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Josh Turner

Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino has announced a new date for the twice-delayed Josh Turner concert while having to cancel another popular act.

Turner’s show was first scheduled at the casino’s Event Center last fall but was postponed after one of Turner’s crewmember was killed in a traffic accident during the tour. Turner, singer of Long Black Train and Hometown Girl, is noted for his country and gospel music. Re-scheduled for March 27, the concert was again postponed when Harrah’s Ak-Chin closed its doors during COVID-19.

Now Turner’s concert has been scheduled for Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. Tickets for the original date will be valid for the rescheduled dates. Refunds are available at the point of purchase for ticket buyers unable to attend the new date.

Flogging Molly, on the other hand, postponed its March 13 show date but now has canceled that concert. Refunds are available. A renowned creator of Celtic punk, the band is currently touring Europe.

Photo by Kyle Norby

A Maricopa group of teen dancers choreographed by a high school student won an Arizona High School Musical Theatre award.

A rousing portion of Maricopa High School’s February production of “Newsies” this year, the “Seize the Day” troupe won the Best Dance Ensemble award, announced Saturday in a virtual ceremony.

The show was choreographed by then-junior Taya Johnson, a member of both the drama and dance sections of the Performing Arts Department at MHS. She brought both worlds together to create a capering gang of New York newsboys.

“This is my first time choreographing a whole show, which has always been a dream of mine,” Johnson said during rehearsals, “because I’m taking my two favorite things – it’s dance and it’s acting together – so that’s really fun.”

“Newsies” leans heavily on energetic dancing. When director Alexandra Stahl gave Johnson the reins as her student choreographer, Taya went down the hall of the MHS Performing Arts Center to recruit her fellow dancers.

In the production, the dancers, led by senior Riley Bell, mostly played extras until the music started and then moved seamlessly through the actors to front and center. The actors, most with little dance experience, did not hide behind the dancers but learned and executed Johnson’s choreography for a unified performance.

The show itself was a top-five finalist out of 15 high school productions. Chandler High School’s “All Shook Up” to the trophy. Nine other schools were unable to stage their musicals before coronavirus closed schools for the year.

“Newsies” had finalists in six categories.

Cat Klinzing and her son, Jacob, play games on Friday morning during the reopening of the UltraStar Multi-tainment Complex. Photos by Kyle Norby

As the first customer through the doors Friday morning at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center, four-year-old Jacob Klinzing was headed to play games in the arcade.

With a card loaded up by his mother, Cat, he was ready to play the Walking Dead video game and skeeball.

The Klinzings, who live in Acacia Crossing, were one of several families who visited UltraStar as the entertainment complex reopened after being closed for two months to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The complex welcomed a handful of bowlers, diners and others with procedures in place to safeguard the health of patrons and employees, including physical distancing, sanitizer stations and matching face masks for workers.

“When I said we were going out, he was so excited, grabbing his shoes,” said Klinzing, who said her family had been “really good” following Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order, which expires today. She said she had been particularly careful about her son’s health, staying at home and out of the grocery store, for example.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel safe,” she said.

At the Ten Pins Down bowling center, the first two bowlers to check in at the counter – under an electronic sign that said “We’ve Missed You!” – immediately reached for the hand sanitizer.

Peggy Whitaker, 66, and her husband, Jeff, 64, wore masks on their faces as they prepared to bowl after a long hiatus. They had their lane for an hour.

The Whitakers, who live in Cobblestone Farms, said they typically bowl 3-4 times weekly and play in leagues at UltraStar.

Peggy Whitaker bowling
Peggy Whitaker of Maricopa chats with an employee on Friday morning at the bowling alley at UltraStar.

“This is wonderful,” Peggy said. “It opened just in time. It’s a great time to come.”

Still, they were taking necessary precautions. “We are taking care of ourselves,” she said.

But she added that others remained concerned about being out and about during the pandemic.

“All the women I know are scared to death, because they are in my age bracket,” she said.

Peggy was especially looking forward to rolling the ball again – with her left arm.

A natural lefty kegler, she had replacement surgery on that shoulder 18 months ago, and spent much of her rehabilitation bowling instead with her right arm. On Friday, she was ready to try out the new shoulder.

“It’s going to be fun,” she said.

Alyssa and Mili Kajtaz saw the reopening as an opportunity to get their two young sons out of their Maricopa Meadows home.

Bentley Kajtaz, 8, bowls at UltraStar on Friday.

“We thought we would let the kids have some fun,” said Mili, father of Bentley, 8, and Liam, 6, as they prepared to bowl. “I love the bowling alley,” the younger boy said.

The family stayed home during the governor’s order and the boys had “no interaction with anybody,” Mili said.

In the 347 Grill, which was greeting diners after being closed since mid-March, the Charli and Nick Kaltved were celebrating their son, Kekoa, 11, for Student of the Month honors at Pima Butte Elementary School. Two of their six grandchildren, Matt and Jake, were helping them celebrate.

As the Maricopa family – with face masks in their pockets – waited for lunch to arrive at their table, Nick said he and his wife have been working essential jobs through the stay-at-home order. They prioritize their family’s safety, he said.

Earlier this morning, gamblers lined up for the reopening at the adjacent Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino.

As a television chopper overhead broadcast live images, a couple hundred people waited in the sun for the doors to open at 9 a.m.

Asked what brought her to Harrah’s to wait in line, Liz Taylor of the Phoenix area responded quickly: “Gambling.”

“We haven’t been able to gamble since March 17,” her friend, JoEllen Geary, added.

When the doors finally opened, the crowd cheered.

Harrah's Ak-Chin reopening
A line of gamblers waits for the doors to open on Friday morning at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino, which was closed two months ago to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Gamblers at Harrah’s will play slots and blackjack on a casino floor reconfigured to promote  social distancing. Banks of slot machines have been arranged to keep players at least six feet from one another, the casino had said earlier. There will be limited seating at blackjack tables.

Other protocol includes hand-sanitizing stations available throughout the casino floor, masks for all employees and increased cleaning service.

The vast majority of gamblers waiting to enter the casino did not wear face masks.

The resort and hotel tower guest rooms will open Friday evening.

Not all amenities will be open, including The Poker Room, Keno and Bingo. Some venues remain closed as well, including the Events Center, Valet and the Spa and Fitness Center.

Some casino eateries will be open with social-distancing protocols in place, including Chop Block & Brew, Agaves, Copper Cactus and Dunkin Donuts.

The Kaltved Family celebrates Friday with lunch at the 347 Grill. The restaurant and some other attractions at UltraStar were open for business.

The Events Center at Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino

The Events Center at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino is reworking its entertainment schedule as COVID-19 has caused cancellations and postponements of several shows.

Here is the current status of scheduled events.

Josh Turner will be rescheduling his performance, but no date has been determined. It is the second time he has had to reschedule at The Events Center after a previous date was postponed due to the death of a crewmember. More information will be provided as soon as it is available. Ticketholders should retain their tickets until a new date is announced.

The Gary Allan show, scheduled for April 3, has been rescheduled to Friday, Oct. 9. Tickets for the original date will be valid for the rescheduled date. Refunds available at the point of purchase for those ticket buyers unable to attend the new date.

