Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Matt Black named TIME magazine’s Instagram Photographer of the Year

Exeter photographer Matt Black’s 2014 is turning out to be pretty special. Not only did he get a photo essay featured in the print edition of The New Yorker — a rare thing — but he’s now been named TIME magazine’s Instagram Photographer of the Year. Black joined the photo-sharing app in December 2013, and you can see his work here. From TIME’s recap:

“The Central Valley is this kind of vast unknown zone,” Black says. “These towns, these communities are right in the heart of the richest state in the richest country in the world. It’s halfway between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and yet, you still have conditions like these,” where poor communities are left with bad roads, dirty water, crummy schools and polluted air.

Black’s work might be new to Instagram, but the 44-year-old photographer has spent more than 20 years exploring issues of migration, farming and the environment in the area. That was never his intention, though. “When I first started in photography, my goal was to get out of the Central Valley,” he says. “But it quickly became clear to me that if I had a significant thing to say, it would be about the place I’m from.”

Talk about great timing for those of us in the central San Joaquin Valley who want to see Black’s work: His exhibition “Matt Black, From Clouds to Dust” opens Jan. 23 at the Fresno Art Museum.

Pictured: Matt Black’s “Fence post. Allensworth, CA.”

Fashawn gives back to Grizzly City

This has been a big year for Fashawn.

The Grizzly City native got national attention for playing the walk out music for Tim Bradley at his pay-per-view fight against Manny Pacqiauo and for signing a deal with Mass Appeal, the record label from the rap legend Nas (who many consider the GOAT — greatest of all time). The much-anticipated album will be released next year.

Fashawn is ending this year by giving back to his local fans and community.

On Tuesday night he hosts Beary Xmas 2014, which features an all-star local lineup — Grizzly City Boys (Omar Aura, Otis Reed, Dinero Sucio, Halo the Human, T.A. The Handful), Zee Will and rock favorites Strange Vine.

He’s also teamed up with local business owner Ali Mahmoodi (who owns two We Buy Gift Cards locations in the Fresno area) to donate $1,000 to the Fresno Rescue Mission and the Community Food Bank.

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A merry time for Fresno Pacific’s Walter Saul

Some of us get a few days off for the holidays and zone out in front of the TV with Netflix.

Then there’s Fresno Pacific University music professor Walter Saul, who has been in Kiev, Ukraine, this past week listening to his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra being recorded by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine.

It’s just one of the pieces that will make up a CD on the Naxos label of Saul’s compositions. The recording sessions have featured two familiar Fresno names: Theodore Kuchar, music director of the Fresno Philharmonic; and James Buswell, the eminent violinist who wowed audiences with his rendition of the Barber Violin Concerto at the opening Fresno Philharmonic concert of the season. The Ukraine orchestra is also recording Saul’s “Rhapsody for Oboe and Orchestra,” featuring Rong-Huey Liu, the Fresno Philharmonic’s principal oboist. The 2014 piece is a meditation on the recent events in Ukraine as well as the overall history of Kiev from its founding. The other four works recorded for the CD are Saul’s “Metamorphosis” (1974), “From Life to Greater Life” (1978), “A Christmas Symphony” (1992), and “Overture for the Jubilee” (1998). 

I caught up with Saul in Kiev via email to ask about the experience of hearing his music recorded for posterity.

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Five Things You Should Do This Weekend


If a weekend at the movies seem boring …

1. Rush Day/Ozmosis Holiday Happy Hour
Beer + coffee. Need I say more? OK, Tioga-Sequoia + Cafe Corzon. More? Mike Oz + New Rock 104.

2. From Indian Lakes
Indie-rock fans will want to keep an eye on this band. This’ll be your chance to see them before they blow up.

3. Crescent Concert
Eva Scow curates a world-rhythm jazz concert.

4. A Peter White Christmas
Your holiday favorites rendered in smooth jazz.

5. Christmas Light Displays
Let the spirit of the season wash over you in a wave of twinkling lights.

For music-specific options, by sure to check out our weekly BANDGEEK post.

BANDGEEK: Feliz Skavidad, Fashawn and From Indian Lakes


Since you won’t be seeing “The Interview,” you’ll have plenty of time to catch a live music show. We’ve collected a full list of what’s around town this week on another BANDGEEEEEK! roundup.


