Greater Youngstown Italian Festival returns


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By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The city’s new amphitheater will be open next summer, but the Greater Youngstown Italian Festival – the largest annual downtown event – plans to stay right where it is.

John Rossetti, chairman of the festival, offered some reassurance to those who think this will be the festival’s final year on Federal Street, where it has become a tradition.

The present location is where it belongs, said Rossetti in an interview last week, adding there is no plan to move it to the new amphitheater.

“The Italian festival is a street festival, and I don’t see us moving anywhere,” he said. “It belongs in the street. I applaud the city for building the amphitheater, but as of now, the Italian festival is going to stay, for the foreseeable future, smack dab in the middle of town, where it belongs.”

The city’s new amphitheater is being constructed on riverfront land along Front Street, just a few blocks away from the festival site and will be spacious enough to hold several thousand people.

The Youngstown Italian fest, which started on Federal Street in downtown Youngstown in 1986, tried out a few other sites – including a 10-year stint at the Canfield Fairgrounds – and returned to the city in 2007.

“It never felt right,” said Rossetti of the other locations.

The festival will take place Friday through Sunday along Federal Street, between Phelps and Walnut streets. Admission is $5 (free for children 12 and under with an adult). It opens at 11 a.m. Friday and Sunday; 1 p.m. Saturday; and closes at 11 p.m. each night.

The layout will be similar to last year – the massive wine and beer tent will be east of Central Square, with vendors and a couple of smaller shade tents to the west. But due to the opening of the Doubletree Hotel this year, the Roma (main) Stage will be set up on the south end of Central Square, facing north. Last year, it was at the north end, near the hotel.

During the festival, vehicles will be able to access the hotel’s drive on Wick Avenue via Commerce Street.

As always, the festival will feature nearly nonstop music on the Roma Stage and also in the Beer and Wine Tent.

Returning as headliner this year is the EuroRhythms, a Columbus-based showband that performs Italian standards Vegas-style. The eight-piece act, based in Columbus, features a horn section.

The EuroRhythms, led by Ray Massa on accordion and vocals and with singer Tony DiMelfi, last played the fest about 15 years ago.

“We’re unique from the standpoint that we play a wide variety of traditional Italian songs but in a way that younger people will like,” said Massa in a phone interview from Iowa. “The older generation will say ‘I know that song!’ but the younger ones will like the groove and the melody. It’s very important to me that I have the whole spectrum of the audience enjoying themselves.”

Massa wants to be a catalyst for young Italian-Americans to explore their heritage.

“We try to reach out to the younger generation who are looking for a connection to their Italian roots,” he said. “Twenty years ago, there might have been a grandfather or uncle from Italy who was still around, but that isn’t the case now.”

Massa said he likes to see young people hear a song he’s sung in Italian, read the lyrics and then maybe start taking Italian language classes.

Another thing that makes the EuroRhythms atypical is it’s energetic show-band stage presence.

“We have fun on stage, do some choreography,” said Massa. “We put on a show. You can have as much of a good time watching us as you would dancing.”

In addition to the EuroRhythms, many of the Valley’s top Italian ensembles will also return, including Dom Tocco and the Brotherhood, which will again bring the fest to a close Sunday night on the Roma Stage.

Rock and pop bands are scheduled every evening in the Wine and Beer Tent. Punk Willie will perform a happy hour set Friday, Bustin’ Loose will take the stage at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, and the Houseband will take its traditional slot Sunday night.

The Houseband has been a fixture at the festival for years, but plays a very limited schedule these days, mainly private events.

However, it always gets together to play Sunday night at the Italian fest, said Rossetti.

Also returning will be master of ceremonies Steve Fazzini. The crooner, along with local singer Jaclyn Hodos, will also once again be the street serenaders.

There will be between 30 and 40 food vendors and restaurants on hand, selling a wide array of their Italian specialties.

The morra tournament – the game that’s known by players shouting out numbers in Italian – will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday near the Wine and Beer tent. “It will be mass pandemonium but it’s fun to walk through,” said Rossetti.

The homemade wine contest will take place Sunday afternoon at the same tent.

Children’s activities will be available at the OH WOW! Children’s Center for Science and Technology on West Federal Street. Its entrance is on the festival grounds, and adults and children will be admitted for $5 each (a discount of $3 per ticket).

This year the festival will give out five $1,000 scholarships to students attending Youngstown State University.

That number is down from last year, because it is based on revenues from the previous year. Due to persistent rain, attendance was sharply down in 2017.

The festival usually attracts upwards of 40,000 over the three days, but likely didn’t even hit 30,000 last year, said Rossetti.

SCHEDULE

FRIDAY

Wine and Beer Tent

11 a.m.-2 p.m.: John Gabriele

4-6 p.m.: Rex Taneri

6:30-8 p.m.: Punk Willie

7 p.m.: Morra tournament

8:30-11 p.m.: Ovations with Marc Pupino

Roma Stage

5-6 p.m.: Opening ceremony

6-8 p.m.: Miss Italian Fest Pageant

8:30-11 p.m.: Ray Massa’s EuroRhythms

SATURDAY

Wine and Beer Tent

2-4 p.m.: Jim Frank Trio

4-5 p.m.: Pasta eating contest

5:30-8 p.m.: Butch Nichols Band

8:30-11 p.m.: Bustin’ Loose

Roma Stage

2-3:30 p.m.: Gli Italiani

4-6 p.m.: Jack Vasko Band

6:20-8:10 p.m.: Del Sinchak

8:30-11 p.m.: Ray Massa’s EuroRhythms

SUNDAY

Wine and Beer Tent

1-4 p.m.: Homemade wine contest

2-4:30 p.m.: Mirella the Musician

5-7:30 p.m.: Frank Gallo

8-11 p.m.: The HouseBand

Roma Stage

12:30-1:30 p.m.: Outdoor Mass

1:30-2:30 p.m.: Lowellville Band

2:30-4 p.m.: Little King and Queen Pageant

4:30-6:30 p.m.: Avanti Band

7-8:30 p.m.: The Cavaliers

9-10:45 p.m.: Dom Tocco

10:45 p.m.: Grand raffle drawing

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