By Joan Fudala
The 2020 and 2021 event seasons will take a notable place in Scottsdale history, described as “canceled, postponed, virtual, masked, socially distanced, few or no spectators and cardboard cutout fans in seats, creative, enduring and hopeful for the future.”
The global COVID-19 pandemic hit Scottsdale in March 2020—amid a booming signature event season.
Baseball Spring Training games were canceled after two weeks of play, the Scottsdale Arts Festival became a virtual event and the Scottsdale Culinary Festival was postponed to a safer time, just to name a few.
Dozens of public and private events, dinners, fundraisers and concerts were canceled or postponed indefinitely. However, as the pandemic dragged on, and public gatherings were strongly discouraged (especially indoors), event organizers got their creative juices flowing. Some events went virtual. WestWorld became a venue for drive-in events, like the community July 4 celebration and celebrity concerts. Shopping center parking lots began hosting drive-in movies. There were drive-by graduation and birthday parades and Zoom concerts and parties.
So, in years without COVID, how have Scottsdale’s signature events evolved, changed dates and places or run their course? Take a look, listed in order of the event’s “Scottsdale seniority” (and please note that all 2021 dates were as of December 15, and are subject to change due to COVID-19):
Parada del Sol began in November 1951 as the Sunshine Festival, an event designed to kick off Scottsdale’s tourism season. The parade and barbecue were originally sponsored by the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce and the Scottsdale Riding Club, who turned the reins over to the newly formed Scottsdale Jaycees in 1954. The JCs changed the event name to Parada del Sol, moved it to January and added a rodeo in 1956. The parade route, although primarily in Old Town, has changed direction and length many times. The rodeo has moved from a vacant lot where Fashion Square now stands (1956-58), JC’s rodeo grounds near Scottsdale Stadium (1959-1984), Rawhide (1985-2005) and WestWorld (since 2005, and also in 2001). Despite the changes (no more beard-growing/shaving off contest called Whiskerino, no Parada queen and court, no Scottsdale High Beaver Band, no JC Mavericks staging a mock bank holdup, no Scottsdale Jaycees or Lazy J’s organizations), Parada remains Scottsdale’s oldest, beloved signature event, including the arrival of the Hashknife Pony Express, which began in 1959. This year, instead of its usual early February date, the 68th annual Parada del Sol Parade & Trail’s End Festival is planned for Saturday, April 17, 2021, and will be organized by the Scottsdale Charros, joining the group of volunteers who have staged it since the Jaycees disbanded in 2009 as well as the city of Scottsdale. Rodeo Scottsdale is scheduled for March 4 to March 7 at WestWorld. See rodeoscottsdale.com and scottsdaleparade.com to confirm dates/times and attendance guidelines.
Arabian horse breeders Ed/Ruth Tweed, Anne McCormick and the Wrigleys organized the first All Arabian Horse Show in 1955 at the Arizona Biltmore. In 1956, the show was moved to the McCormick’s ranch in Scottsdale, where they built a special Paradise Park arena and grounds to host future shows (near the southwest corner of Pima Road and Shea Boulevard). It became the premier Arabian horse show in the United States, attracting horse owners, breeders and fans. Held annual in February, the show has moved venues from the Biltmore, to the McCormick’s Ranch, to Paradise Park, to a new Paradise Park on Bell Road/60th Street, and, finally, to WestWorld in 1989. In fact, a primary purpose of establishing WestWorld (originally called Horseman’s Park and HorseWorld) was to create a permanent home for the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show and other equestrian events throughout the year. This year, within COVID-19 guidelines, the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show is scheduled for February 11 to February 21 at WestWorld. See scottsdaleshow.com for date confirmation and attendance guidelines.
The Phoenix Open golf tournament got its start in 1932 at the Phoenix Country Club. Adopted as the premier project of The Thunderbirds in the 1930s, the tourney took a hiatus in 1943 due to World War II travel restrictions. In 1955 the Open, held in late January/early February, began an every-other-year rotation between the Phoenix Country Club and the Arizona Country Club on the Scottsdale’s western border, with Scottsdale reaping the tourism benefits. In its first year at the Arizona Country Club, the purse was $15,000, Gene Littler won and Arnold Palmer debuted as a professional golfer. The Phoenix Open was held at Arizona Country Club in 1957 (Billy Casper), 1959 (Gene Littler), 1961 (Arnold Palmer), 1962 (Arnold Palmer), 1963 (Arnold Palmer), 1965 (Rod Funseth), 1967 (Julius Boros), 1969 (Gene Littler), 1971 (Miller Barber) and 1973 (Bruce Crampton). In 1974, the open returned for a regular run at Phoenix Country Club until it moved permanently back to Scottsdale in 1987 with the opening of the TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course. Known now as the Waste Management Phoenix Open, it is consistently the most-attended event on the PGA Tour, with a rowdy crowd at its famous 16th hole. The Thunderbirds donate tourney proceeds to numerous Valley and Scottsdale non-profits. This year the open is scheduled to play at TPC Scottsdale February 1 to February 7. However, attendance will be significantly scaled down, with limited spectators on the course each day. See wmphoenixopen.com to confirm dates, times and attendance guidelines.
