With all the hoopla that surrounded the opening of downtown Phoenix's Dodge Theatre earlier this year, it was easy to neglect -- but not for long, as it turned out -- this quirky theater-in-the-round in east-central Phoenix. Intimacy and a fine sound system mark this 2,500-seat hall, which has been host over its quarter-century history to such luminaries as Miles Davis, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, the Beastie Boys and George Clinton. It also works well as a boxing venue and has been the site of many an "extreme fighting" card. In a one-week span this summer, the cozy confines of the Celebrity welcomed such splendidly diverse acts as Morrissey, the Tragically Hip and the Reverend Al Green. Here's hoping for another 25 years.
Three years ago, when Les Payne Product began doing the first-ever live shows at The Emerald Lounge, people were still referring to it as an old man's bar. Gradually, out went the pool tables, vinyl jukebox and odd old man, and in came a stage, P.A., lights, painted murals and a plethora of Phoenix's finest budding local talent.

For most Valley rock clubs, local rock bands are occasional openers for national acts. When the Emerald books a national act, it's some out-of-town band you've never heard of, hoping the bill's local acts attract enough people so they make their gas money back. Local bands drive the Emerald's weekly roster, and with its no-cover-charge policy, it's a great place to check out a new band and not get soaked by greedy promoters and parking garages. And while you once may have needed the extra beer cash to deaden the pain of loud bands incapable of dialing into their own sound, the latest P.A. system upgrade has made a vast improvement.

Its Wednesday night blasts with house band the Hypno-Twists make the Emerald the best place to go out in the middle of the week, while the rest of the week has featured such great local bands as the Liars Club, Beat Angels, the Getaways, Seven Storey, Korova Milk Bar, Lovers of Guts, Sonic Thrills, Velveteen Dream and Meatwhistle, plus other diverting local entertainment like DJ's Tato Soul Trax on Tuesdays, Jim Cherry's Gullaballoo variety show on Sundays and art displays during the week.

Best Break Into Stardom By A Local Musician

Buddy Strong

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.
For a few hours each Friday night, Dave Valad is a star. His name is up in lights -- literally -- with a neon tube stylishly fashioned to spell his name pulsing light blue above the stage. He sings the hits -- ranging from Tina Turner to "I Wanna Be a Cowboy" to Sinatra -- karaoke-style.

He's got the moves that drive the blue-haired ladies wild. He's got the look: tinted sunglasses, a permy pompadour, and an oak-tree-style sports coat nicely tapered at the waist, his sleeves rolled up a third of the way. And his voice is like butter; each song from the tape machine he makes his cheese-filled own. He is a performer; he is in command. Think Phoenix's own Tom Jones. Plus, he has an array of brass instruments he busts out once in awhile, adding that perfectly classy accent.

His work could almost be called "accidental performance art," and he could be the analog precursor to the digital remix. As the night goes on, he finds just the right tape to transition from one song to the next, using his dual decks like a DJ spinning.

Valad is the man of the hour, every hour he's up there. And if you're really lucky, you might get a shout-out from the stage.

When you want your rock to rhyme with hawk, KDKB is your rawk station. Where do listeners with more girth than goth in 'em go to get a daily dose of what programmers call "mainstream rock," but historians more likely will refer to as "paunch rock," that brand of music that squeezes involuntary air guitar moves out of you in the middle of a sporting goods store? The best outlet used to be the classic-rock format, but since that brain trust has been infiltrated by the chick-rock sounds of REO Speedwagon, Billy Joel and Pablo Cruise, it's KDKB that's making like one of the boys -- and it's the only station on the dial with the balls to play "Fat Bottomed Girls."

It's great to have a station with an appreciation for the classics -- Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin and Bad Company -- that also includes modern and alternative rock like the Cult, U2, Creed, Counting Crows and Korn, all while keeping to a bare minimum the cookie-monster rock that gives other stations their identities.

On Sundays at 10 p.m., KDKB airs the best example of specialty programming on radio, Little Steven's Underground Garage. This weekly two-hour show restores the roll to rock and is hosted by E Street guitarist and Sopranos resident grimacer Steve Van Zandt. Not only does Van Zandt retain the machine-gun verbal bazooka of yesteryear's DJs, he does American radio in general a public service by playing the Standells and the 13th Floor Elevators coast-to-coast. And for weekend warriors who still get a rush from Rush and a jolt from AC/DC, the station plays 16-song music marathons that ensure no tuneouts. Raawwwwk -- it's not just for stadiums anymore.

