Welcome to Year 26 of Best of Utah
Best of Utah, 25+1 (we may have miscounted somewhere along the line, but this is what we're going with). In our 26th edition, this is still how we do it: You voted in 100 categories—this time around, your Readers' Choices are clearly marked with a fancy graphic;then staff at City Weekly added 300 or more of their bonehead local favorites, aka Staff Choices.
This year, we decided to have some fun with the Best of Utah cover concept. We split the print run five ways and chose to feature an outstanding representative from each Best of Utah category. As you travel around town, you may see proprietor Valter Nassi, of Valter's Osteria, on the cover. Visit a coffee shop, and it may be KUTV 2's Mary Nickles' radiant face that greets you or Dick N' Dixie bartender Holly Siddoway's mischievious smile. While out and about, you might see Mandate Press owner Ben Webster or Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando on the cover. Each of these five exhibit a passion for what they do, and it's our pleasure to honor them with their individual covers.
Another new twist this year: We ventured outside the 801 and came up with a county-by-county rundown of the Best the land of Zion has to offer. So, next time you're venturing out to explore the wide open spaces and unique sights of the Beehive State, take a copy with you.
Finally, besides being famous for a week while the issue is on newsstands, there are some additional perks to being a winner. For one, you can request a plaque that bears your honor. For another, we will host a fabulous Best of Utah winners party on Thursday, Nov. 12. Contact Jackie Briggs (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
What you're holding is the only real "best of state" compendium there is—read on, and we'll see (some of) you at the party. CW
Media & Politics
Best TV Anchorwoman
Mary Nickles, KUTV 2
2. Hope Woodside, Fox 13
3. Shauna Lake, KUTV 2
Best TV News Station
Best TV Anchorman
Mark Koelbel, KUTV 2
2. Ron Bird, KUTV 2
3. Dan Evans, Fox 13
When a TV station boasts Readers' Choice awards for Best Anchorman (Mark Koelbel), Best Anchorwoman (Mary Nickles) and Best Sports Reporter (David James), it's easy to do the math: City Weekly readers are taken with KUTV Channel 2 news. And KUTV is also the home of Rod Decker who, for decades, has been one of the most reliable veteran reporters to cover Utah news. From 2News This Morning to the 10 o'clock roundup of the day's events, KUTV delivers what you need to know, by people you feel you know.
2. Fox 13
3. ABC 4
Best Public-Radio Station
When it comes to exposing listeners to new music, many commercial radio stations in this market have failed, and they're not champing at the bit to fix that anytime soon. KRCL remains one of the best places to find new tunes throughout the day, whether mornings with Ebay Jamil Hamilton, early evenings with Bad Brad Wheeler, nights with the duo Maximum Distortion or weekends with Courtney Blair. You may not love every show in KRCL's lineup, but when you want to hear something good, something you've never heard before, you know that community radio has got your back.
2. KUER 90.1
3. KCPW 88.3
Best Weather Reporter
Brett Benson, Fox 13
TV news personalities walk a tricky line: Their trustworthiness as professionals must be impeccable; yet they need to be personable enough that viewers want to spend time with them. Utah native and former BYU football player Brett Benson boasts some solid résumé cred that includes a certification in broadcast meteorology and five years working for Weather Central. But he's also a smiling, engaging on-air presence, able to do the nuts & bolts weather prognostication in a way that's both informative and playful—to that end, notice how Fox 13 news anchor Hope Woodside seems to take particular delight in teasing him. Benson's is the kind of reliability that doesn't shift with the weather.
2. Allison Croghan, Fox 13
3. Debbie Worthen, KUTV 2
Best Sports Reporter
David James, KUTV 2
For more than 20 years, Utahns have been getting their sports news from David James, enjoying his genial manner and wide-ranging knowledge. And they've been able to get that news whether watching TV (James anchors KUTV Channel 2's weekend sports reports and hosts Talkin' Sports) or listening to the radio on their morning drive (James also co-hosts with Patrick Kinahan DJ & PK in the Morning on 1280 The Zone). James still reports with the unabashed enthusiasm of a true fan.
2. Wesley Ruff, ABC4
3. Dave Fox, KUTV2
Best podcast VOTED in by SOCIAL MEDIA
Geek Show Podcast
We retired the Best Podcast category this year, but failed to see how many hearts might be broken. Fans let us know—via multiple social-media platforms—that they wanted the category to remain. Now, we know. So, here you go, Geek Show Podcast. You've won every year since 2009, you got the vote out for this year, and we salute you.
