Festival lauds Italian heritage
YOUNGSTOWN — Four “F’s” could go a long way for many folks in describing a long-time family-friendly festival: food, fun, festive and folklore.
For the food part, many who attended the first day of the 36th annual Greater Youngstown Italian Fest likely were grateful to vendors such as Richard Mullen.
“It’s awesome; words can’t say enough,” Mullen, who owns Shirley’s Steak and Sausage in New Springfield, said, referring to seeing a steady crowd fill Central Square on Friday, and greater normalcy despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Hosting the event, which continues 1 to 11 p.m. today and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday, is the Italian Heritage Foundation of Youngstown Inc. Admission is $5 per person. Children 12 and under who are accompanied by a parent are admitted free.
Mullen and his team spent part of Friday afternoon assembling trays of onions, peppers, mushrooms, cheese, sauces and Italian sausage while his wife, Diana, busied herself by preparing flame-broiled burgers.
The festive and folklore pieces could be found under the wine and beer tent in the form of musical entertainment, which began Friday with Rex Taneri and his Orchestra from Warren, who played traditional songs such as the Al Martino hit “Spanish Eyes,” as well as the jazz standard “Mack the Knife” that Louis Armstrong made famous. They also delved into the country music playbook with such tunes as the 1975 Freddie Fender hit “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.”
Taking the stage after Rex Taneri was Vintage Vinyl, which played oldies such as “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tommy James and the Shondells.
“This is Italian hand-painted pottery made in the Province of Vincenzo, in Nove,” Cherie Westphal said in describing the merchandise she and her husband, Doug, were selling under their tent.
The Westphals run LoBello Imports in the Detroit area and travel to many festivals in neighboring states and the East Coast, Cherie added.
The couple had for sale numerous brightly hand-painted Italian bowls, pitchers, plates and dishes. Also on hand were several shelves of chicken-shaped pitchers, which are the main pieces of an Italian tradition to give to family and friends, Doug Westphal explained.
The tradition dates to the Renaissance period in the 1400s, when, legend has it, a member of the leading family in the Republic of Florence named Giuliano was nearly assassinated at a festival the family threw in 1478 by a rival family seeking to take power. The would-be killers had to first cross a yard filled with chickens that started cackling and woke up Giuliano and his protectors.
As a result, Giuliano ordered his artisans to make ceramic copies of chickens as wine pitchers, which he gave to the peasants and others for good luck in warding off potential assassins.
The 2022 Greater Youngstown Italian Fest also has more than 54 Italian restaurant and food vendors as well as retail vendors, a Little King and Queen pageant, scholarships for Youngstown State University students, numerous contests and a Morra tournament.
If you go …
2022 Greater Youngstown Italian Fest Schedule
Wine and beer tent
3:30 to 4:30 p.m. — Pasta eating contest
4:30 to 6:30 p.m. — Butch Nichols Band
7 to 9 p.m. — RDNA
9:30 to 11:30 p.m. — Bustin’ Loose
2:30 to 4 p.m. — Homemade wine and homemade peppers contests
6 to 8 p.m. — Del Sinchak
8:30 to 10:30 p.m. — Ray Massa
Wine and beer tent
5:30 to 7:30 p.m. — Jim Frank
8:15 to 11 p.m. — The House Band
12:30 to 1:30 p.m. — Outdoor Mass
1:30 to 2:30 p.m. — Lowellville Band
2:30 to 4 p.m. — Little King and Queen Pageant
4 to 6 p.m. — Avanti Band
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. — The Cavaliers
9 to 10:30 p.m. — Dom Tocco
Other festivities include strolling guitar and mandolin by Bennie Faiela, as well as street serenading at the square by Steve Fazzini all weekend.