The 18th Annual Mercer County Italian American Festival returns to Mercer County Park Friday through Sunday, September 22 through 24, to celebrate the culture and heritage of all things Italian. “When we started this festival more than 18 years ago, I don’t think any of us realized that it would grow to be this big,” said festival founder John Scarpati. “I wanted to capture the sights and sounds of the traditions with which I grew up, both in my home and in my Italian neighborhood.”

Named “One of New Jersey’s Best Fall Festivals” by CBS New York and a “Must-See-Event” by Best of MidJersey, the festival features two stages of continuous entertainment, a food piazza filled with delicious food; amusement rides; cultural presentations; artists, crafters, and vendors; a Heritage Display; bocce; fireworks on Saturday; and Mass on Sunday followed by the procession of the Madonna Di Casandrino, a long time tradition carried over from the Feast of Lights that was once held in the Chambersburg section of Trenton.

The Food Piazza features more than 40 vendors including restaurants serving everything from chicken cacciatore and arancini (rice balls) to vodka rigatoni and sausage, peppers, and onions sandwiches. Italian desserts will be plentiful including cannoli and pasticiotti from Italian People’s Bakery and sfogliatelle from Scala’s Bakery. Beer and wine is available in the Food Piazza as well.

You will enjoy three days of entertainment with 36 performances from 24 groups on the Investors Bank Stage and the more intimate Cabaret Tent. On Friday night the Brooklyn Bridge, with their new lead singer, Joe Esposito, will be performing their hits including “Worst That Could Happen,” and “Welcome Me Love.” On Saturday, Stayin’ Alive creates some “Saturday Night Fever” performing their tribute to the Bee Gees. The festival’s fireworks spectacular will light up the sky following the show.

For children and the child in all of us, the festival features more than 20 amusement rides from Majestic Midways with a special section for guests too small to ride the main attractions.

You can shop until your drop in the Italian Market, play bocce on the covered bocce court, then take a seat in the Cultural Theater to learn about the traditional Italian remedies of an Italian grandfather and the Life of Saint Francis of Assisi plus much more. On Sunday, start the day with Mass on the festival grounds at 11:00 am.

“All of this celebrating is really a way to bring families and friends together,” noted Scarpati. “Growing up, that was the biggest part of our traditions.”

The festival will be open 3 to 11 p.m. on Friday, September 22; noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday, September 23; and noon to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, September 24. Admission to the festival is $5. Children 12 years of age and younger are admitted free compliments of XFINITY. Senior citizens, 65 years of age and older, pay only $4. The county parking fee is $5. Complete details and schedules can be found at www.ItalianAmericanFestival.com.

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