  • StradivariKingOfStrings.
    W/Halo The Human. At Fulton 55. 8:30 p.m. $6-$8. (Flier link)

  • Lisa’s Big Night Out.
    At the Patio Cafe. 6 p.m. Free.

  • Ugly Lovers.
    W/Double Jinx and Olive Avenue. At C.A.F.E. Infoshop. 7:30 p.m. $5 donation. All ages. (Flier link)

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    This guy again?: Steve Brandau’s ‘pansy’ talk


    In an op-ed column in Monday’s Fresno Bee, city council president Steve Brandau wrote that the “Law of Unintended Consequences is almost as sure as the Law of Gravity.”

    One wonders if he sees the irony of the quote, what with the massive backlash his column has received.

    There has been a flood of online comments and letters to the editors, an editorial cartoon, even a meme or two. A Fresno Pansy Association has popped up on Facebook (it even has its own logo and hashtag #‎ProudToBeAFresnoPansy‬. I’m sure we’ll see T-shirts soon enough). There is also Pansy’s for Fresno’s General Plan group.

    Both are taking a jab at Brandau’s assertion that “some pansy in Sacramento thinks we need to live closer together and ride the bus?” Which sums up his thoughts on the general plan.

    The owners of Gazebo Gardens Nursery even offered up free 6-pack of pansies to anyone who would take them to tonight’s council meeting.

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    Derby the dog & his 3-D printed legs

    Derby the dog

    Right now Facebook is abuzz with one of the most stunning, feel-good videos I’ve seen in a long time — even better than the “Techno Chickens” (you’re welcome for that earworm, btw). This video is also about techno — well, technology, to be precise. Derby the dog was born with malformed front legs and would have never had the experience of free mobility if not for the foster parent that took him in. Watch the vid and prepare to be amazed.

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    Scott Adsit sounds off on ‘Big Hero 6′

    Generally, it’s easy to recognize the celebrity hired to provide a voice for an animated movie. Was there any question as soon as you heard Buzz Lightyear that Tim Allen was the guy talking for the space toy?

    That’s why producers spend the extra money to get a known actor rather than turning to the people who do voice work for a living. They bank on those who are fans of the famous actors to show up to hear their work.

    No matter how good your ear is when it comes to picking out actors doing voices, there’s no way you could have guessed who does the talking for Baymax in “Big Hero 6” unless you stayed to read the closing credits.

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    The ‘Nutcracker’ tradition

    There’s a lot to love about a local “Nutcracker,” from the cute-as-puppies little ones making their debut on the Saroyan stage to the artistry of the guest performers (Ethan and Nikki White offered a stunning rendition of “Arabian Coffee” at Sunday’s matinee). But one of my favorite parts is afterward, when the entire cast surges into the Saroyan lobby to meet family and friends. The smiles are wide and the camera flashes have a paparazzi feel. I grabbed a shot of the inimitable James Mullolly, who plays the coy (and very wide-hipped) Mother Ginger in the Central California Ballet production, greeting two of his Bon-Bons. What a memorable weekend for these enthusiastic dancers.

    Pictured: Nozomi Bergstrom, Samantha Bergstrom, James Mullooly and Ena Wang. 

    Fresno High neighborhood losing P*DE*Q Corner, Ooh de Lolli Take Away Cafe

    People in central Fresno are getting two doses of bad news: P*DE*Q Corner across from Fresno High School is closing and so is the Ooh de Lolli Take Away Cafe.

    P*DE*Q Corner will close Dec. 23. The P*DE*Q Gluten Free Bakery at 435 N. Clovis Ave. will remain open. P*DE*Q Corner on Echo Avenue was the launching pad for the brand founded by owner Flavia Takahashi-Flores who transitioned from a home-based business. The delicious little balls of Brazilian cheese bread were made there at first. But the company has grown and she’s since hired Wawona Frozen Foods to make the P*DE*Qs, which are now sold in 23 Costco stores. The P*DE*Q Gluten Free Bakery has become the hub of the company’s gluten-free activity, and can do a lot more, including making and selling cupcakes, pies, cookies, bread and the PIZZA*Q line of gluten-free pizzas and dough. “We want to focus our energy on creating more product and focusing on just one store that we can view as a model store for franchising eventually,” she said.

