Best First Friday Hangout 2022 | Grand Avenue | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

When First Friday rolls around, you only have a few hours to take in the city's creative side, whether you're looking for art exhibits, culinary fare, or ways to shop local. Grand Avenue is the place to be, because it's a walkable area filled with galleries, eateries, artist studios, and creative spaces where you can show off your local love. Outdoor art installations from murals to trees that have been yarn-bombed and decorated with playful plush animals make great backdrops for selfies or photos with your crew, and you never know when you might stumble on someone demonstrating skills like making a glass bong or using a vintage printing press — or get the chance to talk with one of Phoenix's amazing artists. Grand Avenue is the perfect place to hang with friends, take out-of-towners, or meet some fellow creative folk who share your love of all things quirky and off the beaten path.

Some remarkable things happened in 1922. Beloved comedic actress Betty White was born. Haribo invented the gummy bear. And the radio station KTAR was launched right here in Phoenix, making this its centennial year. It's changed owners and buildings through the years, but continued to deliver the news every day, keeping Phoenicians informed about politics, sports, culture, crime, education, the great outdoors, and so much more. In a day and age marked by fake news (and fake accusations of fake news), we take comfort in knowing this staple of the local news scene is still going strong, with broadcasts and podcasts that both enlighten and entertain.

Monique "Mo!" Rodriguez stands out from other on-air talents working the Valley radio dial — and not just because of her vibrantly colored hair. The Alt AZ 93.3 midday host is more charming and engaging than other local jocks, her jokes are funnier, and her quirky, self-effacing personality feels genuine. Between songs, her segments aren't filled with mindless chatter, as Mo! dishes on geeky topics during her "Nerdgasm News" segments or plugs upcoming shows by local bands. Her support for Phoenix's music scene doesn't end there. On weekends, she provides airplay to local artists during her Homegrown with Mo! show every Sunday evening, or occasionally can be found hosting events such as this year's Phoenix Rock Lottery at Crescent Ballroom or DJing at The Rebel Lounge's LGBTQ-themed Emo Pride Night. In an age when many DJs are just corporate radio automatons who just shill the latest hits, Mo! is a personality with a pulse and a passion for her city, on or off the air.

Aching to ogle at Arizona's craziest candidates ahead of November's general election? Pining for a preview of the Arizona Cardinals' season debut against the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs? Talk radio veteran Bill Brady says, "Why not both?" The Bill Brady Show airs every weekday afternoon from 5 to 7 p.m. on 1100 AM radio, so tune in on your drive home from work and enrich your day with what he calls "a return to common sense commentary." His instantly recognizable voice has graced the ears of Valley residents during interviews with everyone from CIA directors to sports greats such as NFL quarterback Johnny Unitas and boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. Most recently, Brady has taken in-depth dives with the Arizona Wildcats, state candidates including Adrian Fontes, and even New York Governor Mario Cuomo.

Journalists are used to taking their lumps. Many save hate mail as a badge of honor and a story to swap over beers. GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake's beef with Brahm Resnik, KPNX-Channel 12's host of the Sunday Square Off talk show, is something categorically different. It came to a head a year ago when Lake held a rally to stomp on a COVID mask for the cameras. Resnik tried to get a question in; Lake ducked it and called Resnik a traitor and accused him, for the cameras, of refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. After she aired an ad during Sunday Square Off making the same bogus claims, Resnik invited her for a sit-down interview at any time. (He's still waiting.) Historical note: Many of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were publishers, and it's no coincidence that the first addition to the Bill of Rights established freedom of the press. In that tradition, Resnik has carried on doing his job, not stooping into the gutter, and calling bullshit on political nonsense in Arizona, of which there is an ample supply. Enemy of democracy? Try guardian of it.

The bright lights of Broadway are about 2,500 miles northeast of here. But we don't miss the Great White Way so much when we're sitting in the audience at ASU Gammage. The 3,000-seat auditorium is the last building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright — he based it on a design he made for a Baghdad, Iraq, opera house that was never built. After decades of attending shows there, we're convinced there's not a bad seat in the house. ASU Gammage is the only place in town that's shown the blockbuster musical Hamilton, and it's usually the first one of the local theaters to get Broadway hits such as Come From Away and Frozen when they begin their national tours. Add in tasty themed cocktails for every show, plenty of parking, and great dining options near its Tempe location, and you've got a script for a perfect night out at the theater.

It's a scenario most of us can't even fathom (unless we're Alexander Hamilton or Carole King): seeing our life story turned into a successful musical. But the life of Tony Valdovinos, an Arizona man who tried to join the Marines and discovered that he was an undocumented immigrant, brought to the U.S. at the age of 2, captivated local audiences when it came to the stage at The Phoenix Theatre Company as ¡Americano! in 2020, directed by Phoenix Theatre's producing artistic director Michael Barnard. Then came the big news: ¡Americano! was headed east to Off-Broadway, where it opened at New World Stages in May. It ran until mid-June and attracted attention from everyone from former President Barack Obama to Broadway darling Lin-Manuel Miranda while highlighting the struggles of DREAMers such as Valdovinos, those individuals who seek citizenship and acceptance in the only home most of them can remember. Bravo.

It's hard to shake the stereotype that ballet is boring, but there was no doubt that ballet can be bold and beautiful as dancers with Ballet Arizona took to the stage to perform Juan Gabriel, a work choreographed by the company's artistic director, Ib Andersen. The full-length ballet perfectly embodied the flamboyant spirit of this iconic Mexican performer through movement, music, and costume design. Latinos have deep roots in Phoenix, and soon they'll comprise the majority of people living in the greater Phoenix community, so we love the way that Andersen is leaning into Latino culture, creating work that embraces and celebrates its vibrancy and impact.

It's easy to take the beauty of the Sonoran Desert for granted, surrounded as we are by its alluring textures, colors, and sounds. When Ballet Arizona performed Ib Andersen's Round at Desert Botanical Garden, we were thrilled to be reminded of all its bounties. Andersen exquisitely choreographed this site-specific work to make the desert itself the set, and the sky a dazzling lighting element that shifted over time as the sunset delivered a vast array of pastel and fiery hues. Everything about the piece, including its compelling movement, embodied the complex ecology of the desert. We loved having an excuse to sit under the stars and do a bit of wining and dining while witnessing this collaboration between nature, artistry, and community.

The best storytelling has a visceral, authentic quality that grips all those who experience it. That's exactly what happened at Tempe Center for the Arts, when Teatro Bravo presented a short play called Memorial created by Antonio Miniño, a Caribbean genderqueer artist based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Collaborators including theater and visual artists explored the stories of children and families in U.S. detention centers, while centering the memories and relationship of one particular mother and daughter. But instead of storytelling through a traditional, staged production, they coupled tales of migrant journeys and experiences with powerful works of visual art that viewers encountered as they wandered through the space. The experimental mix of culture and creativity reverberated with the power of present, future, and past.

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