Chris D’Elia has been rescheduled to Saturday, Nov. 28. Updated Presale/On Sale timeline is to follow once available, as this show is not yet on sale.

Rob Lowe: Stories I Only Tell My Friends LIVE, scheduled for May 22, has been postponed. More information will be provided as soon as it is available. Ticketholders should retain their tickets until a new date is announced.

The Kevin James show, scheduled for May 30, has been cancelled due to the current COVID-19 crisis. All tickets for the May 30 show have been automatically refunded from the original point of sale.

Ken Jeong, scheduled for July 10, has been postponed. More information will be provided as soon as it is available. Ticketholders should retain their tickets until a new date is announced.

Martina McBride, scheduled for June 12, has been postponed. More information will be provided as soon as it is available. Ticketholders should retain their tickets until a new date is announced.

Zoie Zimpleman (student at MHS) playing Luck in "Tavern in the Woods."

What: Little Tavern in the Woods premiere
When: April 3, 6 p.m.
Where: Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center
How much: $5/door; MHS students and staff can purchase pre-sale tickets during lunch.
Info: @littletaverninthewoods (Official Instagram Account) 

Transforming itself from a generic student club to a movie studio, 804 Film Co. is ready to premiere its horror short film Little Tavern in the Woods.

The Maricopa High School students who comprise 804 Film Co. plan a special event April 3 at the Performing Arts Center.


“We’re calling it ‘the Little Tavern in the Woods experience,’” said the club’s co-president, Kaden Rogers, who also directed and co-wrote the film and assisted in the editing.

They plan to create a creepy “Haunted House” feel to the foyer of the PAC before the audience moves into the theater.

“We’re going to make every single second of it entertaining,” Rogers said. “Once you step out of your car, you’re entertained by us.”

He sums up the plot as “human taxidermy.” The owners of a Wisconsin tavern that has been bypassed by society stew in their anger until they come up with a psychopathic way to get customers back in the tavern.

Only one member of the club is in the cast – Zoie Zimpleman plays the granddaughter of the tavern owners, Desert Wind teacher Joe Szoltysik and Butterfield Elementary teacher Liz Zimpleman. Volunteers Kristi Lawrence and Charlie Rogers play a pair of hikers who come across the tavern.

Many of the students in 804 Film Co. were part of the cast and crew of Kindness Equals Calm, which won the student-film awards at Show Low Film Fest and Copa Shorts Film Fest two years ago. Their success inspired them to form a student club when they advanced to high school.

When they received grant funding, their movie-making took off.

“We re-named, re-chartered and basically restarted,” Kaden Rogers said.

804 Film Co. members (from left) Joseph Abel, Kaden Rogers, Lexie Nordhoff, Bailey Rigby, Jaylene Shavers and Audrey Duguay. Submitted photo

They named the film company after the classroom where it all started. They now have about 14 members. The grants gave them access to new equipment and best practices in sound, lighting and camerawork.

“Wanted it to be more like a movie studio,” Rogers said. “We wanted to function like any production company would function. We wanted it to be more professional in a production sense.”

The result was a student-film-club version of a producer in the person of Lexie Nordhoff, who is co-president.

“Initially, I joined film club because I wanted to be more involved on campus, and I had friends who were part of it,” Nordhoff said. “Though I had little knowledge of the film-making process, I always found interest in areas such as advertisement and business.”

Rogers says he comes to her with creative ideas, and she takes the production reins and tells him what the club can and cannot do. That allows the students to operate more like a business than as a club.

“Months later, as one of the club’s co-presidents, I have discovered and further explored my passion for leadership and helping others,” Nordhoff said.

Kristi Lawrence playing Faith in “Tavern in the Woods.”

The idea for Little Tavern in the Woods came from a short story Szoltysik wrote years ago as a transrealism exercise. He and Rogers brought it to the club members as an idea for a film plot, and everyone had equal say in how it would go forward.

That started in January 2019.

Joseph Abel, secretary of the club, is the director of photography and was the one who had to learn to work with the new equipment. Denver Bryant was primary editor, and Bailey Rigby was assistant director.

(L-R: Denver Bryant, Jaylene Shavers, Brenna Fulton, Lexie Nordhoff, Kaden Rogers, Joseph Abel)

While their previous film production often ran off the cuff, “This one was very mapped out, with shot lists and schedules, because we had a lot more people involved. It was a very big group effort,” Rogers said.

They built a set in the gym of Desert Wind Middle School, thanks to volunteer Steven Hull, and shot during fall break and on weekends. They also shot on location at Lynx Lake.

“Pontowoc Lake” AKA Lynx Lake in Prescott, Cast and crew traveled there for an on-location shoot

When they worried they did not have enough funds to complete the set, they started a GoFundMe account and met their goal within a day as friends and family pooled $650 for supplies.

They would like to get back on the festival circuit and later release it on YouTube for free.

“We don’t really care if we’re making money from it; we just want people to watch it,” Rogers said.

The film starts at 6 p.m. and runs less than an hour. Tickets are $5 at the door.

“Little Tavern In The Woods” set built by volunteer Steve Hull. Submitted photo

Photos by Kyle Norby

Showing off the theatrical, dance and musical talents of nearly 100 students, Maricopa High School Theatre Company won in its opening-night performance of “Newsies.”

The cast and crew were joined by a dance troupe from the school’s Performing Company as well as MHS orchestra members in a robust production that continues Friday and Saturday. The addition of full-length dance numbers that involved most of the cast was particularly invigorating in its choreography by junior Taya Johnson and its execution.

With songs by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman and a book by Harvey Fierstein, MHS Theatre Company is tackling a Broadway hit inspired by real-life events in 1899 New York. The show demands high energy, and the performers deliver.

Emma Schrader as the central character Jack doesn’t have to carry the entire production, being surrounded by so many gifted performers, but she could. While she has to act, sing and dance, she must cross genders and affect the New York accent of a street tough, all at the same time. She has to pull that off for the show to work, and she definitely does.

As the softer-spoken Davey, Joey Russoniello has some occasion to expose his superior singing voice, as does Haley Raffaele, who plays the spunky reporter Katherine and does a fine job manufacturing chemistry with Schrader. Speaking of vocals, Lindsey Coms has a great solo as Medda Larkin.

Derek Blakely is a weasely Joseph Pulitzer, the bad guy of the piece, who isn’t seen much but leaves an impression. The company’s many reliable character actors like Julie Goodrum, Jae Luna and Princess Jimenez bring a lot of life and color to the production.

Riley Bell and the dance crew shine every time they are on stage, and what’s more remarkable is the level of dance performance by the actors to allow them to meld seamlessly as one performing unit.

A tip of the hat to music conductor Ivan Pour and the MHS orchestra keeping it real under the stage.

Showtimes are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday as well.

A portion of the cast of "Newsies" in rehearsal. Photo by Kyle Norby

What: Newsies
Who: MHS Theatre Company
When: Feb. 27-29, 7 p.m.; Feb. 29, 2 p.m.
How much: $12 adults; $10 students

In 1899, newsboys across New York City went on strike, refusing to sell the New York Evening World or the Evening Journal after Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hurst raised prices the boys had to pay for a bundle. The boys forced the media magnates into a compromise deal. True story.

This month, Maricopa High School Theatre Company is staging the musical Newsies based on that influential boycott.

