SOUTHINGTON - With the smell of savory food spilling down Center Street and Italian Music in the air, crowds made their way to the first day of the Italian Festival with cheery faces and growling stomachs.
Nancy Brierly and Betty Lombardi were both relatively new to the festival, returning after having a fun time last year when they came for all three days.
“It’s fun to walk around and try a bit of everything,” Brierly said. “I loved the fried dough and sausage and pepper grinders.”
Accompanying the pair was five-year-old Gavin, who Brierly said had fun getting his face painted last year at the children’s carnival.
He was later spotted swinging around a new toy lightsaber.
Other festivalgoers, like Maryanne Lamb and Lori Armstrong, have been coming to the event since it started 14 years ago.
For them, it’s all about the music and culture.
“We always get a bite to eat, but the music is the biggest reason,” Armstrong said. “I don’t speak Italian but I love to listen to it. We live close by and we’ll both be here on Saturday and for the Mass on Sunday.”
“I speak Italian; my mother came from Italy,” Lamb said. “I like all the music; there isn’t one song I don’t like.”
Even those with other obligations couldn’t miss grabbing a quick taste of the festival food.
Paul and Betty Kecskes made a short stop for dinner before heading off to watch a friend’s dog for the weekend.
Betty enjoyed a porchetta broccoli rabe sandwich while Paul dug into a sausage and pepper grinder.
“I get this all the time here,” said Paul Kecskes.
John Cooke, who came to the festival with two friends, said he was there for the food.
“I live in Southington so I’ve been coming for a while,” he said. “I like all Italian food. That’s what we came for.”
Entertainment Friday included Salvo DeMartino from Naples, Tio Ricciardella from New York and Marcello Sparagna from Hartford.
Sorelle d’Italia also organized a traditional Italian dance.
There was also a children’s carnival.
The festival will continue Saturday from 1 to 11 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.
On Saturday, entertainment will include DeMartino, the Sam Vincent Quintet from Middletown, Charley Tiernan from New Haven, Michael Ciulla from Essex and comedian Bob Luparello from New York.
There will also be a Taekwondo demonstration and the winners of the festival’s annual wine contest will be announced at 2 p.m.
Sunday’s festivities will begin with a traditional Italian Mass at 10 a.m., followed by the procession of the Madonna della Strada statue.
Later, Antonio Venditti and the Ambrosiani Band from Providence, R.I. will perform.
The event is sponsored by Sons of Italy, UNICO and Sorelle D’Italia and held as a celebration of culture for the large Italian population in Southington.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.