The morning dawns and it’s not long before you become aware of the wonderful aroma in the air.
It’s the kind of scent, an Italian one, explains Lenny Collini, that will remind you of your mama’s sauce cooking on a Sunday morning.
“It’s truly an incredible feeling,” says the Vandergrift resident of what it’s like in the borough on the day of Festa Italiana di Vandergrift, which this year is Aug. 12, when the food preparations begin early.
It’s a day, he agrees, for everyone, regardless of their ethnicity, to be Italian.
“Year after year, more and more people come to the Festa to get a taste of the real Italian heritage,” says the musician and festival president. “This one-day event is one of the best authentic Italian festivals in Western Pennsylvania.”
It’s about family, friends and the celebration of the Italian heritage, he adds.
A VERY SPECIAL YEAR
“These three components make up for a festive day in our community bringing people together for great food, music, and company,” Collini says. “So come hungry and bring your dancing shoes!”
This year is particularly special, says Brian Putignano, past president, because it is the 15 th anniversary of Festa.
”The reason why we have been so successful is that we continue to hold true to the traditions that were created, including Italian only food, great Italian music and a day that everyone enjoys,” he says. “We make sure we cover everything that people would expect from an Italian festival.”
His brother, Jim Putignano, immediate past president, says there has been tremendous early response to the fact that this year the Bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, Rev. Edward Malesic, will officiate at the outdoor mass, which traditionally opens the day and is followed by a procession through town.
The Festa slogan of a “New Generation with Old Italian Traditions” is carried out by incorporating “traditions that Italian immigrants who settled in America have experienced, but with new ideas,” says Brian Putignano. ”We are looking at increasing the involvement of our younger generations by incorporating more children’s activities to the day.”
MUSIC FOR EVERYONE
The variety of music is expected to appeal to all ages, with rock, pop, big band, Italian classics and more.
John Noble, Greensburg lawyer-entertainer, is pleased to be making his third return to the Vandergrift Italian Festival as featured vocalist for the Murphy Music Center Big Band.
“There’s always a great crowd where I get to openly celebrate my own Italian heritage,” he says. “I’m from a big Italian family myself. The family name was ‘Noviello.’ My 97-year-old dad is one of 15 kids. My grandfather, Nicola Noviello, came through Ellis Island just after the turn of the century and was renamed Nick Noble.”
Noble says he very much enjoys performing his set of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin and Nat King Cole songs with the Murphy band.
“They were originally the ‘Johnny Merfao Band,’ changed in Chicago way back when on tour because they had to have an Irish name!” Noble explains. “I like singing at the various summer Catholic Church festivals and particularly the Vandergrift venue with the huge grounds and outdoor dance floor in front of the stage.”
‘VOICE OF ROMANCE’
Headliner Franco Corso, a native of Italy now living in Florida, last performed at Festa in 2008.
“He is one of the acts that people still talk about, so we decided to bring him back for our 15th Anniversary,” says Brian Putignano. “He is the newest classic crossover artist on the international scene, appropriately dubbed ‘The Voice of Romance.’ His voice runs from baritone to tenor.”
Corso will make his festival comeback with full band accompaniment, the entertainer says.
“I’m very honored to be to be part of the family. I enjoy bringing family together and revisit some of the classic Italian songs with a hip twist. Italian festivals are a about tradition,” he says. “Upbeat pop Italian and tarantella will also be included in my repertoire.”
CREATING LASTING MEMORIES
Corso began singing in his Catholic Church choir at the age of 8.
“Born and raised in a Catholic environment, going to Sunday mass was a must and singing a part of the Italian tradition,”he says. “I will be singing ‘Ave Maria’ from Schubert with piano accompaniment, and it will be a magical moment to share it with the great people of Vandergrift.”
Corso says he loves entertaining and creating lasting memories.
“It’s not only about standing on a stage and performing, it’s about interacting, telling stories and connecting,” he says.
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.