“It’s about the 1899 newsboy strike. So, there’s people that you know – Joseph Pulitzer, real person; Teddy Roosevelt, real person,” said MHS Theatre Director Alexandra Stahl. “It’s about kids overcoming injustice.”

Newsies started as a Disney musical starring Christian Bale in 1992, a movie that struggled to get noticed despite a score by Alan Menkin and Jack Feldman. Twenty years later, it was converted to Broadway and was a big hit, running for 1,004 performances and winning a Tony Award for its score.

In the musical, leading the strike is the rough-and-tumble Jack Kelly, based on the real-life Kid Blink. While many of the supporting roles are gender-neutral, Jack has fairly steadfastly been portrayed by a male actor, until now.

“I didn’t even imagine that I could get this role. I was shooting for Davey,” said junior Emma Schrader, who played Golda in last year’s Fiddler on the Roof. “It’s the first time I walked out of an audition feeling good about how I performed. Then callbacks came out, and I got called back to play Jack. And I thought, ‘That was not even a possibility in my book.’”

Because the part involves a kiss – “They made it very clear that it had to be a stage kiss” – Stahl took the issue to Principal Brian Winter, who told her to cast the kid who most deserves it.

“Emma came in and blew our socks off,” Stahl said. “Every day since, she has proved that was the right choice. And Haley was always going to be Katherine.”

Emma Schrader and Jae Luna rehearse from atop the set. Photo by Kyle Norby

Haley Raffaele, a sophomore, plays a newspaper reporter for the New York Sun. “She gets tangled up in the newsie drama when she meets Jack Kelly,” she said. “She’s kind of follows their story and helps them out. she really ends up caring about all these boys and wanting to bring their story to light and help them figure out this problem.”

Raffaele played the lead in Maricopa Community Theatre’s Freaky Friday The Musical last year. For the school musical, she has worked to find connection with Katherine.

“She’s special character. I love her,” she said, but she’s also discovered the challenges of “balancing personal, school and theater life and being in AP honors classes.”

Like Schrader, senior Derek Blakely was surprised with the part he landed. Often cast as comic relief, he now plays Joseph Pulitzer, the primary nemesis of the newsboys.

“He’s a real dude and definitely the bad guy in this one,” Blakely said. “He raises the price the newsies have to pay for newspapers just to steal an extra nickel or dime off of them. I’m basically the reason they’re rising up.”

Photo by Kyle Norby

Blakely said he wanted to challenge himself in his senior year, and the part moved him out of his comfort zone. He would like a career in the animation industry in production and as a voice actor.

“This is the first time I’ve had a proper singing part up to this point. I was actually very scared to sing,” he said. “Like a year ago, if you’d asked me to sing, I definitely would have cried because it stressed me out so much. I got to this one, and I was like, ‘I want to end my senior year with the biggest part that I can, and I know that I’m going to have to sing.’”

Stahl said the company had worked through almost all the available musicals that did not require a lot of dancers. Newsies demands a lot of dancing. Stahl made junior Taya Johnson her student choreographer, and they brought in students from the Performance Group, the school’s dance troupe.

Johnson plays Splasher, as well. While the other actors have had to work hard at choreography – “again and again and again,” Schrader said – even the dancers were not all honed for Broadway style or tap. And while working on their lines, the actors are also working on their vocals. Some are even taking voice lessons.

“Bringing it together at the end is what’s really crucial for us,” Schrader said.

Photo by Kyle Norby

And then there’s the character development.

“Sometimes musicals don’t tend to be a lot of character work because it’s so showy and flashy, but Jack goes through quite the journey,” Stahl said. “We had the conversations: What is shame? What does that look like?”

“Jack is, on the surface, very cocky, very confident in his own abilities, but on the inside he just seeks a family, and that drives him throughout the show, to find people that he feels safe around and can truly show his inner self,” Schrader said. “A major character arc is Jack’s shame and him dealing with it. I didn’t know how to play that. I had to learn what courage and shame are in myself.”

Photo by Kyle Norby

This is Stahl’s second year as head of the company, which had already won state High School Musical Theatre Awards and was shaping up as a formidable force under Cynthia Calhoun.

“Well, I came in and told them, ‘Let’s make a name for ourselves.’ And then we won at Nationals, and I was like, ‘OK! Here we are,’” Stahl said. “I think we’re heading down the right track. When they’re on, and it’s not a hot mess running through, they’re very good. You fall in love with the characters; you believe the story they tell.”

MHS Theatre Company is preparing for national and state adjudications next year and has learned to adapt to the natural cycle of performers in and out of the program.

“They see what shoes they have to fill, and they just seem to fill them,” Stahl said. “We’re building up a company of strong actors and singers. I think we’re going to keep making a name for ourselves.”

Photo by Kyle Norby

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The second half of ArtsFest Maricopa was on display Saturday at the Performing Arts Center, with language on display through theater, choral music, slam poets and short films. Maricopa Arts Council presented the show, which also included displayed art on the foyer walls. Maricopa Community Theatre, Copa Shorts Film Fest and Maricopa Chorus were among local talent sharing stories and songs along with award-winning slam poets from the Mesa scene. The first half of ArtsFest was presented in October and involved instrumental music and dance.

Ryan Smalley won the All-Arizona Slam in Maricopa, taking home cash and a new painting. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

With sharp and funny observations of modern relationships and the desperation to connect behind social-media facades, Flagstaff poet Ryan Smalley, representing the Sedona Poetry Slam, won the All-Arizona Slam in Maricopa Saturday. He finished just 0.1 point ahead of Flagstaff champion Gabbi Jue, who spoke out on stereotypes with biting wit. Just 0.3 point behind Jue in third place was Maricopa champ Stacy Renee Eden and her poems on very personal experiences.

The action drew a full house to Honeycutt Coffee. It was the third year Maricopa has hosted the All-Arizona Slam.

Gabbi Jue was second.
Stacy Renee Eden was third.









Algernon (Sergio-Ariel Barrera) and Cecily (Ashley Lynn) have a ridiculous romance in "The Importance of Being Earnest." Photos by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa Community Theatre is again staging “The Importance of Being Earnest,” with performances continuing Friday and Saturday at Leading Edge Academy. The Oscar Wilde comedy stars Mario Bandin, Sergio-Ariel Barrera, Brittany Randolph, Ashley Lynn, Carrie Vargas, Marijke Cuffe, Robert Cuffe and Alex Hurley. The show is directed by Christopher Goodrum.

Bernard "The Klute" Schober announces names of those to perform in the upcoming All-Arizona Poetry Slam at Honeycutt Coffee.

• All-Arizona Poetry Slam
• Jan. 25, at (5:30 Art on the Spot) 6:30-9:30 p.m.
• Honeycutt Coffee, 44400 W. Honeycutt Road, Suite 109
• Admission $5 at the door

A vigorous artistic contest will take place on the evening of Jan. 25, when Maricopa Arts Council’s All-Arizona Poetry Slam Championship takes place at Honeycutt Coffee. Poets from all over the state will join the top two prize-winning Maricopa poets in the three-round, elimination contest — a 14-person “duel” in the art of performance of one’s own original poetry.

