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Best Of :: People & Places

Hero Worship
Bob Hoag

See: a video interview with Bob Hoag.

I remember the first time I recorded with Bob Hoag. I was 23 and had been playing in bands for quite some time — long enough to know the score, anyway. Back then, Bob's studio was in a dingy industrial park next to what was probably a chop shop and the creepiest Circle K in the East Valley. The only other company in the studio besides Bob were the three stray cats he had taken in. They all had funny names like "The Fuzz Jr." and the "Shy One," and Bob always made sure to leave food for them before he left. The first time I saw all this, I remember thinking, "There is no way great records are made here."

Bob proved me wrong.

My band The Loveblisters spent two weeks at Mesa's Flying Blanket recording what would be our first EP. We didn't have a drummer back then, so Bob filled in. It didn't take long for us to realize that we weren't the great band that we thought we were.

At least not yet.

Anytime one of us missed a note or slipped off the beat — even the slightest — Bob would start us over, and if one of us wasn't cutting it while recording a track, Bob would put them on mute and turn to those of us in the room and say, "If he doesn't get it in the next three takes, I'm going to go in there and do it. I mean, you're paying me by the hour."

Bob wasn't just recording us, and what he was doing went well beyond "producing" us. He was whipping us into shape. We took Bob's mentorship, along with the masters, away from that session and found ourselves tighter and more polished than we ever thought possible. And the EP sounded stellar. So good, in fact, that New Times called it the best local pop record of the year.

Thanks, Bob.

Bob has done what he did with my band countless times with countless other bands. His résumé reads like a who's who of heavies from the Phoenix music scene over the past 10 years. From The Format and Dear and the Headlights to local favorites like What Laura and Black Carl, Bob has consistently taken scrappy, young, ambitious bands and polished them up while making huge-sounding records. In fact, many of the artists Bob has recorded have transcended local popularity and become prominent regional and national acts, bringing long overdue attention to the creative community that calls Phoenix home. — Lou Kummerer

New Times contributor and longtime Valley musician Lou Kummerer knows a thing or two about talent. He interviewed Bob Hoag on August 16 at Flying Blanket studio in Mesa.

I live in Phoenix because I absolutely detest the rain.

When I was a kid, I wanted to make movies. That was the only thing I wanted to do, and it's actually crazy that my whole life has ended up revolving around music.

While I'm driving, I tend to like to get to the speed limit as fast as humanly possible, and I like to try to take advantage of any open space on the road.

My favorite word is "piffy."

My least favorite word is "fetid."

My favorite sound is my wife's laugh. My kids' laughter is creeping up on that, but for now, it's still my wife.

The sound that I hate is motorcycles.

My favorite swear word is wookiefucker. (But I would like to be able to show this to my parents, so maybe skip that.)

My hero is my grandpa — my dad's dad. He's had a really awesome life and it seems like he's done everything really well. He has a pretty big family and he's been married to the same woman his whole life. He hung out with Joe DiMaggio in bars in Atlantic City and bought Frank Sinatra a drink once at the 500 Club in Atlantic City — so, of course he's my hero because of that. He's a man of integrity and honesty, but in a really simple and humble way. He's just everything I could ever want to be as a person. He's a solid dude.

Right before I go to bed, I almost always eat a bowl of ice cream and try to watch a half-hour to an hour of television.

Best Art in a Cigarette Machine
The Art-o-mat Machine, at Vision Gallery

Want an original piece of art but can't afford the hefty price tag? Enter the Art-o-mat, a restored vintage cigarette machine that poops out handcrafted art pieces as if they were gumball-machine trinkets. The project began in 1997, when North Carolina artist Clark Whittington displayed his black-and-white photos like old-school ciggies. People loved them so much that the display became a permanent fixture and the idea blossomed into a national network of machines (though this is the only one in Arizona). Pop your cash in the slot, pull the old-timey plastic knob and out comes a work of art from the project's huge roster. Most are pretty amusing. Recent sightings at the slick chrome machine include Bearded Bunnies by William Hessian, Victorian vignettes, and Julie Graces' "Peep Show" secret spy mini-telescopes. You're obviously not going to get a Van Gogh-quality oil painting here, but for $5, any piece of art better than a line drawing is a steal.