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    Donald’s mailbag: ‘Christmas Pageant’ a joy

    Joyce Fitzgerald, who plays Mrs. Armstrong in the Good Company Players production of “The Best Christmas Pageant” ever, writes:

    It was a disappointment that you did not review our production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at 2nd Space Theatre. We do not need the publicity because nearly every show is sold out. I realize that Good Company has done it several times – this is my 4th time to appear in it since 1990, but every director and cast put a different spin on the production. It truly is the best Christmas show. There are several very young actors who do an outstanding job and deserve to be recognized for their talent.

    Eight year old tiny Abby Spain is fabulous as Gladys Herdman/the Angel of the Lord. She hits every mark on time and with vim and vigor. As the script says, “she isn’t big, but she’s mean and she bites”. That she does with her feisty portrayal of the youngest Herdman. She recently appeared in “The King and I” at Roger Rockas Dinner Theatre, as the king’s youngest child.

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    ‘Tis the season for a Fresno Christmas Light tour


    There is an understanding around the Guerriero household that, come Christmas time, the hair dyer and microwave, pretty much all appliances, really, are off limits after 5:30 p.m. There’s been one too many blown fuses.

    Yes, the Guerriero’s home (on Tenaya Avenue, near Van Ness and Sierra) taxes the grid, what with its massive display of holiday lights and decorations.

    “Every year we buy more and more,” says Mary Guerriero, who, along with her husband Joe Guerriero, spends a month (or more) each year setting up the display, which is lit from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. through Christmas.

    Even once all the decor is up, there are still small tweaks to be made, Mary says.

    “I’m still doing it every day.”

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    Fresno family wins ABC ‘Light Fight’ holiday decoration competition

    The Alexanders, who live on Fresno’s Christmas Tree Lane, were the big winner in Monday night’s telecast of the ABC competition series, “The Great Christmas Light Fight.” They picked up a trophy and $50,000 for their holiday decorations.

    Each of the six episodes (airing back to back for three weeks) looks at four families competing to transform their homes for the holidays. A winner of the $50,000 grand prize will be selected in each episode. The Alexanders were determined to be the winner by judge Sabrina Soto from “Extreme Home Makeover: Home Edition.”

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    More on Fresno’s General Plan


    As a follow up to last week’s post on the Fresno General Plan (which may or may not get a vote on Thursday): The Bee ran two commentaries on the subject that are worth reading (though for different reasons).

    The first, from Fresno author Mark Arax, is a wonderful piece of prose that takes readers on a trip down Blackstone Avenue, as an example of the consequences of the decision before the city council.

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    Where do you shop local?

    My buy local gift guide was on the cover of Sunday’s Spotlight section with lots of gift suggestions. These are not just local, but super local: locally grown and locally made. We’re talking purses made in a downtown art gallery, “Fresbro” T-shirts printed in a Tower shop and chocolate-dipped apples rolled in M&Ms at the California Gourmet Co. 

    But this is by no means a comprehensive list. Lots of places are selling locally made goods and lots of stores are locally owned. Where do you go to buy local and what do you like to buy there? Tell us in the comments.

    Concert Announcement: Iggy Azalea’s ‘The Great Escape’ tour comes to Save Mart Center


    And, just like that, the Save Mart Center lands what may arguably be one of the most-anticipated tours of 2015.

    Female rap/pop star Iggy Azalea will stop at the arena April 14 to kick off “The Great Escape” tour, a 24-date North American trek with recording artist/actor Nick Jonas and R&B/hip-hop favorites Tinashe and DJ Wizz Kidd.

    Tickets for the Fresno date are $39.50-$69.50 and on sale 9 a.m. Dec. 19 at the arena box office and select Save Mart Supermarkets, online at or or by phone at (800) 745-3000. Platinum and VIP packages, which include premium tickets plus exclusive autographed items, will also be available.

    Presale tickets are available for American Express card members 9 a.m. Dec. 15 (through 9 p.m. Dec. 18).

