Best Bite-Size Lecture Series 2009 | Ignite Phoenix at The Tempe Center for the Arts (usually) | People & Places | Phoenix

As the saying goes, less is more and Ignite Phoenix, the quarterly series of bite-size lectures, epitomizes the axiom. Modeled after the first Ignite event, held in Seattle in 2006, anyone can submit a presentation on anything — as long as it can be completed within five minutes. The hallmark of Ignite Phoenix is the variety of subjects that have made it to the podium, including the picayune (a rant about the uselessness of stressing out) and the profound (a lecture about algae-based green fuels). The result has set the Valley's Twitter-dwelling tech, biz, creative community aflame.

Musicians seem drawn to using public transit systems as a backdrop for performances. We've seen many a street rat busking in NYC and D.C. subways while strumming their acoustic gee-tars. Maybe it's the captive audience or Americana's deep-rooted bonds shared by trains and tunes. Either way, we figured that once the Valley's light-rail system launched last December, it wouldn't be too long until we heard live music at stations. The folks behind the Train Tracks did us one better and have been booking Phoenix indie acts to play unplugged versions of their songs on light-rail cars since February. Conjured up by a cabal of CenPho left-brain types (including Inside Creative Minds filmmaker Tray Goodman and Modified Arts/Stinkweeds' Kimber Lanning) the weekly online video series records acoustic performances by such local scene favorites as Courtney Marie Andrews, Yourchestra, and Sugar Thieves during rush hour. It's similar to London's Black Cab Sessions (albeit not in a back of a taxi), in which everything's done in one take. Every three months, those who get the best response are invited to compete in a quarterly First Friday battle of the bands at the Phoenix Art Museum. The winner will get stage time at next year's Tempe Musical Festival. Sounds good to us, as long as they don't ask us for spare change.

A year ago, Metro light rail won Best Anticipated Ride and, so far, it's lived up to the hype. The light rail has essentially opened up a city within a city, and Rail Life has become its vital guide. The Web site is dedicated to all things related to the light rail, from service changes to transportation meetings. On the social side, the site offers a staggering listing of local bars and restaurants on the line. Rail Life even manages to keep tabs on all the big events and housing in the light-rail neighborhoods, all while keeping the info navigable.

Central Phoenix life moves so fast that the phrase "CenPho" has started to sound normal to even the old guard who use "the 602" and "PHX" as terms of endearment. CenPho TV's weekly video podcast moves just as quickly, with Dave Brookhouser and Jacqui Johnson leading a whirlwind tour — less than five minutes — of the major civic, music, and cultural events in town. Dave "Bully" Bjorn offers additional support in keeping people informed. The self-produced effort has come a long way since its early days, but the podcast-capping bloopers are a reminder of the inherent fun of a labor of love.

The Internet is either the best invention ever (YouTube, Etsy, or the worst (MySpace, Yoga Kitty, that page with Chewbacca singing "Silent Night"). A Phoenix-based Web site that's definitely hovering around awesome status is, an all-local affiliation of creative types and their video art. The Pete Petrisko-run URL features videos starring local artists such as Dena Johnson, Babs McDonald, and Andrew Jemsek. Programs are wide-ranging, like the snarky Doc Sterno Wise Advice and the once-popular onstage-turned-video-podcast Uncle Sku's Clubhouse. Don't dig watching videos online? No worries, because the short flicks are sometimes shown on the big screen at places like the Firehouse and Hidden House.

