There’s more going on in the Valley in February besides Valentine’s Day activities or big-ticket sporting events like Super Bowl LVII and the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The next few weeks will bring local geeks to chance to play with Legos, engage in costumed mayhem with shopping carts, celebrate the sequential art form at the inaugural Arizona Comic Book Arts Festival, and check out All Elite Wrestling’s first-ever visit to our state. Several annual events will also return for their 2023 editions, including the VNSA Book Sale and Arizona Matsuri Festival.
Here’s a look at where to let your geek flag fly this month in metro Phoenix.
The annual Arizona Renaissance Festival is probably not the most perfect recreation of an actual 16th-century Tudor-style English village (the presence of fanciful creatures like dragons and mermaids, as well as various anachronisms, sort of destroys that notion). Then again, you don’t go to the 50-acre springtime attraction, located at 12601 East US Highway 60 in Gold Canyon, to nitpick historical accuracy. You go to watch jousting, dress in garb, interact with fairies, buy hand-crafted items from artisans, drink mead, and eat various food skewered with sticks. This year’s festival runs weekends through Sunday, April 2. As is the norm, multiple themed weekends will be offered, including a visit by local time traveler cosplayers on February 25 and 26. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are $33 for adults, $21 for children 5 to 12, and free for kids 5 and under.
If you haven't heard an episode of this locally produced podcast/audio drama, you’re missing out on some high adventure. Set in a steampunk version of France in the early years of the 20th century, it follows the exploits and escapades of Saffron and Zinnia, a married lesbian couple and do-gooders who foil the plans of The Six, a villainous cabal bent on world domination that’s led by Lord Buxton Blue, Piker Pendulum, and The Red Rapscallion. The Swashbuckling Ladies Debate Society is very much in the mold of old-timey radio dramas like The Shadow and makes for fun listening. Its cast — which includes locals Amy Shaw, Anastasia Plumb, and Kara Gallo — will stage a live audience recording of a new episode from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, February 6, at the Neighborhood Comedy Theatre, 214 West Main Street in Mesa. Tickets are $15.
Pee-wee's Playhouse inspired this Phoenix Idiotarod team in 2016.
Fair warning, Phoenicians: You might encounter gangs of costumed folks frantically pushing crazy-looking shopping carts around the downtown area later this month. Will it grab your attention? Most definitely. Should you be alarmed? Not at all, considering it’s just the running of the annual Phoenix Idiotarod. The urban shopping cart race and bar crawl will return on Saturday, February 18, and involve teams of five or more people dressing up themselves and a cart while engaging in playful mayhem and competing against other teams. Described as “fun competitions where sabotage, costume, and presentation are rewarded,” the event is put on by the Arizona Cacophony Society, a local urban pranking and social group, and benefits Valley nonprofit Helen’s Hope Chest. If you’d like to join in the fun, sign-ups will be accepted via the society’s website through February 14. It’s $50 per team to participate.
Bookworms, bibliophiles, and word nerds alike will flock to the Agriculture Center at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, 1826 West McDowell Road, on Saturday, February 18, and Sunday, February 19, to peruse tables stacked with more than 500,000 books, albums, magazines, maps, games, CDs, and DVDs. It's the biggest secondhand sale in the Southwest and is attended by tens of thousands of patrons each year, many of whom will begin lining up the night before. Books and other items start at $1 each and many titles will be half-priced on February 18. Admission is free and parking at the fairgrounds will be $10. More info can be found on the event's website.
There’s a simple pleasure to had snapping together colored plastic bricks and creating something fun. Hence the joy of playing with LEGOs, which is at the heart of Brick Fest Live!, a touring event celebrating fandom for the popular construction toy that’s coming to the Bell Bank Park, 1 East Legacy Way in Mesa, on Saturday, February 18, and Sunday, February 19. Attendees can partake in a mix of building activities involving blocks and bricks, like adding to a graffiti wall, a collaborative floor mosaic, or a Minecraft-like display. There will also be derby races involving custom-built vehicles, life-sized characters like Batman and Darth Vader made from LEGOs, and an interactive stage show. You can even jump into a giant pit filled with 200,000 bricks (um, ouch). Admission is limited to two-hour sessions between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day. Tickets are $19.99 for GA and $37.99 for VIP, which includes a souvenir badge and pin. More info is available here.
