Best Local Playwright 2012 | Vicki Caroline Cheatwood | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

With her stunning two-act drama Ruth, Dallas playwright Vicki Caroline Cheatwood put something truly important on the stage at Kitchen Dog Theater. Based on the Old Testament story of Ruth and Naomi, the play featured parallel sagas of women in the 1930s Dust Bowl and in present-day Oklahoma. In each time period, newly widowed friends must deal with being displaced, always haunted by the ghosts of their dead husbands. Dreamlike, emotionally charged and at times sexy and funny, Kitchen Dog's beautifully cast world premiere production, directed by Tim Johnson for the New Works Festival, was this company's best of the season. With Ruth, Cheatwood should get national attention as a strong voice in American theater.

First of all, this festival is batshit. Every year, the Irving Convention center is sardine-packed with vendors selling slivers of the most magma-spicy, butt-churning peppers on the planet. At ZestFest, you'll find "foods" like extract of the ghost pepper, "Volcano Dust," habanero wings and the Trinidad Scorpion (OMG, beware). So, we come to our new favorite pastime. Watching other humans' faces as they "experience" the hottest peppers in the world is something deeply special and American. Imagine watching someone be stabbed all over with invisible needles. ZestFest 2013 is January 25 through January 27. Go and watch humans wince and squirm as their insides sublimate. You won't regret it.

On Friday, June 1, at Gexa Energy, local station KKXT-FM 91.7 brought out the big guns for their first festival: St. Vincent, Flaming Lips, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and more. It was an exuberant and bright summer festival with both national and local hooks. It was also a clarion trumpet blast against KXT's growing naysayers. Dallas, with all its quirks and idiosyncrasies, is not bereft of damn good music festivals. Look for this one to grow, but KXT's kickoff music festival was a doozy.

You have to hand it to 35 Denton. Following artist payment controversy, name changes, cancelations and droves of mustachioed artists, the festival continues without missing a beat. Hell, the Jesus and Mary Chain outright couldn't make it to this year's fest (they rescheduled for later that week). Then there was the rain. The Friday of 2012's 35 fest was rainy, cold and ash gray. The festival marched on. Local restaurants offered hot coffee. There were plenty of tacos and beer. A cameraman hunkered under a massive poncho and shot on. To put it simply, the festival was a bigger force of nature than the weather. Updates on next year's fest, and coverage from last year's are right here:

It happens the same time every year. On the last day of SXSW — when feet are blood balloons and brain is mush, when you're hovering between death and exhilaration — comes the lifesaving hair of the dog. It's Bro Fest. Parade of Flesh's John Iskander grabs a handful of bands coming through Austin, shakes them in a bag and dumps them madly upon Dallas. It's messy, loud and fantastic. It's raw fun, whether you go to SXSW or not. If you are on the way up from Austin, however, it's the musical equivalent of a bloody mary. Last year's event was at Club Dada, so head over to and let them know we want our SXSW hangover cure again in 2013.

JCPenney is the somewhere you associate with toxic concentrations of toxic perfume or your grandmother's 90th birthday sweater, not progressive social causes. In June, however, the Plano-based department store chain waded neck-deep into the culture war, running a touching Father's Day ad featuring all-American dads Cooper Smith and Todd Koch, who love their kids. And each other. The gay-dad ad sparked a predictable outcry from social conservatives and bewildered applause from proponents of marriage equality. It convinced few on either side to open their wallets. In August, the company announced its same store sales were down nearly a quarter over the previous year. Not that JCPenney's death spiral is the fault of two gay dads. That, at least, shows evidence of forward thinking.

Brandy Simington has never had trouble expressing herself. Through poetry or music, the words have always been there. But as Lady BSmoove, she's onto something. Her delivery is a mixture of poetry and hip-hop that melds anger, pain and hope into something primal, original and moving. At this year's LGBT Pride kickoff at City Hall, she stole the spotlight from Mayor Mike Rawlings and the Turtle Creek Chorale. Getting people to open their ears isn't always easy, but once they do, they understand (sometimes, anyway). Don't let the "lesbian slam poet" fool you. Lady B Smoove is an artist.

The conversation between Danny Balis and Dave Lane and the occasional caller on their Saturday morning talk show on The Ticket can range from somewhat-informed sports talk to snippets of music Lane's been excited about lately to bizarre hypothetical dilemmas to nothing at all. Even if you stop paying attention as they waste air time reading "Hints from Heloise," it at least beats the pounding in your hungover head as you make breakfast, clean the kitchen, refuse to get out of bed or run morning errands. And it's all in a low-key, almost soothing delivery because they're usually just as hungover and tired as you.

Depending on the hour, you could stumble on 1310 The Ticket and go minutes, a segment or even two, without hearing a word about sports. The Hot Sports Opinions promised by the station's promos often get buried by pop culture, old music, new music, race, sex — anything, really, to keep the routine of sports at bay. (These guys are getting older, and sports, God love them, get boring after a while.) But whatever the content, they manage to turn it into good radio, relying on smarts, jokes and, above it all, radio's No. 1 ingredient: honesty. Punches are never pulled, even if they are thrown at the station's annual Fight Night, an ode to their heavily male audience's heavily male attitudes. And when those HSOs do start flying? They're just as smart, and just as honest, as the Breaking Bad breakdowns and the always-uncomfortable man-on-the-street interviews.

Texas suffered through one of its worst-ever droughts last year, and it took a toll on water supplies. Dallas never came close to running out, but plummeting reservoir levels did prompt the City Council to take action and implement mandatory watering restrictions. Under the rules, homes and businesses can water lawns only twice per week. More than that means a possible fine from the city. Enforcement has been lax as drought conditions have eased, but the decision hopefully signals a turning point when politicians and the people who elect them recognize that maintaining water-thirsty swaths of St. Augustine and Bermuda grasses in Texas is unsustainable and, with a booming population and water resources that are more or less fixed, is a practice that will have to end.

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