Festa Italiana returns to Freedom Hill

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published July 12, 2013

Many of metro Detroit’s Italian-Americans are eager to say “benvenuto” to the upcoming Festa Italiana event at Freedom Hill County Park July 19-21.

The summer festival is presented by the Italian American Cultural Society and Hillside Productions. While the event was held in Mount Clemens in 2012, it is making its grand reunion to its old stomping grounds in Sterling Heights this month.

Event co-chair Joe Ventimiglia called the Festa Italiana the largest ethnic festival in Macomb County and added that it has drawn around 30,000 people annually in recent years.

While he said turnout in years past has been predominantly Italian, other ethnicities are welcome to the party, too. “We want the non-Italians, so to speak, to enjoy it,” he said.

Ventimiglia said the IACS has helped put on Festa Italiana for decades. It has long been held at Freedom Hill, but it moved elsewhere when the park temporarily closed a few years ago, he said.

This year’s festival will cook up Italian cuisine and serve wine and beer. Vendors such as Andiamo, Randazzo Fresh Market and Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace will sell food from booths. Hungry festival-goers can expect steak sandwiches, lamb chops, pasta, cannoli and more.

“The No. 1 thing (about the festival) is the camaraderie of the Italian people,” Ventimiglia said. “Good food, good music, good drinks.”

Theresa Nikprelaj, general manager of Picano’s Italian Grille in Troy, said her restaurant plans to serve sausage, mostacholi and more on site. She said Picano’s has been open for around 28 years, and the festival’s visitors are well aware of its presence.

“We try to follow the Italian tradition and make sure a lot of young people come and listen to the music and have the food,” she said. “It’s so traditional and so beautiful.”

The festival will also hold contests, such as cannoli eating and the Beautiful Baby Contest, for children ages 6 months to 5 years.

A family fun zone will entertain kids with inflatable playsets, and people who enjoy handiwork can peruse a craft show. An 11 a.m. Sunday Mass will be held on site.

For musical acts, “American Idol” runner-up Justin Guarini will perform July 19 and 20, and Lena Prima, daughter of singer Louis Prima, will perform July 20 and 21. Other acts include Aaron Caruso, Burt Holiday of The Gaylords, young drummer Julian Pavone, Mark Randisi and the Simone Vitale Band.

Ventimiglia said his organization was founded in 1957 to become the hub of local Italian clubs in the area. Today, the group is based in Clinton Township.

The 2013 Festa Italiana will take place July 19-21 at Freedom Hill, 14900 Metropolitan Parkway, in Sterling Heights. Hours are 5-11 p.m. Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is free, and parking is $10. Learn more at www.freedomhill.net or by calling (586) 268-9700. Or contact the IACS at www.iacsonline.com or (586) 228-3030.