NIAGARA FALLS – A long-standing city tradition is coming back in full force this year.
The Italian Festival will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday on Pine Avenue between Portage Avenue and 15th Street. It comes a year after a smaller version of the festival was held.
Carmine Bianco, who heads a men’s bocce club in the city known as the Pax Romana Commission, is spearheading the event’s return.
Bianco said he plans to organize the festival for years to come. It previously was run by the Pine Avenue Business Association. Bianco wants to work to improve the Pine Avenue neighborhood and make sure young people experience an event in the Falls that goes back decades.
“Just keeping the tradition alive for the next generation,” Bianco said.
Bianco, a physical education teacher at Niagara Falls High School, said the newly formed Pax Romana Commission, a not-for-profit group, came into being around last Christmas,
The bocce club plays at the courts at 15th and Pine, in Hyde Park, as well as in an indoor league at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center.
Bianco said he hopes to expand his club so it eventually offers instruction in various aspects of Italian heritage – from language lessons to how to make various types of food and wine.
Money raised through the festival will be put toward improvements on Pine, with the ultimate goal to “bring it back to where it was in years past,” Bianco said.
Billed as “Three Days of Tradition, Food and Music,” the festival runs from noon to 10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. It will include more than a dozen food and beverage vendors.
One of the bumps in the road in terms of planning the event was getting vendors, Bianco said.
That was because the Buffalo Italian Festival changed the dates from its typical schedule and is now running concurrently with the Falls festival.
Pine between 15th and Portage will be closed to traffic from Friday morning through Sunday night.
A big part of the festival will be music, with nine singers and bands scheduled to perform over the three days.
Here’s the musical lineup for the festival:
• 5 p.m. – Dr. Jazz and & The Jazzbugs
• 7 to 10 p.m. – USA Band
• 1 - 3 p.m. – This Vehicle
• 4 - 6 p.m. – Tony Pedulla
• 7 - 10 p.m. – The Formula Italian Band
• 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. – Jamestown Italian Society Dancers
• 2:30 to 3 p.m. – Tony Scricco sings the standards
• 3:30 to 6 p.m. – Lisa Surace, Italian opera
• 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. – Nick Battistella sings Frank Sinatra and more
There will be an Italian children’s pageant from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. Applications for the pageant can be picked up at Markethouse Steaks & Spirits, DiCamillo Bakery and Latina’s.
A spaghetti-eating contest and cake-eating contest will be held from 3 to 4 p.m. Saturday. A contest for the best sauce will be held from 2:30 to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Earlier Sunday, the event kicks off with a five-kilometer run at 8 a.m.
The Remo Lostracco Memorial Bocce Tournament begins at 10 a.m. Lostracco was a volunteer at the Christoforo Columbo Society for 40 years who died in February.
A Mass will be said in Italian at 11 a.m. at the St. Joseph site of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph parish.
After the Mass, the Italian Special Citizen Awards will be presented. Salvatore Bianco and John Esposito will receive the award, which is also being presented posthumously to Lostracco.
There also will be a grape-stomping contest on Sunday.