Monday, December 1, 2008

More than 100 years of good Italian fun - Italian Benevolent Society of Amador County, California

More than 100 years of good Italian fun - Italian Benevolent Society of Amador County, California

In Gold Country, they really know how to put on a party

Sunset, June, 1996 by Betsy Reynolds Bateson

The Italian Benevolent Society of Amador County is the only club in California given the privilege of closing a state highway. Since 1882, the society has hosted its Italian Picnic and Parade on the first Sunday in June. And what a parade it is. The march down State Highway 49 and the picnic that follows are well worth a weekend trip, to say nothing of the All-You-Can-Eat Spaghetti and Chicken Feed the night before - but more about that later.

The parade itself begins in Sutter Creek at 10:30 on June 2. Looking down State 49, you'll see raised rock sidewalks flanking the two-lane road, with Gold Country residents claiming spots along the parade route. A lucky few have seats on turn-of-the-century-style balconies, with bird's-eye views of the scene: giant colored balloons, trays of snow cones, and clowns bent on selling the necessary parade accoutrements - long horns, flags, water guns, cotton candy.

Most of the county residents who haven't staked out sideline positions seem to be involved in the parade - on a float, in a band, as a member of a marching Boy Scout, Girl Scout, or 4-H unit, riding high on county fire equipment, or dressed to the hilt on a horse. You can be part of the action yourself if you jump into your car and follow the pooper-scoopers behind the parade up the hill about 1 mile to the Italian picnic grounds.

After the parade's award ceremony, the society-sponsored noon picnic serves more than 1,000 people. Six dollars lets you savor pit-roasted beef, salads, and bread. Or you can buy various foods at booths sponsored by other local organizations. (Admission to the picnic grounds is free, but you can buy tickets for the picnic at the gate.)

The festivities actually begin at 4 on May 31, when the picnic grounds open in Sutter Creek. There are carnival rides and live music by local bands. Beer and local wines are served in the open beer pavilion until midnight. Here you can also dance 'til you drop or join the bingo game. Bingo cards cost 25 cents each. Get several - the smallest prize is a salami.


The night before the parade (June 1), the All-You-Can-Eat Spaghetti and Chicken Feed takes center stage. Society members cook and serve the meal - no women are allowed in the kitchen. The servers take their work seriously, rushing down the long aisles between tables to deliver food hot from the kitchen. Stay out of their way or you may get knocked down. You'll leave the table more than satisfied, and maybe a few friends richer. The family-style meal includes a coppa appetizer platter, pasta, chicken, salad, breads and butter, all the red and white wine you care to drink, and ice cream. The $12.50 tickets go fast; call the society at (209) 267-0206 early to reserve seats.

Festival admission and parking are free. To get to the picnic grounds from Sacramento, take State 16 to State 49 and travel south to Sutter Creek; head up the hill toward Jackson - the Italian Benevolent Society archway marking the entrance to the picnic grounds will be on your right. From Stockton, take State 88 to State 49 and go north about 1 mile; the archway will be on your left. The drive to Sutter Creek takes about 2 hours from the Bay Area, 1 hour from Sacramento, and 45 minutes from Stockton.

For lodging information, call the Amador County Chamber of Commerce at 223-0350 and ask for its Lodging and Dining Guide. For bed-and-breakfast options, try the Amador County Bed and Breakfast Association at 267-1710. For information about the Italian Picnic and Parade, leave a message at 267-0206 and you'll get a call back.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Sunset Publishing Corp.

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