By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
The Italian Festival of America is bringing its celebration of food, culture and entertainment to Downtown Phoenix after several years in Scottsdale.
Italophiliacs can experience la dolce vita with two stages of entertainment, including cooking demonstrations; musical entertainment featuring Italian flag wavers and dancing; Peroni Nastro Assuro’s interactive displays; Classico Fine Wines & Spirits’ drinks; and the Italian Auto d’Eleganza showcase of fine Italian automobiles.
A portion of the proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Italian Association of Arizona and its mission to build an Italian Cultural Center.
“We moved to Phoenix for a lot of reasons, the biggest being the crowds were getting bigger and we were running into space issues,” says Frank Guzzo, Italian Association of Arizona executive director.
“We don’t want to move it every year. We want to be in one location and build it from there. We started talking to the city of Phoenix and Downtown Phoenix Inc. and we all made the decision to move the festival to Downtown Phoenix.
“Downtown Phoenix is exploding. It’s become such a vibrant place, compared to 10 years ago. We do want to capture the same people who have been coming to our festival for the past six years, plus a whole new demographic.”
The organization also partnered with the Scottsdale Airpark’s R Entertainment to help with the event’s production.
“They’re responsible for some of the bigger events,” Guzzo says. “We brought them on board through one of our board members.”
Guzzo says the flag wavers—A.S.T.A. Gruppo Sbandieratori del Palio di Asti—have been a crowd favorite. This year, the group is flying from Italy with 18 performers.
“It’s a whole new choreographed program,” he says.
The Sicilian Band will play Italian folk music and The Phoenix Tenors featuring Johnny Huerta will hit the stage as well for the seventh year.
The breakout star of The Italian Festival of America is Enrico Di Lauro, who appeared on “X Factor Italia” last year.
“He’s this super nice, young kid. This is his U.S. debut,” he says. “We’re excited to have him here. We just got some of his music. Because of his age, he’ll not only capture the Italian grownups, but a whole new audience. He does sing and speak in English as well.”
After Di Lauro’s performance, DJ Paul Amendola will spin from about 7:30 to 9 p.m.
“We’ll be dancing and having a good time,” he says. “We’re really making it a street party, which is what we were hoping to achieve from the start. This year will be the one year we capture that essence.
“Every year, we look for ways to make it bigger and better and more exciting. We’ve had people coming for years, who have never missed a festival. Every year we want to change it up.”
Last year’s pop-up Italian cultural museum with Francesco Corni’s work will return. Unfortunately, he will not appear at this year’s festival, as he died earlier this year.
“When we spoke to his family—as heartbroken as they are—they wanted to let his legacy live on,” Guzzo says. “They’re bringing his artwork, which is fantastic to see on its own.”
Galbani is bringing back the demonstration stage for the second year with its celebrity chef. A spaghetti-eating contest will be a featured event on that stage.
A lucky winner will receive a $3,000 trip for two to Rome. Peroni will host a beer garden.
“Everybody, though, comes here for the food,” Guzzo says. “I love the food, even though I’m running around like a chicken without a head. I don’t have time to eat, but that makes the festival. The food is quality Italian food. That’s what we pride ourselves on.”
Italian Festival of Arizona, Jackson Street between First and Fourth streets, Downtown Phoenix, italianfestivalaz.com, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, March 14, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 15, $15 in advance, $20 day of.