WHEELING - At noon today, the 30th annual Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival gets under way with opening ceremonies at Wheeling's Heritage Port.
Musical entertainment, authentic Italian cuisine and wine, local dance troupes and a fireworks show will be just some of the highlights of the three-day event, which draws thousands of people to downtown Wheeling each summer.
And with such a large crowd in the city, festival organizers work with local law enforcement to help ensure attendees have a safe and enjoyable experience.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
From left, Chuck Myers of Bellaire, Sergio Congosto of Madrid, Spain, Ken Woodford of Martins Ferry and Ryan Gonglik of Bellaire set up for the Italian Festival in Wheeling.
In conjunction with the Wheeling Police Department's ongoing efforts to curb underage drinking, the festival again will require wristbands for those who may want to enjoy beer or wine as part of the festivities. As in years past, any person purchasing or drinking alcoholic beverages at the Italian Festival today, Saturday or Sunday will be required to wear one of the special wristbands, which are available for a fee near locations where the beverages are sold. Proceeds from the band sales go to defray costs of patrols.
"The Italian Festival employs many off-duty police officers during the weekend to ensure a safe, fun and secure environment for our patrons," said festival Chairman Robert Gaudio. "This considerable expense is absorbed by the Italian Festival so that our neighbors and friends of all ages may stroll the grounds and enjoy themselves with no fear of encountering a problem that will spoil their festival experience."
The festival's safe environment is directly attributable to a major police presence, according to Wheeling Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball.
"Simply put, more police on duty equals less potential for trouble," Kimball said. "Also, the wristbands are an effective deterrent in preventing underage consumption of alcohol. Together, these security measures help to guarantee a safe and fun Festival atmosphere. We commend the Italian Festival board members and are grateful that they continue to follow the department's lead on the sale of wristbands."
In addition to refreshments, games and children's rides, today's festival schedule features a variety of live entertainment. Following the performance of the U.S. and Italian national anthems during the opening ceremony, headliners today include The Jaggerz, Elio Saccio, White Collar Criminals and Avanti.
Saturday's entertainment lineup features The Fabulous Bender Boys, Ronnie Fiorentino, The Joseph Sisters, Ray Massa's Eurorhythms, U.S. Kids and Matt Shafer. But activities at noon Saturday will have a more serious tone.
Events get under way at noon Saturday with a tribute to the U.S. armed forces, again at Heritage Port.
"This moving ceremony is an integral part of the Italian Festival to recognize and honor our brave men and women in uniform and all those who have ever served America in the military. The ceremony recognizes the fact that, without the profound sacrifices of our military, we would not be as safe or as free to enjoy life in our beautiful Ohio Valley and to celebrate the Italian-American heritage," said Robert Gaudio, Italian Festival chairman.
The ceremony will include the posting of the colors by Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Division of Moundsville.
Sunday's events open with a Roman Catholic Mass at Heritage Port, Celebrated by the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. Entertainment Sunday will include performances by the OVAC All-Star Band, Joe Negri All-Star Band, Allegro Dance Company and Moreno Fruzzetti. The festival concludes at 5 p.m. Sunday.