Concerts, festivals, shows, and other special events happen nearly every day in the Valley. The Arizona Office of Tourism publishes a comprehensive event listing that's available at local tourist offices and online at www.arizonaguide.com. In Phoenix, you can stop by the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau at 50 N. 2nd St. or call the Visitor Information Line (602/252-5588, www.visitphoenix.com).
Celebrations continue around the Fiesta Bowl (Information: 480/350-0900 and Tickets: 480/350-0911 or 800/635-5748, www.fiestabowl.org), which kicks off the year on or near January 1. Glendale Glitters Holiday Light Display concludes mid-month with a display of lighted hot-air balloons. Competitors put their best stock forward during the Arizona Stock Livestock Show and Rodeo in late December and early January. The Scottsdale Celebration of Fine Art (www.celebrateart.com) brings together more than 100 artists, many of whom can be seen at work, at Scottsdale Road and the 101 Loop from mid-January to late March.
Scottsdale Celebration of Fine Art continues. The World Championship Hoop Dance Contest, sponsored by the Heard Museum (602/252-8848, www.heard.org) features fast-paced competition in the by Native Americans on the first weekend. Glendale Chocolate Affaire celebrates sweetness and romance along with entertainment, arts, and crafts. The horsey set enjoys Scottsdale's Arabian Horse Show at WestWorld (www.scottsdaleaz.gov/westworld), which hosts many other horse shows and sales through the year. Native Americans celebrate in the O'odham Tash Indian Pow Wow near the city of Casa Grande, 45 miles south of Phoenix, with a parade, rodeo, dances, and crowning of the O'odham queen. Fountain Hills hosts the Great Fair, featuring a hot-air balloon race, 5K and 10K runs, and the Southwest Arts and Crafts Show. Lost Dutchman Days and Rodeo presents a parade, rodeo, and bluegrass festival in Apache Junction. Step back to the 16th century for the Arizona Renaissance Festival (www.royalfaires.com) when a vast site southeast of Apache Junction becomes a medieval playground of tournament jousting, theater, crafts, food, and costumed performers; it begins early in the month and runs to late March on each Sat.-Sun. and Presidents' Day; see boxed text below. Parada del Sol (www.paradadelsol.org) in Scottsdale during the last two weeks of the month features the world's longest horse-drawn parade and a big rodeo. FBR Open Golf Tournament, is now the attracting big-name professional golfers each February to the Tournament Players Club in Scottsdale. Top PGA golfers compete in the Waste Management Phoenix Open (602/870-0163, http://wastemanagementphoenixopen.com/). VNSA Used Book Sale (www.vnsabooksale.org) sponsored by the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association, presents a huge selection on the second weekend at the Arizona State Fairgrounds; proceeds go to charities. Arizona Scottish Highland Games and Clan Gathering (www.arizonascots.com) brings out the pipes and drums along with athletic competitions, food, and games at Mesa Community College (northeast corner of Dobson and US 60).
THE ARIZONA RENAISSANCE FESTIVAL
For eight consecutive weekends each February and March, a merry town comes to life on the east side of the Valley of the Sun. Modern cares fade away as one walks through the gate into a 16th-century world of magicians, story tellers, comics, jugglers, and music makers. Entertainers on a dozen stages provide amusement for their audiences throughout the day, and you'll meet many costumed actors engaged in song, dance, or other festivities elsewhere in the 30-acre park. You're welcome to dress up too, and there's a costume-rental shop just inside the entrance. The emphasis is on fun—and joining in the non-stop activities. Artisans demonstrate their glass blowing, weaving, pottery, armor making, and other skills as you watch. Kids have many games of skill and chance. Jousting knights, dressed in armor and mounted on powerful horses, battle each other three times a day in the King's Arena, with the last match a "joust to the death."
Even in a full eight-hour day, you cannot see everything. An early start helps, and you can ask staff which shows are so popular as not to be missed. Actors in some of the stage shows toss out risque humor, but the program schedule lets you know which ones these are! Kitchens turn out such offerings as turkey drumsticks, steak on a stake, stews, and pizza. Pastries and chocolates may tempt you too. Or you can splurge on the Pleasure Feast, a two-hour dinner with lively entertainment, for $80 including festival admission; reservations are recommended.
