Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — NIAGARA FALLS — Carmine Bianco is determined to revive the city’s flagging Italian Festival, even if he has to do it single-handedly. And that may actually be how it plays out.
The Niagara Falls High School gym teacher, who put on a mini-festival last year that revived the 35-year tradition of a festival in the city’s Italian district, is returning this year with the intent to make the festival bigger and better than ever.
One small problem, he said, is that the city of Buffalo moved the date of their Italian festival to the exact same weekend. “It’s been a struggle getting vendors but we still have about 21,” he said.
The event is officially sponsored by Pax Romana, a new men’s bocci ball club headed by Bianco. One of the main events, along with grape stomping and a sauce contest, is a bocci tourament at the bocci courts at 15th Street and Pine Avenue.
“Our sole purpose is to take back and revitalize Pine Avenue to what it was in years past and keep our Italian traditions alive for the next generations,” said Bianco.
He’s getting some help from a handful of sponsors, but is doing all the heavy lifting for the event. When he needs help, Ernie Lucantonio, executive director of the Pine Ave. Business Association, steps in to lend a hand. The association typically has held the event but Lucantonio says Bianco’s doggedness is getting a lot done.
Lucantonio said the festival is held solely on donations and the business association, which canceled the event last year, simply could not find enough financial support. Bianco ended up holding a last minute “mini-fest” centered around The Markethouse Restaurant, and despite the hot temperatures on one day and the rain on another, more than 2,000 attended that event, Bianco said.
“Carmine’s doing a great job,” Lucantonio said. “He’s cut expenses. He got the generators donated. We could never get anybody to do that. And he got Modern (Corp.) to donate the dumpsters so that is a big savings.”
This year’s festival will expand last year’s mini-fest onto Pine Street between Portage Road and 15th Street. Vendors include the Markethouse, Melloni’s Meats, My Thai Restaurant, The Como Restaurant, Viola’s Submarines, Call Dave for Pizza, Rigatoni’s Restaurant, Billy’s Beef, Santillo’s Restaurant, The Echo Club, Tropical Ice, Sweet Melody’s Gelato, Rosana’s Jewelry, Sweet Treats Ice Cream and more.
There will be a children’s pageant at 11 a.m. Saturday, and a spaghetti/cake eating contest at 3 p.m.
There will be Italian music and dancing, along with a variety of local bands playing popular American music, who will perform throughout the three-day event.
There will also be a 5K run at 8 a.m. Sunday, with a special 11 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph’s Church at 1413 Pine Ave., followed by an Italian Special Citizen Award Ceremony. Opera singer and music teacher Lisa Surace will sing Italian opera at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
The festival will close at 6:30 p.m. with a Buffalo singer who portrays Frank Sinatra, who is arguably one of the most famous Italian American entertainers. “He sings Sinatra like no one else,” Bianco said. “When you hear him, you’ll stop dead in your tracks.”
Bianco is determined to revive the annual event that honors the history of the city’s Italian heritage.
“The signs say ‘Little Italy,’” Bianco said, referring to the signs that mark the beginning and end of the city’s Italian-themed district. “It’s a sin to let Pine Avenue go.”
For more information on the festival, email Bianco at firstname.lastname@example.org.IF YOU GO • WHAT: The Italian Festival • WHEN: Noon to 10 p.m. Aug. 2; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Aug. 3; and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Aug. 4 • WHERE: Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls from Portage Road to 15th Street • MORE INFO: Email Carmine Binco at email@example.com