This Week's Day-by-Day Picks

Thursday, March 18
Our enthusiasm for cultural outings is directly proportional to the amount of free food involved. We become the most passionate of patrons this Thursday, March 18, when the Scottsdale Gallery Association partners with the Scottsdale Culinary Festival to put a tasteful twist on the city's weekly ArtWalk. While food sampling stations provide a preview of next month's festival of feasting, "A Taste of Art" ArtWalk invites gallerygoers to chew and view at various exhibition openings and artist receptions. The free event runs from 6 to 9 p.m. at venues lining Main Street and Marshall Way in downtown Scottsdale's arts district. Call the ArtWalk Hotline at 480-990-3939 for more information; see www.scottsdalegalleries.com for a schedule of gallery events.

Great taste, more fulfilling. Chug for charity at the Valley's four Rock Bottom Brewery locations, where, on Thursday, March 18, the Eighth Annual Firechief Ale Tapping welcomes the thirsty -- and civic-minded -- to rub elbows with local firefighters. Free samples flow from 6:30 to 7 p.m., but the party don't stop there: For every Firechief Ale sold through April 9, 25 cents will be donated to firefighter charities throughout the Valley. See www.rockbottom.com to find out where to hit Rock Bottom.

Friday, March 19
IndyCar drivers get hot and extremely heavy this weekend on Phoenix International Raceway's one-mile oval. According to the Indy Racing League, a driver's body temperature can climb to 103 degrees during a race -- and sustaining 4 to 5 lateral G's during turns "is similar to having a 40- to 50-pound weight attached to one's head." Only the headstrong survive the Copper World Indy 200 Weekend, which gears up with practice and qualifying races on Friday, March 19. The Menards Infiniti Pro Series Phoenix 100 and USAC National Midget Series Race follow on Saturday, March 20, with the USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown and Copper World Indy 200 wrapping up the weekend on Sunday, March 21. Drivers Buddy Rice, Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Adrian Fernandez boast the "home track" advantage at PIR, 7602 South 115th Avenue in Avondale. Call 602-252-2227 or check out www.indyracing.com for race times and tickets, $10 to $140.

Saturday, March 20
We're not talking baseball, but body building: If you build it, somebody's gonna come. On Saturday, March 20, the muscle-bound are bound for downtown's Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe, for the 2004 NPC Natural Western USA Bodybuilding, Fitness, and Figure Championships. Mike Valletta -- model, actor and star of Leather and Iron -- and National Physique Committee competitor Colette Flack emcee the show, while flex educators fill the lobby with the finest fitness paraphernalia. The buff get going in prejudging sessions starting at 10 a.m.; the finals follow at 6 p.m. The first 800 attendees at the evening show score a free contest tee or baby doll shirt; BYO body oil. Tickets are $10 for prejudging, $30 for the finals. Call 602-340-4917 or see www.npcmilesproductions.com for more information.

Sunday, March 21
Central Avenue doubles as Party Central this Sunday, March 21, when the 14th annual "Sunday on Central" street festival shakes down downtown Phoenix. Stretching from Virginia to Osborn, the free fest features five entertainment stages, plus puppet shows, food and craft booths, hands-on activities and wandering performers. Among the Sunday best: Gary Noel's "Doggies of the Wild West Show," Masters Division World Yo-yo Champ Mark Hayward, and "Those Funny Little People," who mix music, comedy and audience interaction. While the Skyriders trampoline acrobats catch wicked air, juggler Mad Chad catches running chain saws (we hope!). Local troupes -- including Footklan, Dance Phoenix, and the River of Life Hip Hop Squad -- ensure dancing in the streets, and the Chadwicks, Shallow Water, Cascabel, and Chicano Power Revival head up the live music lineup. The revelry rolls from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; call 602-534-FEST or see www.phoenix.gov/CALENDAR/soc.html for a schedule.

Monday, March 22
Arizona Opera ends its season on a high note this Monday, March 22, with a final production of "the greatest love story ever sung." A tale of young artists plagued by disease and poverty, Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème premièred in 1896; exactly 100 years later, the opera's reincarnation stormed the stage and won four Tony Awards. Though it added some modern touches (i.e., AIDS and drag queens), Rent retained Puccini's plot, right down to the male lead lighting Mimi's fire. Sung in Italian with English surtitles projected above the stage, La Bohème wraps its run at 7:30 p.m. at Symphony Hall, 225 East Adams. Ticket prices range from $30 to $115; call 480-784-4444 or see www.azopera.org to order.

Wednesday, March 23
Magic horns? Not exactly. These Unicorns pack "Horn Magic" electronic trumpets. Plugging last year's release, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?, the up-and-coming Canadian band -- "more charisma than Ween, and with all the geek love" -- sounds off at Modified Arts, 407 East Roosevelt, this Tuesday, March 23. Sharing the bill: I Am the World Trade Center's "slam-dunk synth," and Paper Lions. Doors open at 8 p.m. for the all-ages show; admission is $8. Dial 602-462-5516 for details.

It's the Final Four countdown. The road to the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship cuts through downtown Phoenix this year, where regional rounds hit the court March 25 and 27. The ticket supply has dried up, but roundball fans can get game (or a reasonable facsimile) on Wednesday, March 24, when the contenders prep for tournament play. Free and open to the public, the practice session runs from noon to 4 p.m. at America West Arena, 201 East Jefferson. See www.ncaa.com for March Madness updates.

 
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