If everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day, why can't everyone be Italian during the San Gennaro Feast?
That's a rhetorical question, of course. The all-things-Italian-all-the-time twice-yearly feast and fest kicks off Tuesday at a new location -- the northeast parking lot of the Rio, 3700 W. Flamingo Road.
Feast President and Chief Executive Officer Anthony Palmisano, who's Italian no matter what the calendar says, said the event is in its 32nd year in Las Vegas and has been around for more than 85 years in New York. He said his uncle, Jimmy Vincent Palmisano, who had been associated with the event in New York, took it to North Miami Beach, Fla., in 1978 and then brought it to the valley in 1980, because "he heard there were a lot of Italians living in Las Vegas." The first one, Palmisano said, was at the Italian American Club and involved 10 vendors.
This fall's rendition will be a little larger, with more than 70 restaurants represented, plus ongoing entertainment, 29 carnival rides and 30 games. It also will be a little shorter than some; last year's event at the Silverton brought in 140,000 people over two weekends and the week in between. Palmisano expects this year's six-day feast to attract 80,000 to 100,000 people.
And at the Rio, he said, it's in the middle of the action.
"It's perfect," he said. "The view -- I look at about 50,000 hotel rooms. I brought in a five-story roller coaster. It'll be right on the corner of the lot so everybody can see it. There's a 100-foot Ferris wheel that will be lit up all night long."
Ride specials include free wristbands for mothers on Tuesday and free wristbands for dads on Sept. 15. The regular price of wristbands is $25 Tuesday through Sept. 15 and $30 Sept. 16 and 17; there's a $5 coupon on the feast website, www.SanGennaroFeast.com.
A traditional Italian procession is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, with the Rev. Dave Cassaleggio blessing the feast, plus local color guards. Live entertainment begins at 4 p.m. daily.
"Tony Sacca has a full lineup," Palmisano said, including four singers coming in from Italy. There also will be about six strolling entertainers playing violins and accordions who will serenade feastgoers while they eat.
And about the food: There's a really good reason this is called the "San Gennaro Feast."
"We've got a full-blown Italian food menu ready to feed thousands of people," Palmisano said. "The garlic will be flowing."
Among the foods served, he said, will be linguine and clams, other pasta dishes, shrimp scampi, Philly cheese steaks, sausage and peppers, bracciole, cannoli and tiramisu. And some of the chefs who will be seen doing the cooking are local celebrities.
"The Rio has a 35-foot booth, so we'll be cooking with their chefs" as well, he said.
Palmisano said the festival is named for San Gennaro because he "took care of his people."
"He was the patron saint of Naples, Italy," he said. "He fed them, stopped the volcano Vesuvius from erupting."
Originally an annual event, it was moved to twice-yearly five or six years ago -- which, Palmisano said, is in keeping with the story of the saint.
"San Gennaro's blood liquifies a few times a year," he said. In Naples, Italy, where it is in a reliquary, "they honor him the first week of May and on Sept. 19." Palmisano said he saw the relic a few years ago in what he calls "an eye-opening experience."
Palmisano also has his own version of a stimulus package: He hands out San Gennaro chips, which can be spent anywhere at the feast, throughout the event.
"When I was a kid, the old guys used to do that to us," he said. "I felt funny handing out regular money. I hand out San Gennaro chips because we're in Las Vegas."
"He was known for taking care of people in the community," Palmisano said of the saint. "Us Italians, we do it through food and music."
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com or 702-383-0474.