Best Radio Station
It's a statistical cinch: If you broke into 10 random cars on Main Street, you'd find at least one radio preset to X96. It's not on the bleeding edge where corporate stations are that are still operated by robots—X96 still mixes alternative music from the '80s and '90s in with today's hits and a sprinkling of rising stars—and that's more than OK. Utah radio's equivalent of comfort food, X96 is the station you turn to when this crazy world spins out of control. It's good to know that, no matter how strange and stupid the world gets, some things never change.
2. 97.1 ZHT
3. The Vibe 94.9
Best TV News Reporter/ BEST Local on Twitter
Ben Winslow, Fox 13
Any budding journalist aspiring to report news in this Digital Age would do well to mirror Ben Winslow's example. Winslow's ability to multi-platform—he live-tweets news events while covering his beat encompassing politics, polygamy, criminal justice for Fox 13—makes him the most recognizable reporter at any news event that counts. (Did we mention that he tweets every step of the way?) The future of the industry belongs to those able to navigate the unavoidable shoals of self-promotion while still producing quality news reporting. If what he does can be taught, it should be a required course at every J-school.
FOX13Now. com; @BenWinslow
Best TV News Reporter:
2. Chris Jones, KUTV 2\
3. Rod Decker, KUTV 2
Best Local on Twitter:
2. Chris Jones, KUTV 2
3. Robert Gehrke, The Salt Lake Tribune
Gov. Gary Herbert
When videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue began to surface online, conservatives freaked out. Planned Parent leadership urged public officials to remain calm, to consider how heavily doctored the videos were, and not to jump to conclusions—but talk had already begun of defunding the reproductive health-care provider. Gov. Gary Herbert jumped right on that bandwagon, demanding that Utah agencies stem the "flow-through" by which the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah receives roughly $200,000 in federal funding. Predictably, Herbert's action triggered a lawsuit, and a federal judge ruled that the funding had to continue. So taxpayers are once again left to pick up the tab for defending another knee-jerk reaction by impulsive and arrogant Utah public officials.
2. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah
3. Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah
Former Utah Attorneys General John Swallow & Mark Shurtleff
Few political scandals have shaken the Utah Attorney General's Office like those under the leadership of former AGs Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow. For its behind-the-scenes drama that saw both AGs allegedly wheeling and dealing with shady business elements and placing a "For Sale" sign atop the state's AG's office door, this scandal was one for the record books. While the path to justice continues to be tortuously slow and recent court filings suggest a brewing battle with the feds over evidence FBI agents don't want to share with the state, we still wait for the Mark & John Show to reach its judicial climax with the expectation that yet more details may be revealed.
2. Mayor Ralph Becker vs. Police Chief Chris Burbank
3. Defunding Planned Parenthood
Best Radio Show
Radio From Hell, X96
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Radio From Hell has taken top honors in this category for almost two decades. Kerry, Bill and Gina have a winning formula that's made them one of the most talked-about radio shows in the country even though (shockingly) Radio From Hell isn't syndicated. Cheers to them, along with Richie T. in the booth and his gaggle of interns who help this audio train stay on track.
2. The Morning Zoo, 97.1 ZHT
3. RadioWest, KUER 90.1
Best Elected Official
Sen. Jim Dabakis
Never one to avoid the limelight, state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, continues to be out, loud and proud about both his politics and his orientation. While the days are past when Dabakis and Speaker of the House Greg Hughes, R-Draper, would exchange digs with each other on the radio, some days, it seems, you can't pick up a newspaper or turn on a TV without getting a good dose of Dabakis. One day he's announcing a run for Salt Lake City mayor (which ultimately turned out to be short-lived), while the next, he wants to save The Salt Lake Tribune from a slow death at the hands of its owners. Dabakis' passions span a broad range: Whether he's championing Russian art or railing against Republican lawmakers for their failure to implement Medicaid expansion, he deserves Utah's thanks for all he does on our behalf.
2. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker
3. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams
Planned Parenthood of Utah
There is no greater indication of the value Utahns place on women's reproductive health care than the groundswell of support for Planned Parenthood that arose when Utah Gov. Gary Herbert decided to block pass-through federal funding for it. The nonprofit is not an abortion mill, despite how its foes characterize it. When it comes to birth control, contraception and screening, the first place that comes to mind for many women (and men) is Planned Parenthood. So, when director Karrie Galloway announced a lawsuit against Utah, we were cheering in the wings.
