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Golden era for arts in the Modesto

After years of languishing with few entertainment options, Modesto came to its own this decade.

The local arts and culture scene took a quantum leap forward with the opening of a new performing-arts center. Local musicians were celebrated like never before, a Broadway legend moved to town, home-grown talent achieved national recognition and an indie arts scene emerged.

Though there were struggles, too, the scene has largely thrived in the 21st century.

Read on for more about the top 10 Modesto area arts stories of the decade:

1. Gallo Center for the Arts — The

$40 million state-of-the-art venue with two theaters opened with a gala black-tie celebration in September 2007. In the past, the city's arts scene was dominated by community groups that performed in the auditoriums at high schools and Modesto Junior College, with the occasional touring artist coming there or to the State Theatre. The Gallo Center now hosts as many as three or more performances a week and has brought in big names including Tony Bennett, Bernadette Peters, Paul Anka, Kenny Rogers, Dana Carvey, John Cleese, Hal Holbrook, Sara Evans and Ravi Shankar.

2. Other new or improved arts venues — Modesto Junior College completed a $33 million makeover of its auditorium complex in 2008, doubling its size to 54,000 square feet. The historic downtown State Theatre completed $2 million in renovations, relaunching in 2006 with a new facade, lobby design, carpet and sound system. In 2004, the Central California Art Association moved out of the cramped McHenry Museum basement into the more spacious Mistlin Gallery. In 2003, California State University, Stanislaus, opened Snider Music Recital Hall, bringing in famed pianist Van Cliburn for the inaugural concert.

3. Downtown's exploding nightclub scene. On weekend nights, the streets are crowded with dressed-up young people lining up to dance and drink with their friends. Among the clubs that opened this decade are the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge, the Copper Rhino, Aqua and the Speakeasy.

4. Modesto Symphony Orchestra's roller coaster ride. One of the city's oldest arts groups halted concerts for three months and almost folded altogether because of its 2002 musicians' strike. The organization rebounded and expanded its operations, managing the State Theatre from 2005 to 2007. The orchestra hired new music director David Lockington in summer 2007 and became a resident company of the Gallo Center for the Arts.

5. Modesto Area Music Association Awards — Rock promoter Chris Ricci and Modesto cheerleader Chris Murphy launched these annual awards in 2000 to honor the local music scene and encourage its growth. It's a credit to the pair that an awards ceremony has been held every year since, with an ever-expanding number of categories. Awards are chosen by online vote, with bands lobbying hard for support from their fans. The annual awards concert is a showcase of a variety of music, from rock to country to hip-hop.

6. X-Fest — For 10 years, Ricci's Xclamation Festival has filled downtown streets with the sounds of music each July. The event, which usually features about 50 bands representing a variety of genres, has drawn an attendance ranging from 7,500 to 15,000. Headliners have included Vanilla Ice, Berlin and Sir Mix-A-Lot.

7. Modestans in the big time. Native son George Lucas completed his "Star Wars" series. Jeremy Renner, a Beyer High School grad, is receiving Oscar buzz for his starring role in "The Hurt Locker" and was featured earlier this decade in such films as "North Country," "S.W.A.T." and "Dahmer." He also starred in the canceled ABC police series "The Unusuals." Fellow Beyer High grad Timothy Olyphant was featured in the critically acclaimed TV shows "Deadwood" and "Damages" and numerous movies, including "A Perfect Getaway," "Hitman" and "Live Free or Die Hard." James Marsters, a Davis High graduate, played Spike in TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Alt-rockers Grandaddy and folk singer Brett Dennen, an Oakdale High graduate, received national acclaim for their music. Pop band Flying Blind was included in the "American Pie 2" movie soundtrack.

8. Deaths of Erik Buck Townsend, Dennis Soares. Townsend died of lung cancer in 2008, after an impressive career that included singing opera internationally and founding Townsend Opera Players, which continues as a resident company at the Gallo Center. Newman Performing Arts folded after 31 years following the death of founder Dennis Soares in a motorcycle accident in 2006.

9. Carol Channing moves in. The Broadway star of "Hello Dolly!" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" moved to Modesto in 2003 following her marriage to Modesto businessman and former city councilman Harry Kullijian. Channing performed for free with MoBand four summers at Graceada Park.

10. Hipster art scene emerges. Modesto's first serious drama group, Prospect Theater Project, opened on Scenic Drive in 2000. Young poets showed off their verbal skills at monthly poetry slams there and packed the 580-seat State Theatre for the annual invitational Ill List poetry slam. The Off the Air independent music series showcased the best in alternative bands at first the Fat Cat and then Deva Cafe. Hundreds came to shop for hip crafts at the annual downtown Hand Born craft fair.

For more on Modesto area arts, visit

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