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Butler Italian Festival returns Friday

Slippery Rock University students Carlee Smith and Kelly Page sample a creation of chef Dominic Barca during his Italian cooking demonstration at the Butler Italian Festival last year. Butler Eagle File Photo

Once a year, Butler’s Main Street comes alive with the sights, smells, sounds, and traditions of Italy. Entering only its sixth year of existence, the Butler Italian Festival already has become one of the county’s most eagerly anticipated annual events.

The sixth annual event comes to town Friday through Sunday, Aug. 25 to 27, promising tons of food, music and contests.

Event promoter Michael Dongilli said there was no singular event that led to the creation of the first Italian Festival in 2017.

“It really didn't originate from any particular instance,” Dongilli said. “It was just an opportunity to see how something like this would go in the area.”

A key to the festival’s success is the large contingent of Italian-Americans in Western Pennsylvania. As of 2021, there were an estimated 25,454 citizens in Butler County who claimed Italian ancestry — 13.1% of the county’s total population of 194,273.

“It was just ... you know, there's quite a contingent of Italians in Western Pennsylvania ... and so the thought was that this might be a good idea,” Dongilli said. “And that's kind of how things evolved.”

Dongilli promises a mix of lively entertainment this year, both Italian and non-Italian. Among the returning acts this year are Billy Mancini, who will perform some of the most famous hits from Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, as well as Let’s Groove Tonight, an Earth, Wind, and Fire tribute band. The latter features Sal Richetti, as drummer.

Also returning Saturday evening is the popular meatball eating contest and the Star of Italy beauty pageant, both of which have been a staple of the festival since its inception. The meatball eating contest will pit teams of police officers and firefighters from the city of Butler against one another.

“It'll just be a lot of what has consistently worked in the first six years, done a little bit more and a little bit better,” Dongilli said.

One of the few major changes this year is the location of the main stage where the music acts will perform. In prior years, the stage was placed close to the former Penn Theater, which is undergoing renovations. This year, the stage will be moved onto North Street itself to accommodate more people.

“We just thought that, with everything going on with that building and what's transpired there ... we’re getting a little pinched in that area,” Dongilli said.

Motorists should be advised that while the festival is open, Main Street will be closed to traffic on the stretch between the Cunningham Street and Brady Street intersections. WISR Way, Walnut, Locust, New Castle, Brady, North and Penn Streets will also be closed.

Donna Johns, of the Sons and Daughters of Italy, serves customers meatballs at the Butler Italian Festival last year. Eagle File Photo

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