Whether you prefer to immerse yourself in the holiday spirit or rebel against the trappings of the season, you’ll find your fun downtown with a few of Phoenix’s quirkier activities. Adults-only theater pushes the envelope with A Bloody Mary Christmas while unique Christmas light tours appeal to all ages, and puppetry and dance shows keep kids jolly.
Ballet Arizona offers the usual fairies and sugarplums at Symphony Hall with its spectacular, highly acclaimed production of The Nutcracker (through December 28), reinvented a few years ago by artistic director Ib Andersen. Tchaikovsky’s familiar music performed by The Phoenix Symphony can’t be beat, and a family four-pack includes parking, premium seats, a photo with the Sugarplum Fairy and hot cocoa.
If you prefer the music of a different Russian, try Snow Queen at Herberger Theater Center’s Stage West (through Dec. 21), choreographed by Frances Smith Cohen and presented by Center Dance Ensemble. Hans Christian Andersen’s tale comes to life with melodies by Sergei Prokofiev. Take a midday work break, buy or bring your lunch, and sample the Lunch Time Dance Theater option for only $6.
In addition to the occasional wickedly subversive 18+ puppet slam, Great Arizona Puppet Theater provides a steady stream of funny shows for children young and old. The Night Before Christmas (through December 28) features joyful music and stories.
For those who love cinema, FilmBar offers a glorious month full of movies in an intimate 70-seat venue with the added bonus of a beer and wine bar (alcohol with popcorn — what could be better?). December’s options include The Captive, The Babadook, Bad Santa and Free the Nipple (both on the Naughty & Nice Film Series), Awake: The Life of Yogananda, and the incomparable Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Foreign films include Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (El ángel exterminador) and Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le metro as a double feature. And don’t miss Opera at FilmBar — December 19 brings Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella) from the Gran Teatre del Liceu, starring a sparkling Joyce DiDonato and the yummy Juan Diego Flórez.
The calendar’s packed at Crescent Ballroom, where Cocina 10’s food and drink are complemented by the stories of Chow Bella’s Eating Christmas (December 16). For a canned food donation you’ll hear food-themed tales of holiday adventure (for ages 21 and older). Otherwise, try “Life’s a Drag. Party Like a Queen” (December 18) with interactive games, “Truth, Drag or Dare,” and drink specials all hosted by Olivia Gardens.
Phoenix Theatre serves a full plate of seasonal cheer with Holiday Classics From Screen to Stage (December 18-21), when Arizona Opera singers croon holiday favorites from films like Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, Love Actually, A Charlie Brown Christmas and more. Vocalist Dennis Rowland takes the stage with the Greg Warner Project and special guest Diana Lee for the Holiday Jazz Cabaret (December 22-24) and a range of Christmas classics. And you’re sure to have a jolly holiday with Mary Poppins (through December 28), an eye-popping fast-paced feast of color, song, dance, and special effects including Valley favorite Toby Yatso as a tap-dancing, levitating chimney sweep.
Back in the realm of adults-only entertainment, Space 55 pulls out all the stops for the fifth year of A Bloody Mary Christmas (through December 21), in which Sun City retirees sing, dance, and battle a heartless homeowners’ association. Set to original music by Dangerville and Samson Says, Bloody Mary showcases Toni Jourdan, Lee Quarrie, Paula McKenny and Bob Peters. 7 Minutes Under the Mistletoe (December 20) gives local performers their seven minutes in the sun with an opportunity to do whatever they want — interpretive dance, dinosaur burlesque, competitive doughnut eating, action figure battles…even naked stage magic. Who knows what you’ll see?
Other Space 55 shows include Storyline: A Winter’s Tale (December 19), part of a monthly storytelling showcase, and Resolutions! A new show for an old year (December 31), a good warm-up for your New Year’s Eve party or downtown’s Flannel Ball.
