The Desert Shines

The Triangle L Ranch's annual celebration of the moon and light returns for another art-filled year

The moon won't be full until Monday, but the GLOW show will go on this weekend anyway.

"It's hard to coordinate with nature sometimes," concedes Sharon Holnback, the artist who stages the annual moon festival. So on Friday and Saturday nights, while the moon is waxing, more than 100 artists will light up the old Triangle L, Holnback's historic ranch outside of Oracle.

"We won't quite have the full moon on either night. But it will be 93 percent full" on Saturday, she promises. For best results, attendees should bring flashlights.

Now entering its fifth year, GLOW is an art-music-dance-video-performance celebration of the harvest moon. Each fall, when the golden orb rises dramatically over the nearby Catalinas, artists converge in the moonlit desert below. Sculptors erect pieces twinkling with lights—or videos—on the ranch's trails. Flame dancers wander, carefully, among the mesquites. Musicians twang on temporary stages, or out on the dirt among the cacti.

"This year, I'm really excited," says Holnback, whose own lighted sculptures gave her the idea for GLOW five years ago. "We're getting back to the basics of what GLOW is all about: the idea of discovery and experimentation."

Over the last three years, GLOW began evolving primarily into a musical event, with the lighted art becoming a side attraction. So Holnback is tinkering with the formula to restore the early magic.

"We had lots of great bands and great music," she says. "But it's not really a concert. There will be music, but everyone has to have the element of light being part of their performance."

To be sure, at least some musicians will perform. They'll be on a new stage near the barn, instead of their previous location in a wash. Charles Swanson of Tucson Puppetworks will emcee both nights, and his band The Brambleberries will be the "house band," Holnback says. But the members—Swanson, Will Duncan and Hadgi Banjovi—will do more than music.

Banjovi will light up the night by airing his collection of animated films outdoors. Puppetworks artists will deploy their shadow puppets, casting spectral images on a lighted backdrop. And audience members are welcome to join in and turn themselves into puppets if they wish.

"People can get up and interact," Holnback says. "There will be a lot of interactive stuff."

Kidd Squidd, DJ, revered rock 'n' roll historian and GLOW regular, will follow the rules by adding his rock 'n' roll videos to the music mix: "He'll set up a music station, play music and show his documentaries by the bunkhouse."

Nearby in the wash, the Physics Bus will be parked. A Tucson enterprise aimed at illuminating science for kids, the Bus will offers up such cool science attractions as lightning in a bottle. Fire dancers from Elemental Artistry and another local group will be a "troupe that travels through the grounds." A hip-hop troupe from Pistor Middle School in Tucson will dance in fluorescent costumes, lit by a black light.

The sculptures tucked away in the winding desert trails tend toward "things that are moving, projections and music," Holnback says. GLOW regular Mykl Wells this year presents a "giant hypnotic eye." Faithful GLOW goers will remember his giant white tent with flickering projections from a few years back, and last year's "big cat woman out of cardboard."

Another returnee, Michael Carroll, has made a "jack-in-a-box with music," after staging a "UFO ballet" last year. Performance artist Colleena Hake will use an illuminated wedding dress and a sheet to draw in moths in her show, "Moth-er."

The operating GLOW principle, Holnback explains, is: "What is the most unexpected thing you might come across in the dark in the desert?"

The answer to that question, hands-down, is officers of the law.

Two years ago, GLOW quickly dimmed when deputies from the Pinal County Sheriff's Office raided the ranch and shut the celebration down. After declaring the festival illegal, deputies herded hundreds of festival-goers back to their cars under threat of arrest, creating a massive traffic jam on the narrow road. The Tucson band Carnivaleros was playing when the police riot broke out, and bandleader Gary Mackender was manhandled and handcuffed for 20 minutes.

Pinal County Sheriff Chris Vasquez, up for re-election, apologized for the fracas within days. One deputy was demoted, and Mackender got a cool $20,500 settlement for his travails, as well as material for a new song. Holnback herself didn't sue over the invasion.

"I wanted to see GLOW continue, and give them the opportunity to have good things come out. It's great to have their support in the long run."

Last year, operating with the cooperation of the county, GLOW glimmered without a hitch. Holnback expects a peaceful party again this year.

"Things are back to normal," she says confidently. "I went to the county (and) met with all the deputies. We have the continuing support of the sheriff's department. The liaison is a lieutenant who is a local Oracle person. She brings her kids, and her mom is an artist."

The Carnivaleros performed their GLOW song last year, but won't be in the lineup this time. Fans can console themselves with Mexican food on the premises from Oracle's Casa Rivera. Or they can go into the historic ranch house to sample treats baked by Sarah Hardin, the Oracle Pie Lady.

And they should remember to shimmy on down to GLOW in the shiny. Holnback suggests metallic fabrics, glowsticks and glittering jewelry.

"I encourage people who come to dress up in GLOW costumes," she says, "to join in the celebration and experience the whole thing."