When John Williams was awarded an AFI Life Achievement Award in 2016, George Lucas told the assembled crowd that the legendary composer’s score for the original Star Wars raised the sci-fi flick “to a level of art [that] would stand the test of time.” Williams has a habit of doing that with many of the films he scored, including such classics as Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. If you grew up watching those films, you also owe a debt to Williams for helping soundtrack your childhood. Later this month, the Phoenix Symphony will perform selections from some of his best-known film scores, such as Star Wars, Saving Private Ryan, and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Performances will take place at 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 18, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, February 19, at Symphony Hall, 75 North Second Street. Tickets are $34 to $102.
Toni Storm (standing) takes on Anna Jay during an episode of AEW Dynamite.
All Elite Wrestling
Fans of All Elite Wrestling rejoice. The upstart promotion, which launched in 2019 as an alternative to the WWE, will make its long-awaited debut in Phoenix when it comes to Footprint Center, 201 East Jefferson Street, on Wednesday, February 22. Its flagship program, AEW Dynamite, will be broadcast live from the arena on TBS and then tape its second show, AEW Rampage, to air two nights later on TNT. It’s the first time the promotion has brought its shows to Arizona after largely staging events on the east coast and in the Midwest since its formation. The lineup for the Phoenix shows hasn’t been announced yet, but current AEW world champion (and all-around asshole) Maxwell Jacob Friedman, tag-team champs The Acclaimed, and former Valley resident Bryan Danielson are all likely to appear. The wrestling action starts at 5 p.m. Tickets start at $29.
Indie Film Fest
Like its name portends, this four-night festival from Tuesday, February 21, to Saturday, February 25, will offer a multitude of independent flicks, ranging from dramatic and documentary features to shorts, music videos, and even multimedia installations. Multiple events will take place at various locations in downtown Phoenix, including an opening night event with screenings at 7 p.m. on February 21 at The Churchill, 901 North First Street, followed by the “Original Storytellers Night” on Wednesday, February 22, at Cahokia, 707 North Third Street, that includes a creative happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. and screenings and an indie filmmaker discussion panel from 7 to 9 p.m. An outdoor block party will be held at Second and Roosevelt streets on Friday, February 24, and the grand finale party is set for February 25 at the Irish Cultural Center, 1106 North Central Avenue. Ticket prices vary per event. Complete details and the full schedule are available on the festival’s website.
The sequential art form will be celebrated at the Arizona Comic Book Arts Festival.
Arizona Comic Book Arts Festival
Are you of the opinion that comic book conventions should be more about, you know, actual comics instead of pop-cultural free-for-all populated by celebrities? You’d fit right in at the Arizona Comic Book Arts Festival, which launches on Saturday, February 25, at the El Zaribah Shrine Auditorium, 552 North 40th Street. The daylong event will celebrate the sequential art form and the creatives who work in the medium. More than 70 artists are set to appear and the lineup features such names as The Boys co-creator Darick Roberston and Eisner Award winners like Mitch Gerads, Steve Rude, and Mike Kunkel. Retailers from around the Valley will have tables and booths at the festival, including Ghost Cactus Comics, Bookmans, and Retro Exchange. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $30 for adults, $10 for teens, $2.50 for children 2 to 12, and free for kids 2 and under.
Pay a visit to Steele Indian School Park, 300 East Indian School Road, on Saturday, February 25, and Sunday, February 26, for the long-awaited return of the Arizona Matsuri Festival, which was last staged in 2020 prior to the pandemic. Anything and everything related to Japanese culture will be featured at the event, including Japan-inspired displays, games, and traditional artwork. There will also be live entertainment ranging from taiko drumming to martial arts demonstrations, a haiku expo, a cosplay contest, tea ceremonies, and a host of vendors. Patrons can also enjoy a repast of Japanese eats (including ramen, yakitori, and takoyaki). Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Admission is free. A full rundown of the festival is available on its website.
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