SOUTHINGTON – With pandemic restrictions being lifted, organizers plan to hold a scaled-down Italian-American Festival on Center Street next month to keep the annual summer tradition going.
Rather than a weekend-long celebration, the festival will run from Saturday evening, July 24 to Sunday, July 25. There will still be food booths, entertainment, Sunday morning mass and procession on Center Street.
Local Italian groups, the Sons of Italy, Southington UNICO and Sorelle d’Italia, organize the festival. Last year, they cancelled the festival due to the pandemic. Organizers didn’t want another year to go by without a festival, even if it meant a smaller event.
“It’s to keep the tradition alive,” said David Zoni, UNICO’s representative to the festival committee.Booths, tents, mass and entertainment
Center Street will be closed to vehicles for the festival and restaurants will have tents on the sidewalks. This year, organizers invited non-profit groups that have attended the festival in the past to set up booths in the parking lot near the Sons of Italy building at 139 Center St.
Antonietta Barbato, Sorelle d’Italia president, said singers Aaron Caruso and Graziano Lazzaro will perform Saturday night. The headliners will sing Italian as well as American classics. Caruso has been a hit at the festival, Barbato said.
“We’ve had him here many years in a row,” she said.
On Sunday, there’ll be an outdoor Italian mass followed by a procession of a statue of the Madonna downtown. Zoni said the festival and the groups that organize it intend to keep Italian traditions alive, such as the mass and procession.Keeping costs down
Previous festivals have had a carnival, wine-making contest and more vendors. Zoni said he and other organizers normally start planning in January but weren’t sure if they’d be allowed to hold the festival at all. In addition to a late start in planning, organizers also didn’t want to ask too much of local businesses that sponsor the festival.
“We have to raise money in donations to pay for all this,” Zoni said. “A lot of businesses that we relied on donations, it was tough for them going through the pandemic. We didn’t want to put too much pressure on them, we didn’t know how much they’d be able to contribute.”
Turnout was another reason to keep the festival small. Barbato wasn’t sure if people will want to attend a street festival despite pandemic restrictions on gatherings being lifted.
“I know things are starting to open up, but people are still skeptical about going out,” she said.
“Our thought process was to get people together again but not do a full blown festival like we’ve done in the past,” Barbato said. “I don’t know what the crowds are going to be like.”