“Hip Historian” Marshall Shore brings a big yellow school bus to The Clarendon Hotel as the launch point for his Christmas Lights Tours (December 16, 18 & 23). “We cruise through Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa,” says Shore. “I curate for the most jaw-dropping displays that I can locate.” Join in the caroling and live music with your very own kazoo (provided), or sit back and enjoy Shore’s talents as a storyteller while you see commercial, private home and religious displays.
If you go:
- Ballet Arizona: The Nutcracker (through December 28)
- Center Dance Ensemble: Snow Queen (through December 21)
- at Herberger Theater Center’s Stage West, 222 E. Monroe
- visit centerdance.com or call 602-252-8497
- Great Arizona Puppet Theater: The Night Before Christmas (through December 28)
- in the GAPT’s lovely renovated historic 1929 LDS 2nd Ward Church, 302 W. Latham
- visit azpuppets.org or call 602-262-2050
- 815 N. 2nd St.
- visit thefilmbarphx.com or call 602-595-9187
- Crescent Ballroom and Cocina 10
- 308 N. 2nd Ave.
- visit crescentphx.com or call 602-716-2222
- Phoenix Theatre
- 100 E. McDowell Rd.
- visit phoenixtheatre.com or call 602-254-2151
- Space 55
- 636 E. Pierce St.
- visit space55.org
- “Hip Historian” Marshall Shore: Christmas Lights Tours (December 16, 18 & 23)
Schedules are subject to change. For more holiday diversions visit DowntownPhoenix.com:
Vacant lots fill 43% of the land in Phoenix. We’ve all seen them scattered up and down throughout downtown and we know the impact they can have.
On one such neglected site, however, an organic transformation has been slowly evolving over the last two years. PHX Renews, a program of Keep Phoenix Beautiful, has brought community members, nonprofits, and corporate partners together to transform a fallow 15-acre site on the northeast corner of E. Indian School Rd. and Central Ave. into a garden bursting with plant life. Once the site of the old Phoenix Indian School, the lot lies adjacent to, though not part of, Steele Indian School Park.
The mission of the PHX Renews program is to “find temporary uses for these lots that will beautify the city, while promoting sustainability and a sense of community.” With this simple mission, Tom Waldeck, the executive director of Keep Phoenix Beautiful and his staff, volunteers and supporters have created a beautifully diverse example of how to bring abundant, temporary life to these neglected spaces. The 15-acre lot is on lease from Baron Colliers Companies, with the agreement that anything and everything built on the site is temporary. When the time comes for it to be developed, everything can be moved. As Waldeck says, “When we do leave it will be like we were never here.”
The program was launched with two seed grants, including $100,000 from Wells Fargo, and $40,000 from the Steele Foundation. Currently the lot boasts a small farm run by the International Rescue Committee; 140 community garden plots; a temporary net neutral sustainable high tech house built in partnership with ASU; gardening demonstration areas run by various nonprofits; and a temporary dog park from PetSmart. The fence surrounding the site is adorned with temporary mural panels painted by local artists and community members. The temporary sustainable house has become the onsite office for Phoenix Renews and ASU will continue to use it for research connected to the onsite technology that was used in its construction. Hayden Flour Mill is using the site to grow a couple of acres of heat resistant white Sonoran wheat, which they supply to Chris Bianco. APS is working to create temporary black water solutions for the site, and various other groups present events and programs onsite.
The project continues to evolve. Most of the 15-acres is being utilized at this point and plans are in the works for various events, including an Earth Day Festival next April. There will be ongoing presentations, demonstrations and workshops to help people experience sustainable desert gardening, water conservation, composting, and other aspects of sustainable living. “Everything we do has to have an educational component,” said Waldeck. “We bring kids in for recycling, composting, etc.” Last March they hosted Bill and Chelsea Clinton for the Clinton Foundation’s 9th Annual Day of Action.
The program has been such a success that Keep Phoenix Beautiful has brought on a full-time project manager. Katie Poirer is a recent graduate of the sustainability program at ASU who got involved with PHX Renews originally as a volunteer. She works directly with community gardeners, helping with any problems and small maintenance issues, as well as working directly with organizations who are looking for ways to get involved.