2. Best Friends Animal Society
3. Utah Food Bank
Best Night-Time Reporter
Chris Jones, KUTV 2
If you see Chris Jones on TV, it means two things: It's dark and it's time for bed. Jones has won numerous Best of Utah awards in the past, and deservedly so. Jones is a fine reporter, speaking softly each night in his patented style, saying something like, "Behind me is the home in which the tragedy occured." The tragedy could be anything from spousal abuse to an art heist, but the camera lights shine on Jones, and everything else is—just darkness. Nobody ever sees what Jones sees, whether it's the car that was in a collision, or the house where a drug deal went down. Fortunately, Jones is as factually descriptive as they come. And, to tell the truth, if we could see what he sees, it would scare us all.
Best Sight for Sore Eyes
Brimming with colorful sights and characters, our city is a wonderland waiting to be explored. But sometimes these wonders lie beneath the surface, and it takes a special kind of insight and to ferret them out. A one-time City Weekly music editor and current editor of its sister outdoor-recreation magazine, Vamoose, Austen Diamond was inspired by his passion for outdoor photography to create 13% Salt, a photo journal that brings into sharp focus all there is to love about Utah. Diamond has the gut instinct to find the miraculous in the mundane, and the gold among the dross.
Best Old-School Hip-Hop
94.9 The Vibe
Radio stations shuffle formats all the time, but one recent shift gave Utahns something we didn't realize was missing. When Cumulus shifted its modern-rock station to 101.9, its old spot, 94.9, became The Vibe, with a format dedicated to vintage rap, R&B and hip-hop from the '80s, '90s and early 2000s. How long has it been since we could turn on the radio and crank up Snoop, Eminem, Tribe Called Quest, Missy and Dre. At last, an era of citywide deprivation has ended, and Salt Lake City's airwaves are the richer for it.
Today in Utah, the name Derek Kitchen is synonymous with fundamental change; for taking on the establishment and winning; and, specifically, for bringing parity to marriage in the reddest of red states. Kitchen was, along with six others, a named plaintiff in the federal marriage-equality case that was instrumental in toppling anti-marriage laws across the country. These six are emblematic of progressive Utah values (and proof that, yes, there are such things) as well as the changing times that have forever altered life in the Beehive State. Kitchen took the exposure he gained from the case and applied it to a bid for public office this fall, pursuing the District 4 seat on the Salt Lake City Council. He represents Utah's future, and we are nothing but proud.
2. State Sen. Jim Dabakis
3. Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
Best Movie Fun on the TV
KJZZ Movie Show
Going to the movies is a whole lot more entertaining now that the offbeat and hilarious crew of the KJZZ Movie Show offers its weekly roundup of cinematic entertainment at Sandy's Megaplex Jordan Commons. Every Sunday evening, host Melanie Nelson—along with critics Steve Salles and Josh Terry—offer takes on current multiplex screenings, with a sense of perspective that dips into movie history to explore particular Hollywood themes, like Coach's big locker-room speech, or the heroic teacher who takes on the failing inner-city schools. The tips are good if you want to decide what movie to see—but it has become compelling television in its own right.
Best Utah News Parody Podcast
Consider Our Knowledge
On Consider Our Knowledge, host, producer and writer Conor Bentley and his team of actors and NPR enthusiasts take on the week's news with a dollop of whimsy and a wallop of bollocks. This group takes parody seriously and employ occasionally recurring fictional personas to playfully punish those voices we all love from public radio. If you are a fan of political snickers, incumbent bumbling, cinematic satire and theatrical phallus humor, give this weekly podcast, nearing its 150th episode, a few minutes minutes of your time. ConsiderOurKnowledge.com
Best return of daddy-o
Steve Williams on KCPW
Longtime radio host Steve "Daddy-O" Williams only thought he retired from broadcasting when he departed KUER 90.1 in June 2015. He even went on an European cruise, just like real retired folks do. Upon his return, however, public-radio station KCPW jumped at the chance to bring Williams and his more than 30 years of jazz-hosting experience back to the airwaves for a weekly four-hour show called Jazz Time With Steve Williams. Not only will Daddy-O be spinning jazz tunes for his show, but he'll also be airing interviews, live performances and a local jazz and musical calendar of events.
