On May 18, from 10 AM to 6 PM, the 21st Sicilian Festival commenced in Little Italy. Soluntos Bakery owner (and former Portocello, Sicily resident) Mario Cefalu first created the fun, free event in 1993 to recreate some of the artistic, musical, and culinary traditions from his home.
Cefalu's first event was small, comprised of only a small block on India Street. Today the festival spans from Kettner to Columbia and Ash to Grape Streets, featuring three stages and a street level performance space on Basilone Plaza.
The day kicked off with a spectacular performance by the folk dancers of Balboa Park, where not only Italy was observed but 49 other countries as well. Almost directly after, attendees were treated to a parade that was singularly Italian—dozens of costumed performers highlighted the county’s various regional flags using dance and occasionally, song. Dignitaries from the City and County of San Diego, the House of Italy, Sons of Italy, Italian-American Association, and other San Diego Italian organizations spoke directly following.
But many were here to observe the live music and those in attendance were treated to 22 musical acts. Highlights included many impressive performers from the San Diego Opera, (who had frequent intermissions to request pledges for funding to push for a 50th season), the Point Loma (of Point Loma Nazarene University) and San Diego State University operas, the quirky, lovable "Sinatra Guy," and the Screamin Primas—a Louis Prima tribute band.
The most adorable act was quite possibly The Pizarro Brothers, pianists and singers—age 17 and 14, the pair featured 12 year old talented vocalist and actress Isabella Shiff. Other standouts include Gianfranko who arrived in San Diego from Italy less than a year ago—he sang from his albums In libertà and Marianna. Also in attendance was world leader in accordion instruction and composition, the entertaining Louis Fanucchi.
Other live entertainment included four opportunities to view a 30-minute presentation from Jim Bregante’s widely acclaimed “San Diego’s Waterfront: Through the Eyes of a Child,” a captivating reminder of how much America’s Finest City has changed over the years. Car lovers were delighted to “Bellissimo! A Celebration of Italian Automotive Artistry,” which gave spectators a chance to see Italian-made models up close, including Ferrari, Fiat, Lancia, and Alfa Romeo (sponsored by FIAT Kearny Mesa).
Those with wee ones found their way to the Kids Zone on Beech Street, which featured unique hula hoop creation and spinning, bounce houses, face painting, a magician, and a creative make-your-crown crafts project.
And at any point, one could wander to the Sicilian Cultural Pavilion on Date Street, overseen by the Convivio Society and sponsored by L'Italo-Americano; the pavilion featured the city’s many Italian heritage organizations through presentations and traveling exhibits.
Food lovers were in luck too! Food day events included, my favorite, the annual Pasta-Eating Contest, which took place around midday, with a grape stomping contest a bit later. If you were in the mood to chow down without pressure, there were also various options. Not only could you duck into one of the many permanent Italian eateries nearby, but street vendors served up tiramisù, calzones, garlic knots, Italian ice, biscotti, aranchinis, sausage, and dolce rum cake. And an outdoor event in San Diego would not be complete without a beer and wine garden, located conveniently on Cedar Street.
Lively and inviting with beautiful weather to boot, the Sicilian Festival’s one downfall is the problem one always has in this neighborhood—parking. Attendees were encouraged to take the Amtrak; with eleven trains departing daily from Los Angeles and Orange County to San Diego, the short walking distance (five blocks) to the festival is a convenient reminder to those who wish to attend next year. And with discounts for children and seniors, it’s now an affordable option as well.
If you did not get a chance to “Eat, Drink & Be Sicilian” this year, please visit the Sicilian Festival online at http://sicilianfesta.com.