Best Place to Learn to Tell Tales 2014 | South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute | People & Places | Phoenix

Long before standing onstage and telling stories became the next big thing, South Mountain Community College was making a name for itself in the ancient art of storytelling. Storytelling is more complex than simply memorizing a script; no two performances are the same, and the tradition is steeped in the humanities and how we all get along (or don't). Led by director Liz Warren, an internationally acclaimed storyteller in her own right, the institute is a great place to take a basic class or even study for an academic certificate.

It seems every time we turn around, there's a new food festival going down around town. At some point, they all start to blend together into a sea of tiny plates, wine samples, and chef demonstrations. And inevitably, by the end of the festival season, the one that stands out is Devoured. Not only does this event gather the city's top chefs, but each participating restaurant puts forth an effort you just don't see at other events.

This year at the two-day event held at Phoenix Art Museum, we tasted all manner of delicacies, from oysters and truffles to so much foie gras that we thought we would burst. And don't even get us started on the wine. There were so many local wineries pouring samples that we had to pop into a cooking demonstration just to sober up. In fact, our only recommendation for next year's event would be to add nap rooms where guests can take a rest. Pipe dream? Maybe, but if the trend took off anywhere, it would be at Devoured.

You didn't have to be a beer fanatic to enjoy this year's inaugural Real, Wild, and Woody Beer Festival — but if you are, you'll have no trouble understanding what made it a knockout success. Organized by the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, this event gathered all the state's top breweries for a throwdown of epic proportions. Nearby brew houses brought a specialty cask or barrel-aged brew, which they released only at the event. It was a showcase of beers unlike any you've ever tasted before and which you're unlikely to have the chance to ever taste again. Add the fact that the festival went down indoors during the middle of summer — as opposed to during the busy fall and spring event seasons — and you've really won our hearts.

Culinary events tend to fall into one of two categories. There are fun events that center on enjoying great food and drink and educational events from which you walk away with a new understanding about a food-related topic. Arizona Cocktail Week is the first event we've been to that does a flawless job of accomplishing both. This relatively new festival offers a week of cocktail-centric events ranging from booze-filled parties to seminars with some of the nation's top drink experts. The lineup this year was better than ever, and we're only expecting things to continue improving as the event continues to grow. In the span of just a few days, we managed to triple our knowledge of spirits and got a good grasp of what's going on in the national cocktail scene. The only thing we'd change for our plans for next year is to book a room at the host hotel; spirit tasting is no joke.

We're all for adding color to Phoenix's largely beige landscape. Turns out, so is street artist Thomas "Breeze" Marcus. Breeze gathered similarly minded muralists to spend a weekend adding art to walls around Phoenix. In March, local and out-of-state creatives teamed up with businesses along Grand Avenue, Roosevelt Row, and Calle 16 to paint original pieces — with support in both paint and wall space from Calle 16's Barrio Cafe and The Hive, as well as artist JB Snyder's Fifth Street Paint Supply. Thanks to their combined efforts, new works went up all over the city. A couple of our favorites are La Muñeca's piece about families torn apart by deportations, at Dulcería Pico Rico, and a collaborative piece by Breeze, Dwayno Insano, and Vyal at Por Vida Gallery.

For pinball and vintage arcade fiends, ZapCon is a little like Christmas. Except better. Why? Well, for starters, it's a weekend-long convention dedicated to throwback gaming. For the second year in a row, ZapCon rounded up long-lost titles and covetable consoles for a weekend of button-mashing and joystick-wielding. With a lounge dedicated to the Atari console, super-rare games such as Turkey Shoot, and classics like Zaxxon, there were plenty of reasons to geek out over the event. The many tournaments, movie screenings, and prevailing sense of giddiness? That was the bow on top.

Talk is cheap. But Talking Stick? Well that all depends on your relationship with lady luck. Located on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation, this high-end hotel and casino is always humming with the sounds of slot machines, spilling poker chips and shouts suggest how each gambler's night is going. While many casino experiences can be defined with the words denial and depressing, Talking Stick manages to stay fresh, young, and surprisingly fun for a place that can make or break your personal piggy bank. With 24/7 access to more than 800 themed slot machines, over 50 tables for games like blackjack and Casino War, and the largest poker room in the state, getting your game on has never been so easy.

It was another banner year for Phoenix's premier comics convention. Phoenix Comicon hit a new record number of attendees. The grand total? That'd be 77,818. Yup, nearly 80,000 people turned up at the 'con's 2014 edition. We'd say a large part of that is thanks to the event's superb people-watching, a boatload of celebrity appearances, and the chance to connect with fellow geeks. A few of our favorite costumes spotted were a Benedict Cumberbatch-style Sherlock Holmes, Strongbad, and Dark Helmet. But just as entertaining were the many nerd-centric celebs in attendance — including John Barrowman of Doctor Who and Arrow fame, the cast of the 1960s Batman TV show (Julie Newmar!), and Chris Claremont, who's responsible for some of the most iconic X-Men storylines of all time. We'll stop geeking out now.

Presented by local ufology think tank Open Minds, the UFO Congress at Fort McDowell is a massive five-day event, incorporating movie screenings, lectures, and entertainment, all centered on the idea that we are not alone. Though the congress is primarily concerned with extraterrestrials, its guests are treated to information on all sorts of paranormal concerns, including bigfoots, ghosts, interdimensional portals — you name it — and someone at the UFO Congress probably wants to talk to you about it. Bringing in big names like Coast to Coast AM's George Noory and Travel Channel host Aaron Sagers, the conference appeals to the speculative nature of ufology, but hard science about microbial extraterrestrial life from former NASA astrobiologist Richard Hoover demonstrates that not everyone there is concerned with "little green men." You won't encounter more interesting people — anywhere in the Valley.

Every year, Modern Phoenix's home tour makes us see our Valley with new eyes. Organized by Alison King, the event opens buildings and homes that reveal elements of Phoenix's Midcentury Modern architecture that we wouldn't otherwise see. This year, for instance, the self-guided event took us through the consistently top-ranked Arcadia neighborhood, which stretches from Phoenix and into Scottsdale. Of particular note were residences designed by Al Beadle, one of which was undergoing massive renovation (that looked really promising), and one of the two homes ever designed by Paolo Soleri. Also eye-catching was a gem of a complex called Mockingbird Condominiums, located in Arcadia's garden apartment district.

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