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Best Annual Festival

Fourth Avenue Street Fair

READERS' PICK: Forget the Renaissance Festival in Apache Junction--all you'll get there are turkey drumsticks and awful British accents. For a real Renaissance experience, go to the Fourth Avenue Street Fair. Held twice a year (spring and winter), the Street Fair offers colorful homemade crafts, traveling musicians, jugglers, clowns, mimes, face-painting, children's rides and an unparalleled opportunity for people-watching. You can also drink beer under police protection.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: We hate to speak of Tucson Meet Yourself in the past tense, but in case you missed last year's best event for stuffing yourself full of all kinds of Thai chicken, sweet potato pie, Vietnamese egg rolls, Indian fry bread, Scandinavian pastries and more tasty treats from a couple dozen other groups of people, all in between lots of ethnic music and dance, we're sorry to report you've missed the last one. Alas, the annual Tucson Meet Yourself is no more. The extremely popular downtown event, organized and hosted for 21 years by Southwestern culture lovers Big Jim and Loma Griffith, was put out to pasture last year after its October run. But don't despair. Hope is in the air, that even though the name Tucson Meet Yourself has been retired, the Cultural Exchange Council will step in and fill the need to get us out to meet our neighbors and friends who've settled in these parts for the past few centuries. Their plan, from what we hear, is to call it the Tucson Heritage Experience Festival. THE Festival. Get it? Yeah, we think it will probably be hard to lay the Tucson Eat Yourself name to rest, but we're hopeful THE Festival will be able to continue this extraordinary volunteer effort.

STAFF PICK: "Chiles, hot chiles!" goes the refrain of a bilingual rap song performed with the help of chile puppets, much to the delight of the children in the audience at the annual Fiesta de los Chiles. The colorful dresses of ballet folklorico dancers still swirl in our minds as we await a chile-loving bluegrass band. Hot music and performances complement the chile foods, crafts and displays that celebrate the Southwest's favorite produce. A fundraiser for the Tucson Botanical Gardens and Native Seeds/SEARCH, and a fun-raiser for all, this fiesta guarantees a hot time. The festival is usually held on the third weekend in October at Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way.

CAT'S MEOW: The Waila Festival, held on the sidewalk, in the street and parking lot just south of the Arizona Historical Society every April, is a celebration of the music and culture of the Tohono O'odham people. Sometimes called Chicken Scratch, Waila music is a hybrid of norteño (itself a blend of German polkas and Mexican rancheras), country and odd Papagueria jazz. With the traditional instrumentation of accordion, alto sax, bass and drums, the music is lively, two-step dance heaven. There are numerous bands (a rare opportunity for musicians from remote corners of the reservation to get together and jam), exhibits of jewelry and basket-making, as well as numerous offerings of deliciously heart-stopping fry bread. The real treasure here is to see the O'odham, whose cultural mark is so often squeezed into the margins of our society, flock to the festival, and share in their obvious pride and affection for this tribute to their art and music.

Case History

1998 Winner: Fourth Avenue Street Fair
1997 Winner: Fourth Avenue Street Fair
1996 Winner: Fourth Avenue Street Fair

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