Every fall, Tucson gets to take a long look at itself in the mirror. The occasion for the look is Tucson Meet Yourself, a lively three-day cultural festival now going on its 44th year. If you’ve never been to Tucson Meet Yourself before, make 2017 your year to introduce yourself to this indispensable Tucson tradition.
What is Tucson Meet Yourself?
Founded by long-time University of Arizona folklorist Dr. Jim Griffith in 1974, Tucson Meet Yourself has become one of the city’s most cherished annual traditions. Since 2014, the festival has been put on by the Southwest Folklife Alliance, a nonprofit organization at the University of Arizona’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Tucson Meet Yourself was designed to be a boisterous, heartfelt, and fun celebration of the rich, diverse, and multifaceted folk culture that is unique to the Arizona-Sonora region.
Tucson Meet Yourself is called a “folklife” festival, and the focus is as much on the “life” as it is on the “folk.” The goal of the festival, that is, is to provide a venue for the living traditions of a vast and complex community, from food to crafts to performance. More than 100,000 people flock to Tucson Meet Yourself every year, making the festival itself an ongoing part of the culture it honors.
When and where is the festival?
Tucson Meet Yourself has always unfolded in the heart of historic Downtown Tucson. This year, the festival will be happening at El Presidio Park, Church Street, and Jácome Plaza by the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. Admission is free. The dates of the festival for 2017 are:
- Friday, October 13
- Saturday, October 14
- Sunday, October 15
What will I see at the festival?
The heart of Tucson Meet Yourself is its celebration of the unique culture of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands, which encompasses lives and talents from across the entire world. When you visit the festival on any of the three days, you’ll have the opportunity to see fascinating craft demonstrations by artisans, enthralling live performances by musicians and dancers, and dazzling culinary demonstrations by cooks. Some of the folk arts highlighted at the festival include:
- Turkish tiles and ceramics
- Arabic calligraphy
- Taiko drumming
- Mata Ortiz pottery
- South Korean lanterns
- Traditional dances by members of the Pascua Yaqui Nation and the Tohono O’odham Nation
What about the food?
To many of the festival’s loyal attendees, it’s affectionately known as Tucson Eat Yourself—and it’s not hard to see why. The festival is home to about 60 food vendors, allowing you to experience delicious authentic cuisine from numerous cultures. Tucson Meet Yourself’s showcasing of Tucson’s local food economy is one of the reasons the city was the first in North America to be designated a World City of Gastronomy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Some of the foods you can try at the festival include:
- Turkish ice cream
- Traditional Tohono O’odham Nation fry bread
- French crepes and croissants
- Swedish meatballs
- Southern vegetarian soul food
- Polish pierogi and cabbage rolls
Is there anything new at the festival this year?
The big news for 2017 is that Tucson Meet Yourself has started a Visiting Guest Performer Series to highlight the talents of some fantastic artists from around the world. These master performers will be showcasing their arts, which include Piedmont blues, Puerto Rican dance, Northern New Mexico roots music, and Mexican lyrical opera. You’ll even have the opportunity to attend free workshops put on by some of these artists. This year, the guests are:
- Phil Wiggins’ House Party, with Phil Wiggins and Junious Brickhouse
- Julia Gutiérrez-Rivera
- Lone Piñon
- Sonora Lírico
Is the festival environmentally friendly?
Yes. There are no Styrofoam products at Tucson Meet Yourself and recycling is one of the festival’s top priorities. There are 24 “green stations” posted around the festival where visitors can choose between three options—trash, recycling, and compost—for their discarded materials. Items such as fruits, paper, and non-plastic food containers will be composted to make a local schoolyard garden.
What should I know before coming to the festival?
If you’ve never been to Tucson Meet Yourself before, don’t worry—the festival has a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Here are some tips that will help you enjoy yourself and get the most out of this unique experience:
- Arrive early. Tucson Meet Yourself is a very popular event, and while there are thousands of metered spaces around downtown (free after 5 p.m.), the ones near the festival area will fill up quickly. Arriving early will also help you get a head-start on the lines for the most popular food vendors.
- Bring cash. Many of the food vendors don’t accept cards, and you’ll probably want to sample as many different types of food as you can. If you don’t have cash on you, there are ATMs at the festival.
- Plan your day. If there are any performances or activities you have your heart set on, be sure to look up the dates and times. Grab a festival program and look for anything that interests you.
- Don’t skip Sunday. While Saturday tends to be the busiest day of the festival, there’s still plenty to enjoy on Sunday. Be sure to check out any special foods you’re craving as early in the day as possible—the most popular vendors sell out fast!
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