2009. It was a year that seemed to last six weeks. A year that flew by so fast that we’vw found ourselves nearly a week into 2010 before we have time to catch our breath and survey the damage. 2009 was a great year for all things Pop Cultural here in Charleston. So much cool stuff happened so fast, that we’re just going to let fly off the top of our head with our retrospective of 2009.

Seriously, it’s so hard to believe that 2009 is over already that I’m having a hard time writing this. I feel like I’m going to have to put my brain in the Play-Doh fun factory, press down and see what comes out.

Without any further ado, hesitation, consternation, or even any coherent sense of structure, here is 2009 as seen in PopCult’s rear-view mirror.

The Year In Art

Charleston has an unusually vibrant arts scene for being such a relatively small city. In 2009, the visual arts seemed to explode with new gallery spaces, emerging artists, and veterans rising to new heights.

A great deal of the excitement in Charleston’s art scene can be tied to the resurgent ArtWalk. With a new level of energy injected by Chuck Hamsher of The Purple Moon, ArtWalk has become a monthly “can’t miss” artistic happening.

There were several striking exhibits during the past year, too many, in fact, to list them all. But there were some outstanding highlights. .The ArtMares exhibit during HallowEast, brought together a variety of artists (including this blogger) in an epic celebration of the spooky spirit of the holiday. A different holiday event was ReStore Relics Christmas show at Habitat For Humanity’s ReStore. Over thirty artists created Christmas themed works using recycled materials. Buswater On The Boulevard made a big splash twice in 2009, once in the heat of summer and again in the cold of winter. Duality at The Convenience Store showcased some of the areas most exciting younger artists. This blogger was also lucky enough to be involved in the Dog Days exhibit at Good News Mountaineer Garage Gallery, and also at the GNMGG the “Under A Bill” show.

In October, Kanawha Players presented a wild evening of experimental art, film,music and theater as they hosted an exhibit of young artists, along with the multimedia “Sign Of The Fig” and the avant-garde play, “A Dialogue With Oncoming Traffic.”

There were also some wonderful solo exhibits in 2009. Sharon Lyn Stackpole, Deborah Herndon, Melissa J. Tyson, and Felix Krasyk were shown at The Purple Moon. Clayton Spangler and Dave Frasier had memorable shows at The Art Emporium. Jamie Miller, Charley Hamilton, Rob Cleland, Amanda Jane Miller, and Steve Payne were among the many artists bringing the crowds into Taylor Books Annex Gallery. Visions Day Spa played host to works by Bob Rosier, Ron Hinkle, Heidi Richardson Evans, and Emily Haynes. Artists whose impressive works can be found in galleries all over town included Joe Bolyard, Keith Allen, Rebecca Burch, Mark Wolfe, Amy Williams, Devon Woodrum, Ian Bode, and Andrea Anderson.

Charleston’s art scene is alive with artists working in a variety of styles and media. We also have a healthy dose of cliques, rivalries, cross-pollination, and blood feuds–key elements that any art scene needs to thrive.

Something else necessary for a vital arts scene are courageous curators and Charleston is blessed with many such as Chuck and Connie Hamsher, Chip Tantlinger, Mark Wolfe, Joe Bolyard, Naomi Bays, Amy Williams, Andrea Anderson, Dane Klingman, Todd Griffith, Scott Shapero, and too many others to mention.

2009 was a fantastic year for me personally as I got more involved in the arts scene, even landing some of my work in some of the multi-artist exhibits.. But my humble efforts were merely a drop in the bucket. I’ve tried to mention as many artists who have impressed me as I could, but I’m certain that I left several out. So please accept my apologies.

One of the other big art stories in Charleston in 2009 was the arrival of the “Hallelujah” sculpture in front of the Clay Center. The jury is still out on this one as very vocal people hate it to pieces and very quiet people really like it. For my take on “Hallelujah,” click here.

The Year In Music

I want to keep this section short and sweet since I covered the music scene so heavily on Radio Free Charleston all year long. If you really want to know what’s going on in the music scene in Charleston, watch the show. We are very lucky to have a number of great venues in town that present live local music and its been particularly nice to witness new venues opening up and old venues getting back into the live music fold.

Dismissing the notion that there’s nothing going on in Charleston, you can find live music pretty much any night of the week, be it at The Empty Glass, The Blue Parrot, Sam’s Uptown Cafe, The Sound Factory, Taylor Books, Bruno’s, Capitol Roasters, or new arrivals The Capitol Grill and The Boulevard Tavern. If you can’t find music to your taste at those locations, you might luck out and find exciting live music at Lola’s, The Bridge Road Bistro, The Vandalia Grill, Tricky Fish, The Bluegrass Kitchen, or The Vault, all of whom feature the occasional fine musical performance.

