Italian Fest Opens Today

WHEELING – Pizza, pasta and paintball are just some of the food and activities awaiting the 150,000 people Robert Gaudio expects to attend this year’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival.

Opening ceremonies for the 27th annual three-day festival are set for noon today at Wheeling’s Heritage Port.

“We work all year to make the festival the best we can make it, so we hope for good weather,” said Gaudio, festival chairman.

Vendors are scheduled to operate 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. today and Saturday, with hours set for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. There is no admission fee for the event.

“Anyone who steps on these grounds is an ‘honorary Italian’ during their time here,” Gaudio said.

Festival Coordinator Kim Smith said one new feature this year is a game geared to draw the attention of teenagers and young adults that she described as “paintless paintball.”

It will take place in a parking lot near WesBanco Arena.

“It is just like paintball, but without the mess of the paint,” she said in explaining that participants will receive 100 pellets to shoot.

They must also wear the same protective equipment used in regular paintball competition.

Cost of the game is $10 per round, and players must be at least 12 years old.

Even with the myriad of culinary options available to festival patrons, those who are really hungry may want to enter the pizza eating contest, set for noon Saturday. For a $15 entry fee, contestants will have three minutes to devour as much pizza as possible, with the winner to be awarded a medal and a certificate good for one free pizza each month for one year.

Another new feature set for this year will be the appearance of the No. 33 NASCAR vehicle, driven by Clint Bowyer. One of the car’s sponsors is BB&T. The car is set to be on display from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday.

This year’s opening ceremonies are set for noon today. Other opening day highlights include bocce tournaments, as well as musical performances from Loretta and Ellie, Ron Retzer, Catch Blues Band, Peter Teris, Hot Pursuit, Kristen Allodi, Ronnie Fiorentino, Mirella the Musician, Allegro Dance Company, Rocky Chirch-iglia Band and Legend.

Fans of the hit television series “The Sopranos” will want to visit the festival at 7 p.m. today, as actor Vincent Pastore and The Bada Bing Band will perform at the waterfront.

There also are numerous events and performers set for Saturday and Sunday. Actor Joe Piscopo will serve as Saturday’s master of ceremonies.