Sundays from 6-10 p.m., KCPW, 88.3 & 105.3 FM; streaming live at KCPW.org
Best NEWS TRIBUTE
Nadia Crow, ABC 4
It shouldn't be a big deal in 2015, but Nadia Crow is still known primarily as "Utah's first and only African-American news anchor," not simply as a competent, personable reporter who's one of the brightest stars in ABC 4's impressive, if underrated, bench of talent. But the situation did afford Crow the opportunity to surprise and pay tribute to veteran TV newswoman Tamron Hall on the syndicated Meredith Vieira Show in March 2015. In the touching (and tearful) exchange, Crow thanked Hall for being an inspiration and role model to a young girl growing up in Chicago with dreams of working in TV news: "I remember looking at you and thinking to myself, 'I could actually do this,'" Crow said via satellite. And now she is, nightly in Utah.
ABC 4, weeknights, 4-6:30 p.m., Good4Utah.com, @NadiaNewsNow me
Best Geeks Going Viral
If you ever doubted the true power of Harry Potter, put those doubts to rest once and for all. Consider the fertile minds at KFaceTV. The creators of this YouTube channel had already made some sweet, nerdy music videos when, earlier this year, they collaborated on a Potter-themed parody of Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk," titled "Dark Lord Funk." The video features a rapping Voldermort whose O.G. swagger makes He Who Must Not Be Named seem cool in a way he never did before. The video went viral within a few hours, racking up more than 10 million hits, and KFaceTV's status soared. The video even caught author J.K. Rowling's eye. Now that's magic!
Best Independent Radio Station
Let's face it: A lot of local radio sucks, because a lot of it is jaded, repetitive and unimaginative. So leave it to a group of kids to give it a kick in the backside. KOHS is Orem High School's student radio station, a noncommercial educational broadcasting alternative whose day-to-day operations are run by teenagers. Not only do the kids learn awesome skills; they have the opportunity to be expressive over a medium that's heard by thousands. Best yet, the station plays better music than commercial broadcasters with multimillion-dollar budgets, while giving local musicians a home on the dial—how's that for innovative?
175 S. 400 East, Orem, KOHSOrem.com
Best Vigil to Save a Mural
Azteca de Oro Taqueria
In late July, a large mural wrapping around the sides of the Azteca de Oro Taqueria restaurant became a political football. One side of the mural bore the words "Cultural" and "Mana," while the other depicted civil-rights leaders César Chávez and Dolores Huerta. The City of West Jordan, acting on a complaint, wanted the mural downsized or painted over. That didn't sit well with the restaurant's owner, Miguel Dominguez, or the mural's artist, Miguel Galaz, who had enlisted about 100 community volunteers (including youngsters) to paint it. After nearly 200 people showed up to attend a July 23 vigil to save the mural, the city council agreed to postpone action against the building's owner. Since then, Galaz has artistically modified the mural to be more in compliance, while the West Jordan City Council is now working on revamping its code for public murals; a public hearing is set for Nov. 17.
Azteca de Oro Taqueria, 7800 S. 3200 West, West Jordan
Best Visual-Arts Scribe
Shawn Rossiter, 15Bytes
Shawn Rossiter launched Artists of Utah on his basement computer in 2001. It was a struggle, particularly in those early years, but Rossiter stuck it out until Artists of Utah achieved nonprofit status, enabling him to reach out to more sources for funding. The website has a Utah artist directory and information about arts organizations and happenings in the art world. But its premiere endeavor is publishing its online magazine 15Bytes, featuring arts stories, community news, reviews, artist spotlights and events. Published the first Wednesday of each month, Rossiter's well-curated e-zine is read by just about everyone connected to Utah's art scene.
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners are the first-line responders in rape cases. When a hospital patient shows signs of sexual assault, a SANE nurse is called to assist and to conduct a rape-kit examination if the traumatized victim gives consent. Going through a deeply invasive two- to three-hour examination following the horror of a sexual assault is a challenge, both physically and emotionally. It can, however, provide investigators and prosecutors with valuable evidence to help bring the rapist to justice. The consent of the victim reflects well both on her or his bravery, and on the delicacy, tact and experience of a SANE nurse. Whether advocating for changes in the way sexual assaults are prosecuted—as SANE nurse Julie Valentine has done so powerfully over the past two years—gathering evidence, or simply being a comforting presence for assault survivors, this tiny community of selfless providers merits our respect and gratitude.
