Take the best of a community, add in the fun of a carnival, do good for others, and you have the Vegas San Gennaro Feast.
In a city where some complain there is no community, the San Gennaro Feast proves you just have to get out there to find it.
Despite triple-digit heat yesterday, the feast — outdoors at the Silverton — drew thousands during the day, and even more in the cooler, evening hours. It continues until 11 tonight, capping a successful 31st year.
(The San Gennaro Feast is so popular in Las Vegas, it’s held twice a year, just like Naples, whose patron saint is Gennaro. He was persecuted for his beliefs by then-pagan authorities, who tried to kill him in a furnace six centuries ago. Gennaro wouldn’t die, so he was beheaded instead in 305 AD. Today, he’s honored twice a year at San Gennaro feasts in Naples, where he’s buried.)
People are drawn to the San Gennaro Feast by the family fun in a city that doesn’t always seem to offer much for children.
There are cuddly lambs and other baby animals at the petting zoo; pony rides (from J.R. Pony Parties in the north end of Las Vegas); face painting; bubble-making; and even a mechanical bull for larger kids ($5 a ride).
Many people go to the festival for the ferris wheel and 80 other rides and attractions.
Some go for the carnival-like midway, where you can throw balls and try other games to get a stuffed elephant or other animal larger than a child.
Many go just for the food.
Every Italian specialty is cooked on the spot, fresh, by friendly Las Vegas restaurateurs, as well as many entrepreneurs who don’t have established eateries but do catering and cooking at festivals like the San Gennaro.
Mike Daprila, grilling onions and sweet peppers for Philly cheesesteaks yesterday, says he’s had an Italian food booth at the San Gennaro for 28 years.
He’s searching for the right restaurant space to lease in Las Vegas.
Artist Dee Conti is among many entrepreneurs selling unique items at the Feast. She’s selling fanciful jack o’ lanterns for Hallowe’en that are handmade yet synthetic, so can be re-used every year. (What a concept: Jokingly called her “Martha Stewart”, and Conti laughed, then explained how she makes these intricate, yet oh-so-simple artworks.)
There’s live entertainment too, featuring contemporary and Sinatra-style singers. Tony Sacca, who has his own restaurant-club downtown on Fremont St. performed at the feast this year, along with Zowie Bowie (regularly at the Red Rock Casino), Pete Willcox (the “older, bolder, golder” Elvis at Hooters), Ukelele Ray, Swing City Dolls, ’60s Sensation, Rick Faugno (from Jersey Boys at The Palazzo), and vocalists from The Rat Pack is Back (at The Plaza).
Included in the admission price is $5 in free slot play at the Silverton for new Discovery Club sign-ups.
(Get coupons for $4 off adult admission at the San Gennaro website.)
Another deal worth grabbing at the Feast: A-level seats for $75 to see Chazz Palminteri’s one-man show, A Bronx Tale, opening Oct. 7 at The Venetian. The tickets are usually $105.75. (It’s a fabulous show by the Academy Award nominee, who wrote the screenplay for the autobiographical film with the same title.)
And then there’s The Mob Squad, a lovely quartet promoting the “Las Vegas Mob Experience”, which opens in Dec. at the Tropicana.
There’s also a “con bus” that once transported inmates to prison, including the notorious serial killer, Charles Manson. The bus is the main attraction at an outdoor espresso cafe at the Feast.
Mob-inspired souvenirs, T-shirts, and hats (great in this heat) seemed popular at the mob booth yesterday. Actor Frank Vincent (mobster in the film, Casino) and author Antoinette Giancana (“JFK and Sam”), signed autographs and posed for pictures at the booth last night.
Tropicana’s “Mob Experience” also has a “con bus” at the Feast, which once transported inmates to prison, including the notorious serial killer, Charles Manson. (You can see the “cage” built just to take him to super-max prison in California.)
And the chance to get “made”: Only in Vegas.
More: San Gennaro Feast, Silverton Casino, 3333 Blue Diamond; sangennarofeast.com.
Proceeds from the Feast go to St. Ann Church and Catholic Charities, who do a lot to help the jobless and needy in Las Vegas, hit hardest by the Great Recession.