Wentworth, Holloway, Allen, Martin honored at annual awards gala

By HASKEL BURNS,

When Festival South partnered with Signature Magazine eight years ago to launch the Best of the Pine Belt competition, organizers had no idea it would eventually take on a life of its own.

Created to showcase the best of the best of Pine Belt’s businesses, personalities, cuisine and charitable organizations, the contest’s popularity grew and grew – first adding the award show component four years ago.

The tradition continued Saturday, when the red carpet was rolled out in downtown Hattiesburg for the 2018 Best of The Pine Belt Awards Show, sponsored by VisitHattiesburg and First Bank. 

More than 587,000 votes were cast for this year’s awards, with Pine Belt residents casting their ballots in the categories of business, fine arts, music, outdoors, shopping, dining, specific food and personalities.

The evening began with a Hall of Fame Dinner at Front Street Bar, where four individuals were inducted into the 2018 Best of the Pine Belt Hall of Fame: Justin Martin, general manager of WUSM 88.5 radio station; Eddie Holloway, Dean of Students at the University of Southern Mississippi and former Hattiesburg City Council member; and industrial/organizational psychologist (and all around nice guy) Robin Wentworth.

Abigail Allen was also honored with the James “Jay” Slaughter Catalyst Award for her work with the smART Space after-school program and Hattiesburlesque.

After the dinner, the festivities moved to the Saenger Theater for the awards show, where awards were presented in 12 categories, including:

n Best Unsung Hero: James Moore of Moore’s Bicycle Shop. Presented by local cancer survivors and activists Kent Oliver and Noelle Carter and family.

n Best Instagrammer: Alex May (@mindful_yet_mindless). Presented by Marlo Dorsey and Kristen Brock of Visit Hattiesburg.

n Best Cover Band: The Lanna Wakeland Band. Presented by local chef Katie Dixon.

n Best New Restaurant: Blu Jazz Café. Presented by Signature Magazine’s Food with Friends (Brittany Purvis, Evan Curry, Allison Neville, and Jamie Massengale).

n Best Local Album: “Give Up the Ghost” by Paul Johnson and The About Last Nights. Presented by Abigail Allen and Rebecca Chandler.

n Best Bartender: Shawn McDaniel of Keg and Barrel. Presented by Mark Wooten of Deal With the Devil Records along with local songwriters, Ben Steadman and Shelby Kemp.

n Best Pine Belt Personality: Chef Katie Dixon. Presented by Mayor Toby Barker and Hattiesburg High football coach Tony Vance.

n Best Song of the Year: “No Pardon” by Thomas Jackson. Presented by local entrepreneurs Alexander Ignatiev and Carl Van Coppenhagen.

n Most Effective Non-Profit: Southern Pines Animal Shelter. Presented by State Rep. Missy McGee and outgoing State Rep. Brad Touchstone.

n Best Musical Group: PineBelt Pickers. Presented by Harry Crumpler III and Mik Davis of TBones Records and Cafe.

n Best Mover & Shaker: Rebecca Chandler of Hattiesburg Ballroom & Beyond. Presented by Pine Belt sculptors Ben Watts and Jason Kimes. 

n Best Burlesque: Cody Morse of Hattiesburlesque. Presented by Jack Wolf of Marlin’s and Lauren Thompson of Sully’s.

In between the award presentations, the crowd was treated to musical numbers by bands including The Squid and the Whale, Mississippi Shakedown, PineBelt Pickers, Thirty Bears, Floridamen, Paul Johnson and the About Last Nights, The Mann Brothers Experiment and Wild Frames with Brutha Josh.

“This just gets bigger and bigger, and better and better (every year),” Signature Magazine Publisher David Gustafson told the crowd of more than 600 at the Saenger Theater. “And it’s because of the support of everybody that’s here tonight, and everybody that voted in this process that makes nights like tonight so special.”

The dinner and awards show were part of this year’s FestivalSouth, a multi-week, multi-genre arts festival featuring events that showcase the area’s economy and attractions. Upcoming events include the Dog Days 5K Run and 2-Mile Walk, Pottery Painting for Teens, 1001 Arabian nights and a film festival at the Grand 18 Theater.

For a full lineup of Festival South events, visit www.festivalsouth.org.

“There’s so many activities for kids, for adults – you name it, there’s something,” Gustafson said. “There’s stuff during the day, the night, weekends. It’s a really great month for the Pine Belt.”