Tag Archives: Italian Festival

A New Slice Of Saugatuck — Update

NOTE:  This story has been updated, to include information on all 22 restaurants and caterers participating.  Comments questioning the lack of participation of certain restaurants have been removed, as those restaurants will be represented.

It hasn’t created much buzz — yet.

It’s not Festival Italiano.

But a “Slice of Saugatuck” festival scheduled for September 17 may draw many Westporters down to that old, diverse, now rapidly redeveloping neighborhood.

The Westport News reports that the event — organized by RTM member and area resident Matthew Mandell — will include food from 22 restaurants and caterers,  from Riverside and and Railroad Place out to Saugatuck Avenue; wine from Grain and Grape and Saugatuck Wine & Spirits; kayak rides at Downunder; fly fishing lessons at Westport Outfitters, and tours of the Saugatuck fire station.

September is a perfect time for a festival near the Saugatuck River. (Photo by Bobbi Liepolt)

At the same time, word on the street — Riverside Avenue — is that Doc’s Cafe will close at the end of October.  One door closes, another opens, as my Italian grandmother used to say (if I had one), but losing what is arguably Westport’s funkiest “coffeehouse” is the yin to Slice of Saugatuck’s yang.

For Westporters who can’t (or won’t) venture across the bridge to the Slice event — or for anyone into street fairs — here’s another bit of news:  Blues, Views and BBQ returns to the Levitt Pavilion September 24-25.

Sure, it’s clunkily named.  But the annual event — featuring, this year, music from Otis and the Hurricanes, River City  Slim and the Zydeco Hogs, and the Westport Heritage Blues Band starring Charlie Karp and Crispin Cioe (plus many others), and lots of mouth-watering food —  has become an early fall, not-to-be-missed downtown staple.

On consecutive weekends next month we’ll celebrate one festival in a traditional Italian neighborhood, then another honoring the decidedly un-Westport (but very welcome) traditions of blues and barbecue.

They say the 3rd time’s the charm.  Anyone ready to resurrect the Apple Festival?

When The Festival Tents Fold

The news — there will be no Italian Festival in 2011 — was dramatic, but not unsurprising.  Rumors of its demise had swirled for years.

What was surprising was this:  Few people seemed to care.

My “06880” breaking-news post elicited 10 comments.  A story several days later about a guy selling socks at Mitchells drew more than twice that number.

For more than a quarter century, Festival Italiano was a Westport tradition.  It drew folks from as far as Brooklyn.  Johnny Maestro was a regular performer.  Thousands of Westporters went there, ate there, rode rides there, played games there, made out there, grew up there.

Hundreds more volunteered.

Until recently.

The Italian Festival folded its tents, finally, not because no one liked it — everyone did — but because too few people liked to work there.

Volunteers did everything.  They planned entertainment, haggled with carney companies, negotiated for use of the parking lots, organized police and medical services, arranged for port-a-potties, created parades, put out press releases, sold raffle tickets, picked up trash, and did a thousand other tasks fair-goers never thought about as they drank beer and munched fried dough.

The best part for the volunteers — besides watching the smiling faces of everyone from little kids enjoying their first Festival to oldsters remembering the original St. Anthony’s Feast — was handing checks to charities.  Hundreds of local organizations received millions of dollars, thanks to the hard work — for so long — of a relatively few people.

Perhaps the Sons of Italy — the core group of volunteers — did not toot their own horn loudly enough.  I’m sure very few Festival attendees knew this was a non-profit event — or where the money went.

If they had known, would things have changed?  Would the Festival have drawn more volunteers — enough to bring it back for a 28th summer?

Probably not.

Westport is a volunteer-driven town.  From the library and PAL, from the Green Village Initiative to the PTA, we don’t lack for men and women willing to roll up their sleeves, go to work, and do good.

But Festival Italiano demanded a singular commitment.  Entertaining up to 100,000 people for 4 days every summer — trying to keep costs manageable, making money for organizations that need it, while constantly worrying about the weather — is a daunting task.

We owe the Sons of Italy, and all their volunteers, enormous thanks for all they did, for all those years.

But maybe that’s why there was such silence following the announcement that the last pizza frite has been scarfed, the last Brooklyn Bridge notes sung.

Maybe all of us feel guilty we didn’t do our part for this great Westport institution we always took for granted.

Italian Fest To Honor Lou Santella

This year’s Italian Festival will honor Lou Santella.

The founding member, longtime director and unofficial “Mayor of Saugatuck,” who died earlier this year, will be remembered at the annual event, set for July 8-11.

Tim Romano is grand marshal for the Thursday evening parade.

The Italian Festival tradition — rides, food, music from the like of the Duprees and Emil Stucchio — will continue, though for the 1st time since its founding 27 years ago Lou Santella’s warm, welcoming spirit will be only a memory.

The Italian Fest is an integral part of Westport life.  It took a lot of hard work by Lou, and others, to resurrect what long ago was known as the Feast of St. Anthony.

Today, it may be harder than ever to keep the Festival going.

Director Roberta DellaDonna Troy and grand marshal Buck Iannacone enjoy last year's Italian Festival parade.

Director Roberta DellaDonna Troy — who succeeded, and was mentored well by, Lou Santella — starts planning in early October.  She arranges for permits, tents, music and much more.

When set-up begins in early July, there are still only a handful of volunteers.

Many Westporters think the Italian Festival is a town-sponsored event.  It’s not.

Festival Italiano Inc. is a 501(c)3 operation.  It relies on the generosity of sponsors and volunteers.  Both are desperately needed.

Expenses are high.  Last year, the Italian Festival spent $31,800 for police, $28,000 for electrical services, and $6,000 for the Fire Department.

Besides providing 4 days of old-fashioned fun and entertainment, the Festival gives back plenty.  All money raised goes to charities ($10,000 in 2009) and scholarships (22 last year, each for $1,000). 

Most Westporters don’t know that.  They enjoy fried dough, Whack-a-Mole and doo-wop groups, without even thinking of the enormous amount of work that goes into each summer’s Italian Festival.

For 27 years — through heat waves, thunderstorms, and rumors of its own demise — Festival Italiano has been a boon to Westport.

Lou Santella’s legacy lives on.

(For more information — including volunteer operations — email robertatroy@aol.com)