Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 7, 2012

18th Italian Festival one for record books

By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BRAMWELL — By BILL ARCHER

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — On Saturday during the Italian-American Festival, everyone was an Italian at the Herb Sims Youth Center and Bluefield City Auditorium — even the Italians.

“I’ve been Italian for nearly 90 years,” Nick Mason, former mayor of Northfork said. “My dad came over here to work in the coal mines when he was only 16.”

Mason’s father, Phillip Mason, and mother, Besse (Garrett) Mason, operated a boarding house in Kyle. “It was always full of Italians,” Mason said. “The only time my daddy spoke Italian was in the house when he was real mad. I had five sisters. I’m the last one in my immediate family.” Mason said he was raised by a black man, Sidney Overstreet, who only had one arm. “He took care of me,” he said.

Volunteers ruled the weekend at the annual dinner-dance on Friday night, according to Nick Ameli, chairman of the festival. “We sold some 380 tickets for the dinner-dance featuring The Collegians. It was a big crowd, but Craig and Sis Hammond along with Lonnie Quesenberry from the Union Mission and a handful of volunteers were able to serve everyone in just 40 minutes,” Ameli said. “We have always tried to get everyone served in an hour. They set a new record.”

Along with a serving record, Ameli said that the number of people attending the festival by mid-day appeared to be a new record. “Today has been the best turn-out we’ve had,” Ameli said. This year marked the 18th annual Italian Festival.

“One thing that the people wanted was an Italian singer,” Ameli said. “We let Casey Ferguson arrange all of the entertainment this year and he brought Lou Pompilio with him. The people seemed to really enjoy him.”

In addition to Pompilio, and Ferguson, A Willie Nelson tribute artist, entertainers included the Red Wigglers Bluegrass Band, Darlene Caudle, a Patsy Cline tribute artist, and Denny Marion, a Waylon Jennings tribute artist. Ameli said that Ramey provided the use of an eight-passenger golf cart to help transport visitors from the parking lot to the festival.

“All of the planning has helped,” he said. “This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever had this early, and we’re already running out of spaghetti sauce.”

“We need more bread too,” Mike Vinciguerra said. With that, Ameli went for more bread.

John Zachwieja of Maybeury added another layer of music by strolling through the festival playing accordion. “It was my dad’s accordion,” he said. “My dad and my granddad both played accordion. I’m just learning, but now that I’m retired, I can spend more time with it.”

Of all things, Zachwieja was mostly playing polka music. “What can I say? I’m Polish,” he said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com