Four of the six members of the Black Lillies play live in the WUTK studios at the University of Tennessee on the release day of the band’s latest album, Hard to Please. Photo by Clay Duda.Clay Duda
Winner: The Black Lillies
The Black Lillies are a different band than they were at the beginning of 2015—two members left in February, to be replaced by three new ones—and it shows on their new album, Hard to Please. On the new disc, the band, led by Cruz Contreras, sheds its bluesy backwoods bluegrass sound for a jolt of funky juke-joint rock ’n’ roll inspired by Muscle Shoals, Memphis, and New Orleans. (Matthew Everett)

Runners Up: Dixieghost, Guy Marshall, Handsome and the Humbles

Winner: Emporium Center
The 100 block of Gay Street is ground zero for Knoxville’s First Friday art nights, and the Emporium Center, with up to five galleries available each month for exclusively local and regional art, is the 28,000-square-foot centerpiece of the city’s unofficial arts district. It’s also headquarters for several local arts organizations, including the Arts and Culture Alliance of Greater Knoxville, the nonprofit brain trust behind most of the center’s exhibits, and provides studio space for working artists. (M.E.)

Runners Up: 1010 Gallery, Art Market Gallery, Bennett Galleries

From left, Vacuum Shop Studios artists Deborah Rule, Erin Mullenex, Chelsie Nunn, Eleanor Aldrich, Heather Hartman, Ashton Ludden, and Kelly Hider stand in their collective space of N. Broadway Street. Not pictured: Jessie Van der Laan. Photo by Clay Duda.Clay Duda
Winner: Vacuum Shop Studios
Nothing demonstrates just how far the downtown renaissance has spread like Vacuum Shop Studios, located on North Broadway, right between the Old North and Fourth and Gill neighborhoods. For two and a half years, the studio space/gallery has provided affordable workspace for artists as well as solo and group shows by member artists, First Friday receptions, open studio tours, and more. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Emporium Center, Ironwood Studios, Striped Light

Winner: Jenna and Her Cool Friends
The Cool Friends are a veritable all-star East Tennessee blues combo—the collective years of experience shared by brassy frontwoman Jenna Jefferson, harpist Michael “Crawdaddy” Crawley, keyboard player Ben Maney, guitarists Keith Ford and “Detroit” Dave Meer, bassist Glyn Lloyd, and drummer Kevin Redding are probably well into triple digits. On their debut album, I’m What You Get, from 2014, Jefferson and Crew stroll through a classy set of modern urban blues covers and originals, with a bunch of soul, R&B, and gospel thrown in. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Jonny Monster Band, Labron Lazenby and the LA3, Slow Blind Hill

Winner: Fast Nasty / Slow Nasty
Fast Nasty is Knoxville’s premier provider of bass/dubstep/house jams. Slow Nasty makes chilled-out lounge electronica. Both of them are Matthew Keaton, a DJ and producer from Dandridge who’s a regular feature on Knoxville’s electronic music scene. (M.E.)

Runners Up: 4matiks (Forrest Kurth), DJ Eric B, Earl Grae

Winner: Jeff Blank
Jeff Blank is Knoxville comedy’s likeable everydude—a regular guy, as evidenced by his biker mustache and wallet chain, who pokes as much fun at himself (or maybe even more) than he does at the usual targets (rednecks, ex-girlfriends, people at Walmart). He’s also, despite the schlubby act, a really good stand-up comic, with timing, low-key charisma, subtle smarts, and an always-evolving act. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Victor Agreda Jr., Shane Rhyne, Alex Stokes

Winner: The Coveralls
Knoxville’s long-running bar/wedding/special event favorites are masters of mood—they know what an audience wants, whether it’s Top 40 hits, Motown, classic rock, or jazz standards, and they deliver, on time, every time. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Pop Rox, Same as It Ever Was, VibraSlaps

Winner: Sassy Ann’s
Knoxville’s favorite dance club isn’t in a late-night entertainment district or a warehouse. It doesn’t have a stadium-sized sound system. Instead, it’s in a three-story converted Victorian house on the edge of Fourth and Gill. For more than a decade, Sassy Ann’s has served as the neighborhood’s own mini-entertainment district, with a regular program of Top 40 and retro dance nights and even an ongoing comedy open mic. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Hanna’s Cafe, The International/Concourse (Temple), Southbound

Winner: Circle Modern Dance
Knoxville’s major modern dance company celebrates its 25th anniversary this year—25 years of performances, classes, and encouragement. (“It is our philosophy that everyone is a dancer, and every body has the right to dance.”) The anniversary celebration culminates in the troupe’s serene, stately holiday show, Modern Dance Primitive Light, set for December at the Laurel Theater in Fort Sanders. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Appalachian Ballet Company, Follies Girls Productions, Tennessee Children’s Dance Ensemble

“Petunia,” in leopard print, struts to the stage during a drag show at Club XYZ in Happy Holler on Thurs., Oct. 8, 2015. Photo by Clay Duda.Clay Duda
Winner: Club XYZ
They call it a “neighborhood bar with a big city vibe.” Club XYZ is an anchor of both Knoxville’s LGBT community and Happy Holler. They’ve been serving up drinks, drag, karaoke, and national acts—like Victoria St. James, Miss Gay Tennessee 2015—for more than a decade. (M.E.)