The 14 competitors in January include seven representatives of slams in Phoenix, Sedona, Flagstaff, Surprise, Maricopa and ASU. Seven more were pulled from a hat Jan. 3 by MAC’s Slam Master, poet and shark enthusiast Bernard Schober, who performs as The Klute. And then 16 more were selected for the wait list.

Official Poet List:

Names were chosen from a hat after seven poets automatically qualified.

1. Stacy Eden: All-Maricopa Grand Slam champ
2. MarQuita Edwards: All-Maricopa Grand Slam second place
3. Ryan Smalley: Sedona Poetry Slam champ
4. Civil: Phoenix Poetry Slam champ
5. Dylece: Poetry Slam @ Wham (Surprise)
6. Gabbi Jue: FlagSlam champ
7. Arizona Masters of Poetry: TBD
8. Tempest Juliet
9. Naughty A. Mouse
10. Kemlyn
11. Nathaniel Dossantos
12. Jessica Ballantyne
13. Lydia Gates
14. Evan Dissinger

Wait List:

15. Patrick Hare
16. Sherdes Leona
17. Shelley Donovan
18. Atlas St. Cloud
19. Scott Ambrose
20. Miss Anthropy
21. Claire Pearson
22. David M. Fields
23. Elizabeth Dannenbrick
24. Science Sigh
25. Alicia Bonner
26. Christian Montiel
27. Joshua Wiss
27. Thomas Cooper
28. Dustin Gardy
29. John Anderson

National Slam rules will prevail: Each poem must be the poet’s own creation and should be no longer than three minutes. Judges are chosen from the audience, and every performance is rated by each judge Olympics-style in each round. By round 3, only five poets remain to compete for MAC’s three money prizes: $400, $250, $150.

Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/events/479111486059497/permalink/479114876059158/

The Slam Championship event will be preceded by a different type of artistry with “Art-on-the-Spot” works created from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. by Maricopa artist Susan Cameron. A $5 entrance fee will be charged at the door, and Honeycutt Coffee food service will be available.

Artist Susan Cameron will provide Art-on-the-Spot prior to the slam.

Photos by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa Music Circle and Maricopa Chorus had a full house at Maricopa Agricultural Center for their annual Holiday Musicale, performing seasonal favorites while artist Kaui Wilson created a painting of a winter scene throughout the concert. Members of the audience joined in the singing of the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah in what has become a Christmas tradition. Maricopa Chorus will be featured Feb. 1 in the second half of Maricopa ArtsFest at Maricopa Performing Arts Center.

Josh Turner

Josh Turner has rescheduled his concert at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino.

The country singer had to cancel his performance in September after his bus was involved in a collision in California that killed one of his crew. The concert is now scheduled for March 27 at 8 p.m.

Tickets to the original show will be honored. Ticketholders who cannot make the new concert date can receive a refund until Oct. 31.

A member of the Grand Ole Opry, Turner is known for hits like “Long Black Train,” “Your Man” and “Would You Go with Me.”


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Music from "Star Wars" was among the treats at ArtsFest Maricopa. Photos by Victor Moreno

Maricopa Arts Council hosted part 1 of the inaugural ArtsFest Maricopa on Saturday at the Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center. With a theme of music and movement, the evening featured music by Maricopa Music Circle and dancing by Desert Sun Performing Arts. The audience was also treated to local art in the foyer, music from Heritage Academy musicians theatrical performances from Maricopa Community Theatre.

Cast member of "Peter and the Starcatcher" include (from left) Emma Schrader, Ricky Raffaele, Taya Johnson and Joey Russoniello. Photo by Victor Moreno

What: Peter and the Starcatcher
Who: MHS Theatre Company
When: Oct. 24-26, 7 p.m., matinee Oct. 26, 2 p.m.
Where: MHS Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How much: $5 students; $7 general admission, $10 VIP
ASL interpretation available

Despite a late changeout of the entire show just before auditions, Maricopa High School Theatre Company is making fast work of its fall production, “Peter & the Starcatcher.”

An origin story for “Peter Pan,” which the troupe performed last fall, “Peter and the Starcatcher” became celebrated for its sets and costuming in its Tony-Award-winning run in 2012.

“It’s the prequel, so it has so many sweet moments that tell you how Peter Pan came and how the story they fell in love with last year exists,” said theater instructor Alexandra Stahl, who directs the play.

Stahl had wanted to wait another year or two before producing “Starcatcher” because of the close proximity to last year’s production. MHS Theatre Company planned to perform “She Kills Monsters,” a nerd comedy drawing inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons, but in mid-July the administration asked Stahl for something less controversial for now.

What made “Starcatcher” work well in the shortened timeframe was the fact many in the company were already well-versed in the basic story and were excited about the project. There is lots of word play and definitely pirates.

“It started out with some of the same characters, and that made it a little bit easier,” Stahl said, “but I didn’t want to bring back the red Hook coat, because I didn’t want people to be like, ‘That’s Hook!’”

Stahl was looking for “youthful innocence” in the casting of the orphan known only as Boy for much of the show. That turned out to be sophomore Joey Russoniello.

“Honestly, I love the show,” Russoniello said. “We saw the show when we went to Nationals over the summer. I never thought it would even be a possibility for me to play this role. And then we ended up doing the show.”

A singer before joining the company as a freshman, Russoniello has had to step up his acting skills.

“It’s a really good challenge,” he said. “That was something I really needed to develop, and this show is really pushing me to do that.”

Junior Taya Johnson plays Molly, who eventually is revealed to be

the Starcatcher. In “Peter Pan” last year, she played Michael.

She describes Molly as a 13-year-old Victorian with an unusual educational upbringing and independent character. She watched a bootleg version of the original show on YouTube a couple of times and also fell in love with the story.

“It’s my first lead role, so I’m very nervous,” Johnson said. “I’m really happy I have the opportunity to do this play.”

The play does not lean heavily on either of the titular roles.

“It’s basically storytelling theatre. There’s no one person who is the star,” Stahl said. “They’re all telling the story together. Many play multiple characters throughout the show. There’s some points where these characters are listed in the script as ‘Narrator Molly’ or ‘Narrator Boy.’”

Cast: Boy (Peter) – Joey Russoniello; Prentis – Emma Schrader; Ted – Ricky Raffaele; Lord Leonard Aster – Simon Ty; Molly Aster – Taya Johnson; Mrs. Bumbrake – Haley Lemon; Captain Robert Scott – John Jackson; Grempkin – Aliyah Garcia; Bill Slank – Douglas Moulton; Alf – Derek Blakely; Mack – Angelina George; Black Stache – Julie Goodrum; Smee – Jae Luna; Sanchez – Mary Brokenshire; Fighting Prawn – Mary Brokenshire; Hawking Clam – Grace Goodrum; Teacher – Haley Raffaele; Ensemble – Morgan Cutrara, Gracee Clark, Ashton Crosniak, Isabella Netro, Astraya Ellyson

This story appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

Photo by Victor Moreno

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Haley Raffaele and Bernadette Russoniello in "Freaky Friday."

