthday party, school show or big public event,’” Rosander tells. “We have and are continuing to develop a magic curriculum that is licensed out and can be used to teach magic classes and camps. All custom magic props and lessons are used to empower kids building their character, confidence and communication skills for life. The program is called Discover Magic and is exactly what we are using in our magic camp programs.”

The shows are the most fun part of Rosander’s job, whether he’s proving he can show which card his participants have chosen from a deck or what fruit is in a sealed aluminum can. But folks can learn the tricks behind the trade as shown in their kids activity fun book created sold at Learning Express. It includes over 150 magic tricks, puzzles, games, and more. Plus, they have have developed a small line of magic to be used as souvenirs at Halloween or birthday parties, as rewards at medical offices or even student prizes (

No Sleeves doesn’t only perform for the little ones either. They host adult parties and include tricks ( that will turn even the keenest, most skeptical eye into a believer. “This is something a lot of people don’t know about because we keep it separate from the kids stuff,” Rosander tells. They do corporate parties and even travel to perform. “[I speak] at different companies and even consult on magic.”

And while folk who aren’t easily persuaded only need one trick to be conformed from Rosander. A true performer, he not only can pull the rabbit out of the hat, so to speak, he also understands the value of being trusted by an audience.

“There are a lot of magician hobbyist that can make magic corny and don’t put a lot effort into practicing or their presentation,” he tells. “To them it is all about the trick. This is where some people might see magic and have a misconception of what it is like. Where we set the bar high is that we believe it is all about the people and the story we tell. Our primary emphasis is on creating fun entertainment that will make memories and keep people talking about their experience, the magic is thoroughly practiced and thought out to really well.”

The Best Party Entertainer was a new category our readers voted on in the Write-In category on the 2018 poll.

Other votes for write-in went to Best Tackle Shop: Intracoastal Angler (45%) and Best Nutrition Company: Summerfield Custom Wellness (7%).


L Shape Lot – 59votes

For L Shape Lot front man and guitarist Eric Miller, there’s a lot to love about his job. He and his bandmates, Alex Lanier (vocals, electric/acoustic guitar), Mykel Barbee (drums) and Rick Williams (bass, vocals), make a living doing what they love. It just so happens Wilmingtonians love what they do as well. Once again L Shape Lot is taking home the award for Best Local Band/Performer for 2018. While he can’t say with any certainty what it is that keeps loyal fans going to our readers’ poll, Miller and company are grateful for the honor each year.

“[To] be supported by many great people, it’s really a blessing,” Miller says. “We are just very thankful for all the support we get from so many folks, as it is what allows us to continue doing what we love to do. We try to be as fun, and professional as we can be, while not taking ourselves to seriously, as we are just some guys who like to play music. . . . We are truly thankful and honored to be recognized by the community, and we appreciate the support we get more than we could express with words.”

As of late L Shape Lot full-band gigs are fewer and farther in between. However, this past year was filled with new opportunities for the fast-paced folk/Americana band. They played shows with the likes of Band of Heathens and Steep Canyon Rangers, with the latter leading them to fill a slot playing Merlefest 2019. “Every show has a magic of its own, big or small,”  Miller observes, “but we really enjoyed the shows we did with Band of Heathens and Steep Canyon Rangers.”

Nevertheless, Miller and Lanier are often seen out as the L Shape Lot Duo. As they continue to play across ILM, whether as the duo and full band, Miller’s signature down-to-earth baritone voice can be heard across live stages and local airwaves. Favorite songs like “Church” and “Cold” are but of a few tunes folks can listen to on L Shape Lot’s Facebook page. Locally, L Shape Lot is already looking forward to their seventh annual Toys For Tots show in December.

“It’s really taken on a life of its own,” Miller says of the annual fundraiser. “[It’s] humbling to see all the people come together to help others.”

As they continue to build and expand their presence beyond Wilmington’s music scene, Miller says he and his band of brothers have learned a lot throughout their tenure—of which they started almost a decade ago.

“We were just kids when we began cutting our teeth in bars, to getting older, moving on to festivals, theaters and bigger shows, you learn a lot with each experience,” he muses. “The main thing, in my humble opinion, is perseverance, and professionalism, those are both very important. It’s a very hard business, especially at the blue-collar musician level, which is where we live constantly.”

