Tucson Meet Yourself is taking over three city blocks downtown this weekend so that Tucsonans can do what we do best: Eat.
OK, there’s more to Eat Yourself — sorry, Meet Yourself — than food.
There’s nearly 100 performances scheduled over the three days, from Friday, Oct. 7, through Sunday, Oct. 9, and dozens of visual artists on hand to display their crafts.
And there’s food.
Lots of food.
We counted 50 food vendors, including six that are new to the festival.
If you’re a newbie to Meet Yourself or an old hand who knows exactly which vendor serves the crispiest and chewiest and flakiest frybread; or which artist has the most intriguing style; or which band/singer draws the biggest crowds, we’re here to point you in new directions to get the best from the 49th annual Tucson Meet Yourself.
Aging and remembering
The “Memory Tent: Songs of Love & Aging” replaces last year’s “Loss & Remembrance Tent,” where people went to express the grief they felt over the pandemic, from the loss of relatives to the loss of life experiences. The new area, which will be a permanent feature of the festival going forward, celebrates the folklife of remembrance and how we grieve,
remember and commemorate loss and grief.
This year’s focus is on “Songs of Love and Aging,” which looks at the role music and culturally diverse, music-making traditions play in connecting us across generations and time.
Focus on accessibility, sustainability
The Southwest Folklife Alliance, which organizes the annual festival, trained a more focused eye on accessibility and sustainability at this year’s event.
Festival-goers can rent wheelchairs from the TMY Info Booth in the center of Jácome Plaza, with proceeds benefiting Southern Arizona Adaptive Sports. You also can bring your service animal to the festival grounds and there are ADA-approved portable restrooms throughout the grounds.
The festival also has set up 30 accessible ramps that cover up electric chords and wires to make it easier for those in wheelchairs and families pushing strollers.
TMY’s environmental consciousness starts with its new policy doing away with single-use plastic bottles.
That means its vendors are no longer selling water in plastic bottles. Instead, the festival is encouraging visitors to bring along their reusable bottles and fill them up at water stations throughout the festival grounds.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said TMY Communications Manager Kimi Eisele. “It’s this notion of, if we look at folklife and tradition, we also know that those are places of adaptability and change. Tradition is not static.”
The festival also is returning to its emphasis on composting with the return of the University of Arizona Compost Cats, a group of student volunteers who collect the food waste from the festival’s vendors to use for composting.
Festivalgoers can dispose of their leftovers and compostable plates in marked waste stations throughout the festival grounds, which covers three city blocks near Jacomé Plaza and in front of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave.
Eisele said the Compost Cats, which were not at last year’s festival, have diverted 35% of festival food waste from the landfill and helped create compost for local agriculture.
New eats among old favorites
There are six new food vendors at this year’s festival. Here’s what you can expect.
BBQ & Beats sells barbecue sandwiches, plates and mac-and-cheese from their truck, parked most weekends on North Fourth Avenue near IBT’s; bbqbeatsaz.com
Chris Chapman and his buddy Trevor Thornburg serve a side of fun with their barbecue pork sandwiches.
They will bring their months-old BBQ & Beats to the festival, where it’s a safe bet the majority of the folks stopping by for a two-meat plate with a side of mac-and-cheese or pulled pork sandwich have never heard of them.
“We are kind of trying to create almost a traveling circus,” said Chapman, who runs the business side while Thornburg works the kitchen.
The pair take their truck to North Fourth Avenue most weekends. In mid-September, they were at the 2022 Bisbee in Blues festival and have also done a festival in Flagstaff.
The “Beats” side of their business is what Chapman refers to as the “traveling circus.” While they are creating barbecue for diners, a DJ will spin tunes to entertain them.
Food2Door Catering has been serving home-cooked authentic Persian fare since 2021, catering corporate events and doing drop-off family-style meals. food2doorcatering.com
Persian food is not exactly a cuisine you can find on every corner in Tucson, but if you want to try authentic fare, give the two women behind Food2Door a visit. Their menu includes a beefy Lobia polo, an eggplant-based Kashke bademian and the ubiquitous Dolmeh, Persian-spiced ground beef with split peas rolled in green leaves.
On the sweet side, Food2Door is making Persian pistachio ice cream kissed with saffron and a refreshing Tokhmeh sharbati drink made with rose water, chia seeds and saffron.
Herculean Chicken launched in January, specializing in Taiwanese-style fried chicken; facebook.com/herculeanchicken
Taiwanese-style fried chicken is as a favorite for visitors of the nighttime markets in Tucson newcomer Alberta Chu’s childhood home of Taipei, Taiwan.
It’s sold from vendors lining the markets and setting up pots of boiling oil in neighborhood gathering spots that are popular for late-night noshing.
Chu, who moved to Tucson from Phoenix after marrying a Tucson resident in the spring, dressed her Herculean Chicken with a mix of Taiwanese spices then butterflies and pounds out boneless breasts into hand-held cutlets that are deep-fried then given a final dash of dry-rub seasonings before being served in a paper bag.
She also serves it as popcorn chicken in a paper bag with a skewer so that you don’t have to touch the food to eat it on the go.
Early this year, Chu put her law career on hold and dove into Herculean Chicken full-time, working events and pop-ups in Phoenix. Since she moved to Tucson, she expanded the stand to include events in Tucson, including last weekend’s Pride festival in Reid Park.
