READERS' PICK: It's darn near un-American, but most of the 30-or-so large events that take place annually at the DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center are (hold on to your bowler) free! You name it: drama, dance, music, celebration, commemoration. Kids and couples and the otherwise-curious spread blankets out on the expansive amphitheater for treats like Shakespeare in the Park, the annual blues concert, the Tucson Pops, Spanish-language KQTL-sponsored shows, and the second-largest annual Viet Nam vet gathering in the country--the "Nam Jam." With a stage capable of accommodating a full orchestra, DeMeester provides a real culture-in-the-desert oasis ... mountain views, no extra charge.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: St. Philip's Plaza, 4340 N. Campbell Ave. (at River Road). Overseen by a statue of the good saint himself, this tony retail and business center with its galleries, jewelers, restaurants and boutiques (offering soft leather goods and wearable art) provides an appealing setting for outdoor concerts. St. Philips hosts three separate Tucson Jazz Society series in the courtyard; the fall series includes Beau Soleil and the Some Like It Hot dance and music extravaganza. At six bucks a pop for members and $11 for non-members, how do they get by? Parking's accessible, trees are welcoming, and the nearby eating establishments rank among Tucson's favorites.
LOOSE CHANGE: Plaza Palomino, 2970 N. Swan Road (at Ft. Lowell Road), another upscale retail and office complex, opens its gracious saltillo- and Mexican-tiled arcade and fountain to the annual May through September Courtyard Concert series. A little cosier than St. Philip's, it can get rowdy with funky New Orleans bluegrass, folk blues, roots rock, world beat, and the incomparable Celtic Tex-Mex Mollys.