It has certainly been an excellent year of local music in Indianapolis. Crowds came out en masse to locally driven festivals like Chreece, Holler on the Hill, Indy Jazz Fest, and Virginia Avenue Music Fest. Indiana album releases were plentiful as well, whether you’re talking jazz, pop, rock, or hip-hop.
While all of this was going on, Mayor Joe Hogsett also announced a new series of artist grants aimed at strengthening Indy’s arts industries, creative individuals, and cultural organizations. Specific categories for the first round of these Create Indy grants included design, film, new media, music, and food and beverage.
Through our 2018 Best of Indy voting, you the readers were able to tell us what excited you in the world of Indy music this year. In looking over the results, several names came up a lot, with the first being Indianapolis jazz guitarist Charlie Ballantine. A regular performer at venues like The Jazz Kitchen and Chatterbox, Ballantine won Best Local Album of the Year, Best Local Instrumentalist, Best Local Jazz Artist, and Best Local Musician/Band (Overall). Keeping things in the family, Charlie’s father Scott Ballantine also won Best Local Blues Artist/Band.
In addition to Ballantine, other Indianapolis jazz acts came up quite a bit in this year’s Best of Indy results. A band made up of several Indianapolis jazz regulars, Clint Breeze and the Groove was voted Best Soul Artist/Band. Clint and company also finished second in the voting for Best Local Musician/Band (Overall) and Best Jazz Artist/Band. Like the Groove, saxophonist Rob Dixon placed in several categories as well, finishing third in Best Local Album of the Year, Best Local Instrumentalist, and Best Jazz Artist/Band.
Hosted by Mary Fagdalane and Stevie Dicks, Low Pone is a queer dance party held at Pioneer in Fountain Square on the first Saturday of every month. Although not technically a club or venue, Low Pone was voted Best Local Dance Venue/Club and finished second behind Metro for Best Local LGBT Venue/Club. Low Pone’s resident DJ, DJ Little Town, also finished third in the voting for Best Local DJ.
Of course, these are only a few of the winners in this year’s Best of Indy music category, selected by you the readers. Continue on to see what other bands, musicians, and venues also fared well in the 2018 voting.
--Seth Johnson, Music Editor
BEST OF INDY WINNERS 2018
Best Local Musician/Band:Charlie Ballantine
- It’s been a big year for Indianapolis jazz guitarist Charlie Ballantine. In addition to performing regularly all over town, the Indiana University graduate released an acclaimed album titled Life Is Brief: The Music of Bob Dylan, which features 12 jazz interpretations of classic Bob Dylan songs. Ballantine won several awards this years, including Best Jazz Artist, Best Instrumentalist, and Best New Album.
- Honorable Mention // Clint Breeze and the Groove, Brother O’ Brother
Best Local Album of the Year: Charlie Ballantine (Life Is Brief:The Music of Bob Dylan)
- Ballantine honors the music of Bob Dylan on his standout 2018 album. Constructed at Indianapolis’ Postal Recording, the release features 12 uniquely orchestrated covers, including “The Times They Are a-Channgin’,” “Masters of War,” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” In addition to Ballantine, Life Is Brief also features contributions from bassist Jesse Wittman, drummer Chris Parker, alto saxophonist Amanda Gardier, tenor saxophonist Rob Dixon, organist Shawn McGowan, and vocalists Brandon Whyde and Mina Keohane.
- Honorable Mention // Brother O’ Brother (Monster Truck), Rob Dixon (Coast to Crossroads)
Best Jazz Artist/Band: Charlie Ballantine
- Indianapolis jazz guitarist Charlie Ballantine can be heard performing all over Indianapolis, making regular appearances at Chatterbox and The Jazz Kitchen. Ballantine also makes a point of branching out as well, often playing less conventional jazz venues both in and out of state. His current resume of festival performances includes appearances at Fountain Square Music Festival, Penrod Arts Fair, and Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, among others.
- Honorable Mention // Clint Breeze and the Groove, Rob Dixon
Best Instrumentalist: Charlie Ballantine
- Although he may have a degree in jazz guitar performance, Ballantine draws from a number of musical influences, including everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Wes Montgomery. On some nights, Ballantine can be heard leading his own jazz group. On other nights, you can hear him guesting in other non-jazz bands such as Jeff Kelly and the Graveyard Shift.
