Festa Italiana celebrates Italian culture in Tampa Bay

A performer at the Festa Italiana entertains the crowd in full costume.

Festa Italiana is an annual multi-day event in the Tampa Bay area centered around a love of Italian culture and heritage. This year, the festival will take place from April 5-8.

Since 1997, Festa Italiana has aimed to educate Tampa Bay on Italian ways of life with food, performance and activities.

Hosted by The Italian Club of Tampa, the organization believes in representing the local Italian community with the utmost dignity. Preserving the honor and culture of Italians remains a key priority of the organization.

Okie Tilo, a longtime representative of Festa Italiana, said in a message to The Oracle that he is excited about the new changes to the event.

“This year, Festa Italiana is expanding to two full days of entertainment, Italian food and activities,” Tilo said. “For the last 20 years, we were a one-day event that took place on a Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.. This year, we will also be open on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m..”

An extra day is not the only change, however.

“Also with previous years, we sold food & drink tickets to guests to redeem at our events vendors,”  Tilo said.“This year, we will be doing away the food & drink ticket, and guests can purchase food and drinks directly from each vendor.”

Stephanie Petrucelli, an organizer of Festa Italiana, is excited about the new visual format changes to the festival and an updated aethstetic.

“We changed it up to be a little more like northern street festival,” Petrucelli said. “It’s a new format we’re excited to try out, emulating visually a northern street festival. Festa Italiana is a family event, we have three to four generations of family that attend.”

The new format of a northern street festival lends itself well to the origins of Italian American culture, with many roots leading back to northern states such as New York and New Jersey.

Second year attendee Austin McCarthy, a freshman majoring in nursing, is looking forward to all the resources the festival has to offer.

“I’m excited to surround myself in the Italian culture again,” McCarthy said. “It’s one of the rare opportunities where you are able to (embrace the culture).”

The festival features a wide range of activities such as live Italian musical performances and authentic dining demonstrations. One of the most exciting aspects for McCarthy is embracing his own culture during the event.

“It’s nice to see my mom’s cultural side represented,” McCarthy said. “Living in Florida, there isn’t as big of an Italian community as up north. Seeing everyone come together like this is really special.”

Patrons will be able to enjoy a wide variety of Italian-inspired activities such as a wine tasting with over 80 different kinds of drinks from Italy and California.

The Wines of Italy portion of the festival features wines from several Italian regions ranging from Abruzzi to Verona. After sampling the various wines, attendees will be allowed to purchase and bring them home.

Besides drinks, attendees will also be able to partake in Italian cuisine provided by Carrabba’s, Crush, District Tavern, Haute Dog, Salt Block Hospitality & Catering and more. Cuisines range all the way from antipasta to deserts.

“Eating all of the different Italian food made authentically by the vendors is really enjoyable, that’s not always easy to come by in Florida,” McCarthy said. “It’s nice relaxing and seeing all of the different performers that the festival brings while you’re eating your food. ”

According to Tilo, live entertainment remains important to Festa Italiana as the festival features culturally-relevant Italian singers such as Vanessa Racci and Franco Corso. Festa Italiana is partnered with the Ybor’s Got Talent Youth Performing Arts competition to encourage local artists to display their talents.

When the competition is won, the victor will become able to perform at Festa Italiana itself, while working with a team of professionals on recording original music.

McCarthy said he has fond memories of Italian music playing within his home.

“I remember hearing a lot of Italian music from my mother growing up, and being able to hear it live is a very cool experience,” McCarthy said. “The singers are just as authentic as the food and the drinks, and hearing and seeing it all come together on the day of the festival is a very rich and fulfilling thing to witness.”