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The Return of Gay West

After a four-year hiatus, the freakiest and funkiest hoedown of the year is back.

This Saturday, the Gay West festival returns to Old Tucson Studios. Rainbow-colored flags will fly above the Old West set as an expected 3,000 to 4,000 attendees embark upon a night of vivacious festivities certain to entertain even the most listless among the crowd.

"It is easily the most entertaining party we have ever thrown," said Pete Mangelsdorf, CEO and general manager of Old Tucson Studios. "And this year is destined to be the best so far."

Festival organizers are promising that this year's festival will surpass all others in terms of stars, passion and purpose.

Jenilee Harrison of Three's Company and Dallas acclaim will be there, hosting a celebrity auction. In the same vein as her most recent venture--the yet-to-be-released television program Garagin', in which she "turns garbage into gold"--Harrison will be auctioning off items that have been taken from celebrities' garages and transformed into pieces of art.

The "Lipstick and Lashes" drag show by Tucson favorite Lucinda Holliday and her troupe, the Holliday Headliners, also promises to be one of the highlights of the evening.

"Lucinda Holliday always provides the funniest and best entertainment of the night," Mangelsdorf said.

Based on intermission events at real rodeos, there will be a foot rodeo, including a three-legged barrel race, a build-your-own horse contest and a sheep-dressing contest. Anyone can participate in the rodeo, but all people hoping to participate in the Rodeo Queen Pageant later in the night must compete.

"Those desiring to be Rodeo Queen will be dressed impeccably for the foot rodeo," Mangelsdorf said. "Use your imagination with that one ... it should be a good time."

Likewise, cowboy barbecue and the "best buns west of the Pecos" will be served in the town square by Old Tucson Studios executive chef Patrick Fahey. Meanwhile, other events will be happening all around, including a stunt spectacular show (with a Gay West twist); mechanical bull-riding in the town square; and salsa and Western dances hosted by live DJs.

As if that weren't enough, some surprise special guests are lined up for the evening, too.

However, the festival is not only about the festivities; in celebration of Pride Month--the national month designated to honor the contributions the LGBT community has made to society--all proceeds from Gay West will go to Wingspan, Southern Arizona's LGBT community center. Gay West 2007 will support Wingspan programs like the Anti-Violence Project, education projects and other services designed to promote the freedom, equality, safety and well-being of the LGBT community.

Since the first Gay West in 1997, Mangelsdorf said, the event has been a way for Old Tucson Studios to be involved in the community and promote the idea that it should be a safe and diverse venue open to everyone.

In addition to helping the local community, Gay West 2007 is stretching beyond Tucson by honoring Palm Springs, Calif., Mayor Ron Oden, the first openly gay African American to hold a mayoral position in the United States.

A longtime civic leader, ordained minister, former candidate for Congress and grandfather, Oden is one of the leading gay political figures nationwide. After serving on the Palm Springs City Council since 1995, Oden was elected mayor in 2003. He revealed that he was gay after witnessing a tear-gas bomb explosion at a gay pride festival in San Diego. After that, he was determined to ensure Palm Springs was a safe city for everyone.

About being the honorary guest at Gay West 2007, Oden said: "I was just trying to do something for my city; I never expected the national response I have received. I guess all my feelings are centered on feeling honored."

Mangelsdorf said the Gay West festival--including everything from the heartfelt to the wild--is hard to describe.

"Ultimately, it doesn't matter if you are a member of the LGBT community, straight or whatever ... everyone is invited," he said. "Just come and have a good time. ... This community, the LGBT community, they know how to have a lot of fun."

Gay West gates open at 6 p.m., Saturday, June 23, at Old Tucson Studios, 201 S. Kinney Road. Tickets are $15 in advance--available at Antigone Books and online at oldtucson.com--or $18 at the gate. For more information, call 883-0100 or visit the Old Tucson Web site.

Gay West 2007 will also be filmed for possible release as a documentary DVD. However, no one will be recorded without consent.

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