YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – As festivals make their comeback, there’s one on Youngstown’s north side this weekend that may be small in size — running only about two blocks — but has a huge history and attracts quite the crowd.
It was 30 years ago, the streets of Brier Hill neighborhood lit up for the first time with the Brier Hill Festival.
“This was where the first Italian immigrants in this city settled. Ten thousand people lived right below Saint Anthony’s to Dearborn,” said Joe Naples, founder of the festival.
You can still look over the hill and see the steel mills. Thirty years later, not much has changed.
“People who moved out of the area, they come back. We have people that come from all over the country to come here,” Naples said.
It’s the same families running it, and it’s still a place for people to come and reunite after all these years.
“To see our old friends. It’s all about friendship,” said Janice Donlin, a festival-goer.
“We’ve been coming here every year, and it’s good to still be coming,” said Deedee Pernotto, another festival-goer.
Many of the people here this weekend grew up on this hill.
“I grew up in Upper Brier Hill,” Donlin said.
“I grew up in the hollow, but all my friends were from Brier Hill,” Pernotto said.
It’s an Italian fest like most others with music, dancing and food, of course, but one thing you won’t find at any other Italian festival is the delicious Bracciole sandwich.
“It’s an Italian rolled stuffed steak center, cut top round, sliced real thin. A little Peccorino Romano cheese — boom — forget about it,” said one of the owners of Bracciole Brothers.
There’s also a Morra tournament.
“It’s an Italian game. It’s almost like fling, flang, flew,” said Dominic Modarelli, festival organizer.
“The Roman soldiers would do this to determine who in fact would have to do chores that no one else wanted to do. Today, it is outlawed in Italy,” Naples said.
The festival didn’t happen last year, but this weekend, they’re picking up right where they left off.
“We’re back, you can just see. A lot of people are anxious to get out. We’re here,” Modarelli said.
“Come on down. Have a good time. Bienvenue,” Naples said.