Last November, the Italian Association of Arizona longed to attract Italophiles to its Pizza & Wine Festival as COVID-19 was slowing.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” says Frank Guzzo, the association’s executive director.
“We wanted to test the waters with the Pizza & Wine Festival. It was one day, as we were still dealing with omicron. In hindsight, it could have been two.”
It was so successful, the partner to the Italian Festival of Arizona will reappear this October as the Scottsdale Taste of Italy & Music Festival on the Scottsdale Canal.
The two-day celebration features live music, hand-crafted Italian items, wine tastings, authentic Italian cuisine, pizza ovens and Italian food trucks.
Entertainers include Italian-born classical crossover tenor Michéal Castaldo and accordion player Cory Pesaturo. Attendees can enjoy traditional dances, opera singers, live performances on two stages all day, and a spaghetti-eating contest for kids. Those with a sweet tooth can indulge in a variety of authentic gelato, cannoli and biscotti.
“In 2022, we planned our Italian festival to happen in Phoenix,” says Guzzo, who lives in Gilbert.
“We did that at (Phoenix’s) Heritage Square, and it was a huge success. We didn’t want to let go of Scottsdale, though. We really enjoy hosting an event in Scottsdale.
“Originally, we planned the Scottsdale Taste of Italy & Music Festival for November, but there wasn’t space available. So, we chose October and it’s now a two-day event. We thought, ‘Let’s make it a little more encompassing and offer a variety of different food.’ The Scottsdale Taste of Italy & Music Festival was born.”
The city of Scottsdale gave the Taste of Italy festival $66,000 from the Tourism Development Fund established for events and event development.
“The city of Scottsdale is one of our major sponsors for the event,” Guzzo says. “They’ve really stepped up and helped us financially so we could stay here and make the event happen.
“We’re grateful to the city of Scottsdale. That’s why it’s called the Scottsdale Taste of Italy & Music Festival.”
For the event, guests will see entertainment on two stages, along with pizza, pasta and nonfood vendors.
“We’re doing our best to make it fun,” Guzzo says. “The food is lovely. Everybody loves Italian food — the pizza, pasta, paninis, sandwiches, gelato, Italian ice, espresso. All those things are there.
“For other vendors, we have Italian women’s purses. I say that because I asked her for a men’s purse. In Italy, it’s part of the fashion. She usually sells out. We’ll have another gal who makes jewelry out of Italian coins. She’s going to be there with her products and jewelry.
“We have a variety of different things meant to get people engaged and introduce to someone or something they haven’t seen before. We want them to be entertained for a few hours and enjoy the event. It’ll be busy. It’ll be fun. The weather is supposed to be in the 70s.”
The festival marks the first time Castaldo has performed in Scottsdale.
“I’m looking forward to seeing many of my followers and fans who have been following me on Facebook in the Arizona/Phoenix areas,” Castaldo says.
“I perform Italian music, done in a classical style in the vein of Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, Il Volo. It’s classical crossover, and then I do songs with Italian flamenco guitar. I’ve been doing that style of music for quite a few years.”
His new single is a cover of Toto’s “Africa,” in honor of the song’s 40th anniversary. “I’m calling it Africa MMXXII, which means 2022,” Castaldo says. “It has that reggaeton-flamenco vibe. It’s been covered by many other artists, but not in this style and genre. This will be the first time I play it live.”
He says festivals like that are an important way of spreading the truth about Italian culture.
“It is important because the Italian experience in the U.S. specifically has been told through the lens of Hollywood and television,” he explains.
“Generally, it’s not been in a positive light. By doing festivals and telling stories in between my songs, I try to balance the negative stereotype that Hollywood has told for many, many years.
“I talk about food, music, who inspired me, the great inventors and the great navigators and the great geniuses, the great painters, the renaissance. That’s something all Italians are very, very proud of.”
Scottsdale Taste of Italy & Music Festival
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, October 15, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, October 16
WHERE: Scottsdale Canal, Scottsdale’s Southbridge Bridge to Solstice Park, 7135 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale
COST: $10 in advance; $20 day of $20. Children under 12 are free to attend.
INFO: 480.745.7020, italianassociation.org