Festa Italiana Brings Food and Entertainment

In its 43rd year, Festa Italiana is a yearly tradition that designates the first weekend in August as the time for one big family reunion – whether or not you’re Italian.

“‘Where Friends become Family’ is a reoccurring theme and one thing that never changes,” says Joy Parlapiano, executive board committee member. “It’s one big family reunion for the entire community, celebrating everything Italian.”

This year’s Festa will be Aug. 5-7 on the grounds of Boylan Catholic High School, 4000 St. Francis Dr. Hours are 5-11 p.m. Friday; noon to 11 p.m. Saturday; and Catholic Mass at 10 a.m. Sunday with Festa hours from noon to 8 p.m.

“Cucina Italiana: Rockford Style” is the theme for this year’s culture tent, with cooking demonstrations by local amateur Italian chefs, featuring family-favorite recipes. Each demonstration will last about 45 minutes, followed by a question-and-answer time.

“Everyone loves Italian cooking, and it’s a culture tent theme we have repeated often because it brings back memories of the sights, smells and love associated with Grandmother’s kitchen,” Parlapiano says.

A cookbook with the same name was published by the Greater Rockford Italian American Association (GRIAA) and first printed in 1995. Plans are underway for an updated version to be available soon, says Karen Cantele of GRIAA.

“Italian cooking is what immigrants became known for as they integrated into American society,” Cantele says. “The cooking theme goes over so well because the Italian food is one of the biggest draws at Festa.”

The Chefs’ schedule is as follows:

Saturday: 2 p.m. Sicilian Orange Salad; 3 p.m. Italian Wedding Soup; 5 p.m. Pasta with Peas.

Sunday’s schedule includes Sicilian Stuffed Artichokes and wedding cookies.

Also in the culture tent, meet Rockford authors Laura Padron, Jill Calvagna and Kristi Calvagna, who will be signing their books beginning Friday night and throughout the weekend. Padron is author of “Building St. Joseph Altars: A Feast for the Soul,” and the Calvagnas co-authored a book called “Figgy and Frannie: A Legend in the Baking,” celebrating traditions, food fun, and love of family. Both books will be available for purchase.

Also, Greater Rockford Italian American Association Hall of Famer Steve Salvato is a genealogist who will look into your Italian family’s history at no charge.

This year’s Festa features 16 food booths, serving Italian beef, Italian sausage and meatball sandwiches, pork chop sandwiches, Italian ice coffee, Italian margaritas, pasta, pizza, mozzarella sticks, fried zucchini, beer, wine, soft drinks and more. There’s also two beer tents, Bocce tournaments, a carnival, kids crafts, Sunday Mass, Amici Italian Dance Troupes, musical entertainments and more. New this year is the revamped Festa Italiana website, festaitalianarockford.com, which is more informative and user-friendly, and where people can now get tickets, enter drawings, and sign up for Bocce tournaments.

Every year features new and returning entertainers. Entertainment begins Friday at 5:05 p.m. with the Amici Italian Troupe, which was established in 1985 by Shirley Martignoni Fedeli, and brings together Italian Americans of all ages and backgrounds to share the rich tradition of Italian Folk Dance, including Quadriglias, Saltarellos, Mazurcas, Tarantellas and Codigliones. The entertainment continues with Vince Chiarelli at 5:50 p.m., opening ceremonies at 7 p.m., classic rock by Minimal at 7:45 p.m., and the Blooze Brothers at 9:30 p.m.

Saturday’s lineup includes Amici Italian Youth Troupe at 12:45 p.m. and adult troupe at 1:50 p.m., Vince Chiarelli at 3:30 p.m., Dirt Road Rebelz at 5:30 p.m., Dueling Pianos at 7:30 p.m. and Cylinder 6 at 9:30 p.m.

On Sunday, Catholic Mass begins at 10 a.m. The Amici Italian Youth Troupe performs at noon and the adult troupe dances at 1 p.m. Vince Chiarelli is onstage at 2:30 p.m., That 70s Band plays rock, pop, and disco music at 4:30 p.m. and country music by Brushville is at 6:30 p.m.

Festa is hosted by GRIAA, a nonprofit staffed solely by volunteers who work to promote the Italian culture through social events, charitable events and educational activities. All Festa proceeds go toward educational scholarships for those with financial need attending Catholic schools, grades K-12. To date, the organization has provided more than $755,000 in scholarships to Rockford students.

“And we have no plans to stop,” Parlapiano says.

General Admission is $8 each day, with free admission to all military active duty, veterans, and children under 10 accompanied by an adult. Family Pack Specials are also available on festaitalianarockford.com or at participating Kelley Williamson locations. ❚