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Best Annual Festival

Fourth Avenue Street Fair
(between University Boulevard and Ninth Street)

READERS' PICK: What a shock! Our readers voted the Fourth Avenue Street Fair (for the dozenth time). Why do we love the street fair so? It's a veritable cornucopia of all the kinds of folks who make Tucson interesting. Also, you can perfect the art of eating free samples with the studied countenance that suggests you are giving serious consideration to actually purchasing any particular nut product, salsa, or mustard. Plus, you can donate a couple of bucks to local non-profits while pretending you might actually buy a fine hand-crafted object d'art.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Tucson Heritage Festival, Downtown Presidio Park

CLUE IN: The Tucson Folk Festival is one of those quiet gems (we wish it were louder, but it is, after all, folk) that's an Old Pueblo spring classic: a homegrown, unique event organized with sparse funds, noble efforts, and a wing and a prayer by volunteers from the Tucson Kitchen Musicians brigade. The traditional first weekend in May time slot and the often wilting heat in Presidio Park remind attendees annually that this is the Last Fun Thing to Do Before Summer.

Two stages provide a continuous, eclectic variety of acoustic music--real folk music by real folks. This year's headliners gave the festival a big-time, yet still intimate feel: The bluesy folk of Chris Smithers and Dede Wyland and her soaring-ballad voice were the Saturday- and Sunday-night closers.

Though increasingly a stop for a wide variety of out-of-town performers, the charm and drawing power of the Folk Festival still resides in the profoundly local ambiance. Where else are you going to hear long-time Tucson acoustic warriors Elise Greco, Earl Edmondson, Ice Nine and the Spud Rock Rangers all in one day?

CLUE IN: A week-long confluence of music, dance, passion and fire hits town the last week of each April, and it's no coincidence that the summer heat comes right on its heels. The International Mariachi Conference brings together fledgling folklórico dancers and musicians with world-famous mariachi bands, big-name talent like local diva Linda Ronstadt, and Los Changuitos Feos. In recent years, the annual affair has become something of a victim of its own success. The big Friday concert is sold out weeks in advance, leaving late-comers and out-of-towners little chance of taking part. But the big Saturday street fair (Fiesta Garibaldi) offers three outdoor stages with music from noon to 10 p.m. All that and admission is absolutely free--a consolation prize that ends the festival with a feel-good bang.

Case History

1997 Winner: Fourth Avenue Street Fair
1996 Winner: Fourth Avenue Street Fair
1995 Winner: Fourth Avenue Street Fair

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