    Azalea was easily one of the biggest pop stars of 2014. Her single “Fancy” broke all sorts of airplay records and was the longest-leading No. 1 by a female rapper. It was Billboard’s 2014 Song of the Summer, iTunes Best Song of 2014, the year’s most-streamed song on Spotify and the most-watched video on VEVO (and also a parody hit for Weird Al). Azalea was nominated for four Grammy Awards this year, including best new artist, best rap album, record of the year and best pop duo/group performance. Her latest, “Black Widow,” featuring Rita Ora, also reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 40 chart.

    You can watch the Tarantino-inspired video for “Black Widow” on the jump (it’s slightly NSFW).

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    Vincent D’Onofrio’s punk spoken word project is the best, weirdest thing you’ll hear today


    If you haven’t heard Vincent D’Onofrio’s punk spoken word project, Slim Bone Head Volt, you need to do so now.

    The group (actor D’Onofrio and multi-instrumentalist Dana Lyn) released its first single last week and it is glorious (I’ve listened to it no less than 40 times).

    Granted, just how glorious you’ll find it depends on how much you enjoy the chaos of experimental noise and free-form meditations on being a hamster.

    “I’m a hamster, not a trapeze artist. I’m not a circus act,” D’Onofrio rages. “Let’s not talk about the wheel.”

    “Slim Bone Head Volt is a code name for the strange juxtapositions, randomness and incongruity in art,” Lyn says, in a press release for the single. “It is also actually an anagram for the exact opposite idea.”

    I’ll have to trust her on that. A full album (which includes track titles like “Super Golden” and “Thank God Birds Can’t Talk”) is due out March 3 on Buddhabug Records and I want it.

    The strength of ‘Nutcracker’

    Local young men can be hard to find in community “Nutcracker” productions. It’s just a given in the dance world that for every boy who dreams of being a ballet dancer, there are dozens of eager young girls.

    That’s why it was fun in my advance for this year’s Central California Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” to put the spotlight on two strong young men with promising ballet futures. We interviewed and photographed Jorge Torrecillas, who plays the Nutcracker General, and William Davis, who plays the Mouse King. (Both also have some pivotal solo moments in the second act.) I like the photo we came up and presentation we came up with in Thursday’s Life section:

    The ballet will be performed 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Saroyan.

    And don’t forget the Sugar Plum Party after the Sunday matinee. Children will receive party favors, refreshments and a chance to take photos with the production’s principal dancers — all in a lavishly decorated space. Admission is $12, with no charge for accompanying parent. For tickets, call (559) 270-3212.

    On the jump, check out a few more of Craig Kohlruss’ pics of these athletic young men.

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    Amid a media blitz, T-Pain is just winging it


    T-Pain has given up trying to figure out how people’s minds work.

    Like, how anyone would need to be reminded he can actually sing. How, despite the fact that the Florida rapper/singer has been featured on more than 50 chart-topping tracks, to many listeners, he was just the “auto-tune” guy. Even though he didn’t invent the tech and wasn’t the first to use it (or over use it). Or that his biggest hit (Flo Rida’s “Get Low”) is auto-tune free.

    “People don’t look into things before they start talking,” says T-Pain, one of featured artists at tonight’s Fresno Holiday Jam at Selland Arena. “Preconception is the evil I deal with all the time.”

    He’s not arguing with the massive amounts of press that he’s received since a video of him singing sans auto-tune on NPR went viral. He does find it odd.

    “People are like,’I’m sorry. We didn’t know,’ ” he says.
    “Really y’all?”

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    Five Things You Should Do This Weekend


    Forget playing/singing/jumping in the rain

    1. Downtown Christmas Parade
    The is the parade’s 85th year. The theme is Candy Canes and Christmas Carols. I’m hoping it’s a sing along.

    2. Uppitees’ Holiday Handcraft Boutique
    There are only 12 shopping days until Christmas.

    3. “A Shot in the Dark
    A performance piece from Fresno poet Stephen Mayu Jr.

    4. Fresno Holiday Jam
    For hip-hop fans young, old and other.

    5. Christmas Tree Lane Ride
    I’ll always mention a good group bicycle ride.

    Here’s a bonus five live-music, concert-type events:

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    PCH Subs in Clovis closing Sunday

    PCH Subs is closing Sunday after about 13 years in business. The surf-themed sandwich shop — PCH is short for Pacific Coast Highway — at Herndon and Fowler avenues in Clovis just couldn’t make it any longer, says Guy Foell, who runs the shop owned by his parents, Dick and Chic Foell.

