JOPLIN, Mo. —
Another year of awesome.
There was plenty to do each week in the Joplin area, thanks to the hard work of artists, organizers and others involved with getting things together. There were so many great events that we're undoubtedly missing some good ones. These are the highlights among a lot of brilliant things to do:
Kicks on 66
One of the biggest events happened during the summer cruising season -- appropriate for a celebration of the Mother Road.
The Route 66 International Festival brought thousands of fans to Joplin for a three-day event filled with cars, drive-in movies, music and history. A special showing of "Cars" at the 66 Drive-in alone spoke to the demand -- tickets for the showing sold out in eight hours after it was announced in June.
The festival, run by an international organization, will be held in Kingman, Ariz., in 2014, but Joplin is a contender to host the large festival again in the future.
Off the wall
Part of the events for the Route 66 International Festival including the unveiling of two murals dedicated to the route.
But that wasn't the only work bound for a wall. We saw eight different projects happen across Joplin, including:
- ¥ A mural mosaic at Phoenix Fired Arts.
- ¥ A mural, installed across from City Hall, featuring photos from the "Dear World" exhibit at Spiva Center for the Arts.
- ¥ A "welcome to Joplin" mural on North Main Street painted by MSSU art students.
There are others in the works, we hear, and we can't wait to see them.
Halloween haunts were enhanced with zombies this year, from zombie walks in Joplin and Galena to hunting them with paintball guns.
The zombies were one of the bigger reminders that Halloween is a big deal in the Four States. In addition to a high number of haunts, the area saw attractions and features that paired opera with ghost hunting.
Macabre Haunted History Tours featured singers with American Opera Studio and ghost hunters with Paranormal Science Labs. Together, they presented a program in downtown Joplin where classic macabre music was sung at locations with a little bit of haunting going on. This was also one of the final live ghost hunts at the Olivia Apartments.
We also enjoyed telling the story of Jay Olson and Ben Asquith, who started a new business based on decorating for Halloween. The two use a papier-mache technique that, after a series of waterproofing procedures, lets the duo create horrifyingly detailed decorations that last year after year.
They started their business, Unhinged Props, this year and hope to have a full schedule of consultancy gigs and a wide variety of tutorials for clients in 2014.
Theater upstages itself
Our year of theater started early with coverage of all the people who tried out for Joplin Little Theatre's production of "Godspell," and noted that this is an active area for theater. The year showed exactly how much:
- ¥ Ozark Christian College put together a production of "Singin' in the Rain" with a clever hookup to re-create the movie's signature scene. A 25-foot-tall sprinkler system was hidden in the rafters of the college's chapel. The system brought a realistic rainstorm to the stage, in which Christopher DeFazio danced and sang. It added to the cost of the show, said director Mary Green. But it was so worth it -- the ingeniously hidden sprinkler brought Hollywood magic to the stage.
- ¥ In conjunction with its Italy semester, Missouri Southern State University teamed up with Heartland Opera Theatre to present a classic opera: "Pagliacci." The production featured vocal talent from across the region, and the principals had nationwide reputations on their resumes.
- ¥ Todd Loudis bid farewell to the character of Harry Monday that he portrayed several times at Joplin Little Theatre. The theater presented "Murder's Bad, But Monday Can Kill You" in May. Loudis was complimented highly by director Chet Fritz over his ability to take on the Sam Spade wannabe in the series of comedic mysteries.
- ¥ The creativity of Midwestern Regional Ballet continued to impress us, from a Steampunk reimagining of "Alice in Wonderland" to a Christmas dance featuring the Grinch. The aerial, athletic artists in the ballet put on incredible shows.
'Rocky Horror' sellout
For some, it was a surprise; others, a no-brainer: A production of "The Rocky Horror Show" at Joplin Little Theatre sold out its run.
It was a risk, because the theater didn't back it normally -- the director's production company, Whitewood Theatrics, took on most of the production costs. But any thought of a failed production vanished at auditions when a crowd showed up.
Part of the reason for the success was the cult attraction of "Rocky." But the run showed that other theater groups might consider broadening their audience offerings in upcoming seasons.
