Eight years ago, Signature Magazine instituted the Best of the Pine Belt Awards, designed to showcase the Who’s Who of the Pine Belt’s businesses, personalities, cuisine and charitable organizations. That was followed four years later by the Best of the Pine Belt Awards Show, where the awards were given to spotlight the people, places and businesses that make the area unique.
The tradition continued June 2, 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; Abigail Allen of Hattiesburlesque and Hattiesburg Arts Council; Eddie Holloway, Dean of Students at The University of Southern Mississippi and former Hattiesburg City Council member; and industrial/organizational psychologist Robin Wentworth. Allen was honored with the James J. Slaughter 2018 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 (see page 27 for a full list of show winners).
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 Experience and Wild Frames with Brutha Josh & the Quickness.
“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, ” Signature Magazine Publisher David Gustafson told the crowd of more than 600 at the Saenger Theater.
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. Celebrating its ninth year, the FestivalSouth lineup included 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.
“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.”
2018 Best of the Pine Belt Award Show Categories
Best Unsung Hero
Presented by Kent Oliver, Noelle Carter and Andrea Carter.
Best Local Instagrammer
Alex May (@mindful_yet_mindless)
Presented by Marlo Dorsey and Kristen Brock
Best Musical Group
Pine Belt Pickers
Presented by Harry Crumpler and Mik Davis
Shawn McDaniel (Keg & Barrel)
Presented by Ben Steadman, Shelby Kemp and Mark Wooten
Best New Restaurant
Blu Jazz Café
Presented by Signature Magazine’s Food with Friends
Best Mover & Shaker
Presented by Ben Watts and Jason Kimes
Most Effective Non-Profit
Southern Pines Animal Shelter
Presented by Reps. Missy McGee and Brad Touchstone
Best Cover Band
Lanna Wakeland Band
Presented by Katie Dixon
Best Burlesque Performer
Presented by Jack Wolf and Lauren Thompson
Best Local Album
"Give Up the Ghost" - Paul Johnson and the About Last Nights
Presented by Abigail Allen and Rebecca Chandler
Best Song of the Year
"No Pardon" - Thomas Jackson
Presented by Alexander Ignatiev and Carl Van Coppenhagen
Best Pine Belt Personality
Presented by Mayor Toby Barker and Tony Vance