    The shop’s lease is up and it’s been struggling since the Blockbuster next door closed and people stopped picking up sandwiches to eat during their movie, Guy says. Rising minimum wage and other factors played a part too, he says. “I think it’s just tough for mom and pops to compete and [with] the price of everything going up … it’s just tough,” he says, noting that there’s seven sandwich shops in a two-block radius of his restaurant.

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    BANDGEEK: Tribal Seeds, Riders in the Sky and the Fresno Holiday Jam

    Lest you think a little storm should keep you trapped indoors, we have once again collection a week’s worth of musical happenings and present it here as your BANDGEEEEK round up.


  • Shannon Ashley.
    W/Lou Umbra and The Tough Love. At Fulton 55. 8:30 p.m. $6-$8. (Flier link)

  • Tribal Seeds.
    W/Hirie and Wheeland Brothers. At Strummer’s. 7 p.m. Online tickets SOLD OUT.

  • Ultrasonic: A Book Launch.
    W/music from Iwanaga and Fatty Cakes & the Puff Pastries. At Peeve’s Public House. 7 p.m. Free. All ages. (Flier link)

  • Paradox.
    W/Mutant Itch, Choas Tribe, Fiend, Inhuman and Battleshok. At CYC. 6 p.m. $5 donation. All ages. (Flier link)

  • Chris Play Guitar.
    Reunion show. W/Constellation Prize. At Audie’s Olympic. 9 p.m. $5. (Flier link)

  • Lee Greenwood.
    W/Crystal Gayle. At Tachi Palace. 6 p.m. Tickets off sale. (Flier link)

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    Here’s one ranking Fresno can be proud of

    All these click-bait Internet rankings have declared that Fresno is among the least-educated cities, is among the top cities with people in need and is the 15th worst city for an active lifestyle.

    Whether you take those seriously or not, here’s one label to be proud of: Fresno’s Vineyard Farmers Market is No. 8 on Buzzfeed’s list of 10 California Farmers’ Markets Worth Traveling The Extra Mile For.

    The piece mentions the “majestic vineyard arbor” at Blackstone and Shaw avenues, and of course, the organic and locally grown produce. The market runs from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays. You can see a list of all the area’s farmers markets here. Photo by Fresno Bee photographer Eric Paul Zamora.

    THEATER REVIEW: ‘Cabaret’

    If the musical “Cabaret” today could meet the one from 25 years ago, I’m sure the younger would roll its eyes and (sort of) politely say, “Thanks for being such a legend. But things are different now.”

    If your only exposure to the John Kander/Fred Ebb classic 1966 musical theater piece is from a community theater production from several decades ago — or, perhaps, the 1972 movie adaptation that stripped away characters and offered the title song, belted out by Liza Minnelli, as a jaunty anthem — you’re in for a few surprises. In the new Fresno State production, director J. Daniel Herring hews closely to the 1993 London and 1998 New York revivals starring Alan Cumming, who transformed the character of the Emcee (played by Joel Grey in the movie version) into a highly sexual, provocative and sometimes downright raunchy ambassador to the audience. That characterization fits the tumultuous times: With the crumbling of Germany’s Weimar Republic following World War I, as the Nazi Party assumes power, “Cabaret” captures the anything-goes atmosphere of an on-edge 1931 Berlin.

    Thus, there are some moments in this production I’m fairly certain have never taken place on a Fresno State stage before. If you’re the kind who got upset at the stage version of “Jersey Boys” because of profanity (and I heard from some of you), chances are that the song “Two Ladies” — in which the Emcee gets pretty wild with both a guy and a gal (OK, let me spell it out for you: simulated sexual acts) — will make your head explode.

    I like many of the choices that Herring makes in this challenging title, and the live orchestra, under the able direction of Matthew Wheeler, is first-rate. But there are also some weaknesses in terms of direction, production design and the overall impact of the ensemble. For a college production, this “Cabaret” has moments that soar, though I don’t think it reaches the same overall level of excellence as some previous Fresno State musical offerings I’ve seen.

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