The next time you’re in the area, stop in and walk around. You’re sure to see someone working on their garden plot, tilling a field, or leading a demonstration of some kind. Contact Katie and set a time to tour through the house. And keep in mind as you wander through the site that the whole miraculous blooming patch, up to and including the house, is temporary, and portable. When the time comes for construction on this lot, the whole shebang can be moved to thrive and bloom in another vacant corner of the city.
If you go:
What: PHX Renews, a temporarily activated, 15-acre sustainability experience
Where: Northeast corner of E. Indian School Rd. and Central Ave. (No public parking on site. Park in the Steele Indian School Park lot and walk out and around to the entrance on Central, or take light rail to the Indian School and Central Station and cross to the entrance on Central.)
When: Open seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. For more information or to set up a time to see the house, call 602-262-4820, or visit PHX Renews.
Admission: There is no cost to visit the site.
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The Yard Gets its Groove on to Host Second Annual YardStock Music Festival
Mid-year music fest hosted in partnership with McDowell Mountain Music Festival
You don’t have to wait until March to take in McDowell Mountain Music Festival’s “Party for the People” because The Yard in Phoenix is offering music lovers an exclusive preview at its second annual YardStock Music Festival from 3:30 – 11 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18.
The free festival, which is being hosted by The Yard’s Culinary Dropout and Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend in partnership with McDowell Mountain Music Festival and Deschutes Brewery, will feature one and a half-hour sets from some of the Valley’s best local artists.
The lineup is as follow:
- 3:30 – 5 p.m. Black Bottom Lighters
- 5 – 6:30 p.m. The Hourglass Cats
- 6:30 – 8 p.m. Bryan Hawkesworth & Sydney Collins
- 8 – 9:30 p.m. Gus Campbell
- 9:30 – 11 p.m. Carvin Jones
A portion of proceeds from each Deschutes beer sold during the event will be donated to McDowell Mountain Music Festival, the only 100 percent non-profit music festival in Arizona, and ultimately its designated charities including Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation and UMOM New Day Center.
Guests can enjoy the music while dining at Culinary Dropout or Little Cleo’s, and take part in backyard-style games including cornhole, ping-pong, and shuffleboard. The Yard encourages locals to pedal their way into YardStock and utilize one of the provided bike racks.
The Yard is located at 5632 N. Seventh St. in Phoenix. Visit www.foxrc.com or call 602-680-4040 for more details.
Images courtesy of Fox Restaurant Concepts.
The aroma of fresh baked bread from Aaron Chamberlin’s uptown restaurant, St. Francis, entices pedestrians as they pass along the street. St. Francis opened near the corner of Camelback Road and Central Avenue in 2009 and the name honors the Phoenix neighborhood’s 1936 land deed, as well as the streets of San Francisco that inspired it. Chef-owner Aaron Chamberlin’s enthusiasm for urban life and love for the area’s historic charm has created a convivial, light-filled space with window walls open to the street and curbside patios, at once intimate and communal.
A custom wood-burning oven takes center stage in the open arena style kitchen, baking up to 90 San Francisco style sourdough loaves a day. Its local mesquite wood infused flavor accents nearly all the dishes on the menu, from roasted meats, locally sourced vegetables, to the artisanal flatbreads. The rustic oven acts as the restaurant’s hearth, encouraging friends and strangers to gather together to break bread.
Chamberlin admits his expertise at cooking with fire was developed long before his professional career. “I love to cook with fire. I was in the Boy scouts, made Eagle Scout, and my skill for wood burning started with those campfires. The experience shaped me.” His talent for mastering the art of the flame has garnered acclaim in such national publications as Condé Nast Traveler, Food & Wine and Sunset magazine.
