Italian American Festival committee looks to volunteers, support for event in 2025

Jan 31, 2024 at 12:55 pm by Observer-Review

italian american festival
BY Karen Gadiel
Last week, the committee organizing the Italian-American Festival in Watkins Glen announced the postponement of their upcoming festival to 2025. It was a difficult decision they’d come to after much pondering and analysis.
Festival chair Louis “Louie” Perazzini, who’s been involved with the festival for more than 30 years, says the decision was largely based on the incompatibility of scheduling with the limited companies who provide carnival rides. In the two-plus years of pandemic shut-downs, several companies on the carnival/festival circuit providing rides closed up shop; and getting back in the loop after things began to open up again has proved challenging. The idea of having a festival minus rides for children was nixed by feedback from festival-goers who declared they weren’t coming without them.
“Our main focus is trying to make more people happy, even though no matter what, you’re not going to make everyone happy,” Perazzini said. “Years ago, there were no rides, it was camaraderie with families, you ate, you socialized, it was just a big community gathering. Then, as you get bigger, you reach out to get different people in.”
The festival is a year-round endeavor spearheaded by a small group of volunteers who would welcome more help and company. Talking to some of them, it’s evident that like many organizations in a relatively small and generous community, there’s a common ground of financial obstacles. It takes substantial funding to create an event of this magnitude, upwards of $30,000. A large chunk goes to the fireworks company. “I’ll put my fireworks company up against anyone in six counties,” Perazzini says. But fireworks are expensive. So is the parade—many of the musicians in the parade won’t come unless they’re paid. There are also porta-potty rentals, tent rentals, prizes, clean-up – it all adds up. Community sponsors help quite a lot, but small businesses simply can’t substantially underwrite this event while assisting every other good cause they’re asked to contribute to. Before the Clute Park renovations, the Italian Festival received parking fees from festival-goers, but not anymore.
This means an event that prides itself on offering free admission needs other sources of income. “If we took money from people coming in, we’d probably be okay, but that’s not what we’re about,” he says.  Their percentage from ride fees helped. The once-popular bocce tournament also helped pay some of the bills for many years, but teams from out of the area disbanded or stopped traveling to compete and the interest in this activity seemed to have also diminished. “Now everyone’s throwing little cornhole bags,” Perazzini added.
“One year we had a l’Osteria (Italian restaurant) in a big tent with tables, tablecloths and chairs. There was a big map so you could find out where your family was from; we had tee-shirts and wine glasses and license plate holders… all this stuff. We need enough attractions to make us money [to be able to plan] the next year,” Perazzini explained. “Nobody wanted to see this not happen. We need to regroup.”
Committee member Lorry Johnson says she was one of those urging the group to make the difficult decision, which in the end was unanimous. Like other volunteers, she says she’s been taken aback at anonymous negative responses to the festival on social media. For instance, new plantings of trees in the park called for a different placement of tents.
“We can’t always keep things the same way,” she said. “We have to adapt to changes. And there are so many things people don’t understand, that go into the festival.”
Doubtless, the festival will be missed this year. But the committee is hoping to bring it back in 2025, better than ever. Already a few positive people have reached out via social media to volunteer to help with the next one. More are needed. To help, reach out to the committee via their Facebook page, write to them at WG Italian American Festival, PO Box 65 Watkins Glen, NY 14891 or email them at
“To take us from a committee of seven to a committee of 15, that would be fabulous!” Johnson said. “Clearly the last few years have been tough, trying to rebuild from COVID. Things will be different, and we really want to make it work.”
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