‘Locals Day’ most popular first day in G-Fest history?

John Squellati, from El Sobrante, has some fun as he braids

Was Friday the biggest opening day in the Gilroy Garlic
Festival’s 33-year history? Maybe. Though an official count won’t
be ready until Monday, festival faithful had no problem Friday
saying what everyone seemed to be hoping.
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Was Friday the biggest opening day in the Gilroy Garlic Festival’s 33-year history? Maybe.

Though an official count won’t be ready until Monday, festival faithful had no problem Friday saying what everyone seemed to be hoping.

“It’s been a great day,” said festival Executive Director Brian Bowe, who added he wouldn’t know for sure how many people poured through Friday’s gates until after Sunday’s finale.

Ticket sales, however, were on pace to crush previous years’ highs.

“It’s tough to tell on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “We keep selling more and more online tickets.”

Around 6 p.m., Bowe said more than 15,000 online tickets had been sold, nearly twice last year’s total of about 8,000. Daily attendance numbers aren’t available because organizers don’t know when online ticket buyers will arrive at the festival and at-the-door tickets are ripped, not scanned.

“Advance sales have been through the roof,” he said. “I really expect a great crowd tomorrow.”

Bowe said he’d know by Saturday how many discounted tickets were sold to area residents for Friday’s Locals Day, which was expanded this year to include residents of Morgan Hill, San Martin, Hollister, San Juan Bautista and Aromas.

Marco Renella, chairman of the Rotary Club’s chilled, jam-packed Wine Pavilion, said it was so crowed, it felt more like a Saturday.

“This is the most people we’ve had in here for a Friday, by a third,” said Renella, who has headed the pavilion for the past eight years.

Though the promise of a cool, dim place to sip cold, delicious wine attracted droves of visitors, Renella said there was more to it than that.

“It’s always been a cool place,” he said. “People have a little more money now, and there’s just more people here period for a Friday.”

Renella, who said he had no knowledge of attendance figures, believed Friday could have an outside chance of being the biggest opener in festival history.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “We’ll see if tomorrow suffers at all because of how many people came today. I’m thinking not.”

When festival brass do pore over attendance figures, they might do a double-take when they get to David and Debbie Simms.

The Santa Cruz couple’s festival strategy was nearly flawless: They arrived early, beating the heat and the masses, sampling their favorite garlic fare.

“We loved the garlic ice cream, ” Debbie Simms said. “It’s too bad you can’t buy it in stores.”

After taking an afternoon drive to Monterey, however, the couple realized they had made a mistake.

“We said, ‘We didn’t get that garlic chicken stir fry,” Debbie Simms laughed.

So the couple drove an hour back to the festival to satisfy their stomachs and their conscience. David Simms said they visited the festival one other time, two years ago, but left early because it was “too hot and too crowded.”

“This time we came back. And I’m glad we did,” he said.

As the Simms chowed down on their stir fry, they did so in the comfort of one of the festival’s popular shaded areas – ironically hot commodities on a sunny early evening.

Yorba Linda residents Darian Doyle, Alison Porkas, both 14, munched on garlic bread and garlic kettle corn, and agreed the low-90s temperatures were “way too hot.”

“The rain room is nice,” Porkas said of the tented, spritzer-equppied stations spraying festival-goers with chilled water.

Steady crowds gathered into the evening at the newly renovated Christmas Hill Park Amphitheater, which features $350,000 worth of updates including a 6,650-square-foot shade canopy.

“One of the most gratifying things was to see all those shady seats full,” Bowe said. “That’s what we want. We want to make people comfortable.”

Festival regulars also wanted to make people laugh.

Late Friday afternoon, crowds at the Cook-Off Theater guffawed at local celebrity chefs Gene Sakahara and Sam Bozzo – collectively known as SakaBozzo, “twin brothers separated at birth” – as they paired with former Biggest Loser reality show contestant and Gilroy native Ada Wong to prepare a pasta dish with made-from-scratch romesco sauce.

The comedic cooking maestros assisted Wong, who finished third on the popular network TV show after losing 99 pounds in six months, though they spent a substantial portion of their time on stage trading playful verbal barbs.

“You just assume we don’t make mistakes,” Sakahara told Wong, a self-described cooking world amateur.

“Why? Because we eat our own cooking?” Bozzo responded.

Sakahara retorted, “No, because our families would’ve killed us if we didn’t cook it right.”

Later in the show, Sakahara announced that 4,000 pounds of garlic would be used during the three-day festival.

“That’s two tons,” Bozzo chimed in.

“Very good, Sam,” Sakahara said.

When a heckler playfully butted-in when Wong wondered aloud what to put in the dish, Sakahara came to her defense.

“I know where you live,” he quipped.

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