Also taking center stage on our poll for Best Local Band/Performer are Eastbound (20%) and Signal Fire (21%).



Megan Petersen – 41votes

encore (e): Tell readers when you decided to be a filmmaker and why?

Megan Petersen (MP): I have always had a love for the arts and especially acting. Growing up in the theater, I found a passion for being on stage and behind-the-scenes—anything I could do to help tell a story.

When I moved to Wilmington, I immediately got involved in the film industry. After getting some experience on set, I began taking class at Actor’s Arsenal, and that is when everything really took off for me. I began auditioning for speaking roles and bonded with other classmates. We were inspired to begin creating our on content when we heard a talk by Mark Duplass from SXSW Film Festival. He encouraged everyone that, with technology today, there is no reason you can’t be making films on the weekends with your friends.

With that inspiration and the desire to tell stories that would move people or change someone’s perspective, we began to help each other with writing, casting, directing, and producing short films here in Wilmington. I have to say that encouragement of Ron and Allie at Actor’s Arsenal is what ultimately gave me the courage to begin filmmaking.

e: What have you made/overseen/created thus far?

MP: The first short film I was involved in was inspired by an improvised scene in a Meisner class. It is called “One Saturday Morning” and with our coach, Ron Fallica, we made the film one weekend in the “Duplass” style.

From there, Hannah Black and I created a short film called “IF,” which has played in a several festivals. I’ve also helped a lot of friends with casting and producing their projects, which is so much fun. Most recently, Hannah and& I directed “Watch & Learn,” a companion short film to the feature “Drought.”

e: We understand “Drought” is next on the list; can you tell us about this project and what inspired it?

MP: Back in 2015, Hannah Black and  I were meeting each week to work on creating short films. She brought an idea to me that would end up being “Drought,” and we knew right away the story deserved to be told in a longer format.

Hannah was a teacher for children on the autism spectrum, and she was very inspired by how hard they work and their unique perspective on the world. In addition, she found their siblings were often the un-sung heroes of the family. With that as the inspiration, we created the story of Sam and her younger brother, Carl, who has Asperger’s. They are living in a small town that is going through a drought, but Carl is fascinated by weather and storms. In order to create a better life, they take an ice-cream truck to go storm-chasing with their estranged older sister, Lillian, and best friend, Lewis.

e: You won a contest to help with “Drought”; tell us about it.

MP: Last summer, we were at a place with the script that we felt it was ready to be made, but we didn’t know how it was going to happen. Then Hannah saw an email come across her screen that said “The Duplass Brothers Want To Fund Your Next Feature.” What!? The Duplass Brothers are who inspired us from the start.

We entered the competition, which was through Seed&Spark, a crowdfunding site specifically for filmmakers. For 30 days last fall, we ran a campaign, along with 72 other teams from across the country, to raise funds and gather followers. Lots of followers. The top 15 teams then pitched to the Duplass Brothers in a 30-second video. We were one on those teams! On Nov. 4, Emily Best of Seed&Spark, with Mark Duplass, announced the winners live. We found out we won the grand prize, which included additional funds and Mark and Jay Duplass on board as executive producers. It is such an honor and we are still pinching ourselves!

e: When are you slated to shoot? Who all is cast?

MP: We are working with Team Duplass on polishing the script and making sure the story is the best it can be. Our hope is to shoot late this summer. We will be shooting in and around Wilmington. At this time, Hannah Black is cast as Sam, and I will be playing her sister, Lillian. Once our script is set, we will begin the casting process. Stay tuned!

e: Are you a filmmaker full time? If not, let us know what else you do? Career? Hobbies? Passions? How does it fuel filmmaking?

MP: Beginning in March, I started focusing on filmmaking full time. I work at Actor’s Arsenal now, where it all began—taping auditions and teaching classes.

Of course, I love going to the movies with my super awesome husband, Lucas.

When I’m not writing and collaborating with Hannah, you are likely to find me at trivia [nights] in town. I have a crazy love for solving puzzles and collecting random knowledge. I believe my love to learn and find solutions is so helpful in filmmaking. I also just really have a passion to see people go for their dreams and love helping others figure out how to tell their stories, too.

Other filmmakers taking home votes include Nakia Hamilton (23%) and Nick Westfall (34%).

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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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