Our Favorite Things Downtown 2014

PENSACON
Personally, my favorite part of Pensacon was simply strolling through the Bay Center, checking out all the costumes and feeling the excitement of giddy fans, nerds, hobbyists and comic-lovers. Seeing this massive event come together so successfully because of organizers reaching out and being embraced by the community was a heartening show of how Pensacola can do things right. Also, one night we ran into RJ Haddy from the SyFy Channel’s special effects makeup competition show Face Off in the Crowne Plaza lobby, and he politely bantered with us for at least two minutes as we gushed embarrassingly at him, which was awesome.

ICE FLYERS
Normally I’m no sports nut, but the Pensacola Ice Flyers ice hockey team inspires a raging, semi-aggressive hockey monster to awaken. This monster is known to explain the “icing” rule to passersby unprompted, yell obscenities at refs and most especially, to joyously take part in the embarrassing ritual fan dance any time a Flyer scores. This year saw the beloved team winning a second consecutive SPHL championship to close the 2013/2014 season, and the first few games of 2014/2015 have shown the seemingly unstoppable force of these athletes.

CABARET
What happens at Pensacola Little Theatre’s annual fundraising event stays there, or at least those I went with tell me that daily as I threaten to spill their secrets like a small-town Gossip Girl. Musicians, dancers, vendors and more adorn every floor, nearly every room, and even the sidewalk of the Cultural Center as guests enjoy top-notch entertainment, uniquely themed party rooms, and only the appropriate amount of alcohol. The event has grown considerably since its inception, and anticipation for the year’s theme often rivals that of the Oscar nominations announcement, at least in Pensacola. SoGo However you feel about the branding of a small but happening segment of Downtown, the socalled SoGo district is certainly blossoming with good things. I’ve been smitten with the Bodacious Olive and the aspirational lifestyle it sells to area

PALAFOX MARKET
The Palafox Market has been deemed a great success for the community and local farmers for several years, and its year-round bounty makes the perfect addition to any table. A visit to Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza offers enough food to stock the fridge and pantry and an arts and craft section filled with perfect gifts for yourself or others. This year I stepped outside my usual market grocery list of honey, greens and veggies to try out the other delicious offerings like freshly baked breads, meat from Green Cedars Farm or the tasty wares of the folks I now know fondly as Chilito Man and Tamale Lady. I encourage all market patrons to try something new from these passionate farmers and makers at their next visit.

SAENGER CLASSIC MOVIE SERIES
Seeing a movie in theater for just $5 nowadays is almost as rare as seeing classics like Dr. No and Psycho on the silver screen. The Saenger makes it happen though, and in the process, makes the hot, humid months of summer a little easier to get through. There’s something about seeing classic movies in a vintage-styled theater and paying only $5 for the experience. Seriously, this is simultaneously the least expensive and classiest date night that Pensacola offers. Take advantage of it. It’s only $5.

STEVE MCCURRY
When Pensacola State College announced it would not only be hosting an exhibit by the famed photographer Steve McCurry, but would also host the man himself for a lecture at the Saenger, there was likely a collective questioning of, “Wait, who is that?” But once we realized he’s the photographer behind Afghan Girl, arguably the most iconic photograph in the world, PSC had cemented its growing and prominent role in the artistic community by bringing yet another important contemporary artist to speak to the community. The lecture McCurry gave at the Saenger showcased an amazing body of work that stretched well beyond his most famous work, and the stories of his travels basically make him the Indiana Jones of photography.

THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES
Performing in and helping to organize a V-Day event on Feb. 14 at Artel was an amazing experience for a multitude of reasons. It brought together a passionate, dedicated and varied group of Pensacola women, many of whom I got to know for the first time during meetings and rehearsals. It showcased the gorgeous and versatile space that is Artel. It raised funds for FavorHouse of Northwest Florida. It made more than 200 people laugh, gasp, cry and/or cheer at the spirited performances of Eve Ensler’s seminal work. For me, V-Day will never mean Valentine’s again.

ARTEL PAINTSCAPING
Another highly anticipated art event for Pensacola, the Paintscaping 3D projection on the face of the Artel Gallery during Foo Foo Fest was, in a word, cool. Really, really, really cool. For many, the medium of 3D projection is completely new, and the way it utterly transformed the building and the space around it was imaginative and compelling. From its lighthearted take on Pensacola’s history to the Tron-esque visuals at the end, the Paintscaping project brings hope that public art and more
interesting media are a necessity to the Downtown arts community.

CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
The talented artists of Cirque du Soleil have made their way to the Gulf Coast in their touring shows several times over the last few years, and Varekai , this past April’s performance at the Pensacola Bay Center, definitely lived up to the company’s high level of artistry and ambition. The show was loosely based on the story of Icarus, but whether the actual plot makes sense is kind of a moot point in the world of Cirque du Soleil, as colorful costumes, dizzying aerialists and slinking dancers leap and twirl across the stage. Interspersed with more dramatic sequences were comical vignettes that often included embarrassed audience volunteers who became unwitting comedic highlights of Varekai.

THE FLOOD AFTERMATH
The flood of April 29 and 30 was a devastating surprise for much of the Southeast, including Downtown Pensacola. The damage was seemingly arbitrary, with some businesses sustaining tens of thousands of dollars worth of water damage and others remaining nearly untouched. There was nothing random, though, about those who volunteered time and resources to help those affected. Rival restaurants helped stack sandbags during the rainfall and remove water by the bucketfull immediately after. Politicians put aside their differences and banded together for emergency restoration money. Now, the conversation has turned to prevention and storm water management, and Downtown Pensacola is better for it.

LEGO EXHIBIT
Everything was awesome this year as the Pensacola Museum of Art procured the worldfamous Nathan Sawaya Art of the Brick exhibit. Some of the creations were fun and whimsical, while others were serious and impressionistic, but they were all made of everyone’s favorite childhood toy, and the installation was one of the best in the museum’s history. Demographics that wouldn’t normally go to an art museum suddenly felt compelled to rediscover their youthful joy and perhaps discover for the first time the inspiring and impactful effect of artistic expression.

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