Wednesday was opening night for Disney’s “Freaky Friday the Musical,” a production of Maricopa Community Theatre, which performs at Leading Edge Academy-Maricopa. The 18-member cast is led by Bernadette Russoniello and Haley Raffaele as a quarreling mother and daughter who mysteriously switch bodies and have to deal with each other’s problems for a day to gain new perspective. The show is directed by Carrie Vargas and choreographed by Cassandra Jackson. The show runs nightly at 7 p.m. through Saturday. There is also a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Raffaele and co-star Joey Russoniello can also be seen Oct. 24-26 at Maricopa High School in MHS Theatre Company’s “Peter and the Starcatcher.”

DSPA Gems perform at the MHS Performing Arts Center.

: ArtsFest Maricopa “Music & Movement”
When: Oct. 19, 7 p.m. (doors open 6 p.m.)
Where: MHS Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How much: One night $18 at the door; two nights $24 thru Oct. 7 and $30 afterward
Tickets: ArtsFestMaricopa.BrownPaperTickets.com

A new, two-part cultural event for Maricopa will take a bow this fall showcasing the works of local professionals and student artists and performers.

ArtsFest Maricopa, organized by the city’s arts organizations, is scheduled to debut at the Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m. with the showcase “Music and Movement.”

The main-stage performances feature orchestral music by Maricopa Music Circle and dance by Desert Sun Performing Arts, plus introductions and commentary by actors from Maricopa Community Theatre. The intermission “Intermezzo” lobby performance will be by a small ensemble from a Maricopa school, to be enjoyed as audience members walk about viewing wall-art and sculptures by MHS students and established artists and crafters.

“ArtsFest Maricopa aims to present a core sample of all Maricopa’s artistic riches in fresh, glorious ‘re-introduction’ to our city,” said Judith Zaimont, co-founder of MMC and one of the organizers of the event, “especially so we all can savor together the demonstrated richness of talent in our hometown. New residents will gain first-hand experience of how the city’s cultural prong has grown and flourished over Maricopa’s first 16 incorporated years.”

The evenings have their presentations grouped around two themes: arts without words, and arts with words.

The second part of ArtsFest will be Feb. 1 with the “Song and Story” showcase. Main-stage performances will be by Maricopa Chorus and Copa Shorts Film Fest, with introductions and commentary by MCT actors. The intermission lobby performance will be by Poetry Slam performances, and there will be another art walk of local professional and student creations.

Both parts of ArtFest will have food trucks stationed nearby for refreshments throughout the evening. Doors will open at 6 p.m. so audience members can view the visual art displays in the lobby at length.

ArtsFest Maricopa is sponsored by the City of Maricopa Arts Committee and the independent nonprofit Maricopa Arts Council.

This story appears in the September issue of InMarciopa.

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Coyote Joe Daigneault. Photo by Erin Ward

By Jim Headley

“I came to Maricopa to create a music scene, and it’s damn hard here.”

Coyote Joe began playing music when he was 7. Today he’s one of the busiest musicians in the Valley.

Blame his wife. Joe Daigneault said he met his wife Cathy at 12 and knew she was the one for him.

“I’m the first boy that ever kissed her,” Coyote Joe said. “We got married at 21. I said, ‘Kathy, I’m going to work really hard for five years and pay the house off. As soon as I get the house paid off, I’m going to go and be a ful-ltime musician.’ I paid the house off when I was 57.”

Kathy told Joe to become a full-time musician and live up to his end of their deal.

“If you want to have health insurance and a new car every four or five years, maybe go on a vacation now and then and fix the air conditioning unit when it breaks, you better have a different career than music,” Joe said.

He said playing music in Arizona allows him to make some good pocket money.

“The average guy, who’s a weekend warrior in Arizona, goes home, if he’s lucky, with $80 a night,” he said. “I do a little better than that, but I play a lot. This time of year, I play all the time. Sometimes, I’m playing because I want to play. Sometimes, I’m playing because I want the money.”

Coyote Joe playing at Copper Sky in 2018. Photo by Bruce P. Jones

Instead of Daigneault, he’d rather just be called Coyote Joe, on and off stage. It gives him an identity as he tries to rally Maricopa musicians to gather and mentor each other.

“I think I’m doing who I am,” Coyote Joe said. “I came to Maricopa to create a music scene, and it’s damn hard here. The Raceway Bar and Grill has been great, and I play there often. I also play at A Latte Vino in Casa Grande. It is our job for every musician in this town to get to know each other. What this town is missing is some of those more soulful things. We need some cool little coffee shops and a little wine bar.”

While best known for his five seasons as host and writer for ABC15’s Emmy Award-winning television cooking series, “The Sonoran Grill,” Coyote Joe has also made over 400 appearances on ABC15’s “Sonoran Living” and authored an impressive catalogue of southwestern cookbooks.

He also sculpts and writes poetry.

Coyote Joe said he’s been “serious about playing” for several years now. He spent almost two years learning one specific guitar-picking technique and “getting it right.”

It is a hybrid method with strumming and a finger pick at the same time.

“I try to get my music down first, then I think of a melody and then I think about lyrics,” he said. “I’m thinking about the drums and I’m thinking about the baseline. Then there’s a melodic line over the top. At the same time, I’m thinking about the kick and the snare.”

What this all boils down to is Coyote Joe’s unique sound on stage.

Professional musician J.C. Scott is one of Coyote Joe’s friends and they often play music together. Scott said he first met Coyote Joe about 10 years ago.

“His nickname is actually Mad Coyote Joe,” Scott said. “When we first met him, he was delivering bread and food to people. He is a musician who is very entertaining. His selection of songs – he’s the only musician I know that plays a plethora of TV tunes. He has a very eclectic group of songs, and he has a broad range.”

Coyote Joe developed his style inside a group of peer/mentor musicians in the Valley. He works a lot with Blade Wilson of Blade Wilson and the Mixups and Tim Brady with T-Bone and the Bastards.

“For me, what has been the valuable part of learning has been this peer/mentor relationship,” he said. “When you first start playing with somebody and I say, ‘you’re not getting your pitches,’ what most people hear is … you’re a bad person and you don’t deserve to be an artist. I need a group of people that will dispassionately analyze my music with a critical eye and understand how to deliver that information in a way that I’ll understand.”

Scott said Coyote Joe is well known in Cave Creek, where he is “one of the crew” among a group of musicians.

Coyote Joe plays around the area including at Raceway Bar & Grill, The Havoc at Harold’s and Buffalo Chip Saloon in Cave Creek, and hosts A Cuppa Joe, every Saturday morning at Janey’s in Cave Creek, The Tavern at Tarbell’s, JJ Madison’s in Mesa and many more locations.


This story appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

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The DSPA Gems went to the movies for their 13th annual recital June 8 at the Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center. With performances in the afternoon and evening, the all-ages troupe (from age 2 to adult) showed off what they have learned this year, dancing to cinematic choreography in large and small groups.

Josh Turner will perform at the Events Center at Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino in September. (Submitted photo)

Josh Turner, MCA Nashville recording artist, will be bringing his rich bass/baritone and distinctive sound to The Events Center at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino on Sept. 28.

Who: Josh Turner
When:  Saturday, Sept. 28 Doors:  7 p.m. Show Time:  8 p.m.
Where:  The Events Center at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino
How much:  Starting at $35; Tickets on sale through Ticketmaster
Ages: All

As one of country music’s most recognizable talents, Turner has been honored with multiple Grammy, CMA and ACM award nominations, as well as received six Inspirational Country Music Awards. Turner is known for his unique voice and many hits, including “Your Man,” which topped the country charts and went platinum in 2006, “Would You Go With Me,” which was also a No. 1 single, and his self-penned, debut smash hit “Long Black Train.”