Best Storytelling Podcast
Home of the Brave
Scott Carrier is a journalist's journalist. Not only is he a great writer, he also pushes the envelope, going places many reporters avoid. Carrier's storied career goes back to his formative years on Ira Glass' public-radio epic This American Life. After years of freelancing and a teaching stint at Utah Valley University, Carrier has returned to his roots, mixing his old radio work with newly researched and produced stories, presenting them in that trademark gravelly voice which seems to betray eternal optimism and a genuine fondness for the people he meets. A Utah original, his podcasts are gems of voice and drama not to be missed.
Available on iTunes and Stitcher
Best Celluloid Softie
At the opening of this year's Tumbleweeds Film Festival—the fifth time this happy event spotlighting children's films has graced our town—festival founder and artistic director Patrick Hubley introduced the opening film, Oddball, with genuine conviction and emotional vulnerability. He held a prepared statement to read, he said, in case his emotions got the better of him. In the selection of films that make up Tumbleweeds, Hubley and those who help him put together the roster of entertainment for children and adults, reveal a heart that seeks to both celebrate and embrace the eternal child to be found in all parts of the globe, reminding us that in the end, we are all part of one big, messy family.
Best Graph Gaffe
Rep. Jason Chaffetz
Conservatives have been in a tizzy over videos that are purported to show all manner of foul, nefarious dealings by Planned Parenthood with fetal tissue. During congressional hearings over defunding the organization, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, presented a graph that claimed to show an alarming increase in abortions, and a correspondingly steep drop in cancer screenings and other preventive services. Chaffetz claimed that the graph came "straight from [Planned Parenthood's] annual reports," when in fact it was created by an anti-abortion group, and employed a "dual axis" format that deceptively compared the figures. Later, Chaffetz insisted, "I stand by the numbers"—apparently fully trusting that Americans staring at big scary arrows were going to think about the numbers.
Best Biker Club
To the relief of outlaw bikers across the country, the murderous fictional TV saga Sons of Anarchy has seen its final episode. But in its wake, the series left a revived interest in motorcycling, judging from the increased number of hipsters who rip through the Avenues on Harleys. We hope they are safe and abide the rules of the road, but there's another thing they ought to be aware of: There is a legitimate patch-wearing tribe in this town, The Barons, and if you dig the fact that you aren't legally required to wear a helmet in Utah, well, then buy a Baron a beer. Without the club's political brinksmanship in the 1970s—the era of those nasty-loud panheads—you wouldn't be looking so cool with your hair flapping in the wind.
Best Comic-Book Proselytizer
When Stephen Carter isn't editing Sunstone, that bastion of Mormon intellectualism, he's saving valuable time for those of us who, to paraphrase Mark Twain, can't get through the Book of Mormon without feeling chloroformed by all those thees and thous. His two-part comic book, iPlates, tells the dramatic and bloody BoM story, omitting the dense language of the original. It's a lurid, sarcastic and violent affair that brings the scriptures to life. Plus, it allows an unenlightened gentile to nod knowingly next time someone of the dominant faith references some obscure angel or prehistoric military conflict.
Best Progressive Legislation
In February 2015, having suffered from chronic back pain for years, enduring surgeries and popping opiates to gain relief, Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, drove to Colorado and got high. Madsen, a grandson of former Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Ezra Taft Benson, said that his back felt better, and he didn't feel like a doped-out scumbag as his childhood DARE classes had promised. Madsen later introduced Senate Bill 259, which cleared a state Senate committee on a 3-2 vote and failed, 14-15, to advance. It was the narrowest of margins—and, on the first try, the bill got a lot farther than anybody would have predicted, leading some to hope that medical pot in Utah might not be that far away.
Sen. Mike Lee
In forcing the federal government to shut down for 16 days in 2013, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took a heavy hit in the polls—along with his faithful sidekick, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Lee became so unpopular in Utah that Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson urged such Repubs-in-Waiting as Kirk Jowers and Josh Romney to run against him in 2016. But despite his right-wing pedigree and association with the unlikeable Cruz, Lee has managed to worm his way back into favor. His approval rating in Utah has risen to above 50 percent, and a second term is now more likely. Even Anderson has joined Lee's re-election committee. Lee's remarkable rebound is good news for the Tea Party; bad news for moderates and lefties.
