READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: The Tucson Folk Festival is a phenomenal gathering of free entertainment, organized and executed by the tireless Tucson Kitchen Musicians Association. Started back in 1985 to elevate the local scene and give amateur as well as professional musicians a chance to come together and share the spotlight, in its 15th year the festival has grown to three stages in downtown's El Presidio Plaza, 115 S. Church Ave. The two-day extravaganza of American and international music and dance packs in more than 50 class acts--traditional and contemporary, acoustic and electric. Always the first week in May, it's expanded to include both workshops and competitions in songwriting and fingerstyle guitar. Recent headliners include Laura Love, John Cowan and the legendary Limeliters--and it's all for free! We owe a debt of gratitude to all the volunteers, inside TKMA and out, for not only their dedication to keeping culture alive in the heart of our city, but for creating a feel-good vibe and a celebratory sense of community all for the love of music.
LOOSE CHANGE: Waila Festival. A celebration of Tohono O'odham music and culture, the Waila Festival is an increasingly popular and well-attended annual event. Waila is the O'odham name for the quasi-indigenous form of music unique to the tribe. It was somewhat less-elegantly labeled "chicken scratch" in the older days, and to outsiders sounds most similar to Mexican norteño music. The traditional band line-up consists of a drummer, electric bass, alto saxophone and button accordion. The sound is a combination of traditional O'odham music and the two-step polka music German immigrants brought to Mexico that created the norteño sound. Waila is partly storytelling music, but more so lively dance music. One of the most striking aspects of attending the festival is seeing how near and dear the mostly O'odham crowd hold this music. People flock to town from the far reaches of the reservation many miles away, and the dance floor remains crowded well into the night. The food, featuring red and green chile and the traditional frybread in all its delicious incarnations, is top-notch. The venue did switch this year from the traditional digs at the Arizona Historical Museum to the UA mall, somewhat diminishing the close-quartered territorial vibe, but certainly creating more space for dancers, listeners, eaters and fans.