In the past two months Reno has hosted and survived the BBQ, Blues and Brews Festival; Hot August Nights; the National Championship Air Races; the calm of the Great Reno Balloon Races; and the mayhem of the Street Vibrations motorcycle rally. There remains only one special event and in many ways it is more special than all the others. When the Eldorado celebrates its Great Italian Festival it provides the city with its best downtown truly family-friendly event.
This Saturday and Sunday will be the party’s 36th year, held each year during the Columbus Day weekend. Columbus Day is not a holiday in Nevada, but that hardly stops the Carano family, owners of the Eldorado, Silver Legacy and Circus Circus, from celebrating their heritage.
Virginia Street and several intersections smell like a gigantic Italian restaurant as booths serve favorites including chicken Parmesan, tortellini, fried ravioli, calamari, lasagna and, of course, spaghetti and meatballs and the hotel’s trademark mushroom ravioli with porcini cream sauce.
Street entertainment is also abundant with performances on two stages. The hotel’s latest attraction, magician Adam Trent, will perform at 2 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. Sunday on the Rome Stage at Fourth and Virginia. Others on the bill include Ray Massa’s Eurorhythms (2:30 Saturday on the Rome; 10 a.m. Sunday on the Venice Stage at Third and Virginia); Aaron Caruso (2 p.m. Saturday on the Rome, and 2 p.m. Sunday on the Venice); and the always popular Moreno Fruzzetti who winds the action down on Sunday at 3:30 on the Rome.
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A big name and one long absent from the local casino stages is Paul Anka, who will be featured at the Silver Legacy on Saturday (8 p.m.; $65/50-$85/50;silverlegacy.com)
Other special attractions include the fun grape stomp competitions for the public on Saturday starting at 10 a.m.; pasta muffin tins for unlimited sauce tasting available at 12:30 p.m. ($4 and they go fast); an Italian Farmers Market all day both days; a children’s gelato eating contest at 3 p.m. Sunday for those aged 3-11; a kiddie land; and a wine walk with 20 Italian and California wines, unlimited tasting, 12:30 to 4 p.m. both days ($25 per day, $40 both days).
Capping each evening is one of the festival’s biggest draws: the indoor Italian dinner buffet, truly a huge array, at 4 p.m. in the convention center Saturday and 4 p.m. in the Eldorado Buffet both days ($28.99, $14.99 children 10 and younger).
The Grand Sierra in Reno has a double-header commencing Friday with the Broadway show “Million Dollar Quartet,” recreating the 1956 gathering of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash at Sun Records in Memphis (8 p.m.; $33-$252; grandsierraresort.com). Then The Shins arrive for some indie-rock celebrating their new album “Heartworms” on Saturday (8 p.m.; $25-$60).
Finally, Gary V brings his vocals and dance to Cache Creek Friday (9 p.m.) and Saturday (8 p.m.) ($45-$125; cachecreek.com).