In addition, Turner is one of the youngest members inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, selling more than 8 million units and topping more than 1.5 billion in global streaming and populated radio.

Along with his success as a musician, Turner has also tackled the written word as an author. He released his first book, “Man Stuff: Thoughts on Faith, Family and Fatherhood,” in 2014, highlighting songwriting and performing in his childhood. In support of early music education, Turner created The Josh Turner Scholarship Fund to assist other children following the same path and mirroring his own upbringing.

Lucinda and Rob Boyd. Submitted photo

No Way Out Films is working on developing a film project about Maricopa’s Rob Boyd and his younger days of gang activity starting at the age of 10 on the east side streets of Detroit. Boyd described the project as “the 100-percent real, never-before-told story about the gangster and the woman, Lucinda, who would come into his life and change the path of darkness and destruction.”

The film is to reveal Boyd’s past of guns, violence and drugs how he met his wife Lucinda and then formed their organization The Streets Don’t Love You Back, which has programs in 155 prisons across the country helping inmates develop the tools needed to stay out of the system.

The Boyds will be making a trailer for the film in Maricopa June 23.


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Cast members of Maricopa High School’s production of Fiddler on the Roof performed “Tradition” from the musical on the ASU Gammage stage Saturday for the High School Musical Theatre Awards. MHS Theatre Company was among 26 troupes competing for prizes. It was the third straight year they have participated. Three performers – Antonio Gonzales, Douglas Moulton and Taryn Story – were Top 10 finalists in their individual categories, and MHS Tech Theatre was a finalist in sound design and set/prop design. The night was dominated by Mingus Union High School’s “Newsies,” a Broadway musical schedule to be performed next spring by MHS Theatre Company.

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School Performance Company performed its spring dance concert, “Choose Your Own Adventure,” Friday night and will take the stage again tonight at the Performing Arts Center. The students pack 31 pieces into two hours, featuring choreography by the students and artistic director Alexandra Biggs. Dancers are from the MHS Performance Company as well as Dance I and Dance II students.

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Jim Headley with a glider at Arizona Soaring. Photo by Kyle Norby

Earlier in April, the fine folks out at Arizona Soaring invited me to go on an aerobatic ride in one of their gliders.

I can handle it. I’m tough and I love to fly.

It wasn’t just fun, it was a total blast at the Estrella Sailport, just a few miles west of Maricopa on State Route 238.

I was taken care of by Shad Coulson, who isn’t just a pilot but the company’s operations manager. Coulson was smart, well-trained and full of confidence. I felt comfortable in that little plane even if it didn’t have an engine.

I’ve always been taught that altitude and speed are big insurance policies when it comes to flying. Because of this theory, a ride in a hot air balloon a few years ago was just too much for me.

You stand in a large wicker basket with propane tanks surrounding you. Some joker lights a giant flame over your head and the balloon doesn’t go very high or very fast. Oh yes, and the pilot will tell you they really can’t control where the thing will eventually go very well. Of course, he doesn’t mention that part until you’re already in the air.

I just wanted to get out of that contraption.

I feared the glider ride might be a similar experience.

After being strapped to a parachute, I wiggled my way into the front seat of the glider. Coulson helped me get strapped in and he started on a safety briefing.

This is when the real nerves first appeared. Coulson showed me how to jettison the canopy, clear the plane, if its right side up or upside down, and pull the cord on the parachute. The reality of what could happen became crystal clear.

This glider ride is serious business and not just fun and games.

I can still do it. I’ve come this far and I’m not backing down.

The tow rope was attached, and the plane started pulling us down the runway. We were airborne in seconds.

The noise intensified as the glider floated with the greatest of ease. Coulson talked me through every bump and rattle I heard and felt. All was normal as we just kept going up and up.

Coulson told me the history of the area and showed me the mountain tops of the Estrallas. I saw Phoenix in the distance, and he warned me of a bump that’s coming as we detached from the tow plane. We were at 6,800 feet.

The bump tickled my tummy a little, but I had no idea what was about to happen.

We were free from the noisy tow plane. There was nothing but peace and the voice of the pilot.

Coulson told me how he became a pilot and that he is from Limon, Colorado. That’s not far from my neck of the woods. I’m from just north of there in Sidney, Nebraska.

He told me of the wonderful history of the company and all about the area we flew over. He even let me take the stick and rudders and fly the glider a short bit.

After a few minutes, I stowed away my cellphone that was recording the audio of our conversation. I had to sit on my cellphone to ensure it was secure.

Peace and serenity were suddenly replaced with speed, noise and nerves as the glider went into a dive.

Holy cow, this engine-less craft was as fast as most of the planes I have been in. Coulson pulled back on the stick and it was on.

Here’s comes a loop.

I’ll admit, I was terrified going into that first loop, but there was more, a lot more.

Coulson just kept on looping and looping the glider. One, two, three, a cloverleaf sideways stall and eventual dive and back up to speed. After the fifth inversion, this boy was done.

“I think I’ve had enough,” I told Coulson while we were upside down on the fifth loop de loop. He said, “no problem” and “I’ll level it off after this one.”

Comforting words when you’re pulling four Gs and weigh 750 pounds.

I know he does this every day, but for me five loop de loops was my limit. I was clearly shaken but not stirred. No, I did not get sick.

I am pretty sure Coulson was concerned about me and we landed shortly after. The landing was smooth and quick. I was so glad to get out of the cockpit, but I was still very exhilarated by the ride.

It also took a minute to get my sea-legs back under me.

That was one of the most intense, fun and enjoyable flights of my life. It is unlikely that I will take up the glider flying habit on a regular basis, but I would go again, and I can’t say that about a hot air balloon.

Thanks to Shad Coulson, Jason Stephens (who is one of the owners of Arizona Soaring) and all the fine folks who helped us at the Estrella Sailport, the home of Arizona Soaring. They also offer calm non-aerobatic flights if you’d prefer.

Please check out my story in the May edition of InMaricopa Magazine about Arizona Soaring, APEX Motor Club, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Course and Skydive Phoenix as we focus on the SR 238 Entertainment Corridor developing west of Maricopa.

Some of the hottest fun in the Valley of the Sun happens right here.

Jim Headley is a reporter and photographer for InMaricopa.

Eddie Money. Submitted photo

: Eddie Money and Starship
When: May 26, showtime 6 p.m., doors open at 5 p.m.
Where: The Events Center at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino
How much: Starting at $44.50
Ages: All

Eddie Money and Starship, featuring Mickey Thomas, will be bringing their iconic sounds to the Events Center at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino for one can’t-miss event on Sunday, May 26. The Events Center, which opened in early 2019, seats 2,000 people and is part of the Casino’s multi-million dollar renovation.

Money (born Edward Joseph Mahoney) burst onto the scene with his eponymous debut album in 1977. Fans immediately fell in love with Money’s sound, and the album, which went double platinum, featured hits like “Baby Hold On” and “Two Tickets to Paradise.”