- Honorable Mention // Brandon Moss, Rob Dixon
Best Blues Artist/Band: Scott Ballantine
- An Indianapolis music veteran, guitarist Scott Ballantine is often seen playing alongside fellow Hoosier native Andra Faye. Known for being a guitar player’s guitar player, Ballantine is proficient in a myriad of playing styles, from jazz to blues. Hear Ballantine’s guitar work on a 2015 album he and Faye released titled Coulda Woulda Shoulda.
- Honorable Mention // Melodious Thunk, Gene Deer
Best Punk Artist/Band: Think Tank
- According to our very own Barfly, Think Tank makes music that’s “dirty, sweaty, and antagonistic.” Regularly featured on Punk Rock Night bills at the Melody Inn, the hardcore punk band has an impressive collection of demos on SoundCloud featuring songs like “Enter the Void” and “No One Puts Danzig in the Corner.”
- Honorable Mention // The Yavin 4, In Calico
Best Metal Artist/Band: Sacred Leather
- With a vintage heavy mental sound that’d make Judas Priest proud, Sacred Leather has received international attention for their 2018 album Ultimate Force. Released via Italian heavy metal label Cruz Del Sur Music, the band’s debut full-length was described as a “spirit-of-1983 joint” by Nolsey, who also complimented Sacred Leather on their leather and spikes attire.
- Honorable Mention // Potslammer, Rok Hollywood
Best Pop Artist/Band: The Shake Ups
- Back in 2013, this power-pop music collective started performing original, family-friendly songs inspired by their favorite cartoons. Since then, The Shake Ups have released full-length albums inspired by My Little Pony, Steven Universe, and Voltron. The group has performed at major conventions such as Gen Con, Wizard World, Comic Con, and Indy Pop Con.
- Honorable Mention // Wife Patrol, summerbruise
Best Rap Artist: Oreo Jones
- There’s no questioning that Oreo Jones is a man of the people. Founder of Indianapolis’ Chreece hip-hop festival, he is a member of local hip-hop supergroup Ghost Gun Summer. Since releasing his 2016 album Cash for Gold, however, Jones has shifted his focus to a more experimental project, making mind-bending R&B under the name Michael Raintree.
- Honorable Mention // Nate B, Flaco
Best Soul Artist/Band: Clint Breeze and the Groove
- Led by drummer/producer Carrington “Clint Breeze” Clinton, this band blends elements of hip-hop, jazz, and soul all into one, resulting in an irresistible sound that truly does groove. In addition to Clinton, the band features an all-star cast of musicians, including several key players in Indy’s jazz scene.
- Honorable Mention // Bashiri Asad, Allison Victoria
Best Vocalist: Bashiri Asad
- An Indianapolis soul music warrior, Bashiri Asad makes the world a better place with his warm, heartfelt music. With a voice as smooth as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Asad followed up his 2016 Proximity EP with a 2017 project titled A Girl Named Charlie.
- Honorable Mention // Tabetha McCleery, Mariah Ivey
Best Rock Artist/Band: The Trees
- Known for their psychedelic rock sound, this Indianapolis four-piece has performed at venues all over Central Indiana, from HI-FI to The Mousetrap. The Trees’ 2016 self-titled concept album was recorded live in front of a studio audience at Playground Productions in Irvington and can be heard on their Bandcamp.
- Honorable Mention // Brother O’ Brother, America Owns The Moon
Best All-Ages Venue: Square Cat Vinyl
- Located in the heart of Fountain Square, this all-ages venue throws a myriad of shows for local, regional, and national acts. From jazz to rock to hip-hop, the show selection is always diverse. While at Square Cat Vinyl, you can also shop for records, grab a coffee, or sip on a beer as well.
- Honorable Mention // Lawn at White River, Hoosier Dome
Best Large Music Venue: Murat Theatre at Old National Centre
- Housed in the Old National Centre at 502 N. New Jersey St., the 2,500-capacity Murat Theatre is one of Indy’s most storied concert halls. In the past year, the theater space has hosted artists like Jason Isbell, Janelle Monáe, The Decemberists, and more.
- Honorable Mention // The Vogue, Lawn at White River
Best Small Music Venue: HI-FI
- Since opening in 2014, HI-FI has quickly become a destination venue for acts touring through Indianapolis. Located in the historic Murphy Arts Center, the venue has expanded its capacity to 400, while still maintaining a reputation as Indy’s best sounding room. Noteworthy HI-FI shows in 2018 have included Andrew W.K., Guided by Voices, Justin Townes Earle, Lucy Dacus, and more.