The festival runs rain or shine: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, plus Presidents' Day, from early February to late March. Entry fees are $18 adults, $15 seniors 60 and over, $8 kids 5-12. Also budget some money for meals (no outside food is allowed) and tips for the performers. Call 520/463-2700 or check www.renfestinfo.com for days and times. From Phoenix, take the Superstition Freeway (US 60) east past Apache Junction and the Gold Canyon Resort to the festival village, which will be on your right. If you're driving from Tucson, either follow the Pinal Pioneer Parkway (AZ 79) or take highways I-10, AZ 87, AZ 287, and AZ 79 to Florence Junction, then continue northwest seven miles.
The Arizona Renaissance Festival and the Scottsdale Celebration of Fine Art continue. The Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market (602/252-8848, www.heard.org) brings more than 700 Native American artists to show and demonstrate their work, along with entertainment, food, and children's activities, on the first weekend. Baseball's Cactus League (480/827-4700 or 800/293-0071, www.cactusleague.com or www.visitmesa.com/spring-training/) plays spring training games at many stadiums in the Valley during the month. Scottsdale Arts Festival celebrates with juried craft booths, music, food, and children's activities at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall. Old Town Tempe's Spring Festival of the Arts features work by some of the Southwest's best artists and craftspeople, along with food treats and live performances on Mill Avenue. Chandler hosts the annual Ostrich Festival with ostrich races and arts and crafts booths. The Mesa Arizona Temple puts on an Easter Pageant during the week preceding Easter. Luke Day features a big air show with the U.S. Air Force's Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team, the U.S. Army's Golden Knights parachute team, civilian plane acrobatics, and ground displays; the event doesn't happen every year but it's worth seeing when it does; it may run in April.
Mesa Arizona Temple's Easter Pageant (480/654-1077) runs during the two weeks preceding Easter. Maricopa County Fair (www.maricopacountyfair.org) features entertainment, rides, and agricultural exhibits at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix. The Paradise Valley Jazz Party (www.paradisevalleyjazz.com) draws top talent. Glendale Jazz and Blues Festival plays in Murphy Park in downtown Glendale.
The Yaqui Indian Easter Celebration begins on Ash Wednesday and continues every Friday until Holy Week, then Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Dancers wear special masks and costumes in a reenactment of the crucifixion. The ceremonies, believed to be nearly 300 years old, symbolize the battle between good and evil. The Yaqui community sponsors the celebration at the Church Plaza between Iglesia and San Angelo roads in Guadalupe, southeast of Phoenix, 480/730-3080 (town hall).
Mexican music, dancing, and food mark Cinco de Mayo, the anniversary of Mexico's 1862 expulsion of the French; it's celebrated on the weekend nearest the fifth.
June to September
It's hot! Valley residents head for the nearest swimming pool or drive to the high country. Those who stay enjoy programs of musicals, plays, and concerts held at various locations. July 4th Fireworks explode in the night skies at Wesley Bolin Plaza in front of the state capitol and in Glendale. Fiesta Glendale celebrates Hispanic culture in downtown Glendale.
The Arizona State Fair (www.azstatefair.com) in Phoenix features exhibits of the state's best in agriculture, livestock, and home crafts, along with concerts, rides, and games. The Phoenix Art Museum (www.phxart.org) puts on the Cowboy Artists of America Sale & Exhibition.
The Arizona Wing CAF Museum in Mesa hosts the Annual Veterans Day Fly-in and Community Expo on the weekend leading up to Veterans Day; you can see warbirds roaring overhead and parked in ground displays along with special aviation programs. Murphy Park in downtown Glendale glows under a canopy of half a million lights in the Glendale Glitters Holiday Light Display from the day after Thanksgiving until mid-January.
Holiday celebrations include Festival of Lights (a festival and electric light parade in downtown Phoenix), Glendale Glitters Holiday Light Display, Heritage Square's Victorian Holiday, the Desert Botanical Garden's Noche de las Luminarias, the Phoenix Zoo's ZooLights, and the Mesa Arizona Temple's Christmas Lights (600,000 of them from late November through December). On the first weekend, Celebration of Basketweaving attracts skilled Native American artisans to the Heard Museum (www.heard.org). Tempe's Old Town hosts the Fall Festival of the Arts to exhibit the work of local and visiting artists, along with food, music, dance, and children's entertainment. On the second full weekend, Native Americans present entertainment, arts and crafts, and food in the Annual Indian Market, sponsored by the Pueblo Grande Museum (www.pueblogrande.com) and held at the Activity Center in South Mountain Park. Fiesta Bowl (480/350-0900, www.fiestabowl.org) activities in late December include an impressive parade, the National Band Championship, and sports events, all leading up to the big game on or near New Years Day.
On to Valley of the Sun Entertainment