A local boy, Chamberlin left home at 19 to earn his chef’s whites in the culinary capitals of San Francisco, New York and Boston. He spent nearly a decade on the road and in the kitchens of such famed and exacting chefs as Michel Richard, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Nancy Oakes.
He returned home with serious fine dining credentials, a deft touch for bread making and a taste for the urban vibrancy of those cities: small cafes, independent book sellers, corporate offices, family run groceries, and pop-up art galleries all sharing the same sidewalk. “When I moved back home,” says Chamberlin, “I grabbed a map and zeroed in on what I thought was the center of town – Central and Camelback. I was looking for that vibe. But nine years ago it was still waiting to happen.”
He kept his eye on the area and over time he began to notice independent business owners opening up shop and felt that something was in the air, the wait was over. He searched until he found the right building to create the kind of restaurant he envisioned for the neighborhood and city he wanted to live in. The 1955 modernist classic at 111 Camelback Road had the right ingredients: good bones and curb appeal. “Before we started to remodel,” he says, “I took [noted local architect) Wendell Burnette on a trip to San Francisco.” They toured all of Chamberlin’s favorite haunts, dives and cafes sampling their essence in taste and smell. And they walked historic neighborhoods studying the dynamism of buildings, their curbs and the streets.
“I wanted that feeling of a real city, to see and be seen,” says Chamberlin, “for our restaurant to have a role in the street life. I was told I was crazy to do that. But I am not afraid to put tables and seating on the sidewalk. I lived in an alley in San Francisco for years and loved it. I want people to drive by, walk past, look in and want to be a part of it.”
An urban vibe, front porch charm and a merit badge worthy kiln. Chamberlin gently kneaded these ingredients into a sophisticated gathering place to share in the simple, nourishing ritual of breaking bread.
In May, 2013, Chamberlin’s fire-making skills and talent for creating a fresh, eclectic menu with wide appeal led him to open the Phoenix Public Market Cafe, at Pierce Street and Central Avenue in the Evans Churchill neighborhood downtown. Its central location, full bar, spacious tables, covered patio, and casual menu that features breakfast, lunch, and dinner items, has created another popular “see and be seen” gathering spot. In addition to the cafe, the Public Market parking lot is home to Food Truck Friday, a lunch time food truck gathering each week, along with an open air farmer’s market every Wednesday evening and Saturday morning. Just like a yeasty loaf of sourdough bread, Chamberlin’s dream of restaurants with a role in the city’s street life, is rising. Smell the deliciousness.
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CITY OF PHOENIX AND PHOENIX COMMUNITY ALLIANCE TEAM UP FOR “LIGHTS ON CENTRAL AVENUE” SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITY
The city of Phoenix and Phoenix Community Alliance have teamed up to encourage community sponsorships to continue “Lights on Central Avenue,” a Phoenix tradition of displaying lighted holiday decorations along Central Avenue, from Camelback Road to Baseline Avenue. During recent years, funding has diminished and community support is vital to continue this tradition.
“One of my favorite memories as a child is when my family would take my mother’s yellow station wagon and drive down Central Avenue to look at the holiday lights. Learning that the holiday lights may not be a possibility due to funding was heartbreaking. I am hopeful others in our community enjoy this tradition as much as I do and together we can keep this tradition alive,” said Councilman Michael Nowakowski, District 7.
Each sponsor will be recognized with a banner(s) featuring the organization/business name and logo to be displayed along Central Avenue, along with recognition in the city’s “At Your Service” newsletter, distributed via the city’s water bill, and on Councilman Nowakowski’s PHXTV show, among other recognition. Sponsorship opportunities cover specific portions of Central Avenue, and start at $1,800.
For more information on this sponsorship opportunity, please visit phoenix.gov/rfp and click on the “Lights on Central RFS” link. Statement of interest forms must be submitted no later than 2 p.m. Arizona time on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. For specific questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 602-262-7654. Question and answer deadline is 5 p.m. Aug. 8.
Photo courtesy of Jack London.