A Mighty Festival

The Tucson Folk Festival is back for another weekend of acoustic tunes, offered up for free

Each spring for nearly two decades, Tucson music fans have enjoyed two glorious days of mostly acoustic music outdoors in the downtown area, courtesy of the hard-working and generous Tucson Kitchen Musicians Association.

As in years past, this weekend's 19th annual Tucson Folk Festival is free of charge and held primarily under sun and stars. Some 200 acts will appear on four al fresco stages Saturday and Sunday, May 1-2, in and around downtown's El Presidio Park.

The event will include instrumental and songwriting workshops, a songwriting competition, a children's show, traditional interactive events such as a Ballad Tree and a Song Circle, as well as live broadcasts of the headliners' sets on community radio station KXCI-FM. Also, a special Friday-night kick-off, featuring Tucson's Wayback Machine and special guests, will be held April 30 at Old Town Artisans.

National headliners Karla Bonoff and the Austin Lounge Lizards will join local and regional acts playing blues, Celtic, bluegrass, folk-rock, ethnic, gospel, Cajun and contemporary and traditional folk.

The comic country band Austin Lounge Lizards, as you might guess, is from Austin, Texas, and plays just about anything country, Western swing, hillbilly, bluegrass and conjunto, as long as they can wrap the music around some humor, which alternates between scathing and gentle. Bred in Ivy League schools and philosophy programs, the guys have been together for 20 years and have released eight albums, such as Never an Adult Moment, Employee of the Month, Highway Café of the Damned and Creatures From the Black Saloon.

The band usually has most folks tapping their feet to authentic twang and dance numbers well before they even notice the subject matter of such tunes as "Shallow End of the Gene Pool," "Jesus Loves Me (But He Can't Stand You)," "Old and Fat and Drunk," "Stupid Texas Song," "The Dogs, They Really Miss You," "Love in a Refrigerator Box," "Put the Oak Ridge Boys in the Slammer" and "40 Years Old."

Further evidence of the Austin Lounge Lizards' eminence is the fact that they wrote and played the bluegrassy breakdown that serves as the theme song for the NPR show Car Talk.

Coming from Texas, you just know these guys will stay supplied with more than enough material to fuel their social and political satire for years to come. Think Monty Python's Flying Circus if they grew up playing the Grand Ol' Opry. Imagine setting a Molly Ivins column to music. That's the idea.

The Austin Lounge Lizards will play the 9 p.m. slot on the Plaza Stage Saturday. They also will facilitate a band workshop at a time on Sunday still to be determined.

Closing the festival on Sunday night will be the wonderful singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff, author of such classic pop and country-rock tunes as "Someone To Lay Down Beside Me," "Wild Heart of the Young," "Isn't It Always Love," "Tell Me Why," "Baby Don't Go" and "Personally."

Although her material is considered primarily mainstream folk-rock of the laid-back '70s school--you know, like Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg--there is something undeniably haunting and beautiful in Bonoff's dark melodies and her sweet, melancholic voice.

Although the sultry Bonoff is a performer of sophistication and renown in her own right, many listeners will know her songs as sung by other artists such as Wynonna Judd, Bonnie Raitt and Tucson homegirl Linda Ronstadt, who also had a hit on Bonoff's "All My Life" with duet partner Aaron Neville.

Bonoff will perform at 8 p.m. Sunday on the Plaza Stage, accompanied by guitarist Kenny Edwards, a longtime collaborator and former member of Ronstadt's band. Edwards also will play his own set, as well as lead a workshop, at times during the festival to be announced.

As usual, the festival will feature a plethora of food and craft vendors spread out all over El Presidio. The Sunday-night post-festival bash at the nearby Radisson City Center Hotel also will be open to the public.

Show times not listed here, as well as artist lineups, were still being compiled at press time. Free programs with all the details will be available at the KXCI studio, 411 S. Fourth Ave., starting Thursday, April 29. Check the Tucson Kitchen Musicians Association's Web site (tkma.org) for more details as they are released.

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