Best Revitalized Neighborhood
2nd & 2nd, Salt Lake City
Five years ago, the section of 200 South between State Street and 200 East looked like a ghost town. Except for a gun shop and Johnny's on Second, there was little to draw commercial traffic. Then, Bar X took up residence, triggering a neighborhood cleanup/rehab, and business picked right up. Soon, the neighborhood was home to Este Pizza, Fice, Beer Bar, Copper Palate Press, Oasis Games, CUAC and Taqueria 27. And, of course, neighborhood fixtures such as Guthrie Bicycle, Cedars of Lebanon and Cancun Cafe got a boost, too. Today, the street is a night-life hub, which sees a lot of action without picking up too much traffic congestion.
200 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Best Game Developers' Playground
University Of Utah's EAE
Utah's flagship university aims to provide an education that will equip students not only for the world of today but also for the future. To this end, the U of U helped develop and start the EAE (Entertainment Arts & Engineering) program as a way to turn gaming into a career. The program brings together an array of students in graphic design, fine arts, computer science and other disciplines to create their own video games. Students have gone on to launch their own companies, such as Team Tripleslash, which released "Magnetic by Nature" in 2014; and Retro Yeti, whose "404 Sight" was released summer 2015. This program helps grow Utah's burgeoning gaming industry.
Best Mormon Rebel
Kate Kelly has emerged as one of the key Utahn voices on gender, Mormonism and feminism in recent years. Her one-time involvement in Ordain Women is only part of her contribution to Utah in terms of addressing the rights and power of Mormon women within their own cultural and religious community. Ever the fighter, whether Kelly is attending a rally for transgender rights, signing up with Planned Parenthood to fight Gov. Gary Herbert's decision to partially defund it, or writing a beautiful tribute to her father, "the laundry king," as she calls him, her every act seems to celebrate the very ideal of a united community.
Best ImmigrationActivist Mom
Two years ago, City Weekly told the story of Ana and her family's fight to stay in the United States and avoid deportation to El Salvador. Since then, not only has she become a catalyst for those who oppose deportation, she has fought successfully to remain stateside, and she herself has now become an advocate and activist for immigrant rights. She recently went to Washington, D.C., and did a 100-mile walk with 99 other women to promote the rights of the undocumented. The one-time "Head Start Parent of the Year," Canenguez has the heart of a lion and brings not only diversity and passion to Utah, but also the best homemade pupusas you could hope for.
Best NonBinary Organization
The Medusa Collective
Forged in Provo by a group of musicians looking to bring equality to the music scene, The Medusa Collective has been spending much of 2015 spotlighting acts by women and nonbinary individuals—that is, people whose gender identity is neither fully feminine nor masculine. In its efforts to increase gender diversity on Utah County stages, its members have called out critics, taken stands against high-profile media organizations and even boycotted Provo's Rooftop Concert Series. Change in attitudes and belief systems is slow in coming, but the collective's efforts are starting to work, leaving the group confident its campaign will pay off for future musicians.
Best Ho-Hum Fountain Fix
Abravanel Hall Plaza Remodel
We sat through the oboe solo for this? Anyone attending the symphony during the past year has had to navigate a labyrinth of fencing and "pardon our dust" signage to access Abravanel Hall. The long, narrow fountains on the plaza in front of the hall were broken and required removal. Suspense mounted as the completion of the $1.1 million plaza remodel was delayed for months. After that long wait, the ribbon cutting revealed a rather ordinary plaza with young trees and shrubs in place of the magnificent fountains. Well, at least there are benches for people to sit on during intermissions. And they're well-lit. But not the rousing crescendo we were waiting for.
123 S. Temple, Salt Lake City, 385-468-1010, SLCCFA.org/venues/abravanel-hall
Best Sermon for Trying Times
Dealing with A—Holes
On May 31, the Rev. Tom Goldsmith held forth from the pulpit of the First Unitarian Church with a sermon for our times, if not for the ages. Inspired by Aaron James' best-selling book, Assholes: A Theory, Goldsmith addressed the fundamental moral precept of living cooperatively with others—and pointed out that assholes feel entitled to ignore the rules of social engagement. Given the proliferation of assholes in these latter days, Goldsmith's sermon was a thoughtful and humorous primer for those of us who strive not to be assholes.
