La Festa Italiana, now in its 38th year, is so popular among vendors and patrons that it could easily grow out of its Courthouse Lawn boundaries and spread throughout more blocks of Scranton.
But with a hypothetical expansion, event organizers said they are fearful that the traditional Labor Day weekend festival that celebrates Italian culture and cuisine would lose its flavor.
La Festa Italiana will be held Saturday, Aug. 30; Sunday, Aug. 31 and Monday, Sept. 1 at its usual spot in downtown Scranton.
More than 80 vendors will offer a variety of foods and displays. Continuous live entertainment will be featured during the afternoon and evening hours all three days.
Chris DiMattio, La Festa president and chairman, said the festival originated in 1976 as a way to emulate the piazzas in Italy. Piazzas are city squares where people gather to talk about the weather, politics and dine on street food while listening to music.
“We don’t want to lose that feel for La Festa,” he said. “Why mess with success? We really want it to be a family friendly festival.”
So, La Festa organizers have decided to work with what space is available — and it has been a challenge with the new format of the courthouse — and juggle the mix of food, arts and crafts and non-profit groups that attend each year.
Another stage has been added to the La Festa layout this year for puppet shows, street acts and as a way to introduce new bands to the celebration. “We always try to increase and diversify our attractions,” he said. “We want to utilize every second of each day that we can with music, vendors and other events.”
As a matter of fact, the list of entertainers hoping to perform at La Festa is almost as long as the vendors wishing to sell their wares or their culinary dishes.
The festival committee will operate two stands, one featuring Italian cultural items, clothing and novelties. The other is the Cappuccino Cafe, which will be located on the North Washington Avenue Plaza. Italian favorites are cooked and served daily. Proceeds from the stands will be donated to area charities.
Tens of thousands of visitors are expected over the course of three days, some from as far away as Florida, for what has become an end-of-summer tradition for many. Many class reunions are planned around the Italian city celebration. “It still amazes me that people come from all over the country for this event,” DiMattio said. “They plan their vacations around this event. And they certainly plan their meals.”
Continuous live entertainment for both young and older tastes is presented on the Main Stage, the Shop Rite Espresso Stage and the Wayne Bank Stage throughout each day.
This year’s featured performers are Andy DiMino and Susan Griffiths, who will bring their Vegas-style “Toast to Dean Martin and Marilyn Monroe” to the stage at 7:30 p.m. on Monday.
Among the many other acts who will perform are The Poets, Italian tenor Christopher Macchio, comedian Uncle Floyd, vocalist Elio Scaccio, Ray Massa’s “EuroRhythms” from Ohio, Chris DiMattio’s tribute to Sinatra featuring Nikki Rasmus, Deano Noto’s Tribute to Billy Joel, Los Vega New York Italian Show Band, the Italian Continentals, The Magics, Gene Dempsey Orchestra, Paul LaBelle’s Exact Change plus jugglers, magicians, street acts, favorite local bands and dance groups. There will also be cooking demonstrations.
The Capt. James R. Minicozzi Memorial 5K Run/Walk will kickoff the festival on Saturday. The race is sponsored by the Scranton Chapter of UNICO, the Italian-American service organization. Registration for the race is from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at Linden street and North Washington avenue. Entrance fee is $20. The race begins at 10 a.m. at Lackawanna and Wyoming avenues and ends at Scranton City Hall.
The annual Mass in Italian will be celebrated at 10 a.m. on Sunday in St. Peter’s Cathedral, located one block from the festival site. The Most Reverend Robert C. Morlino, D.D., Bishop of Madison, Wisconsin, will be the principal celebrant and give the homily. Bishop Morlino, a native of Dunmore, is celebrating his 40th anniversary as a priest this year. The Mass will also be televised live by CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton.
Fireworks sponsored by Price Chopper will be displayed on Sunday night.
A new feature this year is a cannoli eating contest at 4:30 p.m. Monday in front of the main stage.
Festival patrons may also choose to attend Lackawanna Railfest, hosted by the Steamtown National Historic Site. Shuttle transportation will be provided between La Festa and Steamtown. “We don’t mind sharing our audience and venue with Railfest,” DiMattio said. “It makes for a great weekend in Scranton and a last blast of summer.”