Bedazzling in your Uncle Sam novelty hat and puffy-paint flag shirt, with nowhere to go? At least it's the Fourth of July this time -- and not your cousin's bat mitzvah. (Don't worry -- we've made the same mistake.) No need to waste your ingenious ensemble on homemade barbecues and beer-guzzling friends this Fourth. There's plenty of mass-produced meat and public displays of drunkenness for all.
Why not start early? The City of Avondale blows its load with a Fireworks Festival on Saturday, July 3, at Phoenix International Raceway, 7602 South 115th Avenue, featuring live music, a kids' zone, an F-16 fly-by, and a presentation by the Wildlife World Zoo. Festivities begin at 6 p.m.; admission is free. Call 623-478-3050 for details.
For something a little more cultural, head to Mesa. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, A Star Spangled Symphony fills the Mesa Amphitheatre, 201 North Center, with patriotic classics. Best of all, this stars-and-stripes salute is free. Call 480-827-2143.
Fear not, Fourth fanatics: There are plenty of opportunities to light your sparklers on the actual Independence Day. Nearly every city plays host to a barrage of cookouts, concerts and fireworks displays on Sunday, July 4. The question is, which is worthy of your red-white-and-blue-striped suspenders? Let's start with the freebies.
Glendale's Hometown 4th of July Celebration boasts a 20-minute, 1,300-shell fireworks show at Glendale Community College, 59th Avenue and Olive, at 8:40 p.m. Admission is free, but you can rent a table with eight chairs on the GCC field for $60; call 623-930-2961.
Also free -- and admittedly fabulous -- is the Fabulous Phoenix 4th celebration, which has moved from Wesley Bolin Plaza to Steele Indian School Park on Third Street and Indian School. Running from 4 to 10 p.m., the event starts with two stages of entertainment and climaxes in a fabulous fireworks exhibition. (Not as fabulous as your American-flag-shaped Afro, by the way.) Visit www.phoenix.gov for parking sites and shuttle routes.
The All American Festival at the Peoria Sports Complex, 16101 North 83rd Avenue, is divided into zones, ensuring entertainment for everyone. There's a country music zone, a rock zone, a kids' zone, a food zone and a water zone, where -- as the city's Web site promises -- "you are guaranteed to get wet." (Finally, our type of party.) Gates open at 5 p.m.; fireworks start at 9:15. Admission is $5 for adults; kids 12 and younger get in free. Visit www.peoriaaz.com for more.
Tempe has followed suit, categorizing its celebration at Tempe Beach Park, Mill Avenue and Rio Salado Parkway, from 3 p.m. to midnight. Fourthies can enjoy various stages of live music, from Caribbean to pop, along with a beer garden, food courts and a kids' play area. Fireworks blast off from the Mill Avenue bridge at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5.50 at any Safeway store or $8 at the gate. Check out www.tempe4th.com for available parking.
For a little bit of everything, shoot up to Scottsdale's Rawhide Western Town, 23023 North Scottsdale Road, for its 35th annual celebration. Along with live country music, line dancing, cookouts and children's entertainment, the event boasts the Valley's largest and newest ground fireworks display at 8:40 p.m., which precedes the aerial show at 9. Call 480-502-5600 or log on to www.rawhide.com.
As exciting as ground fireworks sound, don't get too close. We hear puffy paint is highly flammable, and we wouldn't want your Fourth to be anything less than fabulous.