Best Country Radio Station 2009 | KSWG 96.3 FM | People & Places | Phoenix

For those of you who have lived here for a while, remember when Phoenix was totally Podunk? Seriously. Back in the day, we remember seeing pickup trucks dragging their back bumpers down the freeway and hearing Southern-like accents at the neighborhood Circle K. The only thing missing was pure country-and-Western music on the airwaves, the kind you'd hear driving across a dusty stretch of rural Texas. (We're talking Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Jr., and Woody Guthrie — you know, the good stuff.) Then we were made hip to Real Country FM. The Wickenburg-based station — which tends to play honky-tonk favorites, ranging from Patsy Cline's lesser-known hits to George Strait's old-school jams — has a strong enough signal to encompass everywhere we've been in Maricopa County, so you're only a preset away from Phoenix, circa 1975. KSWG also streams online; just check out the station's hastily designed Web site for easy iTunes-linked tuneage.

Legendary outlaw country singer Waylon Jennings, the first country musician to ever have a platinum record, wasn't originally from Arizona. Though a Texan by birth, he's tied to the Copper State because he lived here much of his life and resurrected his career here by playing gigs seven nights a week at J.D. Musil's nightclub in Tempe. He also passed away here, at his home in Chandler, and was buried here, at Mesa Cemetery, the same grassy lawn that holds the remains of paroled rapist Ernesto Miranda of "Miranda rights" fame. Waylon's grave is a peaceful place, where you'll find his intricately designed black headstone adorned by flowers and trinkets left by generations of fans passing by. It's the closest thing a country music fan will find to sacred ground in this town, and it's well worth the trip.

A few years ago, Stephan Shepherd's wife was asked to edit the newsletter for her parenting group. She roped her hubby into writing reviews of kids' music — and that, boys and girls, is how Phoenix wound up with the best children's music blog around. Shep­herd doesn't just review music and report on the industry on his blog, he also brings super music to town — another reason to read Zooglobble and learn who's coming to the Valley and when. Now we have just one more wish, Stephan: Bring Baby Disco to Phoenix! You know what we're talking about.

Google the words "noodle forest" and you'll find hundreds of hits referring to the groovy play area on the third floor of the Children's Museum of Phoenix, which opened last year. The playground is a rainforest of more than 3,000 lime green and creamy orange polyethy­lene foam tubes. The noodles hang from the ceiling and sway gently as kids chase each other through the padded jungle. This tactile and colorful bonanza can crack a smile on even the most crabby toddler . . . or adult. Admission is $9 for kids and adults and you get to see the rest of the museum, too. Under 1? It's free.

Whether it's their beautifully mounted productions at the still-sparkling new Tempe Center for the Arts, or the classes they teach year-round (including weeklong summer programs) at their nearby Tempe facility, Childsplay is a class act. When it comes to instruction, perfection is not the goal — a welcome relief in this all-too-pushy, test-obsessed culture. Kids can take classes with real life actors, then come to a show and see them perform onstage. That's what we call community theater at its finest!

His sabbatical leave during the summer of 2004 led to a crisis in David Barker's life. Like many artists, Barker, a professor of theater in the Herberger College of the Arts best known for his mime performances, turned that crisis into art. Dodging Bullets details the day that Barker's brother-in-law opened fire on him and his sister, the gunman's wife. The bullet intended for Barker missed him, but his sister was hit in the chest. It's a testament to Barker's skill as a playwright and performer that he made this tragic tale — which he's preparing for a remount, we hope very soon — both amusing and enlightening.

Lisa Starry gets it.

The artistic director/choreographer for Phoenix's 10-year-old, 20-member-strong Scorpius collective understands that the terms "modern dance" and "interpretive dance" are buzz-kills in a society with a crippled economy and a stunted attention span. That's why Starry gives hesitant Gen Xers and Yers — the folks with the disposable incomes — what they want. And that's a little pop-culture sugar to help the medicine, er, contemporary dance go down.

One of Starry's core influences is Cirque du Soleil. A Vampire Tale, her annual "Nutcracker of Halloween," predated Twilight mania. In general, Starry says her inspiration comes from the movies rather than other choreographers (and those who've seen A Vampire Tale know it's much closer in spirit to Interview with the Vampire than Bella Swan).

"My dream was always to entertain, and that's what is working for Scorpius," she says. We're glad.

Though there's still some lingering heat, the summer blockbuster season is over, meaning we can avoid overwhelming explosions, manic car chases, and one-note comedies. That's why Harkins Camelview 5 is our haven year-round. Anytime we want to escape the typical celluloid tedium, we can settle into the last theater that the chain's founder, Dwight "Red" Harkins, opened himself. Camelview has quite the menu of foreign and independent films (even with masquerading major studios dipping their toes in the art-film pool), which keeps us coming back — especially now, when more thoughtful fare vies to be remembered by Oscar voters.

When IFC and the Sundance Channel don't quench your thirst for non-traditional cinema, No Festival Required is your mighty-mite hero. The monthly indie and art film showcase started in 2002, taking up the mantle of microcinema that Jeff Cochran left behind. Microcinema refers only to size of the venues, because No Festival Required has always featured works that are bold, daring, and cutting edge in content and technique. In addition to monthly screenings at Space 55, NFR domo Steve Weiss has helped organize and market screenings and film events at Deus Ex Machina, Chandler Cinemas, and the Phoenix Art Museum.

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.

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