Best Storytelling MC 2014 | Dan Hull | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix

Dan Hull deals in yarn-spinning. The master storyteller is arguably the architect of downtown Phoenix's storytelling scene. And he has told tales across the country — including at The Moth in New York. Lucky for Valley dwellers, Hull's easy to find around town. He hosts the aptly named Yarnball, a recurring open mic night at literary hotspot Lawn Gnome, and organizes Storyline, a series at Space 55 in which he occasionally takes the stage. Each event series is a platform for both established and emerging storytellers. Further bolstering Phoenix's storytelling scene, Hull occasionally hosts workshops for start-up raconteurs. And we've gotta give him snaps for that. 

The two Valley radio stations for popular country music have some pretty short-term memories. That is, you're not likely to hear music that's more than a few years old. That's certainly not the case on KSWG, "Arizona's Real Country," where Johnny Cash and even Brooks & Dunn make the station's list of most-played songs. The station still mixes in modern country hits from the likes of Luke Bryan or the Zac Brown Band, but it probably is the only local radio station that will give you the opportunity to belt out Alan Jackson's "Chasin' That Neon Rainbow" in the middle of the afternoon — and don't pretend you still don't remember that words.

It would have been enough for many in the crowd just to see a real live Beatle, but Paul McCartney is a showman and a gentleman, and at 72, he worked hard to please the crowd at his August show in Phoenix. The fans sat politely and quietly for a few new songs, but they were obviously there to hear old hits, and McCartney delivered. Both Beatles and Wings fans left pleased as the songs — and accompanying anecdotes and touching moments — rolled out. From "8 Days a Week" to the end of "Abbey Road," McCartney and his band played on. Highlights included "Maybe I'm Amazed" — dedicated to Linda — and "Live and Let Die," which was accompanied by some incredible fireworks. He told the story behind "Blackbird," played "Something" on the ukulele and actually married a couple from the audience onstage — with the caveat that he's not really ordained to do it. Either way, it was a night to remember, and not just for the newlyweds.

Sure, Gilbert-born Lindsey Stirling's shtick — virtuosic violin shredding over booming EDM beats — sounds like there's no way it would translate on a live stage. But the 27-year-old Stirling doesn't just pull it off, she makes the whole thing seem remarkably natural. Commanding a sold-out crowd at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe in May, Stirling sprinted across the stage, performed intricate interpretive dance routines, and cracked jokes all night, never missing a beat or note on her fiddle. Songs like "Swag," "Crystallize," and "Shatter Me" blended her Celtic-inspired melodies with throbbing electronic music; at times it felt like a rave, other times it felt like Stirling was imagining the perfect soundtrack to Phoenix Comicon (like when she performed a medley of themes from Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series). Stirling may not have won as a contestant on America's Got Talent, but her performance at the Marquee proved that the local girl's done good and has a career of genre-defying ahead of her.

Local promoter Steve "Psyko Steve" Chilton may have borrowed the idea of assembling a bunch of local musicians and randomly assigning them bandmates, a "rock lottery," from bigger cities like New York City, Seattle, and Dallas, but the resulting show was all Phoenix. In February, members of Captain Squeegee, Jimmy Eat World, the Whisperlights, The Stereo, Avery, Source Victoria, Ladylike, Where Dead Voices Gather, Snake! Snake! Snakes! Wooden Indian, and other Valley luminaries took the stage at Crescent Ballroom, with only an afternoon's worth of time to prep, and performed brand new material.

The ensemble names tended toward the silly — Beer Barbacoa and the Ballroom Burros, Bitch Choir, DCKSPLT, Auto-Tune-Workout — but the resulting music was surprisingly, okay, astonishingly cohesive. The idea was likely a goof, but it ended up being yielding goods that had Phoenix feeling pretty damn great about its music scene.

The Lost Leaf

The Lost Leaf doesn't have a giant stage or a killer sound system, but it's still the perfect place to catch a loose set from locals like Wooden Indian, Kevin Daly's Chicken and Waffles, Sunorous, or DJentrification. The historic downtown bungalow feels appropriately homey, with art by bartender and musical proprietor Tato Caraveo on the walls, and the bar is stocked with a killer selection of microbrews. The Lost Leaf is refreshingly chill, mellow, and classy; it's easy to sneak in for a few, catch a great set, and wander out to explore downtown.

Local bands aspire to perform at Crescent Ballroom, and when they get there, it makes drinking the Honey Badger (Crescent's signature cocktail) all the sweeter. After coming up through the bottom rungs of the Phoenix music scene, playing house parties and bar gigs with no PA, playing the Crescent is like playing Madison Square Garden, and only the crème de la crème of local bands headline the venue's stage. The Crescent opened in 2011 and in just three short years has become synonymous with the local music scene. With killer burritos and other culinary options created by chef Chris Bianco by day, and a salivating mix of local and national acts by night, the Crescent is the place you'll find yourself more often than not if you're a fan of live local music.

The Orpheum Theater is, quite frankly, gorgeous. Originally opened in 1929, the theater boasts 85 years of Phoenix history, including time as a Vaudeville house and a Spanish-language cinema. In 1984, the theater joined the National Register of Historic Places, and when the city of Phoenix finished renovating the place in 1997, it was clear why. With gargantuan Spanish Colonial murals adorning the walls, it's easy to feel dwarfed by the larger-than-life décor, which is the perfect setting for a concert. Unfortunately, the Orpheum is criminally underused as a music venue, but when the rare opportunity to see a national act — like St. Vincent in May — arises, it is a treasure.

Once home to a printing press in Phoenix's warehouse district, the Pressroom formerly was the site of Madison Event Center, which hosted raves and underground events. Relaunching in 2013 as the Pressroom, the 1,000-person venue came in with a bang, hosting occult rockers Ghost BC, the PHX AM afterparty with Death, the Allah-Las, and Dam-Funk, and Caliente Summer Jamz. With a massive sound system, the Pressroom features an indoor and outdoor bar and has the potential to become one of the premier venues in downtown Phoenix.

Every new nightspot in Scottsdale gets long lines out the door — for the first couple of months, at any rate. The real test is whether people are still willing to come out and line up long after most everyone's gotten a look at what's inside. In the case of Cake, which opened in January, its staff is still dealing with big crowds and no signs of slowing down, so we'd have to dub it a success. What's the draw? The staff of comely, lingerie-wearing CakeDolls might have something to do with it, as might the aerialists and burlesque performers who strut their stuff amid the club's stylish chateau-meets-bordello décor. When most of its neighbors surrounding Saddlebag Trail club zone are geared toward flat-out partying, Cake offers panache in addition to a staff of highly selective doormen who allow young and hot females to cut to the head of the line. Cake, in essence, takes the cake.

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