10 E. Chicago St., Chandler, 85225
MAP
480-782-2695
Best Way to Get Around Old Town Scottsdale

Those Christian Louboutin kicks looked damn cute when you saw them on sale at Barney's — and even cuter when you wore 'em — but honestly, that's hardly practical footwear for an evening of walking around Old Town. Easy on the eyes, murder on the feet. Since your pocketbook's emptier than Lady Gaga's head, following your latest shoe-gasm, we've got a suggestion that's equally chic and cheap: Hop aboard one of the four Bunny Rides street-legal golf carts puttering from club to club. Operated by entrepreneur Aaron Lipson, these eight-passenger rides provide complimentary jaunts (although tips are appreciated) from 7 p.m. until 3 a.m. every Thursday through Saturday night. Decorated in electric pink livery and pumping out Top 40 tracks via built-in stereos, Bunny Rides are hard to miss, even after dark. Lipson's crew cruises a service area encompassing Old Town (which stretches south from Chaparral to Thomas roads, and east between 68th Street and Hayden Road), which means schlepping slews of drunken divas and dudes to danceterias, as well as back to nearby hotels. "People get loud and crazy, girls show their boobs, you name it," Lipson says. "It's like a party on wheels." Some caveats: They won't take you home, and those appearing to be overintoxicated aren't permitted to ride. "We don't wanna get sued if people fall out," he says. Besides, why risk the chance of scuffing up your $500 babies? Reach Bunny Rides at 602-405-2106.

Best Humbling Fact
Phoenix is short.

We've long thought Phoenix's skyline was pretty — if a little odd. Why do there appear to be two downtowns, and why does one lone skyscraper — the building formerly known as the Dial Tower — rise up from the earth between them? Then we learned something about our skyline that got us asking another question. Why are we so short? Here's a telling fact: At 483 feet, Chase Tower is Arizona's tallest building. Okay, maybe that number doesn't mean anything to you, so let's put it in perspective. Arkansas has a building that's 546 feet high. We're talking about Arkansas, the land of Walmart and rampant shoelessness. Actually, such less-urbanized and less-populous states as Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Nebraska all have buildings taller than the biggest and best of Arizona. Chase Tower wouldn't be one of the 20 tallest buildings in Texas, and that state isn't exactly known for passionate urban planning. Actually, of the country's 10 largest cities, only San Jose, California, has a tallest building shorter than Chase Tower, and, let's be honest: No one knows how or why San Jose is one of the country's 10 largest cities.

201 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 85004
MAP
602-221-4724
Best Phoenix History Lesson
Phoenix Retro Spectacular at Phoenix Metro Retro

As a former New Yorker who's lived in the Valley for a decade, Marshall Shore may know a lot more about Phoenix history than most natives. Like the fact that Mr. Lucky's was intended to be Arizona's first casino or that Wayne Newton was a regular performer at Bill Johnson's Big Apple. Shore, who calls himself an information curator, deals hour-long doses of local lore each month at the Phoenix Retro Spectacular. For a fiver, listeners and fellow tale-tellers can sip wine and lounge on vintage furniture at Phoenix Metro Retro while Shore, through stories and images, shares his understanding of Phoenix antiquity and the importance of saving it.

708 W. Hazelwood St., Phoenix, 85013
MAP
602-279-0702
Best Photo Opportunity

Photo booths are always cool, like black T-shirts and motorcycles. They practically invite rebellion, so we give ourselves permission to act up. We contort our bodies with those of our friends and family as we try to get everyone in the frame. In short, we ham it up. So what could be better than a traveling photo booth? Enter Mr. Fun Booth, where you can take as many digital pictures as you like with a nifty remote control inside the 2-by-2-by-6-foot box. Renting Mr. Fun Booth comes with delivery within 50 miles of Central Phoenix, setup and teardown of the booth, three hours of shooting time, and a webpage for viewing and/or purchasing prints. Call 480-588-2778, and have fun.

Best People Watching
Arizona State Fair
Katie Johnson

So, the venerable Bob Dylan was opening the concert series of the even more venerable State Fair last go-round, and we were on hand to inspect the decay (of both Dylan and the Fair). Lo and behold, the ancient pair were doing just fine, thank you, quirky as all get-out, but in a most enjoyable way. Before stepping into the old Madhouse on McDowell (as Suns announcer Al McCoy used to call it), we stood our ground at the food stand that sells the giant "grilled to perfection" turkey legs, and watched the parade of humanity — much of it tatted seemingly from head to toe. There were babies upon babies (not tatted, yet) in strollers, papoose boards, carriages, and wrapped in their loving parents' arms. Those adults who weren't sucking down a beer were eating something madly sugary, deep-fried, or — eek! — both. Everyone seemed to be having fun, and no one was in a hurry to get anywhere. We stepped over to the bizarre little show where folks oddly allowed themselves to be hypnotized by some fast-talking dude on a mini-stage as spectators looked on in some kind of awe. Finally, it was time to find our way into the Coliseum to see old Bob. Like the State Fair itself, he kicked butt, and took his time doing it. Thankfully in this instance, the times they weren't a-changing.