First Unitarian Church, 569 S. 1300 East, Salt Lake City, 801-582-8687, SLCUU.org/news/latest-news/item/146-sermon-video-dealing-with-assholes
Best Friend to Refugees
In Salt Lake City's growing refugee community, he is known as Uncle Ron. "All refugee know Uncle Ron," says one Iraqi woman in halting English, "He gives us smiles." His white Dodge van has logged more than 150,000 miles while helping the thousands of refugees resettled here by the International Rescue Committee in the past 10 years. Uncle Ron delivers secondhand furniture to refugees' apartments, ferries them to job interviews and medical appointments and rescues them in crises. Uncle Ron, 79, says he and the van, 11, are good for a few miles yet, and will continue to help ease the challenges faced by Utah's newest citizens as they forge new lives.
Best Call To Arms IN THE ARTS COMMUNITY
Lynnette Hiskey's forced resignation
In early August 2015, Lynnette Hiskey stepped down as director of the Utah Division of Arts & Museums, a position she had held for the previous two years. Her forced resignation sparked upset in the arts community, where many applauded her advocacy for the arts. On Sept. 1, members of the arts community—including artist/arts administrator Frank McEntire, CUAC executive director Adam Bateman, Modern West Fine Art Gallery owner Diane P. Stewart, artist/advocate Crystal Young-Otterstrom—held a press conference at the Capitol, calling out state leaders for "years of neglect, dismal funding and now 'The Last Straw [Hiskey's termination].' " The group demanded Gov. Gary Herbert work more closely with the arts community, stating, in a press release: "We must continue to support the legacy of arts and culture that the pioneers established as an integral part of the state."
Best Beatles' Soundtrack
An "I Need You" from Mia Love enticed Richard Piatt away from Utah to Washington, D.C., where he has been keeping company with the "Fools on the Hill" since January. After working as KSL-TV's political reporter for 16 years, Piatt jumped ship to dispense the "Words of Love" as communications director in the office of the newly elected District 4 congresswoman. Now, nine months later, UtahPolicy.com polling shows 46 percent of her constituents aren't in love with Love. If Piatt can't convince them that "All You Need Is Love," he may be singing "I'm a Loser" after next year's election.
Best Refugees taking root
New Roots Farm
On the edge of Chesterfield, a delightful, small enclave of one-acre farms in West Valley City, stands a small area of rows of planted vegetables with names, both of farmers and produce, in a variety of foreign languages. It's a farm incubator, which means that refugees grow vegetables and work on launching their own farm business. Developing small-scale urban farms is a gift both for the refugees and their families and others who get to enjoy their produce. Watching families working the soil, often in colorful clothing reflecting their culture, is to marvel at the richness of the valley's ethnic mix at its most earthy.
3100 S. Lester St., West Valley City
Best Local Porn Outrage
Maybe the rise of Mormon-themed porn could be seen as a compliment: Mormons are the new sexy! But probably not. The LDS Church is well known for being anti-porn, and the brethren are incensed that their rituals and practices are fodder for religious sexual fantasies. Even more upsetting is the notion that, according to a December 2014 Vice.com article, websites such as MormonBoyz.com and MormonGirlz.com are operated by former church missionaries. But at least, now, just maybe, the Catholic nuns will get some relief.
Best storming of a Cardboard Castle
When Ogden dad Jeremy Trentelman built a cardboard castle in his front yard for his young kids to play in, he had no plans to inspire a political movement. But when city code enforcement told him to remove the "junk" from his yard or face a $125 fine, he complained about the "silly" regulation on social media. As his friends shared, and their friends liked the post, the story went viral, but unfortunately, it became more convoluted and exaggerated with each telling. In the end, a rainstorm turned his cardboard kingdom into pulp, but not before Trentelman and his family were invited to build another cardboard castle in front of Fox News studios in New York City and be interviewed on national TV.
Best Government in Your Pocket
Utah.gov award-winning mobile apps
Red states tend to be places where people think government can't do anything right. But the state of Utah is proving that government can work well, at least when it comes to mobile convenience for its citizens. The state Division of Wildlife Resources' app, Utah Hunting & Fishing, won the Web Marketing Association's 2015 award for Best Government Mobile App, following a 2014 win of the same award for the OnTime public-transportation tracking app. The Hunting & Fishing app was also named among the top 30 finalists in the Igniting Innovation 2015 awards.
Best Animal Saviors
Nuzzles & Co.
Formerly Friends of Animals Utah, this no-kill rescue organization not only provides an adoption center but also runs a rescue ranch in Summit County. What is so admirable about these folks is their dedication to rescuing every dog and cat they can from shelters that still practice euthanasia, and their patience in preparing the animals for adoption. That includes behavior and training work if necessary. Once ready, the animals move to Tanger Outlet Center where caring workers, led by founder Kathleen Toth, make sure that the two-footed humans who are lucky enough to adopt are able to provide the very best homes for their charges.
