Best Performance Venue/Outdoors

Reid Park DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center

Country Club Road and 22nd Street

READERS' PICK: A cooler, a blanket, some sun screen, your dog and 14,999 of your best friends, and you're ready for the second-largest annual Vietnam vet gathering in the country...and it's held the same place where Titania falls in love with Bottom. The DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center, in the southwest section of Reid Park, hosts many small events, and more than 30 major cultural events per year -- ranging from the "Nam Jam" and community theatre Shakespeare in the Park series, to a half-century-old fiddling contest and ceremonies for the Senior Olympics. Its large, grassy amphitheater sloping upwards from its elevated stage (capable of accommodating a full orchestra) make DeMeester a fine, and sometimes even glorious, setting for its variety of concerts. Did we mention the Civic Orchestra, the Tucson Pops, dance groups ORTS and Tenth Street Danceworks; the annual Peace Fair, the AIDS memorial, KQTL-sponsored concerts in Spanish; and annual jazz and blues festivals? It's a venue not to be missed; and best of all, it's almost always free.

READERS' POLL RUNNERS-UP -- TIE: The Pima County Fairgrounds, 11300 S. Houghton Road, provide an outdoor venue for all kinds of local and national musical talent, including the annual Santana summer gig, skateboarding exhibitions, low-rider shows, quilting contests and bungee jumping. Upcoming spectaculars will feature chupacabra roping, the Precision Africanized Bee Team Challenge, and the launching of failed mayoral candidates into decaying orbits.

But just to prove that real life is stranger than fiction, a recent weekend saw the fairgrounds play host to both a national dressage competition and a monster truck rally. The contrast between the starched, well-heeled horsey set and the shot 'n' a beer monster truck mavens was cataclysmic. An added attraction, at no extra cost, was the non-sanctioned, after-hours truck rally held next to -- and at times on -- the R.V. parking grounds.

Of course, as the hearing is impaired watching this mechanical brinkmanship, the appetite increases to compensate. The culinary options presented (as they should be) are heavy on the dough, saturated fats and animal parts not commonly found in the grocery store. So, friends, grab a 12-pack, fire up that bitchen Camaro, and head out to the fairgrounds for a night like no other.

St. Philip's Plaza, 4340 N. Campbell Ave. (at River Road); and Plaza Palomino, 2970 N. Swan Road (at Fort Lowell Road). The primary function in both plazas is upscale retail and small office space; but each boasts a courtyard patio that's become an appealing venue for the music scene. In addition to its tree-lined drives, ample parking and open arrangement of galleries, jewelers and restaurants (see Best Lunch Over $5, page 47) St. Philip's features three separate jazz series in the spring, summer and fall.

Plaza Palomino similarly houses jewelers, restaurants and boutiques, with intimate to small performance spaces nestled within its saltillo and Mexican tile arcade. Strolling solo musicians and mostly acoustic ensembles have made appearances here in the past couple of years. The Courtyard Concert series runs May though September, which isn't a bad time of year to take advantage of the Palomino's industrial strength outdoor misters. Expect to find an eclectic mix of Afro-Cuban, blues, jazz, R&B, New Orleans funk and random world beat among the musical offerings. At a recent Mollys show, the audience -- decked out in everything from piercings and flat-tops to Mayan-inspired boutique fashions -- polkaed and waltzed till the late night hours on an improvised dance floor.

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