AMSTERDAM – Musical performances, fireworks and a spaghetti-eating contest are among the highlights of the upcoming Amsterdam ItaliaFest set to take place Sept. 9.
This year’s festivities are expected to bring upwards of 10,000 visitors to the Bridge Street area, with many coming from across the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley to enjoy a full day of family fun that includes amusement rides, face painting and nearly 100 vendors, according to Michele Pawlik, assistant director of Amsterdam’s Tourism, Marketing & Recreation Department.
“ItaliaFest is our biggest event throughout the year,” she said. “The Southside is just packed with everybody laughing, smiling and just really enjoying their time. We expect that to be the same for this year.”
The festival, now in its seventh year, is a celebration of the city’s robust Italian culture, and features homemade Italian fare from local restaurants that dot the Southside, including Parillo’s Armory Grill and Lorenzo’s Southside. Festival attendees can also nosh on more traditional fair foods, according to Pawlik.
ItaliaFest was long a tradition in the city until it disappeared a number of years ago. The idea to bring back the festival began to percolate around 2014, when the tourism department began hosting its annual Spring Fling Festival.
The event has grown steadily since its resurrection in 2016, and now features everything from pizza contests to a winemaking competition, Pawlik said.
“Each year we’re growing and making it bigger and better for everybody to enjoy — not just the residents here in the city but for people who are traveling from the Capital District area, the Mohawk Valley area,” she said. “We want people to come here to the city of Amsterdam, see our Italian heritage and really enjoy the culture and have a great day and night.”
This year’s event will feature musical performances by Dance Force, Dominic and Pete Music for Life and headliner Doug Ferony. A fireworks display will cap the night.
“We kind of turn the Southside into our little Italy, I would say,” Pawlik said.
River Ridge Living Center, a rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility, is the festival’s primary sponsor.
“It’s a good way to get to know the community. They’re all there,” said Nicole Wilson, River Ridge’s admissions director.
Wilson said the event is the “funnest day of the year” for her, and provides an opportunity to shop local vendors and learn more about the city’s Italian culture.
For Gaetano Lanzi, that’s what the festival is all about.
Lanzi is a fourth-generation restaurateur and proprietor of Lorenzo’s Southside at 1 Port Jackson Square, about a block from where his great-grandfather opened his first restaurant in 1920 after immigrating from Italy.
ItaliaFest, Lanzi said, is something his family holds dear.
“We’ve actually been a part of ItaliaFest even before we opened Lorenzo’s because that’s where my family’s roots come from,” Lanzi said. “We always wanted to embrace our culture. We wanted to embrace the traditions of Italian cooking and keep the traditions alive.”
Lanzi said food and drink is the best way to bring people together, and noted that the city has a robust offering of Italian cuisine that is on full display during the festival.
Lorenzo’s will be hosting a winemaking competition and spaghetti-eating contest, which Lanzi said is a popular event that has attracted a large crowd since it began in 2019.
“There’s endless pasta-bilities in this Italian fest,” Lanzi said with a laugh. “Just bringing competition of spaghetti eating is fun to see and is very good entertainment for the crowd to watch.”
Lanzi said his family will be preparing hundreds of pounds of food for the festival, including pasta, Neapolitan-style pizza and desserts. The family will also be making wine using California grapes and a press that’s been passed down from his grandmother.
“These events are so good for the community because they put the social aspect back into life,” he said. “Creating these strong events through food and drink and the art of Italian cooking, there’s nothing really better in my eye.”
The seventh annual Amsterdam ItaliaFest will take place Sept. 9 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For information on the event, visit Amsterdam’s ItaliaFest on Facebook.