By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The Greater Youngstown Italian Festival had been trying to book singer Micheal Castaldo for several years, but the timing was never right — until this year.
The Italian-born tenor will sing Saturday and Sunday inside the Roma Tent, which holds 1,000 people, and his performance will be different both nights. The festival, which sprawls over five blocks on either side of Central Square, downtown, opens Friday and runs through Sunday.
John Rossetti, chairman of the festival, said Castaldo is drawing interest among fans of Italian music. “I’m getting calls from people outside the area who want to see him,” he said.
Castaldo sings Italian pop music, American standards (in Italian) and light opera.
A native of the Calabria region of Italy who emigrated to Toronto, and now lives in New York, Castaldo also is a purveyor of olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. His family-owned company owns and cultivates olive orchards in southern Italy.
The Greater Youngstown Italian Festival will feature nearly nonstop live music in the Roma tent on West Federal Street, and also in the 500-seat beer and wine tent on East Federal.
New restaurants and eateries are springing up on the street, and they also are getting involved in the festival. Avalon Downtown pizza, Liquid Blu nightclub, Joe Maxx Coffee and Roberto’s Italian Ristorante all will either have booths or cater to festival-goers from their storefronts, said Rossetti.
Leo’s Ristorante of Howland will offer its menu in a large tent at the festival, and DeChellis Restaurant of New Middletown also will have a presence.
As always, there will be a block or two of children’s amusement rides and games. A Catholic Mass will open the festival Sunday at 11:30 a.m. in the Roma tent, followed by a procession.
The festival’s Man and Woman of the Year are Raymond Greco of Boardman and Dolly Crump of North Lima.
Greco is the past president of the Italian Heritage Foundation, which runs the festival. A Brier Hill native, he was the first chairman of the festival and was responsible for bringing it back to downtown.
Crump is an East Side native and former restaurateur in downtown Youngstown.
The Italian festival generally draws 12,000 to 16,000 people for each of its three days, depending on the weather, said Rossetti.
It also makes a huge mess, although residents don’t know it. That’s because it spends more than $10,000 on waste hauling and control, including power washing the sidewalks when its over.
“It’s a big event, and it comes with a big mess, but we clean up after ourselves,” said Rossetti.
The festival raises tens of thousands of dollars for Mahoning Valley charities. Rossetti estimated it has given well over $150,000 to charitable groups in the past six years. It also will present nine $1,000 scholarships to Youngstown State University for young students.