- Honorable Mention // The Chatterbox, Melody Inn
Best LGBT Venue/Club: Metro
- A Mass Ave mainstay, this LGBT nightclub and restaurant has served Indianapolis since 1990. Make your way there on a Tuesday or Thursday for karaoke from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. If you’re looking for somewhere to dance on the weekend, Metro is where it’s at too, with DJs in the mix from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.
- Honorable Mention // Low Pone, Downtown Olly’s
Best Dance Venue/Club: Low Pone
- Low Pone is a queer dance party held at Pioneer in Fountain Square on the first Saturday of every month. Hosted by Mary Fagdalane and Stevie Dicks, the event also regularly features drag performances, with a night-long soundtrack from DJ Little Town.
- Honorable Mention // Ike & Jonesy’s, The Red Room
Best Cover Band: Toy Factory
- From Salt-n-Pepa to Prince, Toy Factory is known for shaking booties. Often simply referred to as The Toyz, the versatile Indianapolis band has a song list that’s packed full of soul. Catch them performing at a local club, festival, wedding, private event, or corporate event near you.
- Honorable Mention // Glamerica, Lisa Frank and the Trapper Keepers
Best DJ: Rusty Redenbacher
- The man, the myth, the legend. Few can say they’ve gone toe to toe with Eminem in a rap battle like this man did. A member of legendary Indianapolis hip-hop group Mudkids, Rusty Redenbacher may best be known for his energetic rhymes, but the Naptown legend can also rock a dance floor too. Catch him spinning at an event or party near you.
- Honorable Mention // DJ Crazy B, DJ Little Town
Best Place for Cocktails: Hotel Tango
- Makes sense that the city’s best distillery would also take top spot for best cocktails. We can testify to the deliciousness of the drinks here, having slung back many a Gin Bravo at the cozy spot this summer, and we can’t wait to sample their seasonal winter drinks near the fire this November.
- Honorable Mention // Brass Ring, Thunderbird
Best Bartender: Kevin Sanders at Bluebeard
- It says a lot about a place for customers to pick a bartender as the best in the city. Given that Bluebeard tops so many categories this year in the dining category, it’s good to see they’re best in drinks also. Sanders does a great job at making everyone feel welcome, as well as making damn good drinks.
- Honorable Mention // Amanda Wallace at Centerpoint, Andrew Brown at Hotel Tango
Best Dive Bar: Alley Cat
- We believe a true dive bar is hidden in plain sight with good prices and slightly rough edges. Broad Ripple’s Alley Cat fulfills these requirements and then some. Awesome jukebox, darts, a shot and a cold one, what more could you ask for?
- Honorable Mention // Dorman Street, The Dugout
Best Sports Bar: Ale Emporium
- Awesome wings, cold beer, enough TVs to make an electronic store appear underwhelming. Indy’s choice for best sports bar seems a no brainer. If your team is playing, get in here and experience sports bar bliss.
- Honorable Mention // Chatham Tap, Kilroys
Best Trivia Night: Sinking Ship
- The last Thursday of every month, Sinking Ship hosts Trivia Obscura, a Family Feud style trivia game that’s as useless as it is offensive. Come test how much crap you have stored in your brain while enjoying craft beer and great company.
- Honorable Mention // Books and Brews, Tappers
Best Strip Club: Brad’s Brass Flamingo
- No flamingos here, just ladies in various stages of undress. Brad’s is NUVO readers’ favorite strip club and it’s easy to see why. If the boobs don’t impress you, the breakfast menu most certainly will. Don’t miss the bacon or the lap dances.
- Honorable Mention // Dancers, Classy Chassy
Best Place for Cheap Pitchers: Dorman Street
- Originally opened at the end of Prohibition, this neighborhood bar in the Cottage Home/Mass Ave district is rumored to have been a hangout for John Dillinger in the weeks leading up to his robbery of the State Bank on Mass Ave in 1933. Better known now for cheap pitchers, stop in for low-key fun like napkin art contests, bring your own vinyl nights, and movie screenings.
- Honorable Mention // The Dugout, Sam’s Silver Circle
Best Place for Late Night Munchies: Sinking Ship
- Late-night munchies don’t discriminate and neither does Sinking Ship. They have options for anyone and everyone, whether you need a spicy Chuck Norris burger, a cup of chili, some vegan seitan wings, a sack of balls (donut holes), or just one more beer, they’ve got you covered.
- Honorable Mention // ClusterTruck, Brass Ring