The sound of bagpipes from the Scotia-Glenville Pipe Band fought with the crackling rustle of leaves in the crisp, autumn air at Washington Park, where Albany’s 18th Annual Columbus Parade & Italian Festival attracted hundreds of people Saturday.
The parade, held in front of the park’s playhouse, featured marching bands, winners from the Miss Uncle Sam pageant held in Troy and community organizations like the American Italian Heritage Association. The parade route began at Madison and New Scotland avenues within the park’s boundaries, and took marchers, bands and floats along the lake and the paths of the historic park.
The West Albany Italian Benevolent Society served as honorary grand marshals of this year’s parade, an event that is a favorite for Albany resident Sarah Schumann, who said she grew up in an Italian household with strict parents she is thankful for.
Schumann, 50, learned to speak Italian from her parents after moving to Newburgh from Calabria, Italy at the age of 1. The event offers an opportunity to see friends and acquaintances she hasn’t seen in a while.
“We usually come every year,” said Schumann. Fried dough, sausage and peppers and a special pasta dish made with beans are her food favorites.
As Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and other officials stood on stage overlooking the procession, the Cindy’s Academy of Dance group dazzled the crowd with a routine that included pirouettes and top hats to the “Chicago” song “All That Jazz.”
The parade was also enjoyable for 10-year-old Amanda Wrobel.
“It was really good and I liked the music,” Wrobel said.
The wind was friend and foe Saturday as the aroma of wood-fired pizza, toffee, chicken wraps and sausage teased attendees, but at times, knocked the food right out of their hands.
On the other side of the park, a special Zona Bambini — or Kids’ Zone — entertained children with Roman riding demonstrations, $2 pony rides and bounce houses, a chess tent and storytelling from the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The 7-year-old nephew of Christine Brent of Albany rushed over to hear “A Hudson River Story” along with 20 other children huddled around Corey White, who spoke to children with puppets in her hand.
“We get the kids involved by using sensory [props],” White said, after using various items and a storybook to explain to children what it was like more than 400 years ago for the native people and European settlers.
Brent’s nephew absorbed cotton candy he picked out of a bag. With a spider web painted on his face and a fluorescent orange sticker that said “I Rode A Pony,” he appeared to enjoy himself, Brent said.
Brent mentioned she wished she could have brought her teenage nephews, but other than the parade there was little else for them to enjoy — they were too old for most of the children’s activities.
“They need to be entertained when they come, that’s what the event’s for, right?” Brent said, adding that roller-coaster rides and booths with games and other interactive features should be added.
But overall, she said, the event was good for families.
Oct. 10-12 mark Albany’s official “Italian-American Heritage Days.” Event organizers said the annual Columbus Parade and Italian Festival, held in conjunction with the national holiday, celebrates the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus while commemorating the heritage of Italian-Americans in the Capital Region and their many contributions.