With a bang

The 29th Warren Italian-American Heritage Festival will start with a bang, instead of ending with one.

The fireworks show that has closed the event for the last 28 years now will be the capper to today’s opening festivities.

President Carol Ficeti said, “There was nothing going on after the (Miss Italian) pageant this year, and we thought that would be a nice change. We thought it would bring more people down on Thursday. As long as it doesn’t rain …”

There’s not much organizers can do to keep the weather from affecting the fireworks, but they have made changes to keep any summer raindrops from tampering with the entertainment schedule.

Ficeti said the main stage still will be set up on Mahoning Avenue N.W., but it will be facing south and covered by a 40-foot-by-80-foot tent that also will protect the seating for about 250 people from the elements.

This year’s main stage lineup features a mix of past favorites and new attractions.

Aaron Caruso will headline the main stage on Saturday and Sunday. Vice President Phil Sidoti said Caruso was popular with audiences when he last performed at the downtown festival in 2010.

“He’s a favorite with the women,” Ficeti added.

The tenor mixes operatic arias with pop standards in a style that has been described as “Pavarotti meets the Rat Pack.”

Newcomers on the schedule include comedian Marcoantonio and Simona De Rosa, an award-winning vocalist who was born in Naples, Italy, and now lives in New York City.

“There are websites where I can check out performers, and we go to a lot of other festivals in the area,” Sidoti said.

The Tiny King and Queen Pageant and the Miss Italian Pageant will fill the main stage today, and Steve Fazzini will perform on Friday. Bands also will be featured in the beer tent all four days.

One of the other main attractions of the festival is the food. Ficeti said a new vendor, Tambellini’s of Pittsburgh, will be selling Italian favorites. The cookie tent will feature cannoli, pizzelles and other traditional Italian treats, and about 50 vendors will be selling Italian fare and traditional fair foods around Courthouse Square.

Ficeti said, for some, one of the biggest attractions of the festival isn’t what the organizer do but the people it draws.

“It’s become a gathering place, a reunion place,” Ficeti said. “People tell me they see friends they haven’t seen in years here.”

The board requests a donation of $3 for admission to the festival, which Sidoti said is necessary to offset the costs involved in staging the event. It also enables the board to support various charities. The Make-a-Wish Foundation, St. Jude’s Hospital, Relay For Life and John F. Kennedy High School are some of the past recipients of support, and the board will award nine $1,000 scholarships to area high school students at its Friday breakfast.