It is “Ahwatukee’s Funnest Night Out,” or so says the Festival of Lights’ website of the 22nd annual Festival of Lights Wine & Beer Tasting on Saturday, April 29.
Held for the third year at Rawhide Western Town, just south of Ahwatukee, the event is an evening gathering of adults to raises funds for the nonprofit FOL’s Million White Lights Display, which illuminates Chandler Boulevard from 24th Street to Desert Foothills Parkway from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.
The move to Rawhide from Foothills Country Club two years ago was necessitated by weather and availability, said FOL president Janyce Hazlett.
“Although the club was a lovely venue and in Ahwatukee, they could give us only summer dates due to their wedding schedule. It was really quite hot for us in June, so we began searching for a venue that could host in April,” she explained.
“Rawhide approached us and offered April. It’s really a wonderful venue and quite close as well. We were quite concerned about the move out of the neighborhood, but it did revitalize the organization, as well as the event itself. This year, we have quite a few new sponsors and other purveyors.”
Hazlett knows well what works for the FOL and, as one of the original women founders, is deeply invested.
“I was a founder with two other ladies back in 1995, when we saw the wonderful lights on Chandler Boulevard come down as the builder Del Webb completed its marketing campaign of this area,” she recalled.
“I’ve been involved in the Festival of Lights for most of the past 22 years, and in 2015 they needed a new president. I’d never taken on that position, so I decided to give it a try and am now in my third year,” she said, adding:
“Our all-volunteer committee includes very dedicated folks and we’re always looking for more.”
Besides volunteers to help before, during and after the event, the FOL Wine & Beer Tasting Committee is seeking additional sponsors and contributors for its silent auction.
“This has evolved into Ahwatukee’s signature event for adults,” said Hazlett of the evening that annually attracts about 500 people.
The FOL also sponsors the annual FOL Kickoff, an enormously successful daylong, family-friendly event the Saturday after Thanksgiving that concludes with the now famous lighted-motorcycle parade ushering in Santa.
The FOL Wine & Beer Tasting Event provides event goers with a selection of more than 50 varieties of wines and beers, food samples from a dozen or more area restaurants, live music by Trapwire, and line dancing with Ahwatukee’s Carrie McNeish.
The event’s silent auction is well-known for the quality of their items including jewelry and trips, and for the quantity. Traditionally, over 100 items are up for bid in this major fundraising portion of the fundraising event.
“We don’t usually talk money but we did take in almost $20,000 in our silent auction last year,” said the FOL’s Susan Anderton, the organization’s president in 1997-98 and now in her fourth year as secretary.
“This year, we once again have some great items: Muhammad Ali autographed gloves, Bondurant Fiat two-day package, two Soul Cycle beach bicycles, wine and more wine baskets, decorations for a Christmas tree, birthday party for 10 at Main Event, Larry Fitzgerald autographed helmet and much more,” she said, adding there are select items to fit every budget.
Anderton encouraged participants to “dress comfortably” for the outdoor event, and because part of the venue is packed dirt, suggested “closed-toe shoes.”
For the third year, tickets remain $50 each, or attendees can save $10 with $240 Six Shooter Package. Parking is free.
Tickets for the 6:30-10:30 p.m. festival can be purchased at FOLAZ.org, or at the three Ahwatukee Safeway stores: Safeway at Desert Foothills Parkway and Chandler Boulevard, Safeway at 40th Street and Chandler Boulevard, and Safeway at 48th Street and Elliot Road.
Hazlett said besides supporting the FOL Million White Lights, the event aids local charities.
“This year we’ve chosen three charities as recipients of a portion of our proceeds: Y OPAS - Outreach Programs for Ahwatukee Seniors from our local YMCA, Kiwanis Club of Ahwatukee and Starbright Foundation,” she said.