SOUTHINGTON- The Italian American Festival kicked off Friday with town leaders and event organizers inviting huge crowds to enjoy the music, food and culture of the town's Italian heritage.
Local restaurants, crafters and businesses lined lower Center Street as flocks of festival-goers lined up to munch sausage and pepper grinders, crunch pizza and enjoy soup. Meanwhile, town leaders and the festival committee assembled at the stage to thank people for showing their support.
Council Chairman Mike Riccio explained how this area of town was once home to Ideal Forge, Southington Hardware and Pecke-Stowe, factories where the first Italian immigrants found work.
"Italians developed this area and gave Southington its roots," he said. "We are here to celebrate our ancestry."
Town Manager Garry Brumback described Southington as a community where "Italy flows all around." He said the event honors the founders of the community.
Tony Cusano of Sons of Italy then explained how the club was created to promote a connection to Italian heritage.
"Growing up in an Italian household many experiences this weekend are a significant part of my life -The aromas of food, the sound of the music," he said. "I hope these experiences will bring back fond memories or bring out the little bit of Italian that is inside all of us. "
With welcomes concluded, Rev. Victoria Triano offered up a prayer and then an Italian band took the stage, filling the air with music.
Vince Scali recently moved to Southington from New Haven and said he was glad to see that this community also celebrated Italian heritage. He said the calamari and hot peppers he tried were "excellent" and that he looked forward to enjoying more music.
Gene Scanhope said he has been coming to the festival for many years and that "everybody enjoys themselves."
"I just had the sausage and pepper grinders from Unico," he said. "Every year I look around at all the other food and I always come back to it. I look forward to this festival every year. A of couple years ago they had a very professional singer and I didn't leave until 12 midnight."
"This is a very nice festival," said Wes Maciejewski, who came to the event with his adult daughter Kayla. "The music is good, it has a nice atmosphere, and it is very laid-back."
Val Ferraro, of Meriden, came to the festival for the first time this year.
"I had the rice balls and fried dough and I'm just getting started," he said.
The Southington Italian Festival will continue today and Sunday.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.