Adoption Center: 6699 N. Landmark Drive, Suite B-103C, Park City, 435-649-5441; Ranch: 6466 N. Highway Road, Peoa, 435-649-5441, NuzzlesAndCo.org
Best StreetWalker Advocate
Once a week after dusk, Gina Salazar walks State Street between 1300 South and 2100 South, helping her people. Once upon a time, Salazar was a streetwalker—a sex worker in modern parlance—and while she has long since left that world behind, she dedicates 90 minutes each week to checking on women who work that section of State, handing out condoms and connecting them with services. During the day, Salazar is a refugee advocate at the Asian Association, which sometimes works to assist victims of sex trafficking. But once a week in the evening, the work Salazar does is purely her own and speaks to the compassion she brings to those who walk in a world she feels lucky to have escaped.
Best Library Manager
Darin Butler at Sandy Library
There's something of the Dickensian in Sandy Library manager, Darin Butler. Perhaps it's his soft-spoken demeanor, his gentle manner or simply his passion for encouraging everyone, whether young or old, to make the most of his facility, the largest in the county library system. His staff adore him, and more to the point, readers in Sandy have a library that feeds their souls. When one 12-year-old Utah boy's love of reading went viral, leaving him inundated with several thousand books from well-meaning strangers, Butler helped the boy distribute the books to Salt Lake County families who lacked reading material at home. That's Butler for you—always thinking outside the box./
10100 S. Petunia Way, Sandy, SLCOLibrary.org
Best West-Side Advocate
Rep. Angela Romero
With her trademark black helmet haircut, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, has proved to be a force to be reckoned with at the Utah Legislature, especially when it comes to battling discrimination. First elected in 2012, her hard work and clear voice on issues such as immigration, economic justice and sexual assault have never failed to impress. Of recent note was her controversial bill seeking to define sexual consent, which was met with silence—not one politician in the Utah House of Representatives was willing to speak for or against it. She's also worked to streamline rape-kit processing. Both initiatives have made her a valuable and powerful voice for those who struggle to be heard on Capitol Hill. And she walks the talk, backing up her words with the insight of someone who lives in Glendale and works at the Sorenson Multicultural and Unity Fitness center.
Church of Christ
Two and a half years old, this small pantry in Murray replaced the Murray CAP program after it closed. The Church of Christ provides food through the Utah Food Bank for up to 6,000 families on Tuesdays and Thursdays, giving clients enough on Thursday to get them through the weekend. With five to seven volunteers, what is most striking about the pantry is its accessibility and the warmth of its welcome. While some pantries put up red tape, particularly for those without papers, this pantry a few blocks from State Street is a reflection of the best in nonprofit service organizations that struggle with passion and commitment to put food on the tables of Utahns who would otherwise go hungry.
494 E. 5300 South, Murray, 801-293-7000
Best Stealth Congressman
Rep. Chris Stewart
Maj. Chris Stewart was a distinguished B-1 bomber pilot back in the day. His 14-year career in the U.S. Air Force coincided with the development of stealth technology that enabled B-2s and F-117s to fly mostly undetected into places like Baghdad and Kosovo. That stealth seems to have rubbed off on Stewart, now a two-term congressman representing Utah's District 2. According to a recent poll by UtahPolicy.com, 33 percent of Stewart's constituents, from St. George to Salt Lake City, have never heard of him.
Best Multifaceted Sports Writer
Few writers of any ilk come close to the diverse sports coverage as does Amy Donaldson. Now nearing 25 years of writing for the Deseret News, her resume hardly needs buffing. Since she has nothing to prove to anyone, her prose is always clear, concise, and to the point—lacking both the second-guessing angst of wannabe athletes and the "insert something here that is not funny to anyone except me" game analysis that often finds its way into the sports pages. While high school sports coverage is her main beat, Donaldson also covers fitness, running and recreation, plus finds time to write about college sports. For an example of where she beats the big boys at Salt Lake City's other daily paper to the locker room, check out her Oct. 18 counterintuitive analysis of the Utah Utes vs. Arizona State [not the University of Arizona, as an earlier version of this pick indicated]. She pulled a dipsy-doodle Statue of Liberty column out of her vast playbook, leaving other writers in town tugging at their jock straps.
Twitter @adonsports; email@example.com