The Tucson Folk Festival is a highlight of the local music scene, regularly winning the Tucson Weekly's Best of Tucson readers' poll. The free festival also marks the unofficial end of comfortable outdoor music events for the season before the summer swelter and doldrums set in.
The festival is a labor of love by the Tucson Kitchen Musicians Association. Now in its 16th year, the annual gathering on the first weekend in May draws national talent as well as the best folk musicians in the state. Some 70 acts will perform on three stages during the two-day event.
This year, in addition to headliner Jimmy LaFave, other national acts will include songstress Eliza Gilkyson, Native American Keith Secola and bluegrass phenom Martha Trachtenberg.
Popular local attractions include Kathy and Shanti, Black Leather Zydeco, Keith Curtis, the Titan Valley Warheads, Mark Holdaway and Stefan George. Styles range from traditional folk to blues, bluegrass and country, and even a little mariachi.
KXCI-FM, 91.3, will broadcast the festival live.
Eliza Gilkyson developed a following as a New Age folk singer with her airy hit, "Calling All Angels." The daughter of musician Terry Gilkyson and sister to former X guitarist Tony Gilkyson, (a sometimes guest in town with Al Perry), lately she has moved away from her earlier ethereal sound to a more down-to-earth style. Her lyrical inventiveness, however, is still in evidence on her latest release, Hard Times In Babylon. Gilkyson performs at 8:15 p.m. Saturday and again at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Keith Secola won Best Independent Recording last year at the Native American Music Awards. His "NDN KARS," a celebration of the richness of life that can be found even in the economic poverty of reservation life, has become a Native American anthem. He also did the soundtrack for the PBS documentary, Native Americana. Secola performs Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Martha Trachtenberg was a member of Buffalo Gals, one of the first all-female bluegrass bands. She's also the voice singing on commercials ranging from Miller beer to Folger's coffee ("The best part of waking up ..."). Her own music is more country-flavored, with a dollop of jazz. She plays Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Finalists from the festival's songwriting competition perform on Saturday from noon to 2 p.m., with the winner playing again at 6 p.m. This year, the competition drew more than 60 entries from around the country, a mark of its growing prestige. A ballad tree song circle gives newcomers a place to meet other musicians and perform their original works.
Food vendors keep the crowds well fed with ethnic favorites, reminiscent of fall's "Tucson Heritage Experience" festival.
Many of the performers offer workshops at the festival on songwriting, instrumental techniques, and various folk music traditions and genres. The workshops are free.