Actually, by the time this Best Of makes it to print, the title of the show might be Best Web­cast That's Finally a Radio Show. Longtime liberal talk-show host Jeff Farias, who used to park himself behind the mike at KPHX 1480 AM, the former home of the ultra-lefty NovaM Radio network, parted ways with his bosses in 2008, months before NovaM self-destructed. (Progressive talk has returned to 1480, but NovaM remains moribund.) Indeed, by the time NovaM had become a footnote in AM history, Farias had already moved his fiercely loyal fan base to the Internet, where he produced, a live Webcast for three hours daily. For this, viewers have tuned in and called in, despite Farias' absence anywhere on the radio dial. More recently, Farias has taken on his unapologetic liberalism back to the AM format, and he can be heard on Christian station KXXT 1010 AM from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Yes, you heard right: It's a Christian station. Told you Jesus was a Democrat. Anyway, the rollicking, anything-goes Webcast continues live daily from 3 to 6 p.m., emanating from the studio in Farias' garage. But something tells us Farias will soon be replicating his Webcast online for another entity. Just can't keep a good liberal down, it seems.

Best Appearance in an Australian Bank's TV Commercial

The Cover Up

In many ways, The Cover Up are local label Modern Art Records' forgotten band: the hardcore counterpart to indie faves like Miniature Tigers and Back Ted N-Ted. But they do have one distinction none of their peers will likely ever equal, having been featured in a commercial commissioned by Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Their bit was part of a series of commercials that featured a clueless American advertising agency pitching ideas to levelheaded but open-minded Australian bankers, who politely dismiss their foolhardy ideas. In their installment, The Cover Up are playing their brand of melodic hardcore in the middle of a typical bank branch while Aussie businessfolk mill about, trying to ignore them. "Your new debit MasterCard offer rocks, so we thought your bank should rock," one of the ad execs says to a confused Australian. "Hold up guys . . . Do they know anything a little more mellow?" the Aussie asks. "Of course. Play the love song," the ad exec says. The band, predictably, picks up right where they left off, and hilarity ensues.

For the second year in a row, hoozdo knocks the socks off any Phoenician able to get an issue in his or her lucky little paws. Equal parts celebration of the urban boom that we're on the cusp of and lamentation of the life of Phoenix natives being lost in supermarkets and strip malls, hoozdo brings them together in a gleefully uneasy union that seems perfect for our fair city. The photographs and glossy paper are a welcome step up from the Xerox jobs of other 'zines (love them as we do), while the content is eclectic and well written. Lately, hoozdo has dabbled beyond print, with a blog, Twitter account, and bundled CDs of local music, but the heart of the 'zine is as a wonderfully gawky paper version that pops up periodically at our favorite haunts around Phoenix.

For many Valley suburbanites, there's truly no greater torture than the daily commute. Besides all the anger-inducing congestion, there always seem to be annoying X-factors that make the commute even worse: idiotic drivers and even more idiotic cops, not to mention all the obnoxious drive-time DJs. So how does one cope? Peoria graphic artist Daniel M. Davis and his wife, Dawna (who both endure a three-hour drive every workday), use their daily Web comic Monster Commute to vent automotive aggravations. Described as a "traffic novel," it involves the characters of robot Chadworth Machine and the demon-like Beastio traveling in an endless rush hour through the netherworld. Daniel creates the comic on his iMac with Adobe Illustrator and utilizes a macabre pop-art style (which resemble the works of Mike Maas) mixed with steampunk and retro-futurism. There's a small-but-growing fan base, which seems to get bigger by the day. Misery loves company, we guess.

If only Michael Crow had eaten some namesake fowl and backed down from his mighty institution's boneheaded decision not to give President Barack Obama an honorary sheepskin. It would have been so simple. And it would have spared ASU from being the butt of endless jokes and the object of scorn and derision on The Daily Show, which famously called ASU "the Harvard of date rape."

There's wicked karma involved here. Crow has earned a rep as dictatorial and moralistic, forcing upon the party school a wishful paradigm of abstemiousness and academics, while going to war against the fraternities and their Animal House ways. Dean Wormer-like, he put his foot down.

Now everything Crow's strived for has been undone, and ASU will be remembered as the place that refused to grant the nation's first black president a worthless piece of paper because it didn't deem him worthy. At least the country got to see what we put up with. And we all got a good laugh over it.

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