There are many Reno Artown events that make our community so special – The Basque Festival being one of my favorites. And did you know that Reno is rich with Basque culture?
Today I’ll be featuring photos from the 49th Annual Basque Festival held in Reno. As an added bonus, I have a special guest joining me – Kate Camino from the Nevada Basque Studies Program – to share some insight about Basque history and culture.
History of Basque People
The Basque cultural influence in Nevada originates initially from the gold rush era.
Young entrepreneurs headed West with hopes of earning more money overseas.
Originally, some men ventured to the pampas of South America to raise sheep; and when they weren’t terribly successful, later sailed up to California and followed immigrant trails over the Sierras into Nevada.
They were joined in this endeavor by other native Basques from their homeland.
“They discovered that more money could be made raising cattle and sheep to feed to miners in California than working in the mines, so they moved to Nevada because of the availability of free range.” – Kate Camino, Nevada Basque Studies
Basque Festival in Reno
The remaining Basque population is very rare around the world, but is an important factor in Reno’s heritage and continues to be an important celebration. I am thrilled that Reno pays homage to its humble roots each year with the Basque Festival. This year actually marks the 49th Annual Reno Basque Festival. My wife’s family has basque origins and we have been to many festivals. The festival is held every year in downtown Reno at Wingfield Park, and is definitely a celebration to remember.
From wood chopping demonstrations to amazing Basque food and cooking tips, the festival offers diverse activities for people of all ages. Whether you show up solo or bring the whole family, there’s something for everyone.
In this strength competition, men pick up and carry a 270 lb granite ball and a 300 lb concrete block. In this picture, you can see this gentleman almost makes it look easy picking up the granite ball and rolling it around his neck, demonstrating his brute strength. It’s an amazing feat to watch!
Pictured above: This popular contest is known as the txinga arimatea or “weight carrying” contest. The weights are called “Basque Suitcases” – which makes sense, as they certainly look the part! Each contestant typically carries half their weight in each hand. Above, you can see this man in a Lovelock contest carrying the traditional 115 lbs in each hand. (They have since altered the rules to help smaller people be more competitive. Nowadays a person carries their own weight, in total.)
Above, are traditional basque dancers. Two different basque groups performed at the festival; one was the dance group from Reno, the other from Winnemucca. They were equally charming performances.
The Basque dance performances were my favorite part of the festival. My wife and kids danced in the past, which makes it even more endearing to see the traditions carried on.
According to Basque history, many of the Basco’s carried a “Bota Bag” with them to hold their drinks. The Bota Bags were made from sheepskin and were commonly used to carry wine. In this case, this festival activity was a kid’s contest drinking grape juice from the bota bag – this little girl is showing excellent form!
P.S. If you’re looking for Basque food year round, I HIGHLY recommend checking out Louis’ Basque Corner on E 4th Street in Reno. Meals are served in the traditional Basque family style which includes soup of the day, melt in your mouth French bread, tasty Basque beans, salad, and fries – and that’s just the beginning! Then comes your first course, main entree, dessert, and a glass of house wine. If you come hungry, I promise you’ll leave beyond happy.
If you missed the festival this year, don’t worry, there’s always next year! You should definitely mark your calendars for the 50th Annual Reno Basque Festival as it is sure to be a special celebration.
Did you attend the festival this year? Comment below and share your thoughts!
Want to read more? Check out my art-filled blog about American Impressionism.