It’s a big week ahead for the City of Pittston and the red carpet is being rolled out.
The streetscaping project is finishing up on South Main Street in time for festival week and it looks great. The street lighting is fantastic and adds so much to downtown, just the lights on Luzerne Avenue in West Pittston.
Everything is falling into place for the 35th festival. I can’t believe it’s been 35 years of celebrating the tomato. If you think Pittston is the only place that celebrates the red fruit, you’re wrong as the tomato is heralded all over the country and the world.
Twenty four of the 50 states in the U.S. have tomato festivals and some states have multiple cities with tomato festivals.
The world’s most famous tomato festival is where it all began — in Buñol, Spain in 1945. This is the site of the world’s first Tomato Fights and it’s the world’s largest. It takes place at the Plaza Del Pueblo and the fight lasts for two hours between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. That’s a lot of tomatoes … over 275,578 lbs., to be exact.
I’ve witnessed Pittston Tomato Fights and the actual fight might last 15 minutes, give or take. It all depends on how many participants and how many tomatoes are supplied. The pre-fight activities and clean up add to the event’s time.
If you’ve never witnessed an actual tomato fight, you should make your way to Cooper’s Waterfront parking lot Saturday afternoon to see it for yourself. A word of warning, though — don’t stand too close or you’ll end up with tomato juice spray or pits on you.
The first year I photographed the event, I was a bit too close and ended up with all kinds of tomato debris on my camera and myself. I wasn’t happy but it is fun to watch.
Each year, people get dressed up in all kids of outfits and the contestants have a ball while participating. I’ve seen people in tuxedoes and I’ve seen people in bathing suits.
After it’s over, Jimmy Zarra hops on a payloader and scrapes up the remains. Before you know it, it looks like the fight never happened. They do a great job of cleaning up the mess.
No one knows how or why the Tomato Fights started in Spain, but it seems to be a popular tradition, even though authorities tried to ban the event for more than a decade before the fights were eventually embraced in 1959.
Our Tomato Festival is known for the wide food selection. You can find Italian specialties like tripe and, if you like sauce, every vendor has their own twist on spaghetti sauce.
Speaking of sauce, Sauce Wars have become a popular item at the festival. It’s where homemade sauces from Andy Perguino’s (Luzerne), Anthony’s (Old Forge), Arcaro & Genell (Old Forge), Betelli’s Villa (Wilkes-Barre), Café Italia (Pittston) and returning champ, PAZZO (Pittston Twp.) cpmpete for the title of Best Sauce.
For a $2 donation, you can do the blind taste test to submit your choice. My mom’s sauce was the best so I might be a tough critic.
For some folks attending, it’s not all about the food; Richie Kossuth of Rock Street Music does a great job putting together a fabulous line up of entertainment.
There are no less than 17 musical acts playing over the four-day event. You will see many returning artists like The Speraza Band, Sweet Pepper & The Long Hots, The Poets, Danny Argo and Flaxy Morgan.
A special guest and local favorite, Bill Kelly, formerly of the Buoys, Jerry-Kelly and Dakota, will perform for the first time in nearly 15 years. He will sing many of the old favorites that launched his and former bandmates’ careers.
Bill is coming off a bittersweet performance at Genetti Hotel & Conference Center this past spring when he and other organizers planned a benefit concert for bandmate Jerry Hludzik who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
I spoke to Bill by phone this past week and he is super excited to be back home to play for his family and friends.
He will travel from Nashville, his home for the last 26 years, to hop on the stage once again in his beloved hometown area.
It hasn’t been confirmed but, if the stars are all aligned, there may be a special guest accompanying Bill for a song or two. Stay tuned.
Speaking of Richie, his own band Flaxy Morgan will appear right after Bill Kelly and Bill tells me he will join Flaxy to play “Timothy.” If I was a betting man, I’d bet the song will close the night out on Saturday.
Richie tells me he would drop anything if Bill asked him to play drums to “Timothy.”
Hats off once again to festival chair Lori Nocito, co-chairs Jimmy Zarra and Mike Lombardo, Susan Lombardo, vendor chair; Richie, James and Judy Deice, Angel Noon, Sarah Donahue, Judy Strellish, Mary Ciarelli, Clariellen Hopple, Jay Duffy and many, many more committee people and volunteers.
Quote of the week
“If your life is unhappy, it is painful to bear; if it is happy, it is a horrible thing to lose, so the one is pretty equal to the other.” Jean de la Bruyere, French mathematician
Thought of the week
“You grow up the first time you have your first real laugh – at yourself.” – Ethel Barrymore, American actress
“Lord, let me live until I die.” – Will Rogers, American entertainer