SOUTHINGTON - Soft, soothing crooner music and traditional Italian songs filled the air on Center Street Friday along with the aromas of food from numerous town restaurants as the 15th Annual Italian American Festival began.
The festival, sponsored annually by three local Italian clubs, Sons of Italy, UNICO and Sorelle D’Italia in America, will continue into this weekend with a full roster of cultural celebrations and entertainment to enjoy sitting under a shaded tent. There is also a wide assortment of food from vendors on both sides of the street.
Some food offerings include pizza slices from Nonna’s, Sofrito and Pasta Fagioli from Sons of Italy, the Riccio family selling gelato and Italian ice, UNICO’s sausage and pepper grinders, and Paul Gregory’s selling meatball subs and fried calamari.
Lucy Leach, who came to the festival with her husband Robert, said she comes every year.
“I like everything - I like the music, the food - I just enjoy the whole experience,” she said. “The food is so good, they really go all out. I love the fried dough and the sausage and pepper grinders. I also like to come to the Italian Mass on Sunday. My husband isn’t Italian but he comes along anyway.”
Walter Karlowicz and his wife Jean also praised the festival.
“I like that it’s homegrown,” said Walter Karlowicz. “People came here from Europe and started this tradition. I like the music and the little shops.”
Jean Karlowicz, who is Italian, said she likes to celebrate her heritage. She also enjoys the music and the food.
“I like the broccoli rabe and sausage, but tonight I’ll be getting the sausage and pepper grinder,” she said.
Laura Fletcher said that although she tends to go on vacation this week, she always tries to stop in to the festival at the beginning or end.
“I love the Pasta Fagioli from the Sons of Italy booth,” she said. “I also have to pick up a raffle ticket while I’m here. I’m a Southington native so I’ve been coming as long as this has been going on. The music is awesome too.”
Another group, consisting of Peter Callahan, Brian and Lauren Williams and 15-month-old Luke were visiting the Farmer’s Market on the Town Green and saw the sign directing them to the festival.
“We decided to take a walk down and see what it’s all about,” said Callahan. “It’s nice to have them all together.”
Callahan said he hoped to get an Italian Ice while at the festival.
Brian Williams noted that Luke had a fun time dancing to music at the Farmer’s Market. He was pleased to hear there would be more music at the festival.
Vita Baker said she was at the festival because she is Italian.
“It’s got good food and good music,” she said. “I enjoy it.”
The Italian Festival will be held from 1 to 11 p.m. Saturday and on Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.
The Children’s Carnival in Factory Square has expanded offerings this year, including more games for older children.
Friday’s entertainment lineup saw performances from Marcello Sparagna and Teo Ricciardella in the evening. At the end of the day, “The Jersey Four,” a Frankie Valli tribute band, took the stage.
On Saturday, the festival will have its annual wine contest, with judging at 2 p.m.
Entertainment for the day includes the Sam Vinci Band and Charley Tiernan and in the evening Vittorio DeCarlo and Biagio Benevenga. Between acts, Sorelle D’Italia will perform traditional Tarantella dances.
On Sunday, the traditional Italian Mass will be held at 10 a.m., followed by the procession of the Madonna della Strada statue.
Sunday’s music includes “Head over Heels,” a show band, which will perform the music of Earth Wind and Fire, Michael Jackson and others. Later that evening, Greg Allen will perform “Malt Shop Memories,” which will feature music from 1955 to 1965.
A raffle is being held during the duration of the festival. There is a ticket booth at the event. First prize will win a $1,000 Visa gift card, second prize wins a 65 inch Visio television, third place wins $250 in lottery tickets and fourth place wins a 43 inch LED TV.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.