The Gathering of Souls

October 30, 2013 |

photo: Dominic Bonuccelli,, courtesy of All Souls Procession

In it’s twenty-fourth year, the All Souls Procession returns to honor the dead and celebrate life in one of the Southwest‘s biggest events.

On Sunday, Nov. 3 the streets of downtown Tucson and the surrounding neighborhoods will be transformed for a yearly gathering of epic magnitude for a divine purpose. Drums will bellow as citizens and visitors march donning skull-painted faces and brightly crafted masks. Many will hold signs with pictures of departed loved ones and some even push grandiose floats that depict burial scenes and skeletons. Thousands of people will line the streets to cheer on and dance to the music of marching bands and street musicians as the community of Tucson unites in edifying emotion.

As the procession nears its final location, the crowd of 50,000 participants and nearly as many onlookers file into the open space where bursts of fire stretch towards the sky momentarily lighting the white cloaked dancers suspended from 100-feet in the air above. As the music intensifies and the chanting begins, a large cauldron of written letters and prayers is hoisted above the crowd where it is lit on fire to send the charred ashes to their recipients in the afterlife. Music from the elevated stages will echo loudly into the night as the crowd revels in Tucson’s legendary All Souls Procession.

The highly anticipated procession returns, and  thanks to the efforts of a small and determined organization known as Many Mouths One Stomach, the event is flourishing more than ever. For MMOS founding member and the artistic director for the event, Nadia Hagen, the work begins for the next year’s procession as soon as the last procession ends.

“We’ve been working on logistics as far as routing the path and obtaining permits from the city and we have been figuring out how the streetcar will impact the downtown part of the trail,” says Hagen. “We’re using a finale site where there’s a lot of construction and development going on. Really it’s a yearlong planning process. This event grows exponentially, so naturally each year is the biggest it’s ever been.”

This always-evolving event will see many new changes to its lineup and location this year, as gatherers are encouraged to meet on Nov. 3 at Hotel Congress as early as noon to experience Face Painting Town, where expert face painters will be on hand to help aid in the makeover process. Then the participants are asked to assemble at 5 p.m. at the underpass of 6th Avenue and 6th Street where procession will begin directly at 6 p.m. The route moves south on 6th Avenue to Alameda then leads west to West Congress Street where it will conclude at the final meeting grounds past the freeway at Mercado San Agustin.

“The location of the route is very pragmatic and it is dictated by construction, which there is an abundance of downtown, but we want to stay in the heart of the city,” says Hagen. “It’s great for people to feel ownership over the main artery of our town. Unfortunately we’re not able to keep the Mercado space permanently because it’s all slotted for development. There is a tentative plan to use a plot of land to the west of the Mercado. If the city and the public can really push for a festival ground to be allocated on that space then that would be a permanent home for this event.”

While nearly 100,000 people turn out to participate in and watch the procession, the event finds itself in a yearly struggle to stay afloat financially and to remain an independent entity. This year the coordinators at MMOS are again asking for donations at the procession which will greatly help them fund this and next year’s event and to make sure that they can continue the tradition for years to come.

“Less than 1.4% of the people who come to this event fund the entire thing. Those are the only people who donate. If we could get 5% of the people who come to donate then we would never have to run a campaign to continue this,” says Hagen. “This year we’re going to have people out in the crowd that we’re calling the Hungry Ghost Crew who are going out to collect offerings of money. We want to make it clear because we know in the past that people have been confused and have thrown donation money into the urn that was meant for us and it ends up getting burned. Giving a little makes a huge difference for us and it is the difference between this event living and the event dying.”

The ASP was originated in 1990 when a local artist named Susan Johnson put together a performance piece to help grieve the loss of her father. Coinciding with Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, the event began seeing larger and larger crowds of people who wished to mourn the loss of their own loved ones and feel the sense of unity that came with such a momentous gathering of community. While the event has grown and evolved beyond the wildest dreams of it’s founders, all of the hard work and year-round effort that goes into planning the event all becomes worthwhile at the climax of the evening.

“The closing ceremony is always the best part for me when we light the urn of prayers,” says Hagen. “I love talking to people who have never experienced it and try to describe it for them. I can grow jaded from all of the year-round work that we do for this, but when we haul out the urn and people put in their prayers and we hoist it above the massive crowd and burn it, that moment is indescribable. That moment is beyond any words and it makes all the big efforts and heartaches and hardships that go into this just melt away.”

For information on the procession, maps, details on contributing and schedules of events and workshops, visit


From workshops to parties, a series of events surround the procession before and after the main event. Highlights include:

Saturdays & Sundays through October
Lantern, Float and Mask-Making Workshops: 
Free, donations appreciated. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Seinfeld Warehouse, 101 W. 6th St.

Sundays & Wednesdays through October
Procession of Little Angels Costume Workshops:
Free, donations appreciated. Wednesdays,6 p.m.-9 p.m., Sundays, 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Maker House, 283 N. Stone Ave.

Saturday, Nov. 2
Procession of Little Angels: An All Souls experience just for kids and families with loads of art activities, performances from Stories That Soar with Tucson Circus Arts and a sunset Procession around the park. Free, donations appreciated. 3 p.m. Armory Park, 221 S. 6th Ave.

Saturday, Nov. 2
Night of the Living Fest:
Deerhoof and The Meat Puppets join a huge lineup of amazing national and local musicians for this Arts and Entertainment Fest and Official All Souls Pre-Party. $35-$75. Noon-1 a.m. Old Tucson Studios, 201 S. Kinney Rd.

Sunday, Nov. 3
All Souls Procession Finale:
Free, donations appreciated. 6 p.m. Music with Tribe Called Red (Ottawa Canada), Hojarasca Andina (Bogota, Columbia), and opening ceremony from Danza Azteca Calpulli Tonantzin. Mercado San Augustin, off of West Congress Street at 100 S Avenida del Convento.

Sunday, Nov. 3
Dance of the Dead After Party:
Featuring A Tribe Called Red. $35, 9 p.m.
Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St.





Category: Arts, Community, DOWNTOWN / UNIVERSITY / 4TH AVE, Events