Next time you pass by Vallejo’s Blue Rock Springs Park, try to imagine the area bustling, full of colorful characters, melodious stringed instruments, and with the aroma of Italian sausages, white wine and wood-fired pizza. Because come May 2nd and 3rd, the park will transform into such a scene as Vallejo hosts a new, one-of-a-kind renaissance fair, known as Carnevale Fantastico.
Renaissance fairs are well known as a great way to provide hands-on history lessons from one of the most influential and important periods in Western civilization. They tend to focus almost exclusively on British history, but Carnevale Fantastico aims to diversify this a little by bringing focus on another European country that helped shape the Renaissance Era and influence artists all over the world: Italy.
“The Renaissance started in Italy—in Florence and in other places, in the early 1500s,” said event organizer Dalia Vidor. “We wanted to do something a little bit different. It also fits in really well with our venue.”
One reason for this, Vidor said, is that the Renaissance was essentially started by wealthy Italian families, like the Medici family (members of which will attend Carnevale Fantastico), whose appreciation for art and culture led to them putting their money behind certain artists, and giving them more of a platform. Their popularity spread, and the rest is history.
“That’s what sparked the Renaissance,” Vidor said. “They were also really into fashion and poetry. It was just this amazing time period.”
Italy is the birthplace of great artists like, say, Leonardo de Vinci, and composers like Gregorio Allegri. But it’s also the birthplace of amazing food, and Carnevale Fantastico aims to please in that department. They boast a number of Italian-themed delicacies, including fried calamari, polenta, meatball sandwiches and, of course, as the old saying goes, “Don’t forget the cannoli.”
There will also be a live Italian cooking demonstration, guaranteed to make you hungry and teach you a thing or two about how to construct a yummy meal. In this demonstration, chef Mamma Focaccia and her two daughters will take the stage and show their audience exactly how to make a variety of Italian dishes, and offer reminders on why, “the heart of any meal is food, laughter, and loves,” which echoes a quote from a prominent local Italian chef you may have read in our previous issue of Local Happenings.
For those with a sweet tooth, the fair will also have various gelato flavors and other desserts, as well as wines from all over the world. Of course, the Napa Valley world-famous vineyards are just a short drive north of Vallejo, so there’s no reason not to expect that Carnevale Fantastico’s organizers will impress in this department.
“The Renaissance community has been planning on this for quite some time,” Vidor said. “We’re expecting an excellent turnout, because who doesn’t love Italian food and wine?”
When it comes to theater celebration, Carnevale Fantastico is going all out. With the festival’s more than 15 different music, dance and performance acts, Vidor said they’re sure to have something for everyone. Some notable themes include an Italian-themed performance of Romeo and Juliette that promises to reveal the “real story” behind the events of the famous play.
For anyone who enjoys swordplay or weaponry and/or a nice taste of comedy, it might be worth it to take time to see Manly Men in Tights—When in Rome. This performance features “three wild and crazy brothers” who go way over the top in their eccentric attempts to prove their own manhood. And, of course, they’re all armed with Renaissance-style steel swords, so what could possibly go wrong?
“Everybody is just so incredibly, talented, fantastic and so focused on the scene,” Vidor said. “I can’t wait to see how everyone brings it together in May.”
Vidor added that Carnevale Fantastico has gone the extra mile to ensure historical accuracy. Some Renaissance Fairs deviate from that, but Carnevale Fantastico is making an effort to give their attendees the next best thing to an actual time warp to 16th century Italy. Of course, they had to concede in a couple areas, though.
“They didn’t have utensils back then, so we couldn’t be that accurate,” Vidor said. “You can’t feed people spaghetti and then not give them a fork.”
We at Local Happenings agree. That would just be cruel.
Carnevale Fantastico’s organizers will also have craftsman demonstrations—everything from weave making to live glass blowing demonstrations—but all Italian-themed. There are also a few surprises in the works, which Vidor wouldn’t reveal, but she said they’re, “amazing, amazing acts, and definitely worth seeing.”
This year will be Carnevale Fantastico’s inaugural event, but the organizers hope to have more in the future. In recent years, Vallejo has seen an influx of similar festivals, like the Pirate Festival or their well-known Alice in Wonderland-themed holiday parade, and Vidor hopes Carnevale Fantastico will continue that trend and help the city grow.
“I really think festivals can be used as an economic engine in Vallejo,” Vidor said. “For one thing, they can be used to highlight all of the beautiful parts of Vallejo, but they can also bring people in from the outside and they can see what a delightful, lovely city it is, and that there’s a lot to do here.”
Carnevale Fantastico will start at 10 a.m. at Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo on both Saturday May 2 and Sunday May 3. Tickets can be purchases at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1375509 for less than $13 per person. There will be NO PARKING at Blue Rock Springs Park (so the performers can have that parking lot space), but there will be parking, along with a free shuttle, at Solano Community College, Jesse Bethel High School, Valley Ferry Terminal and Blue Rock Springs Golf Course, which is literally just a stone’s throw away from the park.
For more information, visit www.carnevalefantastico.com.
Nate Gartrell grew up in Benicia, studied journalism in college, and has written for a handful of media outlets since age 15. He aspires to visit all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums and to hit the trifecta at the horse track.