Spotlight / An expanding Italian festival heads to the lakeshore
Mark Sciortino, festival spokesperson, discusses the full-on fairground-type event
Festival images courtesy of the Galbani Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival; Sciortino image by kc kratt
The Galbani Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival
July 13-16, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Buffalo’s Outer Harbor
The big news about one of Buffalo’s beloved outdoor fetes, the Galbani Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival, is that it’s making a move.
International sponsor Galbani Cheese (formerly Sorrento) and local organizers have decided to reimagine the beloved summer happening from a Hertel Avenue street festival to a full-on fairground-type event at the recently transformed Outer Harbor. The OH is designed to be conducive to large events, and this is what festival organizers and sponsors are excited about. In addition to offering free on-site or nearby parking for thousands (there will be a shuttle), the move allows for expansion of what is already one of the largest Italian festivals in United States.
One difference festival visitors will definitely notice are the first-time-ever entrance fees: $5 general admission and $2 for seniors; children under twelve and veterans with ID are free.
Mark Sciortino (Chef Marco)
Mark Sciortino, aka Chef Marco, owner of Marco’s on Niagara and three Marco’s Italian Delis throughout the Buffalo area, is the festival spokesperson and board member, and Galbani’s national promotional chef.
“After twenty-nine years on Hertel Avenue, the festival had outgrown the location,” says Sciortino. “We want to be able to bring in new vendors and larger entertainment. The sunsets by the lake are beautiful; the Outer Harbor team is dedicated to making the venue the most successful outdoor event spot in Western New York. We think it’s a great step.”
“I’m excited about the beautiful lake backdrop in this new location,” echoes Jessica N. Ruth, events marketing manager for Galbani parent company Lactalis American Group, Inc. “It both adds a lot more space for the festival, as well as an amazing waterfront feel.”
Sciortino adds: “Italians are huge lovers of their heritage. A huge part of that is food; at events, they want food to be a main focus. I’ve always called this festival ‘the kitchen table of Western New York.’ It brings family, friends, Italian, non-Italian; it doesn’t matter, it’s just a celebration of our heritage.”
The festival was founded by the Hertel Business Association, the North Buffalo Community Center, and the West Side Business and Taxpayers Association, and it remains a charity event for those organizations, which means any money raised benefits their communities.
The 2017 mainstage headliner is Sal Valentinetti, an America’s Got Talent finalist. Other family- and adult-oriented offerings include a bocce ball tournament, Italian Idol and Miss Italian Festival competitions, children’s crafts, wine and Galbani cheese tastings, grape stomping, free photo booth, St. Anthony’s procession, genealogical research, car and motorcycle shows featuring Italian brands Alfa Romeo and Ducati, Sicilian puppet show, and tarantella dancing.
Sciortino, who, as Chef Marco, offers demonstrations on the Galbani cooking stage set up near a giant inflatable ricotta cup, says that the philanthropic and family aspects of the festival are important to him. “I get the biggest kick and joy out of the children’s Galbani string-cheese building contests; the kids are so fun,” he says. “Also, on Sunday, there’s a celebrity cheese-building contest to benefit the charity of the winner’s choice.”
In the works, though not yet confirmed, says Carmen Palma, one of the festival organizers, is a fireworks show; Sciortino touts a Friday night “Italian techno glow light party” with a DJ spinning all Italian music.
Sciortino notes that the biggest challenge in the new location may be creating enough shady spaces for visitors, performers, and vendors. “The space is a big blank canvas,” he says. “From an aerial view, we’re measuring and laying out all the festival elements. We’re working on an Italian-style piazza, with tents, chairs, and tables, for people to sit and enjoy the atmosphere and, of course, the food.”
Among its numerous sponsored festivals nationally, says Ruth, “The Buffalo festival is dear to us because Galbani has been building this relationship with the event and the community for almost nineteen years. We’re excited about the numerous new Galbani areas at the Outer Harbor festival location. In addition, Lactalis American Group’s corporate headquarters and one of our main manufacturing plants are both located in South Buffalo, so our employees are a part of the Buffalo community!”
Palma, Ruth, and Sciortino agree: seeing generations of family and friends smiling, listening to music, eating delicious food, and learning about and sharing Italian heritage is what the festival is all about—no matter where it’s located.
The Galbani Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival takes place from July 13 through the 16 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. For more information, visit buffaloitalianfestival.com.
Jana Eisenberg is a longtime contributor to Spree.