‘It’s in our blood’

Workers put the finishing touches on the amphitheater seating

When Sam Bozzo woke up Monday morning, he tried to convince
himself to stay away from Christmas Hill Park. It turned out to be
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When Sam Bozzo woke up Monday morning, he tried to convince himself to stay away from Christmas Hill Park.

It turned out to be a futile attempt.

“I said, ‘They don’t need me out there.’ But now where am I?” Bozzo laughed, standing in a small sliver of shade provided by one of the dozens of booths rising from the park’s grass in preparation for this weekend’s 33rd annual Gilroy Garlic Festival.

For Bozzo, 70, a local celebrity chef and festival staple who served as Garlic Festival president in 1990 and whose son, Greg, carried the same role last year, there’s no other place to be.

“It’s in our blood,” he said. “I don’t know how else to say it.”

Roughly 100,000 garlic lovers are expected to swarm Christmas Hill Park beginning Friday for the iconic, three-day event, which was recently named by Parade Magazine as one of the top food festivals in the nation.

This year’s Garlic Festival is expected to blend old with new and improved: The pasta con pesto returns with its classic spaghetti noodles and pesto sauce; the new hand-held, garlic-infused, steak-and-shrimp Alley Wrap makes its culinary debut; and the festival faithful get a first look at $350,000 worth of renovations to the Christmas Hill Park Amphitheater.

With just days until the gates fling open, there haven’t been any major hiccups, said Brian Bowe, Garlic Festival executive director.

“Things are going incredibly well,” Brian Bowe said following a pizza lunch with two dozen of approximately 200 volunteers on site Monday afternoon.

Work began around 6:30 a.m. Sunday, with the Ranch side of famed food avenue Gourmet Alley in place by the end of the day, Bowe said. The Park side of Gourmet Alley was expected to be completed by Monday.

The “final, final” piece of a newly renovated Christmas Hill Park Amphitheater – a metal section of railing on the left side of the seating area – was installed Monday, Bowe said.

The approximately $350,000 worth of renovations include brand new concrete and sod for the seating area and a 6,650-square-foot, 20-foot-tall shade covering that was installed Friday. On Monday, crews mowed the venue’s new grass for the first time, Bowe said.

“It’s always exciting. You’re part of this fantastic event. They come from all over, and they have a good time,” Bowe said. “You’re creating something that’s in such high demand. For some people, it’s like their annual class reunion.”

He added, “I can’t imagine it would ever get old.”

Adding to incentives to attend this year’s Garlic Festival is an expanded Locals Day. On Friday, anyone who shows proof of residency in Gilroy, Morgan Hill, San Martin, Hollister, San Juan Bautista or Aromas on Locals Day will receive up to two general admission tickets for $5 off the regular price.

Festival patrons should prepare for temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s, but fears of triple-digit heat should be put on ice, said Christine Riley, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Monterey.

“No, there’s no chance of that,” Riley said Monday, adding the forecast was “pretty locked in.”

Some cloud coverage could move in by Saturday or Sunday, Riley said, but sunshine will be the norm.

That’s good news for Erwin Boggs, president of Gilroy’s Exchange Club and volunteer who has attended every Garlic Festival except for the first one in 1979.

“Maybe they’ll have a cold beer,” Boggs said Monday, taking a short break from hanging a sign on one of several beer booths.

Bozzo called the forecast “perfect.”

“It makes people want to eat and drink. And we like that.” said Bozzo, a retired former Monterey County school administrator.

Each year, the Garlic Festival returns its profits to the roughly 4,000 volunteers who work the festival as representatives from local and regional nonprofit groups. Last year, the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association handed out $270,000 of its revenue to 168 participating nonprofit organizations.

“If it weren’t for all the volunteers, we wouldn’t be here today,” Boggs said. “It’s what puts it all together.”

Once the festival starts, Boggs said he’ll be one of several “floaters,” who are called on to do just about anything when the need arrives.

Over the next several days, fencing will be installed and vendor booths – about 60 in all – will take their places, Bowe said. About a hundred additional arts and crafts booths are also due, he said.

Crews on Monday began constructing the festival’s Cook-Off Theater, which will house celebrity chef Angelo Sosa, “So You Think You Can Cook With Garlic” and the Great Garlic Cook-Off amateur competition.

Like the amphitheater, the cook-off arena will also feature added shade, Bowe said, as additional canopies will be added to the southwest corner of the venue to shield the audience from the creeping afternoon sun.

“It’s come a long way. I’m just impressed. We’ve gotten to the status of what people call us as a premier food festival,” Bozzo said, pointing his finger out to one of the park’s lush green patches. “I can remember Garlic Festival No. 3. This was all tomatoes.”

As the calendar draws closer to Day 1 of the festival, a buzz is already building, Bozzo said.

“You get energized,” he smiled.

33rd Annual Gilroy Garlic Festival

– Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy

– 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday (gates close at 6 p.m.)

– Friday’s weather outlook includes sunny skies and a high in the low 90s. Temperatures on Saturday and Sunday are expected to be in the high 80s to low 90s.

– Tickets can be purchased at the gate, while discounted admission can be purchased prior to the festival at tickets.gilroygarlicfestival.com, Raleys, Bel Air or Nob Hill Foods.

– Show proof of residency in Gilroy, Morgan Hill, San Martin, Hollister, San Juan Bautista or Aromas on Locals Day (Friday only) and receive up to two general admission tickets at $12 each.

– What’s new? Try to the acclaimed new Alley Wrap or beat the heat while taking in a concert at the recently renovated amphitheater. More than 40 concerts are planned for the festival’s three venues, and festival-goers wary of showing off their garlicky breath can have at free samples of Scope mouthwash at the Cook-Off Theater. Little garlic lovers can also enjoy the festival’s expanded children’s area, which will include a Garlic-Grab Cash Booth, family-friendly songs and a treasure hunt.

– More than 4,000 volunteers who represent local nonprofits by working the three-day festival are eventually rewarded by the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association. Over the festival’s 32 years, more than $8 million has been donated to local nonprofits.

– For more information, contact the Garlic Festival office at 842-1625

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