1826 W. McDowell Road Phoenix, AZ, Phoenix, 85007-1612
MAP
602-252-6771
Best Block Party

Mesa's Main Street has established quite the art walk in the past several months. In addition to such older businesses as History By George, Book Gallery, Mystic Paper, and the Mesa Arts Center, a newer crop of merchants has moved in on the street, including the Evermore Nevermore gallery, the Adorn Style Lounge, Twisted Sisters' Designs, and the Underground and Nile music venues. Having more than a dozen restaurants and shops on a single, straight walk has done wonders for downtown Mesa, which hosts an art walk every second Friday of the month. Each art walk has a theme, and previous motifs have included "Sweethearts" (for February) and "IMP Fest" (independent music). There are usually live bands or musicians on every corner, along with information booths and, most importantly, lots of people with whom to mingle.

Best Restaurant Tour

Scottsdale is often known as the hub of glitz and glamour in the Valley, so it's easy to forget its humble roots as "The West's Most Western Town." Annie of Arizona Food Tours is just the person to remind us of Scottsdale's history, using the backdrop of Old Town Scottsdale and its many historic restaurants (as well as a few new ones) as a culinary history guide. She takes guests on a three-hour walking tour through the winding streets of Old Town, pointing out museums and landmarks while stopping at fun eateries along the way (from the Rusty Spur to the Sugar Bowl). A Scottsdale native, Annie knows a wide variety of interesting informational tidbits, and as for the edible kind, each restaurant welcomes the tour with open arms and a set table of nibbles, ranging from mini-burgers to sopaipillas to wine to fudge sundaes. This is a great tour for locals seeking a fun outdoor culinary adventure or tourists looking for some local culture, reasonably priced at $42 per person.

Best Culinary Festival
Devoured Phoenix Culinary Classic, at the Phoenix Art Museum

Foodies claim they go to culinary festivals to see chefs in action or to learn more about wine varietals, but we know the truth — it's an excuse to pig out and get tipsy on free wine. Our favorite on the festival circuit this year was the Devoured Culinary Classic, a new event at the Phoenix Art Museum that replaced the oddly named West of Western Culinary Festival. The event is run by Local First Arizona, a nonprofit organization that promotes local businesses. Devoured. Makes you want to strip naked and cover yourself in sushi, à la Samantha in the first Sex and the City flick, doesn't it? Well, maybe not. But there was certainly sushi to be found at the inaugural Devoured, along with plenty of accessible comfort foods like corn dogs and meatloaf. Chef Payton Curry's pig-butchering demo and a discussion with former Wall Street Journal restaurant critic Raymond Sokolov were highlights of the two-day event's lecture series. Devoured also boasted more desserts than any other foodie festival this year, from FnB's homemade butterscotch pudding to Fossil Creek Creamery's decadent goat's milk fudge.

1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 85004
MAP
602-257-1222
Best Beer Festival

If Arizona Strong Beer Festival 2010 had had to compete against Arizona Strong Beer Festival 2009 in this category, it surely would have lost. Though the move from Mesa Amphitheatre to a downtown Phoenix park within walking distance of the light rail was a win with some local beer fans, the smaller selection of brewers and a ridiculous vending situation (one truck selling sandwiches and tacos to thousands of tasters) at the 2010 fest didn't impress us. Luckily, however, the Strong Beer fest doesn't have to compete against previous incarnations of itself. It's still, by far, the best beer fest in the state. It's not just the fact that almost everything poured at the event is special — though the requirement that everything be 8 percent alcohol or above almost totally assures that — it's the fact that the strong suds forge lasting bonds among Phoenix's beer snobs. Year after year, you can count on seeing the same pretzel necklace-wearing diehards testing their mettle at this festival, hugging us and everyone else they sorta remember from years past. It's the only beer festival we'd recommend training for — you should drink at least three beers a night for a week leading up to the event if you hope to stumble out without memory loss — and the only annual Arizona beer festival you absolutely cannot miss.

Best Music Festival

It's been sort of a rough year for area music festivals. For example, Tempe Music Festival was cance — er, "postponed" — until next year, and McDowell Mountain Music Festival downsized from the lush polo field at WestWorld to a parking lot. So, with that backdrop, we can't help being impressed by what the Warped Tour has been able to do so consistently well for 15 years now. Sure, the Phoenix date was only part of a national tour, but we salute the organizers for consistently giving us a product worth braving triple-digit temperatures at Cricket Wireless Pavilion. Also, although it's national, Vans has certainly shown plenty of love to Phoenix bands, giving Anarbor, Eyes Set to Kill, and The Summer Set nice play on dozens of dates. Hell, even former New Times cover boys Hollywood Heartthrob got a break with a handful of dates on the tour. That, plus some skateboarding, is a win to us.

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Hero Worship: Bob Hoag

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