Open mic aficionados can indulge just about every night of the week: Mondays at The Empty Glass; Tuesdays at Sam’s Uptown Cafe; Wednesdays at The Blue Parrot; Sundays at The Pour House. Plus, on a less than weekly basis, Ron Sowell’s Unity open mic and select events at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

Several area bands released CD’s this year and for a look at the cream of the crop, check out Nick Harrah’s picks at WVRockScene.

The Year In Cool Stuff

One of the highlights of the year here in Charleston was Ann Magnunson’s one woman show “Dreaming Of Charleston,” which she performed during FestivALL. For nearly two hours, Ann transported us into a surreal dream-scape of our beloved hometown that was nostalgic and rang true.

FestivALL itself was an epic cultural buffet which left Charleston arts patrons stuffed to the gills with art, music, dance, theatre and good vibes in general. Larry Groce should be thanked profusely by anyone who sees him. Say what you will about the dude who bought The Greenbrier; Larry’s done way more to earn the title “West Virginian Of The Year”.

The Contemporary Youth Arts Company continues to present the most challenging and satisfying theatre in town. From Dan Kehde and Mark Scarpelli’s musicals “Lincoln,” “The Blob,” and “Norman Rockwell’s American Paradise” to Kehde’s amazing two punch this summer with the hilarious “Cupid Rising” and the powerful drama “Shadowman,” CYAC has proven that there’s more to theatre than the old standards.

IWA East Coast wrestling reached new heights of ultra coolness this year when they brought Oderus Urungus from GWAR, the Necrobutcher, and Terry Funk to town. Our hats off to Mad Man Pondo for continually bringing top international wrestling stars to Charleston’s squared circle.

The Charleston Light Opera Guild’s production of RENT presented an awesome cast dancing and singing their hearts out with a commitment to the material that is rarely seen at a community theater level.. Even audience members who didn’t care much for Jonathan Larson’s work were wowed by the stellar performances of this amazing ensemble.

We have to give kudos to Michael Lipton for his tireless efforts in preserving West Virginia’s musical history with the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame project. This state was long overdue in paying respect to its native musicians and Lipton’s labors are much appreciated.

LiveMix Studio remains one of the coolest, laid-back intimate venues in town. Aside from being the spiritual home of Radio Free Charleston, LiveMix played host to some incredible music this year from Hitchcock Circus, the Spurgie Hankins Band, Mother Nang, ElectroBiscuit, Deni Bonet, Bare Bones, and many others. It remains Charleston’s Mecca of Cool.

The Book Exchange on Charleston’s East End has been revitalized thanks to new owner Jeff Bukovinsky (of No Pants Players, “Two Gentleman of Verona,” and the RFC Halloween show fame) and has become yet another cool place in Charleston and a boon to the East End. In the coming year, I’m told we can expect the addition of a coffee shop.

The Year In Food

One of the perks of running around doing PopCult stuff all year long is that we get to eat out a lot. Actually, we sort of have to. Bad meals were few and far between, but we’re going to single out a few of our favorite dining experiences from 2009.

At The Bluegrass Kitchen, we’ve never had a bad meal. I try to mix it up a lot when we go there, but two of my favorite dishes are the Grilled Trout with Kale and Gouda Grits and the Hamburger with caramelized onions and Gouda cheese. I very rarely eat red meat, but the hamburger at The Bluegrass Kitchen is amazing.

Recently at The Vandalia Grill, we tried the special grilled Catfish with risotto. It was so good that I urge them to make it a regular menu item.

Another local restaurant where we’ve never had a bad meal is Mayberry’s in St. Albans. This place was recommended to us by RFC’s Official Barista Chelsea Cook and we are forever in her debt. It’s great family food with fun decor at a very reasonable price.

Our favorite downtown lunch spot is still Graziano’s. I have to get my weekly spinach pizza fix or I’m very hard to be around.

In terms of late night bar food, we’ve had good luck at Sam’s Uptown Cafe with their Chicken Tenders and at The Boulevard Tavern with their Pizza Bread (which is actually prepared up the street at The Sound Factory). We have not yet tried The Capitol Grill, but look forward to dining there soon.

In 2010, you can expect semi-regular restaurant reviews in our Friday PopCulteer column.If I remember.

That’s the PopCult stream of consciousness look back at 2009 in review. Check back Friday for The PopCulteer, which will feature our look back at …..2010 in review.