SAFETY HARBOR — If spending the weekend outdoors is important, but so is finding a good place to eat a meal and listen to live music, then try the San Gennaro Festa.
What sprouted as a small Italian festival has ripened into an event that pulls in people from across the state.
LIADO, the Italian-American Women of Today, will host the ninth annual festival offering the chance to have family fun, check out a Ducati motorcycle and taste tantalizing Italian foods. Go to eat, have fun and maybe learn a little about Italian cuisine and culture.
"People are coming from as far away as Vero Beach, Palm Beach and Silver Springs, and all over Hernando County. Friends of friends called and asked to be part of the festa," said Barbara Abela, festival coordinator and vice president of LIADO.
The festa is designed after the well-known New York City Feast of Celebration, complete with a traditional religious procession that carries the statue of the patron saint of Naples, San Gennaro, from the piazza. That saint is said to protect the Italian city of Naples from natural disasters and plagues.
Yet many who aren't familiar with Italian history show up strictly for the food.
"We made 1,500 meatballs this year," Abela said. "Eight women. One scoops, one rolls, one is in charge of taking them from the oven, and another is a meatball counter. We worked together and it took us three hours."
A lot of cooking goes on as the women bake meatballs, create pasta fagioli, antipasto on a stick, pasta primavera and also pizzelle — traditional Italian cookies for the festa. But the Italian Festival isn't only about food.
Saturday's music features the sounds of Andy Stephano and the Summit Band starting at 6:30 p.m. On Sunday, Joey Dee and the Starliters of Peppermint Twist and Shout fame will be featured at 4 p.m., preceded by opening act Marty Bialow, who performs a tribute to Frank Sinatra.
"We also have a group called the Saints that go back to the 1950s and lots of other music," Abela said.
For fun, try stomping grapes to make wine. Enter a competition to chow down on cannoli or meatballs and maybe win a prize.
For Italian folks, or folks who think they may be, check out the genealogy booth to trace family lines. Watch pizzelle demonstrations. Puppet shows, street performers, and children's arts and crafts make it a family destination.
This year's festa proceeds will benefit the St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Center, Alzheimer's Association Florida Gulf Coast Chapter and LIADO's scholarship fund.
"We don't keep any of the money that comes in," Abela said. "Sometimes somebody will come up and complain that they have to pay to come in. For an entrance fee of $5, you'll get entertainment from the minute you arrive until you walk out."