A small group attend one of last year's concerts put on by Friends of Madera Canyon at the Historic Canoa Ranch. 

Though the Friends Of Madera Canyon had to move its popular concert series from the canyon to the Historic Canoa Ranch due to COVID-19, shows are still selling out and a partnership is growing.

Last year was the first time the nonprofit that  supports Madera Canyon brought music to Canoa Ranch. Their first concert of the current season is March 28.

Tickets for the five concerts in the Music Near the Canyon series scheduled through May 2 sold out within about an hour and a half.

Friends President Rusty Lombardo said it’s not uncommon for their shows to sell out, especially now that they have needed to limit  occupancy to 50.

“So, what we did this time is we gave our membership priority and it actually still sold out,” he said. 

They could potentially get permission from Pima County to open up additional tickets.

Though it's too soon to say when the concerts will return to the canyon, Canoa Ranch is working well for the group.

“We’re considering all options,” he said. “It’s lovely to be up in the canyon but on the other hand Canoa Ranch is a great venue and they are very kind to offer up the space.”

The partnership with Canoa Ranch should only continue to grow.

Canoa Ranch Superintendent Matt Smogor said working with the Friends of Madera Canyon makes sense.

“Our partnership with Friends of Madera Canyon I think is very important because Madera Canyon is a great facility and there are a lot of parallels between the two, there are a lot of people coming to Madera Canyon and Canoa Ranch for similar interests — to get outside, to view nature,” he said. “We are not entities competing, we’re complementing one another and it’s wonderful to have all these amenities in such close proximity.”

Last fall, Smogor worked with the Friends on an agreement for the use of site and planning, as well as providing some chairs for concerts and volunteers to help during events.

“Everyone’s been creating contingency plans and alternative methods to deliver what they offer,” he said. “There was an opportunity to see if Canoa Ranch could entertain the Friends, utilize the site to accomplish some of their fundraising goals. I’m always happy to interact and be a team player and figure out the best way to obtain their goals within the covid safety plan.”

Proceeds of the concerts go toward the Friends of Madera Canyon education program, which has vastly moved online in light of the pandemic.

“We’ve been handcuffed by COVID as far as hands on education — bringing fourth-graders up into the canyon,” Lombardo said. “We’ve been working for almost a year on our virtual learning program. The objective is to deliver science based content directly towards fourth-graders, but anyone can go on the site.”

Their virtual program includes videos, written stories, enrichment activities and projects to complete.

Along with the concerts, the Friends are beginning to take steps toward resuming some of their regular services, like managing the visitor information center which has been closed due to the pandemic.

Lombardo said they recently surveyed volunteers about returning.

“We’ve filed our safety plan with the Forest Service and we’ve had very positive feedback from our volunteers,” Lombardo said. “We’re ready to reopen again and are asking to modify our original safety plan. It’s good. Everyone is anxious to get outside and anxious to see other people.”

The Friends have continued their scholarship program and just received applications. They have doubled the total amount they will give out this year.

They’re also paying the musicians performing at Canoa Ranch more money than previous years, to try and help these gig-based workers who have seen a decline in work through the pandemic.

Canoa Ranch, which hosts large annual hallmark events like Anza Trail Day and car shows, as well as community events like Music Near the Canyon, is starting to resume their programing as well.

They have a concert March 25 in conjunction with Friends of the Canoa Parks, a part of the Green Valley Council Foundation.

Smoger said they have tentative plans for future events. He’s hopeful to collaborate with Friends of Madera Canyon in the future as well.

“I think it's a neat step forward to show initiative and work together in the current climate with covid,” he said. “I hope we can bring more groups in to share resources and celebrate together.”

Jamie Verwys | 520-547-9728 


Reporter Jamie Verwys grew up in Sahuarita and graduated from the high school in 2006. She lives in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2018.