Arts & Culture Team Reviews: 2nd Saturdays Downtown

Arts & Culture Team Reviews: 2nd Saturdays Downtown

Arts & Culture Team Reviews: 2nd Saturdays Downtown 2000 2000 Tucson Young Professionals

Top 3 things to do at Tucson’s 2nd Saturdays Downtown – by Celine Lucas

When one thinks of going downtown on a Saturday night, I’m sure the schedule revolves around getting some food, enjoying a drink, and perhaps seeing a show but why not all three events in one that highlight some of Tucson’s most special and unique attributes: Art, Music, Food and Tradition?

Each second Saturday of the month, Second Saturdays Inc. hosts “2nd Saturdays Downtown.” This free, all ages experience features “local vendors, musicians, food trucks and more” according to 2nd Saturdays Downtown website. This event runs down Congress Street, in between 5th Ave and Stone Ave from 5pm – 10pm.

Walking down Congress Street, we came upon the beginning of the event, vendors were lined up along both sides of Congress Street, we could smell the aroma of fresh food and hear downtown bustling with activity and live music in the distance.  I would like to think of this as a mini street fair, or an “urban street festival” per board member Donovan Durband. He also noted that, “2nd Saturdays is always the busiest Saturday of every month and is often the busiest night of every month downtown.”

(photo by Visit Tucson)

Top Three Things to do at 2nd Saturday’s Downtown:

  1. Browse the vendor booths
    • Many local artists line the way of Congress Street to showcase their artwork and designs.  I bought some earrings made by Coy Creative and my husband bought a railroad nail bottle opener by Rusty Paws. There were other handmade pieces – soap, candles, ceramics, welded lamps, dog bandanas and crystals, among other Tucson-exclusive items.
  1. Support local businesses and enjoy delicious food
  1. Listen to live music
    • Enjoy live performances at the Scott Ave. Stage.  The local bands and musicians that were there on 7/9 were Natalie PohanicArmando Moreno and The Revival, and Daytrails.   People were dancing by the stage and the performers did a great job engaging the crowd. Durband said, “We always brought in local Tucson musicians to perform.  They write and perform their own music; we generally don’t showcase cover bands.  The standard format is three bands or artists playing consecutive sets at the Scott Avenue stage.”

2nd Saturdays Downtown was created to be reminiscent of the Downtown Saturday Night series that ran from the late 1980’s to early 2000’s.  At the time, events were hosted by Tucson Arts District Partnership (ceased in 2003) and Tucson Downtown Alliance (TDA, 1998) also known as Downtown Tucson Partnership (DTP) since 2007.  According to Donovan Durband, former executive director of TDA/DTP and board member of 2nd Saturdays Downtown: the initial series was four monthly events that were called Downtown Saturday Night. They made a name change in the mid-2000’s to Downtown Saturdays and in between 2009 and 2010, DTP decided on the new name of “2nd Saturdays Downtown.” Durband described the initial vision for the street festival: “The plan was to close that one block of Scott and use it as the street event focal point, and then line up vendors along Congress and potentially cross streets, in the parking spaces, so that visitors could walk along the sidewalks and have the businesses on one side and vendors on the other.  Scott Ave. would have a stage featuring all local bands, and food trucks and seating.  Closing that block of Scott instead of Congress or Broadway would be minimally disruptive to traffic, would allow people to get around, access parking, etc., and it’s centrally located.”

(Photo by 2nd Saturdays Downtown)

On May 8, 2010, the event we know today came to life. Influential business entrepreneurs were instrumental in creating the experience that we have enjoyed over the years: Fletcher McCusker with Providence Service Corp. (Board Chair), David Slutes from Hotel Congress, Michael Keith from the Board of the Screening Room (who became the CEO of DTP soon after the launch and former board member), Nicole Flowers who co-owned 47 Scott (coincidentally opening the day 2nd Saturdays launched), Luke Cusack who owned A Steak in the Neighborhood (where Elliot’s now stands), Dave Olsen with Zocalo (previously with TDA/DTP), Jaime Manser who assisted with band booking as well as Huna Hammond, the [current] production coordinator/manager and owner of Arizona Pro Sound.  Durband said it’s possible he’s forgetting someone and mentioned Mia Schnaible with the Screening Room was always a supporter and “kept the venue activated” on 2nd Saturdays.

Durband reflected nostalgically on their first events:

The first event was wildly successful in our estimation.  We paid for programming of the Fox, Rialto, and the Screening Room; we had buskers, street performers, including the “Silver Statues” in addition to music, vendors, kids’ activities and classic cars.  In the early days, we also had access to the empty lot where Hexagon/The Monica now stands, and we used that for kids’ rides and activities.  We painted a “movie screen” on the east-facing wall of the Western Union building/Annex at 20 E. Congress, and projected movies.  That “screen” can still be seen above The Monica’s patio, and it still says 2nd Saturdays on top as originally painted.  2nd Saturdays worked with the Fox on activation during each 2nd Saturdays during the early years. 

Several businesses would be more active (than just being open) such as gallery openings, entertainment in their spaces, etc., and we also activated some empty storefronts on Congress and on 6th Avenue.  We had the Flandrau Planetarium/College of Science staff do a pop-up interactive science space where they did science demos and experiments, each month for several months.  Bookman’s did a pop-up bookstore and there were others that did one-off or recurring pop-ups. For a year, we had a second music stage on the rooftop level of the Pennington Street Garage—which I control as the Administrator of Park Tucson.

A handful of the original board members/founders are still involved, and additional board members have joined over the last couple of months and years: Brandi Haga-Blackman with Rio Nuevo (Haga-Blackman worked with Durband at TDA and Rio Nuevo is currently 2nd Saturdays main sponsor), Bonnie Schock who is the executive director of the Fox Theatre Foundation and Matt Milner who books the bands. It’s worth mentioning that Visit Tucson is also another main sponsor of the event.

Despite some obstacles due to weather, construction and COVID, the future looks bright for 2nd Saturdays, as it will continue to operate regardless of what may come. Durband said, “Future development of the 75 E. Broadway building may force the relocation of the event again, but we’ve made many adjustments over the years and won’t hesitate to relocate again as needed.”

Durband concluded saying, “I know the Board is very proud of the many thousands of people we’ve helped to bring Downtown over the last 12 years. The event helps bring customers to downtown businesses, and I think we helped to change how people think about coming Downtown.  2nd Saturdays boosted the other Saturdays and the other days/nights as well. Even if you eat at a food truck during the event, hopefully you discover a new restaurant and you return on another date to enjoy that restaurant.”

Everyone is welcome to attend 2nd Saturdays Downtown and to celebrate everything Tucson.  While creating these blog posts, I have experienced and explored Tucson in a different and enlightening way … it’s almost like rekindling a relationship with an old friend.  I would invite you to do the same: take a chance, step out of your regular routine, see the city through a new lens, and take advantage of the rich, exciting and eclectic scene that is Tucson.

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About the Author:

Celine received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from the University of Arizona in 2017 and her Master of Education in Human Relations from Northern Arizona University in 2018. This fall, she is attending Arizona State University to pursue her Master of Science in Technical Communication.  Currently, she is a Senior Enrollment Counselor for The University of Arizona Online and writes blogs and articles for Tucson Young Professionals Arts and Culture team. In her free time, she enjoys writing, editing, doing makeup, singing and spending time with her friends, husband and dogs.