“Culturally I think (Taiwanese-style fried chicken) is pretty significant because it’s part of a lot of people’s lives,” Chu said, adding that she is excited to introduce the fare to Tucson Meet Yourself. “It is truly a street food. ... This product is designed to be conveniently eaten while you are out and about doing other things. And this is something I don’t see in other cultures’ fried chicken.”
MAD Filipino Cooking, offering Filipino stir-fry noodle and chicken dishes alongside pork or beef-filled Sioma steamed dumplings and Filipino barbecue chicken. instagram.com/mad.filipino.cooking
Off the Hook Seafood, a Southern-style seafood caterer, has been in business since 2000. It will introduce its menu of fried catfish and snapper alongside hushpuppies, pollock, shrimp, calamari, oysters and scallops. Side dishes include classic collard greens, potato salad and dirty rice. offthehookseafoodtucson.com
The Tucson Afghan Community hopes to tell its Tucson story with a menu that includes Qabuli Palow, a traditional rice and beef dish with carrots and raisins alongside the ubiquitous vegetable Sambosa and several other traditional dishes. facebook.com/tucsonafghancommunity
Remembering Big Jim
TMY has set up the “Memory Tent: Songs of Love & Aging” where folks that replaces last year’s “Loss & Remembrance Tent,” where people went to express the grief they felt over the pandemic, from the loss of relatives to the loss of life experiences. Tucson Meet Yourself will honor its founder and champion James “Big Jim” Griffith at this year’s festival. Griffith died Dec. 18 at the age of 86.
“It’s a big loss for us and his imprint is so indelible,” said TMY Communications Manager Kimi Eisele. “He’s of course everywhere. His teaching and his modeling of respect is really what the festival celebrates, this idea that we can come from wherever we come from and meet in the public square,
share food together, listen to music together, dance together make art together, rub elbows and have that moment of connectiveness is pretty radical. It’s the simplest concept.”
Griffith, who earned his nickname from his 6-foot-7 height and his equally towering love and advocacy for local culture and folk traditions, founded Tucson Meet Yourself with his wife Loma in 1974. He taught at the University of Arizona until he retired in 1998. Griffith was an anthropologist, author and folk artist, who played the banjo and guitar and mentored generations of indigenous and mainstream folk artists.
Some new music, too
As Tucson Meet Yourself nears 50 years, it can feel like you’ve met just about every musician, folk artist and cultural organization in town at this point.
That’s not a bad thing. We love our Gertie and the T.O. Boyz, our Seven Pipers, our Odaiko Sonora (which celebrates its 20th anniversary on Oct. 15).
And just like in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, new characters are always popping up.
Several new acts will be performing at this year’s big event, including Gamelan Dewi Malam, an 11-piece Balinese gamelan group that will be demonstrating and playing the traditional Indonesian musical genre on the Church Stage from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8.
Gamelan is a gong-driven style of music that uses metal instrumentation and can be different in sound depending on which Indonesian island it is coming from.
“Javanese gamelan is very slow,” said Martin Randall, director of the group. “Balinese tends to be a little more fiery and fast, complicated.”
Randall is British by birth. He first learned about gamelan as a student at University of California Santa Cruz in the early 1990s.
“It comes from such a fascinating culture,” Randall said. “We started going to gamelan concerts early on.”
Eventually Randall transitioned from fanboy to participant, joining the UCSC Balinese Gamelan Ensemble, then forming a community group that played regular concerts around the San Francisco Bay Area.
When he retired from his job in microchip design and moved to Tucson in 2015, gamelan followed.
He and his wife purchased a set of gamelan instruments from I Wayan Suweca, a well-known Balienese gamelan musician, and in 2017 started his own group in town.
Gamelan Dewi Malam has about 11 members. When they aren’t playing Tucson Meet Yourself, you can find them performing semi-regular gigs at Tohono Chul, 7366 N. Paseo Del Norte.
“We often play for their art gallery openings,” Randall said.
Follow Gamelan Dewi Malam at facebook.com/gamelandewimalam.
Gardenias AZ, another new addition to Tucson Meet Yourself this year, will play the Church Stage at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9.
The group consists of its two primary members, Melissa Medina on flute and Victor Cruz on guitar, and a rotating guest or two, depending on the gig. For Tucson Meet Yourself, local mariachi musician Salma Diaz will be joining them.
Together, they play a range of musical styles from Mexico, including traditional rancheras, boleros, even pop songs and some rock en Español.
Medina’s background is in mariachi. She learned the flute as a child and played it with the Arizona State University Mariachi Ensemble for several years.
As one of only a handful of mariachi flutists in the state, Medina is on call, both in Tucson and in Phoenix. She has performed with Ruben Moreno and Mariachi Luz de Luna and is a regular member of Mariachi Rubor, an all-female mariachi ensemble in Phoenix.
“Mariachi does have flute in some regions in Mexico,” Medina said. “It is not totally off the wall. Albums that came out in the 1940s and ‘50s are full of flutes.”
As a group, Gardenias AZ has played at Charro Vida and at the Tuxon Hotel. They have a standing weekly gig at La Indita Mexican Restaurant, 722 N. Stone Ave., each Sunday.
Follow Gardenias AZ at facebook.com/grupogardeniaaz.