On the bandwagon
Local bands had a great year in 2013, from getting choice gigs to releasing incredible albums.
- ¥ Totojojo and Third Party were two of the featured bands in the Harvest Music Festival, held in October at Mulberry Mountain in Ozark, Ark. The festival included performers such as Les Claypool, Ha Ha Tonka and Yonder Mountain String Band.
- ¥ Me Like Bees released its first full-length album, "The Ides," and it was worth the wait. Keeping up a creative spark started by its song "Naked Trees," the band's 15-song album was produced in Springfield by Loveway Records.
- ¥ The Remnants also released a long-awaited full-length album with Loveway. The self-titled album debuted in April.
- ¥ As saddened as we were to see Solace closed because of fire damage, we were thrilled to see it reopen at a new location relatively quickly.
- A ministry of Solace Church, the venue provides a safe atmosphere for local music, from folk to metal. Its new location, at 709 S. Virginia Ave., has been rockin' since March.
Big band music
In addition to local bands having a good year, we were thrilled to see a variety of great touring acts make stops in Joplin, from the close quarters of venues such as Guitars and Jukebox to the wide open stages at Downstream and Buffalo Run casinos.
This year brought Willie Nelson, Miranda Lambert, Huey Lewis and the News, Acidic, The Band Perry, Grand Funk Railroad, Motley Crue and more to the area.
Spiva Center for the Arts, artCentral and all of the other galleries across the region kept their walls filled with beautiful, dazzling exhibits.
One of our favorite exhibits turned out to be a surprise to the artist.
For 13 years, Jerry Caskey drew sketches in the Joplin Public Library, then delivered them to Spiva for safekeeping. This year, the gallery thought his work warranted its own exhibition. In August the gallery opened "Drawn to Collage," much to the artist's delight.
We're always amazed that a community that needed so much found ways to keep giving. It's hard to pick our favorite fundraisers of the year -- all of them accomplished great things -- so we'll highlight some unique ones:
- ¥ The Boys and Girls Club took a game featured on "Big Bang Theory" and brought it to life. Dozens competed in a "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock" tournament to raise money for the club's operations.
- ¥ Spiva joined forces with area artists and a former NFL linebacker who digs distinguished neckwear. Partnering with Dhani Jones' BowTie Cause, Spiva fielded designs for a Joplin-themed bow tie. A pattern designed by Margie Moss was chosen as the winner, and Jones traveled to Joplin for a check presentation, where he helped people learn how to tie one on.
- ¥ Artists also helped decorate tools to benefit Rebuild Joplin and Spiva. Artists decorated hammers used in a Rebuild Joplin construction project. Those hammers were transformed into everything from picture frames to eagles and were auctioned off to benefit the construction of a home for another tornado victim.
Pro Musica programming
We're looking forward to the announcement of the next chamber music season by Pro Musica Joplin. It will be the first assembled by new artistic director Brian Fronzaglia, who is also a music instructor at MSSU and specializes in percussion.
The group has brought a diverse range of talent each year to Joplin, so we're eager to hear what Fronzaglia finds. We hope that involves some sort of percussion-based ensemble, too -- as much as we love string instruments, nothing gets our heart beating like good drumming.
What's entertainment without a great meal? We were excited to see several new restaurants open up for business this year.
Though chains such as Hu Hot, Popeye's and Freddy's got plenty of people excited, we loved seeing new locally owned restaurants open for business, including:
- ¥ Mojo Burger Company at Seventh Street and Maiden Lane. They keep it simple: Fresh-never-frozen burgers with a variety of toppings and hand-cut French fries are their specialties.
- ¥ M&M Bistro gave new life to the closed Arde's Bistro in downtown Joplin. The gyros are just as tasty, and the spuds are better.
- ¥ Stacked Gourmet Grilled Sandwiches, located near 32nd and Main streets, lives up to the "gourmet" in its name. The menu resembles a sandwich version of an urban upscale bistro, and the flavors are wonderful.
- ¥ Rocco's Palace Pizza, at 122 S. Main St., does not skimp on the cheese: Each pie has nearly a pound of mozzarella melted on it. The pizza tastes as good as the music sounds, and there's always plenty of live music at the joint.