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The 19th Annual Southern West Virginia Italian-American Festival is bound to be one for the record books as the Herb Sims Youth Center and Bluefield City Auditorium were absolutely jam packed with visitors enjoying the tastes of good Italian cooking and the fellowship of friends.

“I think this is about the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen here,” Henry Paul, 93, of Gary said. “It’s a good place to visit with friends and the food is always good.”

The festival is presented by the Bluefield-Princeton Lodge Fratelli Tricolore (OISA) 2631, Sons & Daughters of Italy. In the early years, the event was held at the National Guard Armory/Civic Center in Brushfork, but when the West Virginia National Guard was using the armory to prepare for deployment to Iraq, the Sons of Italy started using the Sims Center/Auditorium.

“This is a good problem to have ... I guess,” Nick Ameli said as he struggled to find space for seating in the auditorium. Still, the crowds of people kept flowing into the dining area carrying trays filled with pasta, lasagna, meatballs, Italian sausage, cakes, bread, salad and about every kind of Italian food delight imaginable.

Music flowed from the auditorium stage throughout the afternoon as tribute artists Casey Ferguson (Willie Nelson), Denny Marion (Waylon Jennings), Adam Tucker (Tim McGraw) Cass Hunter (Dolly Parton) along with the Red Wigglers Bluegrass Band performed to the delight of appreciative crowds. At the same time, accordion player, John Zachwieja, provided an Italian music soundtrack to people visiting the many vendors at the festival.

David Hare, 20, of Charleston, a third year college student in Nashville, Tenn., was bussing tables as quickly as he could in order to make room for diners to eat as they came carrying trays from the service line in the youth center. “I’ve been doing this since I was in second grade,” Hare said. “It’s fun!” Hare is one of the many area students who received scholarships from the local Sons of Italy chapter.

Erica Combs, Terri Parker and Sarah Gullett were in character as “CC,” “Super Clown” and “Cupcake” Saturday, doing skits and entertaining the people as part of the PikeView High School Clown Troupe.

“This is community service, but it’s fun,” Gullett said.

“I think the number of people here today is because we didn’t have our dinner-dance on Friday night and everyone just decided to come out here today and all at the same time,” Jeannie Ameli said with a big smile. “We have a supreme crowd here today,” she added.

— Contact Bill Archer at

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