Singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, the subject of the 2012 Academy Award-winning documentary "Searching for Sugar Man," performs at Casino Del Sol's AVA Friday.


When singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez performs at Casino Del Sol's AVA Friday, it will be part of a concert tour more than 40 years in the making for the Detroit musician.

As a young man, Rodriguez, who turns 71 in July, tried to break onto the national scene with a couple of album releases that never garnered much commercial success for the guitarist.

His songs poignantly reflected street life in Detroit and the societal woes at the time, but for whatever reason, didn't reach national audiences the way he had hoped.

Rodriguez eventually gave up, turning his back on music and returning to his day job in demolition and other forms of manual labor.

It wasn't until the late 1990s, when a couple of dedicated South African fans tracked him down, that Rodriguez realized the true impact of his art.

While he lived and performed in obscurity in the United States, Rodriguez had become a legendary figure in South Africa.

His songs made rounds in cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town, serving as anti-establishment anthems during the height of apartheid.

"Searching for Sugar Man," the 2012 Academy Award-winning documentary about Rodriguez and his reputation in South Africa, claimed the musician at the time was bigger than Elvis.

The film took his popularity to the next level, exposing a new generation of American fans to his music as it screened in theaters across the country.

His Tucson concert, originally scheduled for the Rialto Theatre, sold out in record time, according to executive director Curtis McCrary, prompting the event to move to the 5,000-seat AVA at Casino del Sol.

As of deadline, only a few lawn seats were left.

Local artist Diane Bombshelter went out and purchased all of Rodriguez' music, including the soundtrack to the film, after watching it when it premiered at The Loft.

She has a velvet painting she created in his honor hanging in her studio. Purchasing tickets for his concert was a no-brainer.

"I am completely in love with the guy," she said. "He is so humble and inspirational and such a poet. It is incredible that he lived his life without knowing how popular he was."

Psychoanalyst Syd Arkowitz, 70, also was blown away after watching the documentary, and did her part to promote the artist, telling anyone who would listen about him.

"It is such an uplifting story for times like these," she said. "This is a concert that I can't miss. It is going to be an experience."

if you go

• What: Sixto Rodriguez in concert.

• When: 8 p.m. Friday.

• Where: Casino del Sol's AVA, 5655 W. Valencia Road.

• Tickets: $20-$32 through online.

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at or 807-8430.