Raising construction money by preselling season tickets to a not-yet-built ballpark, the newly formed Scottsdale Baseball Club got the “winter nest for the Baltimore Orioles” completed by November 1955, and the birds held their Spring Training in Scottsdale in March 1956. The Orioles opted for the Grapefruit League after the 1958 spring season, so the Boston Red Sox took their place at Scottsdale Stadium. During the Sox’ tenure here, the Scottsdale Baseball Club turned the responsibility for hosting Spring Training to the newly chartered Scottsdale Charros, who have continued to host spring training teams at Scottsdale Stadium ever since. The Charros return revenues generated by the games back to many community organizations and schools. The Chicago Cubs replaced the Sox, playing at Scottsdale Stadium from 1967 to 1978; they were followed by the Oakland A’s (from 1979 to 1981). The San Francisco Giants became the longest-running home team for Scottsdale when they began holding Spring Training here in 1982. Spring Training has been disrupted by players’ strikes, owner lockouts, and the absence of any Major League team here for the 1966 spring season. An arson in the 1960s and the tear-down/complete rebuild of the stadium in 1991/92 didn’t stop the games, but last spring COVID-19 did. Although a Spring Training schedule for 2021 is posted on the Cactus League website, it has been reported that MLB is considering a delay due to COVID. See springtraining.com or mlb.com for the latest updates and attendance guidelines.
Begun in Scottsdale in 1971, the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Event has been held in Scottsdale every January since 1989—bringing international acclaim and cars of fame to Scottsdale. Russ Jackson and Tom Barrett joined forces to produce their first classic car event in 1967, the “Fiesta del los Auto Elegance,” staged at the Scottsdale Ballpark. By 1971, they were producing the now famous classic car auction from tents at Scottsdale’s Safari Hotel. Outgrowing the Safari site, for several years the car auction was held at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, that is until Mayor Drinkwater lured the show back to Scottsdale and WestWorld. Over the years, the event has grown to two weeks in January and attracts well over 200,000 attendees. Other car auctions held during January in or near Scottsdale—Russo and Steele Collector Automobile Auction, Gooding and Company, Bonham and others—have added to the tourism draw and economic impact of the collector car phenomenon in Scottsdale for many years. Barrett-Jackson has announced it has rescheduled its annual January show to the week of March 22 at Scottsdale’s WestWorld. Check barrett-jackson.com to confirm dates/times and attendance guidelines.
In 1971, Scottsdale hosted the first annual Scottsdale Arts Festival. The February 12 to March 14, 1971, event was staged in various venues throughout Scottsdale. It featured long-time Scottsdale resident artists Philip Curtis, William Schimmel, Paolo Soleri, Agnese Udinotti, Walter Bohl and several others; Arizona photographer Carlos Elmer; and performances of the Scottsdale-Phoenix Civic Ballet at Scottsdale High School and Phoenix Chamber Music Society at Kerr Studio. The festival also incorporated the annual Scottsdale-based National Indian Arts Exhibition and the annual Arizona Designer-Craftsman show-sale. It has continued to be held as a three-day event on Civic Center Mall every March, although snow and ice impacted it in 2006 and COVID canceled it at the last minute in 2020, turning it into a virtual, online event. Fingers crossed for the in-person 51st Annual Scottsdale Arts Festival scheduled for March. See scottsdaleartsfestival.org for dates and attendance guidelines.
Since 1978, the Scottsdale League for the Arts has presented the Scottsdale Culinary Festival, the longest-running festival of its type in the nation, according to its website. Proceeds from the event support local arts nonprofit organizations. Last year’s event in mid-April was canceled due to COVID; see scottsdalefest.org for 2021 updates and attendance guidelines.
During December, the big white tents for the annual Celebration of Fine Art began to rise, a Scottsdale tradition since 1989 when Ann and Tom Morrow established the show on Scottsdale road just north of Fashion Square. Now staged by their daughter, Susan Morrow Potje, it’s held on North Hayden Road just south of Loop 101. This year’s event is scheduled for January 16 to March 28; check celebrateart.com for event details and attendance guidelines.
Some of Scottsdale’s events are a pleasant part of history, no longer held here (or anywhere) for one reason or another. Remember the National Festival of the West? The Scottsdale National Indian Arts & Crafts Exhibition? The All Indian Days Pow Wows? The October Fair carnivals? The Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf played at Grayhawk, the inaugural Skins Games played at Desert Highlands and The Tradition played at Desert Mountain? Circus Flora? The Thunderbird Balloon Classic at WestWorld in the 1990s? La Posada and the Miracle of the Roses Pageant every December at OLPH?
Who can forget one of Scottsdale’s dirtiest annual traditions…Mighty Mud Mania, which we hope will be back in 2021, COVID permitting. We’ve also enjoyed Art Walk since the 1970s and any event at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park since 1975.
Scottsdale’s signature events are part and parcel of our lifestyle, anticipated by residents and visitors and a huge boost to Scottsdale’s economy and local nonprofits who benefit from event sponsors’ generous grants. Let’s hope for the sake of the organizers and attendees that Scottsdale’s signature events can safely be held in 2021…whether we wear masks and socially distance…or enjoy the event in front of our computer or TV screens. As history shows, no matter what the obstacle—weather, strikes, date or venue changes or even a pandemic—Scottsdale loves and attends its events!