Razor Harp

Tucson, meet master acoustic harmonica player Phil Wiggins

Get a taste of East Coast blues from the experts at Tucson Meet Yourself downtown this weekend when master acoustic harmonica player Phil Wiggins lights up the stage twice for the Visiting Performer Series.

Wiggins has recently been named an NEA National Heritage Fellow for his work in the Piedmont blues, an East Coast style that brings together his acoustic harmonica with his band, The House Party, which rounds out the sound with violin and guitar alongside traditional blues dancing by Junious Brickhouse.

"Here in Arizona we just don't get to hear this music," said local blues legend and TMY Artistic Liaison Tom Walbank. "Phil is one of the last masters of this tradition, so you should really take the chance to see and experience these shows. It's going to be upbeat, danceable fun."

Phil Wiggins is the headliner of the new Visiting Performer Series, which will bring heritage and traditional arts performers from all around the country and abroad to perform for the audience downtown.

"We have got a really strong musical lineup this year," Walbank said.

While there are always musical performances at the festival, there will be more of a spotlight on the visiting performers headlining acts this year with the new program.

"The art of folklore has always been looked down upon as a small part of the art world, but it is what gave us the blues," said Program Director Maribel Alvarez. "We are 44 years old this year, and we want to be fresh and do something new."

Performances are just one part of the festival that draws Tucsonans to celebrate together downtown every fall. An estimated 100,00 to 120,000 people attend the festival every year, making it one of the biggest festivals to hit downtown. Tucson Meet Yourself was highlighted as one of Tucson's top 10 festivals in the recent designation of Tucson as a World Festival and Event City, one of only nine internationally.

"People have called TMY the festival of festivals," Alvarez said. "Everyone has their own festivals, but TMY is a democratic place where we all come together to gather all of the diversity and cultures and capture the dignity of the people of Tucson."

The schedule for the festival this weekend is jam-packed with worldwide food, fun, local art and culture. Best known for its wide variety of delicious food (much of it on a stick), the festival also features local artisans, dancers, musicians, chefs and creatives of all sorts for a weekend packed as full as the park will be.

This year, the festival features an "Around the World" theme at the Culture Kitchen with live food demonstrations of recipes from Bolivia, Israel, Nepal and Somalia among other countries. Education plays a large role in the aspiration of the festival, explained Alvarez, and trying foods from different cultures is a great way to learn.

"Education is provided not in a classroom but by tasting Nicaraguan food and thinking, 'Wow, I didn't even know we had a Nicaraguan population here,' or watching a traditional Hawaiian dance that isn't the Hula and realizing that there are more," Alvarez said.

To bring it all back home, the festival will also feature a Masters of Traditional Arts exhibit with 10 Arizona artists who are all recipients of the Southwest Folklife Alliance Master Apprentice Alliance Award.

In total there will be 100 performances across three stages, 100 folk artisans and 58 food vendors to satisfy any and all cravings for music, art and good eats.

"TMY is a Tucson tradition in itself," Alvarez said. "It is a festival that celebrates tradition, and it has now become its own tradition."

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