His talents have earned him spots on multiple lists, including the Billboard Top 100 for “Take Me Home Tonight,” the Top 40 for “Walk on Water” and Top 10 for “I’ll Get By,” in addition to winning him multiple platinum awards. Money’s award-winning combination of rock and pop is made possible by his ability to play multiple instruments, including the saxophone, harmonica, keyboard and guitar.

Starship, featuring Mickey Thomas, has been entertaining fans for more than two decades. The rockers are best known for various No. 1 hits, including “We Built This City” and “Sara.” Although the band has switched out multiple members over the years, they have maintained their iconic sound, which has won them spots on the Billboard Hot 100 in addition to platinum awards. With Mickey Thomas, the band has continued to release singles in recent years, including “Get Out Again” and “My Woman.”



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Larry the Cable Guy jokes with the crowd at the Pinal 40 Gala. Photos by Jim Headley

The annual Pinal 40 Gala brought comedian Larry the Cable Guy, former Diamondback Luis Gonzalez and artist Randall Hedden to Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino Events Center Saturday for dinner and entertainment to help fund local youth programs and agricultural scholarships in Pinal County. Comedian Mark Cordes hosted the evening, which say Hedden do on-the-spot art, including a painting of Gonzalez that was auctioned off. Larry the Cable Guy was the spotlight entertainment. Live and silent auctions included high-end items like skydiving trips, baseball tickets, electronics, signed jerseys and more.

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Desert Wind Middle School students are conducted by Roger Wagner. Photos by Kyle Norby

The fifth annual Music-a-Thon hosted by Maricopa Unified School District was Saturday, featuring student musicians from high school and the middle schools. Ivan Pour, Roger Wagner and Tanya Hobt conducted the orchestras through the five-hour event at the Performing Arts Center.

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Homestead residents JC and Laney perform at A Latte Vino in Casa Grande. Photo by Jim Headley

Sometimes harmonizing with someone else is just magical.

“We bought a million-dollar house for a quarter million dollars, because it is a desert surrounded by an Indian reservation and cows. It is a huge bang for your buck.” JC Scott

Nine years ago, Jay “JC” Scott and Laney Greynolds met and were on stage playing music together a half hour later. Little did they know that moment would propel them together into a love affair and a full-time musical career.

It just clicked.

“It the luck of the draw when you have your harmonies smack into each other,” Laney said.

JC said when his voice collided with Laney’s voice, a third magical voice of harmony was instantaneously created.

Today they are performing as the Americana singer/songwriter duo JC & Laney and they travel the nation singing to JC’s acoustic guitar playing. To say that they’re good is clearly an understatement.

In 2016, one of their songs, “When it Comes to Love,” was nominated for a Grammy Award.

“We just did our ninth Glendale Folk Festival and that was when our first album came out in March of 2010,” Laney said. “We knew each other five months when our first album came out.”

At the time, they lived in different states, with JC in California and Laney in Arizona. Their first album was mostly a collection of acoustic recordings. JC was already recording the album when he met Laney, and they “started singing together, and my heart went (pitter patter),” JC said.

Laney Greynolds joined up with JC in 2009. Photo by Jim Headley

When they met, Laney was in a rock band and went to hear JC perform at Whiskey Row in Gilbert. That’s when they ended up on stage together. Their first song was “Bell Bottom Blues,” and they have never sung it together since that night.

“We really spent the first five or six years only doing original music,” she said. “About the sixth album in, we got a job in Williams playing all summer, and we started learning covers.”

JC said when they started playing in the Arizona town near Flagstaff, they only had 15 cover songs worked up together. Almost every day they learned at least one new cover to entertain the tourists coming off the Grand Canyon train in Williams.

“We knew plenty of songs, but we didn’t know them with our harmonies together,” JC said.

The seasonal gig was canceled the past two years, but they’ll be back in Williams this year May 29-Sept. 2.

In nine years, they have come a long way from their humble beginnings.

“We have bigger and better shows,” Laney said. “We travel a lot. We were in the first round of the 58th Grammys for our album Hard Road Easy Street. He was in for songwriter for the song ‘Hard Road Easy Street’ and we were in for best Americana performance for ‘When it Comes to Love’ – that’s the one that got a lot of legs.”

She said there was a contest called the Grammy Amplifier sponsored by the Recording Academy, and JC & Laney received 194,000 hits to capture first place for “When it Comes to Love.” The win propelled them to Hollywood and the 2016 Grammys at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.  On Spotify the song has over 100,000 streaming clicks.

“All our friends say they never want to hear that song again,” JC said, adding he wrote the lyrics to “When it Comes to Love” on an airplane and matched the words to music later.

JC usually writes most of their songs, but Laney has joined in to write three songs with JC.

“They’re not on albums yet, but they will be,” she said. “One is a wedding song that I wrote for my son.”

They have chosen Maricopa as their home and have purchased a house in Homestead. Before the resident gig in Williams begins, they’re entertaining crowds in Flagstaff, Casa Grande, Prescott, Tempe, Eloy and in California with gigs in Pasadena and Santa Rosa.

During the summer they will be playing at A Latte Vino in Casa Grande every three weeks. Diann Prechel, owner of A Latte Vino has been booking JC & Laney on a regular basis over the past year.

“They have a following here,” Prechel said. “They have people that come just for them. They play here on average twice a month but sometimes three times a month. There are some repeat customers because of them.”

Many people ask them why they’ve picked Maricopa as their home.

“We bought a million-dollar house for a quarter million dollars, because it is a desert surrounded by an Indian reservation and cows. It is a huge bang for your buck,” JC said.

Laney said they came to Maricopa in October 2017, looked around and “really liked the town.”

JC said then it was 40,000 people, no gangs and everybody talked to each other.

“It smells like cow stuff sometimes,” JC said. “It’s 16 miles from the I-10 and people go, ‘Why do you live in Maricopa?’ We say because it’s 16 miles from the I-10 and people don’t like to come there. We travel a lot anyway.”

They are building a recording studio in their home, where they can do blogs and musical recordings.

He said the average song on the Internet has a seven-second shelf life.

“We have to constantly put out new songs and videos,” he said. “That’s what the new room (studio) is going to be. It’s hard to keep up with, so we’re going to do it ourselves.”

He said JC & Laney isn’t a household name, but they’re working on it.


Photo by Jim Headley

This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.


Whether you realize it or not – coming to Maricopa is cool. Some of the hottest fun in the Valley of the Sun happens in western Pinal County. Nestled along State Route 238 west of Maricopa is a developing entertainment corridor.

Photo by Jim Headley

Arizona Soaring

It all started 50 years ago, when the Horvath family opened Arizona Soaring, a unique professional glider training and flight site.

The Stephens family purchased the Estrella Sailport, where Arizona Soaring operates, in 1987.

“My brothers and I own the place together now,” Jason Stephens said, calling the sailport a family affair.

“I could be doing a lot of other things, but this is what I want to do. I started glider-flying when I was 13; that’s when we moved down here from Alaska and that’s when my family bought the operation. I worked out here all through high school and college. I did a few other flying jobs for a while before I came back and took over the place.”

Photo by Jim Headley

Arizona Soaring and Stephens are famous in the glider world. The Estrella Sailport is considered one of the earliest, most historic and best places in the world to go up in a glider. The weather is usually very good for gliding with high temperatures, light winds and clear skies on most days.

