Columbus Day weekend has brought Italian festivals to Kingston before, but the inaugural Ulster County Italian Festival on Sunday, October 11 will be something new. Energized by the enthusiastic membership of the new Ulster County Italian American Foundation (UCIAF) that is organizing the event, the festival will be held from 12 noon to 8 p.m. on the Strand in Kingston’s waterfront district. Admission is free.
There will be plenty of food; how could it be an Italian festival without? Menu selections are going to run the gamut of Italian-inspired edibles, from Tuscan chicken wings and decadent desserts with espresso to grilled pizza and the giant 12-ounce meatballs from Mint. Mariner’s Harbor will have a traditional raw bar, and vegetarians will have options like the “eggplant balls” from chef Ric Orlando of Saugerties’ New World Home Cooking. And while most of the offerings will fall into the Italian food category, the Off the Hook food truck will also have lobster rolls and crabcakes alongside calamari marinara and lobster Fra Diavolo.
Italian beer and wine will be available, along with Pellegrino water. The Peroni Brewery of Lombardy, Italy and Folanari Wines of the Veneto region are sponsors.
The live music lineup features the Sinatraesque Michael Dell Orchestra, along with lively cover bands Hot Rod, Dekades and the a cappella Phantoms. The world of opera will be well-represented with an appearance by renowned mezzo-soprano Maria Todaro – co-founder of the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice and a UCIAF member – and aspiring opera singer Andrew Hoben, a 17-year-old Kingston High School student, will deliver an aria or two. Additional planned attractions include a half-dozen or so Lamborghinis and Ferraris parked at the festival to admire and a vocal performance by the reigning Ms. Italia New York 2015, AnnaRose Mongiello.
The Ulster County Italian American Foundation has pulled this festival together in a relatively short time, having been organized as a group for just months. But its founders work fast: Starting with 20 members, they’ve grown to 125 already, and they’ve even achieved official 501 (c) (3) nonprofit status.
The club’s primary raison d’etre (or should I say ragione di essere?) is to preserve and promote the Italian heritage and culture shared by so many people in the region. “There is such a rich history of Italians here,” says Tony Marmo, president of the UCIAF and founding member, “from Marlborough, Milton, Highland up to Saugerties and even west. They settled here, up and down the river, because of the brickyards and the railroad down in Highland. And the topography of Ulster County is similar to parts of Italy, so those folks at the turn of the last century said, ‘This is the place we want to stay.’”
Because of that, he says, approximately 19 percent of the population in Ulster County today has Italian roots. “Italian Americans are the largest ethnic group we have here, followed by the Irish. But while the Hibernians have done a tremendous job recognizing the Irish culture, there has been no organized effort to try to pull the Italians together in this area. And we thought it was time to do that.”
Proceeds from the festival will benefit the scholarship program the UCIAF will start at the end of the 2016 school year. Marmo says that they plan to give out eight scholarships, one in each Ulster County school district, to high school students of Italian American heritage or with college plans related to Italian studies.
The organization will also promote Italian culture through offering language lessons. “Many of us grew up in a household where our parents spoke Italian, but they never taught us, because this was America, and our parents wanted us to speak English,” says Marmo. “Some people did learn Italian from their parents, but many of us didn’t. That’s more common than not. So we want to help people learn the Italian language, and that includes Italians and non-Italians.”
Other ideas that the group is looking at include lectures with guest speakers, social dinners, day trips to places like Ellis Island and perhaps even travels to Italy. “We’re also going to consider hardship cases, devoting some of our money to other worthy causes, Italian or not.”
The group is non-political, non-religious and welcomes men and women equally. “There’s no ‘ladies’ auxiliary’ in our organization,” Marmo says. “That was very important to us to establish; there’s only one class of membership.”
The only requirement to join is that a member be of Italian heritage, but non-Italian spouses and Significant Others are welcome to join. “You just need to have a legit relationship with an Italian to get in! And even though we’re the Ulster County Italian American Foundation, we’re not limited to geographic boundaries. If you live in Dutchess or another nearby county, you’re eligible to join. The vision is pretty big and wide, and we’re hoping eventually to be the largest Italian American organization in the Hudson Valley and hold the largest festival. We think we can do it.”