CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — The 39th annual West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival kicks off Friday, with a weekend full of food, games and entertainment.

The WVIHF has been rated among the “Top 100 Events in North America” by the American Bus Association, a “Top 20 Event” by the Southeast Tourism Society and one of the “Top Four Italian Festivals in the Nation” by the National Sons of Italy.

“It’s interesting because often times people think that it’s just the Friday, Saturday, Sunday what you right there on Main Street between 5th and 2nd (Streets), and they don’t realize sometimes so many other things are going on that are cultural and that are acknowledging people from Italian ancestry that allows us to get those honors because we are more than a three day street fair,” Festival Board Member Weege Vargo. “We like that too, but I think our recognition comes because we go far deeper than just those three days.”

The first pre-festival event was the bocce tournament Aug. 19. Other events included the pasta cook-off, a golf tournament, an elimination dinner and a honorees banquet.

Cultural events include a vocal concert at The Waldomore’s Concetta LaNasa Hall at 5 p.m. Friday and an author’s forum at the Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library starting at noon Saturday.

Festival weekend officially kicks off with the coronation of Regina Maria 39, Alyssa Marie Oliverio, at noon Friday in front of the Harrison County Courthouse.

The Antero Main Stage will also have free musical entertainment throughout the entire weekend.

Notable performers include Sal “The Voice” Valentinetti, Dennis Tufano, Moreno Fruzzetti and Sam Manno. Local favorites such as Benjamin DeFazio, Mary Frances Beto Smith and Brandon LeRoy with Marissa Bailey return this year as well.

“And we have Chelsea Boyles, who is an upcoming country singer who was queen two years ago at the festival,” Vargo said. “We try to mix our local talent, which we’re very proud of, with a lot of big names that we can bring in so people can come up and enjoy themselves.”

Vargo said when the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival first began in 1978, researchers were studying all of the demographics of Harrison County and found that nearly 40 percent were of Italian descent.

“My mother’s family came from Italy, and they came here because it was very similar — the topography with the mountains, the coal mines, the glass plants,” she said. “There was just a lot of things in West Virginia that drew them here that seemed familiar. A lot of them sprinkled throughout the state but Harrison County had a tremendous foundation of Italian folks.”

For some time, many Italian families used the weekend for their family reunions. Now high school class reunions and family reunions of other ethnicities coincide with the event as well.

“It’s just an opportunity to gather,” Vargo said. “It’s one of the biggest things that goes on in this part of the state, and it’s a tremendous opportunity for people to get together and share each other. In addition, you get the bonus of sharing the wonderful heritage of the Italian ancestry.”

For a full schedule of events, visit www.wvihf.com

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