WARREN – Corey Hovance grew up with the Warren Italian-American Heritage Festival.
His grandfather, Lou Metter, started the downtown event in 1985.
“What made it special for me was being with my family,” Hovance said. “Family and loved ones came from all over the United States, it was almost like a family reunion.”
Now, after serving on the board for 15 years, Hovance will oversee the 37th edition of the festival, which begins today in Courthouse Square.
Continuing the traditions of the festival — the contests, the cultural tent, the food — was important, but he also wanted to forge partnerships with some of the downtown businesses.
“Modern Methods Brewing Company beers will be featured in the beer tent,” he said. “CharBenay will be featured here. The underground lounge also hosts an Italian party.
The festival revives with its fireworks. However, instead of closing the festival on Sunday, the fireworks display is now scheduled for 10:45 p.m. Saturday.
“We’re moving it from Saturday to Sunday so more people can enjoy it,” Hovance said. “Hudson’s American Fireworks will do a 12-minute show with a big grand finale as usual.”
Organizers expanded the cookie tent by creating a Café Italiano where visitors can enjoy Italian pastries as well as wine slushies. They’re also moving the meatball eating contest to the main stage, which will be set up near the log cabin just west of the courthouse. It starts at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday with registration at noon.
The festival opens today with an inauguration ceremony. Nineteen boys and girls will take part in the Tiny King & Queen Pageant at 6.30pm, followed by five young women competing for the title of Miss Italy from 8pm. Rex Taneri will perform in the beer tent from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The pétanque tournament takes place on all four days and the morra tournament takes place at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Friday entertainment includes Tom Angelo in the beer tent and Nunzio & Melodies on the main stage.
Saturday will feature the Jim Frank Combo and Guys Without Ties in the beer tent and the Avanti Band, Tony Ieluzzi and Butch Nichols Band will perform on the main stage before the fireworks.
Ieluzzi and the Butch Nichols Band will be joined by Dominic Tocco on the main stage for the final day, while Italian Cousins and the Vegas Band will perform in the beer tent.
Sunday activities begin with an Italian mass at 10 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast at 11:15 a.m. The annual parade begins at 2 p.m.
About 45 food vendors will be on hand to sell Italian specialties as well as traditional dishes from the fair.
Hovance said he hoped for 30,000 people over the four days.
“Attendance has been down in the past, but with new leadership and new ideas and more involvement from the city, I think we can surpass the numbers we’ve had in the past,” Hovance said.