Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Two years ago, Buddy Strong was a 19-year-old killer musician who was living with his parents in south Phoenix while building a local reputation as a monster on keyboards, bass and drums. Then, at a gospel convention in Detroit, he caught the break of a lifetime. Someone heard the youngster jamming on his beloved Hammond B-3 organ and was floored. The talent scout passed along Strong's name to R&B superstar Usher Raymond, who was seeking a keyboard player to support him on his then-pending world tour. Strong was flown to Atlanta for a tryout and quickly won the prestigious -- and lucrative -- gig. Earlier this year, the cottage industry that is the Usher Tour played west Phoenix's Cricket Pavilion. Before Usher's set, Strong worked the near-sellout crowd like the prodigal son he is, greeting family and old friends, before jumping onstage and showing his stuff like a real pro.
Following September 11, our nation had collective guilt about trying to enjoy itself. After the postponement of most sporting events and the Emmys that first weekend, ducking out on a Sunday night to see a band seemed a premature and potentially depressing proposition. But the Issaquah, Washington, trio, which began its tour on September 4, hit the right chord with a video presentation that probably was a happy accident more than anything else. Whatever its genesis, it was a stroke of genius to open the show with video footage of crumbling buildings played in reverse. After a week of watching the towers collapse over and over again on television, the idea of seeing something constructive for a change brought more smiles and a more restored semblance of normalcy than even 100 stacks of "Fuck Osama" tee shirts. In its modest way, the Mouse made a difference. This band deserves to be huge.
When word got around that The Blue Ox was going to become a Mexican bar, we mourned the short life span of our favorite dive -- but not for long. Before we could shed a tear for our old haunt, The Rogue -- formerly known as Sneaky Pete's -- got a bit of a makeover and became the new destination for the same punk and rockabilly crowd. Thanks in large part to Blue Ox personality Randy, who brought his schmoozing skills to the new joint to book the same kinds of bands, The Rogue is not only a great place to kick back with a cold one and enjoy a smokin' jukebox or Saturday-night DJs Nate and Allen, but to see cheap, fun trash-rock acts.
This venerable little club doesn't look like much from the outside. No matter. Inside, the beer is always cold and the music is hot. Bob Corritore (a mean harmonica player himself) works tirelessly to keep this national-level blues joint afloat -- and right in our own backyard. For this, we thank the Blues God from the bottom of our aching, mistreated hearts. Corritore books everyone from the surviving Mississippi Delta kings to up-and-coming honkers from right here in the Valley, and at an eminently fair price to consumers. What more could a bluesbo ask for?
What do Agent Orange, the Handsome Family, Poster Children, Daniel Johnston, Death Cab for Cutie, Mike Watt and Frank Black all have in common? No, it's not a track list for a great mix CD; they're all acts that played Nita's Hideaway in 2002. The intimate venue continues to sate the hunger of deprived music fans with its cornucopia of musical goodness.
Nita's constantly provides a great balance of up-and-coming indie acts, under-the-radio-radar artists and high-quality touring acts that would normally skip our metro altogether. This is largely due to the work of local musical seer Charlie Levy, who seamlessly combines music sense, charm and passion. For years, Nita's has boasted such an amazing array of musical diversity that simply listing its acts would be testament enough to Levy's keen ear and vision.
But the Nita's we know and love is in transition. Due to re-zoning, the building on Rio Salado soon will be no more, perhaps to be replaced by another huge outdoor shopping extravaganza. But fear not. Club owner Mark Covert has a new site lined up, and Levy cannot feign retirement for long. He would never admit it, but he loves what he does.
Teen Central is cool. Too cool for our decidedly unhip vocab. And this is as it should be.
Designed by architect Will Bruder and based on the findings of teen focus groups he conducted, the 5,000-foot, ultramodern space inside Burton Barr is not your mother's library. A brushed metal reference desk is backdropped by towering stereo and computer equipment. Music jams throughout. No one is hushed for chatting, because most chatting is conducted via instant messaging.
The circular space features 20 wired, souped-up machines, free for surfing, music listening or gaming. Other amenities to attract teen people include a "living room" with comfy chairs, surround sound and a big-screen cable TV; an art gallery featuring works by young artists; and a cafe. Teen Central also has mucho multimedia. Its CDs, DVDs, videos, books and games are current titles requested by teens and evaluated by Teen Services librarian Karl Kendall. A cursory glance at the CDs offered titles ranging from Blonde Redhead to La Bohème, as well as a large, heavily trafficked rap/hip-hop section.
The Teen Central space also has hosted live local acts, including indie band Employee of the Moth, Christian MC Vocab Malone, Prism Cru, and high school rock band Drift. Cool.