The Festival of Lights Kick-Off Party

The Festival of Lights Kick-Off Party on Saturday at Desert Foothills Parkway and Chandler Bouelvard offers a variety of amusements for young and old alike.

The 24th Festival of Lights Kick-Off Party will once again bring the community together this Saturday, Nov. 30, for a day of camaraderie, music and games as well as the iconic Lighted Motorcycle Parade ushering in the arrival of Santa.

This FOL Kick-Off also marks the last official event for Janyce Hazlett, current FOL president and one of the Festival of Lights original founders who remained active in the nonprofit for 24 years.

With more than 15,000 people once again expected to attend, the annual event grew so popular - all available spaces in the Marketplace Street Fair, Restaurant Row and Food Truck Trail were spoken for well in advance.

Not unusually, the only gaps waiting to be filled are some sponsorship spots and volunteers. 

“We use about 50 volunteers the day before the event Nov. 29, and on Saturday we need almost 300 volunteers,” explained Laurie Davis, who has chaired the volunteer committee for the past five years of her 10 years on the FOL committee.

Only about 117 volunteers were registered to help last week.

 Davis said volunteers can step up even on FOL Kick-Off Day.

“We still have 178 open spots so yes, we’re still in need of volunteers. Getting volunteers for breakdown Saturday night is always one of the hardest to fill,” the 14-year Ahwatukee resident said.

She encouraged all willing persons to sign up on the volunteer section at FOL.org, noting, “It’s good for students 12 and older as they can earn community service hours.”

Entertainment is once again provided on two stages that feature both local and professional entertainers beginning at noon.

The Festival Stage this year opens with performers from Ahwatukee’s Music Maker Workshops, followed hourly by the School of Rock, Sonoran Surfers, Little Debbie and headliners Tripwire, performing at 5 p.m.

With Ahwatukee DJ Paris Garcia as M.C., the Candy Lane Stage supplies a cornucopia of local entertainment from local elementary schools, including the Sierra Strikers and  Esperanza Mallet Ensemble, as well as the Cantabile Honors Chorale of Horizon Honors High School.

This is the first year DJ Paris Garcia is assisting with the FOL Kick-Off. 

 The dad of three young sons and a seven-year Ahwatukee resident has provided DJ service at the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA, which then recommended him to the FOL. 

He also DJs at downtown’s First Friday and Zen Nights events.

The Holiday Attire Pet Parade at 3 p.m., hosted by local realtor Christie Ellis, is an event showcasing local pets in their holiday finery that has proved popular since its inception four years ago. 

Sponsored by Pet Planet, registration is limited to 12 entrants and can be made online.

At 2:30 p.m., the 21-member Kyrene de la Esperanza Mallet Ensemble performs. The group, comprised of fifth-grade students who auditioned for berths at the end of fourth grade, play marimbas and xylophones under the guidance of Kyrene Schools music specialist and Esperanza teacher Jessica Van Oostrom, who holds a doctorate in music. 

The group started in 2009.

This is the second year Debbie Hoover has served as an entertainment chair. 

After teaching 20 years at Kyrene Monte Vista Elementary, Hoover joined FOL as a volunteer and then joined the board 18 months ago.

“When I retired, I knew I wanted to find involvement in the community I’d lived in with my family for 23 years,” said Hoover, adding:

 “This has turned out into a family affair as my husband Gary volunteers and my son Todd’s band (Sonoran Surfers) plays on the Festival Stage this year.”

A current line-up of entertainment for both stages is posted there.

Another fan-favorite returning event is the cornhole tournament run by KB Kornhole Games, hosts of the annual Arizona State Cornhold Championships. 

This year the games will be enclosed within The Tavern fencing, where all ages are admitted but alcohol is served only to those over 21 and wearing wristbands.

The cornhole tournament, in its third year at the Kick-Off, encompasses all ages and skill levels, with further information and times on the FOL website. 

The Marketplace Street Fair, chaired this year by first-year FOL volunteer and three-year Ahwatukee resident Tammie Wagner, will feature a variety of vendors from Tukee T-shirts to upcycled handmade artworks. 

There are 30 inflatables, rides and games for children available for $20 unlimited access or 50 cents a ticket.

Possibly the most anticipated part of the day is the arrival of Santa, ushered in by the Lighted Motorcycle Parade at 6:30 p.m. 

In its 18th year, the parade features bikes decorated for Christmas and escorted by the Phoenix Police Department. 

Up to 100 Harley-Davidson and other motorcycles convene at Foothills Baptist Church at Chandler and 21st Street before roaring into Desert Foothills Park.

 Santa also rides a wheeled vehicle provided this year by Big O Tires. 

Riding with Santa will be FOL president Hazlett, who in years past had ridden her Harley-Davidson Softail in the parade, alongside her husband Bill on his own Harley.

Following Santa’s arrival Saturday, the Million White Lights decorating the cactus, ocotillo and palo verde trees on Chandler Boulevard from 24th Street to Desert Foothills Parkway are illuminated to brighten Ahwatukee’s holiday nights through New Year’s Day.

The Festival of Lights Kick-Off Party is held at Desert Foothills Park at Chandler Boulevard and Desert Foothills Parkway, starting at noon and going until 8 p.m.

The Tavern, complete with television screens for football watching, is open this year until 9 p.m.

To augment parking at Desert Foothills Park, free parking and shuttles are provided from the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA at 1030 E. Liberty Lane, and Kyrene Altadena Middle School, 14620 S. Desert Foothills Parkway.  

Proceeds from the FOL Kick-Off and the annual spring FOL Wine and Beer Tasting help keep the Million White Lights shining and also aid local charities. 

For more information on the Festival of Lights Kick-Off, see FOLAZ.org.  Sign-up for volunteers and events can be made online.

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