Best Cultural Podcast 2019 | Limited Engagement | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Jared Duran's independent podcast hit the 100-episode milestone this year. He marked the occasion by interviewing Wilco's Nels Cline before the guitarist took the stage at the Musical Instrument Museum. Duran's passion for the performer's craft showed throughout the episode, but his natural curiosity isn't limited to the touring musicians he now interviews on a regular basis. The conversations aren't a one-way street, either. He is genuinely intrigued by what fuels the inspiration for the local writers, artists, and influencers who talk to him. Much like Marc Maron, who is Duran's inspiration, he's not afraid to bring his insecurity and neuroses to the show, which is what keeps Phoenix coming back week after week.

KWSS is the local radio station that could. The independently owned operation, which can be found at 93.9 on your FM dial, has been broadcasting choice selections of indie and alternative rock across Valley airwaves 24/7 for the past 14 years. And it's earned a listenership and fanbase while doing so. The station's success, however, hasn't been powered by the backing of a multimillion-dollar media conglomerate, well-monied sponsors, or wide-reaching advertising campaigns. Instead, KWSS has survived and thrives thanks to the tireless efforts of its small but passionate staff, including Dani Cutler, Jay Cairo, Dubs Witma, and owner Frank Magarelli. They put together the station's playlists (which include deep cuts, rarities, and old-school alt-rock and indie tracks, not to mention music from emerging and established local bands), host daily and weekly shows, and handle other behind-the-scenes duties. KWSS is also the only place in the Valley you can hear esteemed radio personality Jonathan L. broadcast audio oddities via his legendary Lopsided World of L program, as well as the sort of tunes that aren't on other local rock stations. In a landscape dominated by giants of the airwaves, KWSS stands a bit taller than the rest.

The Show airs every weekday morning on KJZZ/91.5 FM starting at 9, and it's a blend of local news, politics, interviews, commentary, and analysis, all of it with general appeal. Catch up on the latest news, or learn something about a subject you might never have expected, like the Valley's culinary scene. One of the best elements of The Show is its in-depth interviews, which dig behind the headlines to explore the how and why of something, rather than just the what. Hosts Lauren Gilger, Steven Goldstein, and Mark Brodie are calm, effective presences — nothing like the bombastic hosts you'd be apt to skip on other radio stations. They step in at just the right times to direct the conversation, ask a question, or inject levity and character into a discussion. But what really makes The Show is its local focus, the sense that it is a program very much by and for people who live in and care about the Valley of the Sun.

Phoenix has become a hotspot for storytelling over the last few years. Folks like Liz Warren, Dan Hull, and Rachel Egboro have been organizing events and spreading the gospel of yarn-spinning across the Valley. The storytelling community in Arizona is large yet tight-knit: Go to a handful of shows, and you're bound to see a few regular faces like Joy Young bring the house down with their heartfelt and hysterical stories. In addition to being a storyteller, Young (who uses they/them pronouns) is a poet, juggler, and occasional zinemaker. Their years of experience doing poetry slams have given them major stage chops, which is part of the reason why Young is so compelling to watch and listen to. They have a natural ease on stage; listening to them talk on the mic feels as intimate as sitting in a friend's kitchen while they tell you all about what they did last night. But in a field crowded with dynamic personalities, Young stands out for their willingness to experiment. Young brings their circus training to bear during storytelling shows, making juggling, balloon animals, and other fun sideshow flourishes a part of their work.

Storyteller and Zen monk Dan Hull founded this monthly storytelling event in 2011. It's held at The Newton, which houses First Draft Book Bar, and continues to showcase speakers who consistently bring humor, grace, and humility to their stories. Every month, speakers tell personal tales that need only adhere to an ample time limit and whatever the chosen theme is for that evening. Audience members are selected at random to award a score to each speaker at the end of their story. This is a fun and useful way not only to determine each month's winner (to whom goes a grand prize of $30), but with cheers and good-natured jeers, it ends up involving the entire audience. Accompanied by a beverage from First Draft's surprisingly impressive wine and craft beer list, this affair is a perfect way to learn about your fellow Phoenicians through the timeless tradition of storytelling.

It seems like every comic book artist in town has a crowdfunding campaign to fund his or her latest work. Some meet their goals. Most don't. Then, there's the case of Nick Cagnetti's Pink Lemonade from It's Alive! Press. There's something about the titular nomadic heroine he created that makes comic fans open their wallets and exceed the campaign's goals. It could be the sleek '60s vibe that oozes out of each colorful, Jack Kirby-inspired panel, or the wonder that informs the character's worldview. You can order the first issue in October, but do yourself a favor and check out Cagnetti's previous work online. The time is coming when the Valley artist won't have to crowdfund his dreams much longer.

Most people picture poets as lonely sorts isolated from the world around them, living in a perpetual dreamlike state with little regard for reality. But Rashaad Thomas crashes through that stereotype, creating works that amplify the breadth and depth of racism past and present. Thomas often does public poetry readings, sharing works that range from comforting to deeply unsettling. They're a clarion call to conscience, urging people to work for change in their communities rather than settling for the status quo or supporting systems of oppression. He's particularly gifted in blending the personal with the political, creating poetry that's both profoundly challenging and accessible.

A skilled athlete as well as an author, poet Natalie Diaz imbues her works with movement and physicality, opening windows for the world onto her own experiences as a queer indigenous woman, but also the wider context of colonialism past and present. Diaz is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community whose passions include revitalizing indigenous language. Her first poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, was published in 2012. Her second collection, Postcolonial Love Poem, will be published in 2020. Diaz holds the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Poetry at Arizona State University, where she teaches as well. She's also a 2018 MacArthur Fellow. You'll often find her doing readings around town or collaborating with other creatives, proving there's always another path to share or window to throw open.

On December 9, the citizens of the world take a deep breath to forget their troubles and celebrate the only holiday that matters: Ja Rule Day. We have Anwar Newton to thank for this special occasion, which the rapper has acknowledged every year since its inception in 2016 (when he isn't fielding questions about his role in the Fyre Festival). The Valley comedian is also one half of the team that produces This Week Sucks Tonight, which relocated to Stand Up Live earlier this year. His Twitter account frequently fires shots at everything nerd culture holds dear, from Marvel movies to Game of Thrones. Phoenix will eventually have to create a day to honor Newton. Until it does, let's have a laugh.

One thing that remains imperative to comics, no matter where they're from or what style of comedy they perform, is the overall feel of the room. Many things play a role in what makes a room especially conducive to a great performance, like size, acoustics, and seating layout. Stand Up Live, at CityScape in downtown Phoenix, is one of those special rooms; you can deduce this from the high-profile comedians who are booked there year-round. The stage is perfectly set like a U-shaped tongue sticking out into the crowd, just far enough to feel personal while never seeming crowded or cramped. Whether the room is sold out for a comedy A-lister or the front section is filled with local comedy connoisseurs on a Thursday evening to see what antics will ensue in This Week Sucks Tonight, the energy at Stand Up Live is always ripe for laughter.

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