This content created in partnership with Festa Italiana.
Now that Festa Italiana has come home to the Italian Community Center in the heart of the Third Ward, the city’s longest-running ethnic festival – which takes place Friday-Sunday, Sept. 8-10 – promises to be better than ever.
Of course, there will be the culture and history displays, of course there will be the Cucina cooking expo and of course there will be fireworks, but this year, Festa organizers really want you to come for the culture and stay for the party.
There’s more food this year and an expanded entertainment area with continuous entertainment, too, at the 43rd annual Italian festival, which after a couple years of pandemic cancellations returned in 2022 but in a street festival form in the parking lot behind the ICC.
“We have great food, drink and entertainment,” says ICC President and Festa Executive Director Sandy Winard. “We have the mass, the procession, the Cucina ... but this year we’re really welcoming the folks that come out, hang out at night, party and listen to bands.”
Performers this year include Giovanni Amodeo from Rome, Sam Guyton & Generation Z, The Russo Brothers, Rhythm Kings, The Dynamix, The Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra, Joe Scalissi Sings Dean Martin, accordionist Cory Pesaturo, Frank Lamphere & His Rat Pack Quartet and more.
Italian singer/songwriter Enzo Scarano returns to Festa, and Four Guyz in Dinner Jackets perform, too, as part of the Call Us Old Fashioned Supper Club Tour.
“Four Guyz in Dinner Jackets sells out everywhere in Wisconsin where they do this show,” says Winard. “It's an actual stage production-type show that will be in the entertainment tent on Sunday to close out Festa.”
The Italian Idol amateur vocal talent competition for singers 14 years of age and older also returns for its 16th installment and will award $1,000 in cash prizes.
“The whole entertainment is party time,” says Winard. ”We have cover bands in there. Jo-Cats Pub is going to have a full-service bar set up. It's going to be really fun.”
The festival footprint is expanded this year and so the entertainment and Cucina areas have grown.
In the Cuclna, local chef Adam Pawlak, who appeared on television’s “Hell’s Kitchen” will be doing demos.
There will be fireworks on Saturday night.
And, as always, Festa will remain fun for families, with a cannoli-eating contest, a kids pizza-making contest and more.
“We have a carnival this year with kiddie rides,” Winard says. “We have a children's area with interactive activities, the culture and heritage exhibits, the Bocce tournament ... we have all of those elements.”
There really is something for everyone. But, let’s be honest, it’s an Italian festival, so what everyone wants – in addition to fun – is food! Italian food.
This year, the ICC is running three of its own food booths, says Winard.
“We have this trifecta Italian favorites,” she says. “We're doing pizza, rice balls and the Italian sausage sandwiches. The rice balls were a hot item at A Taste of Italy. We sold out of them within an hour-and-a-half.”
And all your favorite vendors will be back, too, serving Italian-American classics.
“We have Sciortino's doing cannoli, cookies,” says Winard. “We're going to have Bartolotta’s and the other food vendors. It's all Italian food. This isn't fast food subs and ice cream.”
On Friday night, in a salute to service, Festa will thank educators, healthcare workers, firefighters, law enforcement and military veterans for their service by offering them free admission.
On Saturday, those walking in the Make-a-Wish Walk for Wishes also get free admission to Festa.
And Winard hopes they’ll stay and revel all day and night long in the food, entertainment and culture.
“We are creating a party type of a street festival, where everybody's out at night, partying and listening to music.”
Hot tip, get the rice balls early ... before they run out.
Details on all the entertainment, mass, fireworks, food and more can be found at iccmilwaukee.com/festa-italiana.
Festa Italiana is made possible by community supporters and sponsors Palermo’s, Molson Coors, Rose E. Pupero Spang, Dorsia/Jo Cat’s/St. Bibiana, ATI Mechanical and Gruber Law Offices.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.