Frank Arrigo is glad it never rains in the Belle of Baton Rouge Atrium.
After rainouts elsewhere in past years, the Columbus Day Festa returns to the atrium for a second time Sunday, Oct. 7.
“It’s outstanding. It’s excellent. After getting rained out twice and two hurricanes, it’s the best way to go, in an air-conditioned facility where you don’t have to worry about the weather,” Arrigo, one of the festa chairmen, said.
Presented by the Greater Baton Rouge American Italian Association, the family festival celebrates Italian heritage with music, dancing, presentations and more.
In addition to the atrium space, the facility’s side rooms are used for more activities, Arrigo said. Those include Italian 101 with Dr. Joe Recapito, bocce ball, an exhibit of Italian artifacts, and sessions on Italian genealogy and history with Sal Serio.
Back in the atrium, Arrigo said one of the highlights of the day is the Media Grape Stomp, pitting news reporters and anchors from local television stations WVLA, WBRZ and WAFB.
“This is a charity grape stomp,” Arirgo said. “The audience gets to, by applause, vote for who they think did the best job and the team that does the best job gets a $1,000 check to go to the charity of their choice.
“Another highlight is the presentation of our Italian Maids. It will be 34 young girls ages 3 to 18 this year. They wear long white dresses, Italian sashes, and carry nosegays of flowers in the Italian colors of red, white and green,” he said, adding that the girls are escorted by fathers, grandfathers or other family members.
New Orleans-based Bobby Lonero and New Orleans Express will be playing throughout most of the day, in between events on stage.
“He was a guitar player for Louis Prima. He’s played with Elvis, Ray Charles, on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” Lonero said.
But the audience won’t just listen to the music, they’ll have a chance to participate.
“We do something called ‘Eh Cumpari,’” Arrigo explained. “It’s an Italian song about two Italian gentlemen that discuss the sounds that musical instruments make, and we get about 10 people from the audience, and they get on stage. We give them a musical instrument that they have to verbalize with their mouth, and then we go to one, and then back to the other. Then we go to the next musical instrument, then back to the second, back to the first, and it goes faster and faster and before you know it, people are forgetting what their musical instrument is, and what sounds it makes, and it tends to be a fun thing.
“We also do the Tarantella dance, which is an Italian dance where you hold hands, and go in circles, and then you put a circle within a circle, and then one circle goes left and one circle goes right, and when Bobby Lonero says ‘in the middle,’ everybody just kind of comes to the middle with their hands in the air and hollers out. Then we put a third circle within that circle, and this year we hope to break a record for the biggest Tarantella dance in Baton Rouge ever.”
Still another popular attraction is the Vino Stroll, where for $20, patrons visit three wine stations that will be set up with three types of wine. All proceeds go to the Dr. Frank McMains Developmental Center. Other festa profits go to various charities, Arrigo said.
And if all that makes one hungry, there’s always the Charity Pizza Eating Contest. The winner gets $500 for the charity of choice.