That is why the Horvath family built it just west of Maricopa half a century ago. Maricopa was 400 people at the time and only a dirt road connected the town to Phoenix.

Stephens was the World 2008 Unlimited Glider Champion. One of the top awards in the glider world is called the Hovarth Trophy. People from around the world travel to the Estrella Sailport to take classes or just go for a ride in a sailplanes. Trained pilots can rent sailplanes.

The aerobatic ride is an amazing, peaceful experience filled with calmness and beautiful views of the Estrella mountains and the Valley of the Sun. Suddenly, the daredevil of gliding kicks in and you are upside down doing your fifth loop-to-loop and smiling from ear to ear.

“We get customers here from all over the world. A lot of international customers come here for training or for recreational flying,” Stephens said.

Stephens is also a teaching pilot and takes many customers for rides. He teaches everything from basics to advance aerobatics. He can also be seen riding the tractor and grading the runways.

“Our No. 1 mission is to create the best pilots around,” Stephens said. “The pilots we create can go out into the world and become good, safe pilots who exercise good judgement and impress people when they travel. Most of our work here is teaching.”

He said they might have two or three riding customers a day, but they will put up 30 to 40 flights daily with classes.

“It’s been good for us, and we’ve been good for Maricopa. We have been bringing in customers from outside into this area and spending dollars for 50 years. We want to keep that going,” Stephens said.


Entry to Ak-Chin Southern Dunes clubhouse. Photo by Jim Headley

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes hosts about 40,000 rounds of golf annually and is one of a handful of championship golf courses in the region.

Photo by Jim Headley

Designed by Schmidt-Curley Design and Fred Couples, Southern Dunes was built in 2001 as a private men’s club. It has changed ownership a few times since, and in 2010 was purchased by the Ak-Chin Indian Community and made it into a daily-fee, public golf course.

“We don’t have memberships. We have a couple loyalty programs. We also have local pricing and different things like that,” General Manager Brady Wilson said. “It is meant to be very utopian and very democratic. We sell the times and it is first-come, first-served in the bookings.”

The Troon-managed facility consists of an 18-hole championship course and a six-hole short course dubbed #miniDunes. The site is a driving range in the morning and converts into the short course in the afternoon. All #miniDunes holes are under 100 yards.

There are no homes on the golf course.

“The golf course plays host to quiet a few championship events,” Wilson said. “Next to TCP Scottsdale, we probably are the premier championship venue in the state. The golf course is really big, and it has been ranked as high as fifth in the state. It is a high-quality venue, and it is challenging.”

While the course may be one of the premier championship courses in Arizona, it also caters to all skill levels of golfers, with six-sets of tees.

“We cater to female golfers, elderly golfers to novice golfers. It is meant to be for everybody,” Wilson said.

On top of golf, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes also has the Arroyo Grille.

Arroyo Grille. PHoto by Jim Headley

“Arguably, probably the best restaurants in Maricopa,” Wilson said. “It is open to the public. It is here to service our golfers, but we are open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week. We serve a dinner menu Wednesday through Saturday night. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday we are still open until the last golfer and we serve the lunch menu until the end of the day.”

The chef at Arroyo Grill is “very accomplished and has become very well known,” Wilson said.


Cars tried out the new track at Apex Motor Club on opening day. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Apex Motor Club

The new kid on the entertainment block is Apex Motor Club, which just built a new club track between Ak-Chin Southern Dunes and Arizona Soaring.

Photo by Kyle Norby

Apex finished the paving Phase I of their track in March. The 2.3-mile track has 12 turns on 140 acres. There is an additional 140 acres for Phase II of the project just north of the first track. Upon completion, the Apex Motor Club track will be up to 4.2 miles long.

The course is a road track, but it is a fast road track with speeds of 160 mph possible in the right car on the straightaways.

Car condos will be under construction soon as well as a clubhouse, restaurant and pool.

Apex is a private club. All styles of cars are welcome into the club including open wheel, vintage and modern cars.

“We’re not developers that are going to move on to the next city and sell this. We want to have our kids and their kids work here and have something that a lot of people can enjoy for a long period of time,” Apex President Jason Plotke said. “We want to be a vibrant part of the community.”

Apex Motor Club is owned by Scottsdale-based Private Motorsports Group.


Skydive Phoenix

South of Arizona Soaring is Skydive Phoenix Inc., which used to be located at the glider airport but moved to have safer airspace for jumps.

For many, skydiving is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Others discover a passion that will open a whole new world.

​Adventure sports don’t get much more extreme than leaping from an airplane in flight, and Skydive Phoenix is ultimate observation deck with views of the Phoenix skyline, Camelback Mountain and Four Peaks.

Tandem skydive jumps are the easiest, safest and most comfortable way to make your first jump. You experience all the exhilaration of skydiving, secure in knowing a trained instructor is harnessed snugly on your back.

The Accelerated Skydive Program is the most popular as it combines the tandem and Accelerated Freefall Programs. ​Skydive Phoenix also offers services for experienced jumpers.


This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Antonio Gonzales, an MHS senior, leads "Fiddler on the Roof." Photos by Raquel Hendrickson

A hearty, energetic and often very touching rendition of “Fiddler on the Roof” opened Thursday at the Maricopa Performing Arts Center.

The latest production of the Maricopa High School Theatre Company hit all the big, showstopper expectations as well as the intimate notes of family, love and faith. The cast of over 100 was accompanied by an under-stage orchestra of student and adult musicians.

There’s solid story-telling, there’s singing, there’s dancing, there is a faux dream and a living nightmare. It’s a heck of a show.

“Fiddler” inherently lives or dies on the shoulders of whoever plays Tevye the dairyman, around whom everyone in the Russian village of Anatevka seems to revolve (literally at one point). In this case, senior Antonio Gonzales is at his best, carrying his scenes with authority and conveying the complexities of a simple man being tossed about by changes he cannot control.

He and Emma Schrader as Tevye’s wife Golde have some particularly strong sets together. They are a poor couple with five daughters, three of whom are of marriageable age and are portrayed by three of the company’s most accomplished actresses. All are excellent.

Aidyn Curtis as the oldest daughter Tzeitel must accept an arranged marriage to a much older but well-off Lazar Wolf (Douglas Moulton) or defy her father for a poor tailor she has loved since childhood (Brandon Korittky). Kjirsten Lemon as Hodel falls for a scholar with revolutionary ideas (Ricky Raffaele), which does not please Papa at all. Taryn Story as Chava commits the almost-irredeemable sin of marrying a Gentile (Derek Blakely), a break from faith and tradition that Tevye cannot bear.

Korittky as Motel the tailor rounds out four years as arguably the troupe’s most reliable character actor. He’s terrific here. Mary Brokenshire is a scene-stealer as Yente, as is Fallon Fruchey as long-dead Grandma Tzeitel.

The set is top-notch, effectively using small parts to convey larger scenes. The Fruma-Sarah entry with Astraya Ellison in the very funny dream sequence is a tour de force. The live orchestra was a good call on the part of director Alexandra Stahl. It was also transforming to have the actors choreographed into dancers by MHS dance teacher Alexandra Biggs.

Performances continue Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office.