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Fire Your Imagination and Your Palate at the Funky Downtown Tucson Festival

Fire Your Imagination and Your Palate at the Funky Downtown Tucson Festival

If youíre standing on a corner in Tucson, Arizona later this month be sure to watch for the ornery gunslinger holed up on Congress Street. Brace yourself for a shoot-out, too.
Itís January in Tucson, and interests are turning to the Wild West. Along with gorgeous weather, these next two months bring a host of home-on-the-range events to our city Ė from parades and old west round-ups Old West Roundup, to poetry gatherings Cowboy Poetsand fiddle contests Hotel Congress Dillinger Days)  Ė a family-friendly (and free!) weekend festival which kicks off the regionís rodeo season.

This year, the Dillinger weekend showdown is January 23-25.  Thatís when Iíll head downtown to the historic train depot and the restored Hotel Congress Hotel Congress  Iíll enjoy fabulous food, tours, lectures and a rollicking re-enactment of a famous gangster escapade. Itís an experience of rough-and tumble tradition from the southwestís colorful past. 

The Dillinger Connection
Back in January 1934 John Dillinger ruled one of Americaís most notorious gangs Ė and fate found him in Tucson that month, hiding out at the Hotel Congress after a midwest robbery. Unfortunately for the Dillinger gang, a fire at the hotel smoked them out. When two of the gang insisted that firefighters rescue some suitcases (and gave a hefty $12 tip for the effort)Ö.well, that appeared mighty suspicious. A melee ensued, lots of cops-and-robber shenanigans, but in the end Dillinger and his gang were captured.  Itís still a point of pride that Tucsonís finest were able to apprehend a most infamous American criminal.

Gangsters, Farmers & Music, oh my!
Tucsonís Hotel Congress is a national historic treasure and hot boutique hotel rolled into one. As grand host of the Dillinger capture commemoration, the hotel sponsors the re-enactments which take place on Saturday (January 24). Crafts, music, vintage car show and other activities continue throughout the weekend. Because Iím a local food enthusiast Iím drawn to the newly opened Maynardís Market & Kitchen (  in the train depot. Maynardís features local farmer produce, baked goods and regional crafts. It also serves a delicious minestrone soup brimming with local vegetables, so Iíll have a bowl of that with a big cup of locally roasted coffee while Iím ducking the shoot out. Late night offerings and wine tastings are also offered, so if thereís time you can sit out in back of the marketplace with your drink, watching the freight trains pass while checking iPhone messages. With the Tucson Mountains as a glorious rugged backdrop, this downtown trek is chock full of natural eye candy.

The Dillinger festival includes a 1930s-styled ball, tours of the gangís hotel hideout and a vintage car exhibition. The restored train depot houses a Transportation museum ( where you can browse artifacts and learn more about the era. Movies like The Gay Desperado will be running further down Congress Street at another restored building, the Fox Theater Fox Tucson Theatre
Everyone is encouraged to dress in 1930s garb. Who knows, you might be selected as an extra in the re-enactments. As for me, after my depot stop Iíll tour the nearby Tucson Museum of Art, where an exhibition of American art by Maynard Dixon runs through February 15 In fact, thereís a row of edgy, diverse Arizona galleries cropping up in the downtown district, with Southwest-themed exhibits perfect for this season. Ah, thatís another story.

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