By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The countdown has begun for the Greatest Weekend, the constellation of eclectic and unique events in the center city that attracts folks by the thousands every year.
At its center, as always, will be the 15th annual Summer Festival of the Arts on the campus of Youngstown State University next Saturday and July 14.
Orbiting it will be the Tour of the Valley bicycle race and the Youngstown Jazz Fest featuring Kirk Whalum, both July 14; and the Greek Summerfest at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Thursday through Sunday.
Representatives from all four events spoke to the press Friday at St. Nicholas Church hall to get the ball rolling.
In an area that has no shortage of summer festivals, the SFA stands out because its focus is firmly on the visual and performing arts. “There will be no bounce- around, no pony rides,” said Lori Factor, festival director. “It’s all about the arts.”
Joining with the other events taking place next weekend creates a synergy that adds to the atmosphere. “We’ve learned that it’s not a competition; it’s a collaboration,” she said.
The SFA — which drew about 13,000 people over both days last year — will be anchored by a marketplace featuring works by more than 75 artists. There will also be nearly nonstop live music, dance and theater, as well as the festival of nations area, featuring performances and food from 20 ethnic clubs and churches.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. next Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 14.
The Greek Summerfest is a lively ethnic festival a couple of blocks off campus that will feature lamb and chicken dinners, plus other Greek staples and pastries.
“The meals are out of this world,” said Socrates Kolitsos, director of the event, “and we also have the pastries that people rave about.”
The Greek band Alpha and Omega will perform from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and next Saturday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and next Saturday; and noon to 6 p.m. July 14.
St. Nicholas is at 220 N. Walnut St., across from Choffin Career Center parking lot.
The pace will pick up July 14 when Tour of the Valley has its Criterium races downtown. A criterium is a short street race in which riders do laps at high speed on a tight course.
There will be nine races, separated by age group and gender, with the first at 8 a.m. and the final one from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Go to Tourofthevalley.com for schedule and details.
Putting a cap on the weekend will be the Youngstown Jazz Festival. It will be on Central Square, which will be closed to traffic, beginning at 7 p.m. July 14.
The stage will be set up on Wick Avenue near Commerce Street, facing south. Opening for the Grammy-winning Whalum will be Youngstown-based jazz-fusion favorites SounDoctrine.
Tickets cost $17 at the SFA info booth near Kilcawley Center during festival hours. They can also be purchased for $20 at Youngstown Nation, 17 N. Phelps St.; Family Christian Book Store, 7415 Market St., Boardman; Wine Styles, 8208 E. Market St., Howland; Jimmy’s Italian Specialties, 3230 Belmont Ave., Liberty; Quest Bookstore, 3899 McCartney Road, Coitsville; and at the gate.
Concertgoers should bring their own chairs.
A Jazz Fest pre-party will take place at the Lemon Grove Cafe, 110 W. Federal St., downtown, beginning at 7 p.m. next Saturday, featuring the Michael Austin Project and Donald Malloy. Admission is $8, or $5 for those who show their ticket to the Youngstown Jazz Fest.