The corner of Fourth and Virginia streets sees its biggest crowds of the year as the epicenter of the GIF. The caliber of the entertainment is also top notch with names like the Gaylords, the Steve Balich Poker Band, the Italian Duo, Dean Regan and the Triple Crown Trio, Bella Ciao, Tom Serafini of the Expresso "5", Ray Mussa's Eurorhythms, Those Darn Accordions and Moreno Fruzetti providing literally nonstop excitement. Lucky participants in the event get there early to grab the chairs in front of the outdoor stages and many couples opt to get up and dance to the raucous music.
Recently, the Gaylords have been moved inside the hotel to the casino floor showroom where leader Burt Bonaldi is better able to present his special brand of music and comedy.
The crowd that throngs the streets and sidewalks seems like a living organism in its totality as it moves in waves that never stop.
Some of the finest vendors on the West Coast show up for the show because their sales have always been spectacular. The main theme is red, white and green and for 48 hours the crowds, the smell of the food and the loud entertainment actually create an atmosphere redolent of Italy itself.
For this year's celebration, the fine Eldorado showroom has also been pressed into service for two shows on Saturday night, at 7 and 9:30 p.m., featuring the Scintas. Last night a concert by Santana was staged in the nearby Reno Events Center that got things off to an early start. Another new feature is that this year, one lucky couple present will win a trip for two to Italy.
A traditonal part of the event that always sell out quickly are the Gourmet Italian buffets that are offered at 4 p.m today and tomorrow.
As the festival has grown it has added new events, which this year include a Farmers Market, the World Famous Grape Stomp, a Pasta Sauce Cook-Off, the World's Largest Risotto Cooker, Bocce Ball Tournament and Kids’ Gelato Eating Contest.
Official hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. but attendees are urged to get there before the opening bell to beat the savvy earlybirds that have attended for years and years.
It is also a chance to see members of the sponsoring Carano family in action as they man the booths and enter into the cooking chores.
No mention of the Great Italian Festival would be complete without noting that a regular performer, who is not scheduled this year, accordionist Dick Contino, who probably has more appearances than anyone else at the GIF, had an early tie with Reno when he first appeared here in the late '50's in the Skyroom of the Mapes hotel. The boyish whiz on the "squeezebox" was a national sensation because of his appearances on network TV.
At his most recent stint on the outdoor stages here - almost 50 years later - he had lost none of his good looks nor the wizardry of his skill. Playing to thunderous applause from three generations of fans is tribute enough to a great entertainer.
SUNshine on his shoulder
This week it was revealed the Las Vegas Sun daily newspaper has been closely monitoring the amount of time that Gov. Jim Gibbons spends at his desk in his official office in the state capital, Carson City. Fewer than 20 days reportedly were logged by the governor in the Capital building for a full two months, according to records obtained by the Sun. Some political wags have dubbed it a "witch hunt" while others have ascertained that it is the beginning of a groundswell of support for Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who has strongly indicated he is interested in running for governor in 2010. He joins Harry Reid's son, Rory Reid, as a potential candidate. If that lineup wasn't enough to worry about the incumbent, there are several notable Republicans who are stirring - mainly due to the low approval ratings for Gibbons.
A growing number of UNR football fans are urging the school to start promoting a Heisman Trophy watch for quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Currently, the agile star has impressive numbers and has scored well in national rankings.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Harry Spencer’s column is sometimes a mix of reporting and opinion. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.