The year's top 10

A look back at local A&E stories of 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

Arts and entertainment signifies more than just a cable TV channel in Lawrence.

It's the social lifeblood of the city, allowing artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers and "others" to flow from one project to another.

Throughout the year the Journal-World covered many of the highs and lows that sprang from the vibrant A&E scene. Features staffers recently revisited these articles and voted on the top 10 A&E stories of 2007. Here are the results:

1. Last Call controversy

One of the most dominant local news stories involved the club Last Call, 729 N.H. The state yanked the venue's liquor license this month in response to complaints that the club fostered gang activity, drug usage and weapons violations. These were countered with arguments that rulings were based on the racial makeup of the clientele. But lost in the controversy surrounding the clash was the fact that Last Call remained the primary bastion for the DJ/hip-hop culture in Lawrence. While there are no shortage of places in town for fans of indie rock or bluegrass to gather, those partial to underground beats have lost their main haven. The club is currently closed while appealing the state's decision.

2. Kirk Rundstrom

Singer-guitarist Kirk Rundstrom performed his last local concert at Lawrence's Bottleneck on Feb. 3. Less than three weeks later, he succumbed to esophageal cancer. The tattooed, mohawked Rundstrom of the legendary bluegrass-punk act Split Lip Rayfield had been diagnosed early last year, subjecting him to chemotherapy treatments and an overwhelming medical bill. Dozens of benefit concerts throughout the Midwest were staged, as were art auctions and online appeals. Undaunted by illness, Rundstrom toured the country with Split Lip, reunited his former act Scroat Belly and continued recording tracks for his final solo album before the illness took him. The 38-year-old Kansan was survived by his wife, Lisa, and daughters Ellie and Molly.

3. 'Fall from Grace' release

Kansas University student K. Ryan Jones gained insider access to some of the most controversial and vilified people in Kansas: Pastor Fred Phelps and members of his Westboro Baptist Church, who've earned international attention for their stance denouncing homosexuality and subsequent picketing of military funerals (under the premise God is punishing America for supporting gay rights). Jones' film school project on this subject, "Fall From Grace," turned out so provocative that the Showtime network bought the movie and began airing it this month. Next thing you know, Jones was being interviewed on CNN and in a "20/20" report on anger and rage in the U.S.

4. Ann Evans retires

Few people can relate to the fact that Lawrence is dubbed "City of the Arts" better than Ann Evans. That's why it came as a surprise when the executive director of the Lawrence Arts Center decided to retire after 33 years at the post. Evans, the lone person to have held the job, oversaw expansion of the center from the Carnegie building in 1974 to the ultra-modern facility that now stands at 940 N.H. Under her direction, the multifaceted venue has surged from offering 20 classes serving 240 students annually to offering 450 classes serving 8,500 students.

5. 'World Series of Pop Culture'

Most Lawrence residents would consider themselves pop-culture savvy. But in July they had the opportunity to prove this to the nation. Some 10,000 trivia gurus applied to take part in VH1's "World Series of Pop Culture" competition. And, astonishingly enough, the 16-team field boasted one team comprised entirely of current Lawrence residents (Team Westerburg High) and another of KU grads (Team Wocka Wocka). The latter trio made it all the way to the finals. "Now people will realize how little work I actually do at the office," said Wocka Wocka member Robert Bishop. In August, the Kansas teams reunited 28 of the 48 contestants from this season's VH1 series for a live "Pop Culture Scramble" event at The Granada, 1020 Mass.

6. 'No Child Left Unrecruited'

It started as a personal class project by a couple of Lawrence High School students and ended up being debated in the halls of the nation's capitol. At the request of Rep. Mike Honda (D.-Calif.), Lawrence High School students Alexia Welch and Sarah Ybarra were invited to screen their documentary, "No Child Left Unrecruited," at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Their rabble-rousing investigation hinged on a clause buried in the 670-page No Child Left Behind Act that requires schools to hand over every student's name and contact information to the military - or risk forfeiting federal aid.

7. Tensie Oldfather

"Better to give than to receive" was the motto of Hortense "Tensie" Oldfather. The veteran philanthropist died in October after a lifetime of supporting a myriad of social causes in Kansas. But she also was one of the main benefactors of the A&E scene. She spread her millions to organizations such as Kansas Public Radio, Topeka Civic Theater, River City Reading Festival and local film projects a la "Bunker Hill." The entire KU film department is housed in Oldfather Studios, donated by Tensie and her late husband, Charles Oldfather Jr. "The thing about Tensie was she really got it," said "Bunker Hill" director Kevin Willmott. "She was one of the hippest people I've known. She had such a great mind, and was such an impressive thinker - that's the real loss to the community."

8. Aaron Douglas exhibit

Topeka native Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) was considered the defining artist of the Harlem Renaissance. In the fall, the Spencer Museum of Art celebrated the artist with a retrospective of his work - representing the first to tour, with upcoming stops in New York, Nashville and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Eight years in the making, the exhibition featured nearly 100 paintings, murals and illustrations. It denoted the most impressive Douglas collection to date.

9. Murphy Hall anniversary

In the 1950s, KU decided its music, dance and theater programs were strong enough to warrant their own building. This year Murphy Hall celebrated the commitment to those studies with its 50th anniversary. (During that span the campus locale saw big-name stars pass through its halls, such as actors Paul Rudd and Mandy Patinkin, filmmaker/playwright Neil LaBute and opera diva Joyce Castle.) Hundreds of alumni returned to Lawrence in November for a rededication ceremony, which featured symposiums and a production of "The Music Man."

10. Grammy nominations

This year's Grammy Awards weren't just dominated by Los Angeles-based artists; two Lawrence musicians factored into the competition. Robert Koenig - an associate professor of piano at KU - was nominated for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without Orchestra) for his collaboration with Roberto Diaz on "William Primrose: Viola Transcriptions." Likewise, bassist Stan Sheldon was honored for his work with longtime collaborator Peter Frampton on the album "Fingerprints." Sheldon co-wrote (with Frampton) and performed bass on the Latin-tinged track "Ida Y Vuelta (Out And Back)." The record earned nominations for Best Rock Instrumental Performance and Best Pop Instrumental Album, proving victorious in the latter category