The reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.
For several years, each Italian Festival was rumored to be the last. But — as Westport commuters have known for a week — the 26th annual Festival Italiano kicks off tonight, in Luciano Park (and the adjacent railroad parking lot).
That’s great news for Westporters, Italians from as far as New Haven and Brooklyn, fans of fried dough — everyone, that is, except anyone trying to catch a train.
Gates open tonight at 6 p.m. At 7:30 a parade wends its way down Riverside and Saugatuck Avenues, to Franklin Street and the park. Buck Iannacone is the latest in a long line of Saugatuck legends to serve as grand marshal.
If you’ve never seen this parade: go! It’s nothing like the endless, Little League-filled Memorial Day one. This is quicker, more intimate, and totally random. It’s a trip back in time, to the days when Saugatuck was a close-knit, thriving Italian community. Ironically, the parade passes directly underneath I-95 — the same structure that tore Saugatuck apart forever.
But that was then, and Festival Italiano is now. There are pony rides, a carousel and Ferris wheel, a dunk tank, an amusement arcade where you’ll spend too much money trying to win a stuffed animal — everything a carnival should have. (Though I’ll never understand why an Italian Fest sells Chinese and Greek food.)
Plus — and this never gets the publicity it should — it’s all for a good cause. The sponsoring Sons of Italy have distributed over $1.7 million to more than 40 charities since the first Festival in 1984. That’s as good a reason as any to go.
Though some people would say it’s the fried dough.
(Hours tonight and tomorrow: 6-11 p.m. Saturday: 12 noon-11 p.m. Sunday: 12 noon-10 p.m. After tonight’s parade, various bands and the Staples Players will perform in Luciano Park.)