By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
The cobblestone streets of Heritage Square will be peppered with art, food and musicians when the Italian Festival moves from Scottsdale to Downtown Phoenix Saturday, February 26, and Sunday, February 27.
“We really look for ways to make it a true, authentic Italian experience,” says Francesco Guzzo, Italian Association of Arizona’s executive director.
“We want you to feel like you’re walking into a little piece of Italy with the vendors, entertainment, the food and art displays. Those are all things meant to share the Italian tradition, but we also want to give people a sense of how much Italians contribute to the fabric of Arizona.”
This year’s festivities begin at 11:30 a.m. Saturday with a parade and opening ceremonies. The day continues with live entertainment and food — gelato, pizza, sausages, pasta, cannoli, wine and other delicacies.
“The food is the standard part of the festival,” Guzzo says. “We call it ‘the authentic true Italian food.’ We don’t even allow fettuccine alfredo. It’s not an Italian dish. A lot of people don’t know that.
“We have vendors — pasta and pizza vendors and Romolo D’Amico will make his famous carbonara. It’s an amazing dish to demonstrate on stage. We’ll have vendors selling traditional pasta sauces, clothing and olive oil.”
Live performances will include Sbandieratori del Palio di Asti (flag wavers) from the city of Asti in Piemonte, and an art gallery with local and international Italian art.
Margherita Fray, a 94-year-old artist, will show off her talents in the gallery.
“She’s bringing some of her pieces of art and her books,” Guzzo says. “Her books have been translated in English and in Italian. That’ll be incredible just to have her there and be part of the community and sign books.”
Blue Door Ceramics’ Christiane Barbato will display her artwork, while Paolo Cosanti pieces will be available, too.
Sunday, the flag wavers and vendors return and, like Saturday, they are sponsored by Galbani, Peroni, PepsiCo, Acqua Panna, San Pellegrino, Chelly, DTPHX, Desert Rose Worldwide Transportation and Great Value Vacations.
“The flag wavers are excited about this,” he says. “They’re the traditional group that represents the city of Asti in world competitions in flag waving. They’ve been doing it for 60 years in Asti.
“All the colors they wear are representative of the different boroughs. It’s quite significant.”
This year, Guzzo says, antique restored Italian vehicles will drive into Heritage Square. Vespas and Italian bicycles from Scottsdale’s Cyclologic will be on display.
“Everything coming out of Italy has an artistic flair to it,” Guzzo says. “Ferraris, Lamborghinis or Bugattis are all pieces of art, even though they’re automobiles.
“It’s a well-choreographed event. There’s always something interesting or exciting happening. Throughout the day, when people come in, they’ll see something of interest. There’s never a dull moment.”
Galbani will host a demonstration stage, and mixologists will teach patrons to make creative drinks with limoncello and Pellegrino. Many of the sponsors are sending their national representatives to check out the festival.
“We’re working on making it as interesting as possible for everyone,” Guzzo says. “We want to attract families and people of all ages. For the kids, we have balloon artists and the face painter.
“For the grownups, we have the demonstrations, the entertainment by The Sicilian Band from LA. They will play traditional Italian songs on Saturday and Sunday. We have Steve Ansel & The Jackson Street Band, a full eight-piece orchestra to play traditional jazz that people love.”
Saturday night is for eating and dancing to the band Element. The opera singers D Gala will perform on both days, closing out the festival on Sunday.
Organizers are mindful of the COVID-19 pandemic and deem Heritage Square safe, with its outdoor seating. Cleaning crews will be working diligently to sanitize the area. Facemasks will be available at the entrance.
“We’re doing what we can to make sure everything is comfortable,” Guzzo says. “We want people to enjoy the entire day without feeling like there’s a concern in any way. It’ll be fun. The whole thing is catered to make sure everyone has fun and enjoys themselves.”
Heritage Square is new to the Italian Festival. Previously, the festivities were held at the Scottsdale Waterfront.
“It’s a beautiful part of Scottsdale, but we ran out of space,” he says. “There was only room for 5,000 people a day to come through there.
“Phoenix had been courting us about hosting the festival there. This year, we decided to host it at Heritage Square in Downtown Phoenix. The space allows for typically three times the number of people we would normally get. It has the greenery — grass and trees — cobblestone roads and courtyards. It lends itself to creating a cozy space for a beautiful event like the Italian Festival.”
What: The Italian Association’s Seventh Italian Festival
When: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, February 26, and 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, February 27
Where: Heritage Square, corner of East Adams and North Seventh streets, Phoenix
Cost: $15; free for children ages 12 and younger