KJZZ figured out that people don't really have any applicable uses for jazz and blues during the workday, when alertness and coffee replace relaxation and whiskey. That's why it devotes its listening day to National Public Radio, and turns the airways blue at night with acoustic jazz. KJZZ music director (and on-air personality since 1995) Blaise Lantana has a voice that oozes comfort, weeknights from 7 to 11, when she plays her velvety mix of new jazz stars like Diana Krall and Kenny Garrett and jazz legends like Art Pepper, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Lantana and fellow hosts Michele Robins and Ross Brotman never seem rushed to inform listeners about what they've just heard, a far cry from the automated jazz stations down the dial. On Sunday afternoons, KJZZ turns into the home of the blues with its American roots music program Those Lowdown Blues, hosted by Rhythm Room bwana Bob Corritore, who's also forthcoming with information about the origins of every song or artist so that appreciative listeners can investigate further on their own. Although radio contests are converse to this station's m.o., it could award listeners a free CD if a jock fails to back-announce.

When you're talking country, you'd better not be using "new country" and "best" in the same sentence. Everyone knows that the best country is the old stuff, and the fact that country-music record sales have rapidly slumped in recent years is a signal to Music Row that people have caught on.

Since there's no longer a reliable radio signal for picking up old country (unless you cover your body in tinfoil and point it in the direction of Austin), we recommend you try KUET-AM, the nostalgia station that broadcasts "timeless classics" out of Black Canyon City. KUET's broadcast day includes all the fundamentals of country, from back when country was cool -- Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, Glen Campbell, B.J. Thomas, Marty Robbins and Patsy Cline. It's worth slogging through the Platters, Percy Faith and Barry Manilow just to hear the occasional Roger Miller or Bobby Bare hit.

When this old-pop-is-really-new-country controversy gets out, it'll turn country-music radio on its ear. In the meantime, you can trace where new country got its roots dyed with Olivia Newton-John, Barbara Mandrell, Kenny Rogers, Eddie Rabbitt and John Denver. Until Arizona gets a radio format that meets David Allan Coe's checklist for what makes a great country song, KUET is the best bet for hearing at least one song per hour about drinking, trucks, trains, prison or mama.

What would happen if all alternative radio stations were suddenly issued a directive not to play any more records by members of the Record Industry Association of America? That's the standard operating procedure of this Internet radio station located in Tempe, manned mostly by volunteers and college kids. Every broadcast day, it extends a big middle finger to the Library of Congress, which insists that Internet radio stations pay 70 cents per 1,000 listeners per RIAA song, as well as the 7.5 cents that regular commercial radio stations are charged -- and mandates that these fees be retroactive to 1998.

Knot Radio was started by Chris Richardson as an adjunct to his Knot Known Records label. In one stroke, he has given Tempe the credible college rock station it's been lacking for ages; it provides an outlet for local rock groups who've all been shunted off the commercial airwaves and gives them global exposure. Specialty shows range from Chris Horak's Punk, Ska, Oi, Surf, and Hardcore Show to the Blimey! It's BritPop! Show by some cat named Eddie to DJ John's Heathen World, which gives us a history of indie music of the past, present and future. Factor in other eclectic shows that feature jazz, exotica and bootlegs that somehow fall outside the RIAA's regulation, and you have alternatives that no other alternative radio station can provide because it has to play Third Eye Blind for the kajillionth time.

Knot Radio averages about 1,500 listeners a day. Lord knows how many of them are local, but one thing's for certain: They're getting freeform radio at its finest with a click of the mouse.

Pop historians say that Top 40 died years ago, when everyone went fleeing to different formats. And while that's true, it's the hip-hop stations that inherited all the energy. There's not a millisecond of dead airtime on Power 92, recently named by the Arbitrons as number-one for hip-hop and R&B in the Valley. It's a fact that couldn't possibly escape Power 92 listeners, since station IDs proudly trumpet the fact every 10 minutes.

So what's there to miss about Top 40 anyway? Hearing new music? You hear chart heat-seekers regularly; even songs in rapid repeat rotation, like Nelly's "Hot in Here," get a face-lift every go-round, especially when turntable wizards like DJ Shy are live in the mix for the "Powerworkout" from noon to 2 p.m. You want countdowns? JX3 rattles off the "Power 7 at 7." You miss crazed on-air personalities with funny nicknames? You've got MG, Mad Dog, Danielle and Gringo Suave manning the Morning Madhouse in the a.m., naughty Da Nutz carrying on in afternoon drive time, and Melissa the Midnite Mamacita playing slow jams into the dawn. And how about a station that has guest host Nuff Ced (NBA Superstar Cedric Ceballos) holding court whenever the mood strikes him? Long-distance dedications? Call 602-260-6923, and they are "Down 4 U."

BEST GOLF COURSE

tie: Troon North Golf Club
10320 East Dynamite, Scottsdale
480-502-5360

and

Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale
17020 North Hayden, Scottsdale
480-585-3428

BEST CITY HIKING TRAIL

Camelback Mountain

BEST CITY PARK

Encanto Park and Recreation Area
2605 North 15th Avenue
602-261-8994

BEST KIDS' FREE FUN SPOT

Tempe Town Lake

BEST KIDS' FUN-FOR-A-PRICE SPOT

Castles-n-Coasters
9445 North Metro Parkway East
602-997-7575

BEST PLACE TO SPEND THE DAY WITH YOUR DOG

Any dog park

Best Of Phoenix®

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