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Italian festival coming back to San Francisco’s North Beach in June

Accordion players will perform “That’s Amore” as a finale to Festa Italiana on June 4 in San Francisco. | Courtesy Gina Travaglio

Music history has long been shrouded in myth—from the lore around Delta bluesman Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil to become a guitar master to the tall tale that Jimi Hendrix lived in Haight-Ashbury (he didn’t).

Similarly, the story of how the accordion became the official instrument of San Francisco may sound legendary. But in this case, it could be more fact than fiction.

Local accordionist and historian Steve Albini—no relation to the famous record producer—contends that the first person to play the piano accordion in the United States was a San Francisco resident named Guido Deiro in the early 1900s. Later, some of the best-known “squeezers” from vaudeville resided in the City by the Bay as well.  

At one point, San Francisco even boasted an accordion school on Union Street that sported a facade in the shape of the instrument. The San Francisco Accordion Club, which first formed in 1916, is still going strong today. 

Albini and many other members of San Francisco’s Italian American community will gather on June 3 and 4 for Festa Italiana—the city’s biggest free Italian street festival. For the first year ever, the street festival will merge with the 102nd annual “Statuo” footrace to host a two-day event that closes with a symphony of accordions performing “That’s Amore” as a grand finale. 

Hosted by the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club Foundation, the community arm of a century-old neighborhood organization, Festa Italiana takes place in the heart of North Beach at Stockton and Union streets. The Statuto Race, which marks the creation of the first Italian Constitution, was first held in North Beach in 1919.

Gina Travaglio, the director of advancement at the foundation, said she credits Albini and the club’s CEO, Nicolas Figone, with the idea to host a tribute to the accordion at this year’s festival.   

According to Albini, local songwriter Tom Torriglia led the charge for the city to name the accordion the official instrument of San Francisco in 1992. Torriglia will be among the symphony of squeezers on June 4. 

“It’s a great way to celebrate all things Italian within the North Beach community,” Travaglio said. “Our neighborhood is having a moment right now.” 

A San Francisco native with roots in Italy, Travaglio said she plans to feast on some combination of the festival’s signature sausage and pepper sandwich, meatballs and pesto pasta. She added that she’s also looking forward to seeing puppet shows and perhaps participating in tarantella dance lessons.

Festa Italiana & 102nd Statuto Race

🗓️ June 3-4 | 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
📍 Stockton and Union streets