Runners Up: The Edge, Kristopher’s, Sassy Ann’s

Winner: LiL iFFy
The end is upon us—Wil Wright, aka LiL iFFy, aka the world’s first Harry Potter-themed rapper, is retiring his hip-hop persona at the end of this year. After four years and four full-length releases (nobody in town puts out more records than Wright), the scope of the project has grown wider and deeper, no longer limited to the wizard-school shtick. LiL iFFy’s fourth (and, barring any surprises, final) album, LiL iFFy, is an ambitious collection of woozy bass and alt-hip-hop, featuring guest appearances from Playboy Manbaby, Brandon Gibson, and Wright’s own long-running indie-rock band, Senryu. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Black Atticus, Jaystorm Project, The Theorizt

Winner: Knoxville Jazz Orchestra
Vance Thompson’s big band showcases world-class classic jazz, from swing to bebop and beyond, dozens of times during the year, from monthly lunchtime concerts at the Square Room and weekly summer gigs on Market Square to holiday concerts and appearances with special guest stars. In early 2016, they’ll accompany Christian McBride and Regina Carter at two different shows. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Brian Clay and Jazzspirations, Frog & Toad’s Dixie Quartet, Kelle Jolly and the Will Boyd Project

Winner: Marie’s Old Town Tavern
Marie’s is an old-fashioned corner bar—beer, smoke, sports on TV, a jukebox full of country songs, a wall of Elvis paintings above the bar. On Friday and Saturday nights, it goes supernova with karaoke; aspiring pros, slumming hipsters, hardcore regulars, and grizzled veterans all mix it up at the microphone, belting classic rock, country, and pop. Dolly Parton is always a special crowd favorite. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Asia Cafe, Bullfeathers, Toot’s Little Honky Tonk

Winner: Scruffy City Hall
Scruffy City Hall has turned out to be a missing piece of downtown’s puzzle—bigger than a bar, smaller than a theater, just the right size for big local bands and regional touring acts. The biggest beneficiary since it opened in 2014 might be Knoxville’s comedy scene—Scruffy City hosts weekly shows by the veteran improv troupe Einstein Simplified and is the main venue for the upcoming Scruffy City Comedy Festival, scheduled for Nov. 13-15. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Open Chord, Pilot Light, Preservation Pub

Winner: Big Ears
It’s getting harder and harder to describe this music festival, which is unlike anything Knoxville or most other places have ever seen. The music is mostly uncategorizable—experimental jazz, Scandinavian art-pop, indie folk, free improv, drone metal, and contemporary composition. The one common element is that almost every artist who’s appeared at Big Ears—from big-name composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich to Laurie Anderson, Television, the National, Swans, Joanna Newsom, and St. Vincent, plus dozens of lesser-known but eminently admired bands, solo artists, collaborations, and collectives—demand and reward close listening and careful attention. It’s three days and nights of reliably deep, thoughtful music full of revelations, with a community of fans from around the world. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Bonnaroo, Rhythm N’ Blooms, Rossini Festival

Winner: Knoxville Museum of Art
After a quarter century and a handful of reinventions (and almost as many financial crises!), the Knoxville Museum of Art seems to have finally found its full mission, as patron and repository for decades of East Tennessee art. KMA now focuses on local and regional artists, as demonstrated by the mammoth ongoing exhibition Higher Ground: A Century of the Arts in East Tennessee and Cycle of Life, the glass and steel installation by Richard Jolley that now dominates the museum’s downstairs hall. (M.E.)

Runners Up: East Tennessee History Center, McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture, Museum of Appalachia

Winner: Tennessee Theatre
Knoxville’s grand entertainment palace—the official state theater of Tennessee, the gem of downtown—can still take your breath away no matter how many times you’ve seen its ornate interior since its $25 million restoration in 2003 and 2004. The 87-year-old Tennessee Theatre is home to performances as varied as the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks Series, the Summer Movie Magic classic film series, and the headlining sets at Big Ears, AC Entertainment’s fringe music festival. On any given night, you might find an opera, a rising alternative rock act, a blues or country legend, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Monty Python’s Spamalot, or a rare screening of the film Stark Love. And it’s the perfect venue for all of them. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Bijou Theatre, Pilot Light, Scruffy City Hall

Winner: The Black Cadillacs
The Black Cadillacs take some new turns on their self-titled EP, released earlier this year, successfully updating their retro Southern boogie rock into something altogether more contemporary—they resemble the Black Keys more than the Black Crowes these days. (They even borrow from Texas psych adventurers the Black Angels on the trippy “Methadrone.”) (M.E.)

Runners Up: The Dirty Guv’nahs, Rat Punch, Tim Lee 3

Winner: Pilot Light
The little hole in the wall that could is still going strong after a decade and a half, and seems, in fact, to be in the midst of a particularly vibrant period, hosting comedy, film, storytelling, and puppet shows in addition to the usual menu of underground and indie rock bands and local experimental groups. (M.E.)

Runners Up: The International, Open Chord, Scruffy City Hall

Winner: Clarence Brown Theatre Company
That great big auditorium! Three stages! Repertory workhorses! Recent big city hits! Experimental drama! The University of Tennessee’s Clarence Brown Theatre Company has all of that and more. For 45 years, the company has towered over the dramatic arts in East Tennessee—with resources the likes of which other local theater companies must envy—as the home of major-league productions both familiar and surprising. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Einstein Simplified, Knoxville Children’s Theatre, Theatre Knoxville Downtown