Volunteers getting ready for Italian Festival

May 10—Live music, vendor booths and lots of Italian food are being readied as volunteers worked to finalize preparations for the 51st McAlester Italian Festival.

It's set for Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13, at the Southeast Expo Center, with free admission to the festival and vendor booth sites.

Once again this year, there will be no festival on Sunday, so volunteers can have an opportunity to spend time with their families on Mother Day.

Plans call for the festival to open on Friday, May 12, from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.

It officially opens again on Saturday, May 13, at 10 a.m. and is expected to remain open until 7 p.m. A carnival at the site may stay open later, organizers said.

Opening ceremonies are set for 10:30 a.m. on Saturday — the second day of the festival.

Earlier, the National Meatball Car Show is expected to begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday, with winners announced by noon.

Ron Dusenberry, co-chairman of this year's festival with Satina Murdaugh, said volunteers are working to get everything in place in time for Friday's opening day.

He said the city of McAlester's recent water problems had an effect on festival preparations.

Ordinarily, volunteers prepare meatballs and Italian sausage on the Saturday prior to the festival's opening. This year, they had to wait until Tuesday, after the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality removed a mandatory boil order that had been in place for the city and rural water districts it served.

On Tuesday afternoon, volunteers met at the McAlester High School cafeteria to begin preparations of the meatballs and Italian sausages that will be served with dinners at the Italian Festival tent on Friday and Saturday.

"We couldn't get into the high school last Saturday because they were shut down," Dusenberry noted.

Referring to a popular festival attraction, Dusenberry said the carnival is returning to the Italian Festival again this year and was setting up earlier this week.

A number of arts and crafts booths are booked for when the festival opens, both inside and outside the Expo Center.

House music and announcements on the main stage are set from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Friday's opening day.

Plans are to have the Italian Festival spaghetti tent ready to go at 11 that morning.

Along with the main spaghetti dinner tent, a sandwich and pizza tent will be stationed nearby. Other food vendors will be on the festival grounds.

A new addition to this year's festival is caricature artists who will be on hand to draw their renditions of festival-goers.

McAlester Tourism Director Billy Sumner said two artists will be at the festival, through the city of McAlester's sponsorship.

"They will be available Friday and Saturday and they will be doing the drawings for free," Sumner said.

Dusenberry said plans are to have them stationed near the Italian food tent.

Also, there will also be a balloon artist, who will make balloon animals for kids, also at no charge, said Italian Festival Committee member Yvette Martin.

Live music is set from 3:30 p.m. on Friday, May 12, featuring a performance by Robby VanVekoven with Ben Thomas.

Music from the stage is set to continue from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. with the Rockwell Duo.

Saturday, May 13, features the opening ceremony beginning at 10:30 a.m. on the event's second day.

The festival's Re and Regina will be crowned during the opening ceremony, which also includes a salute to veterans.

The Meatball National Car Show, hosted by McAlester Masonic Lodge #9, featuring vintage cars and trucks, is set from 8 a.m. until noon on Saturday, May 13, Sumner said.

Many vendors setting up both inside and outside the Expo Center will be working through the 2 Hip Chicks Road Show, Dusenberry said.

Some of the festival's most popular events revolve around Italian food. Along with the Italian meals offered at the food tent, a couple of Italian food-related competitions are in place.

Spaghetti sauce competition is set from noon until 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 13.

Dusenberry said those who want to enter should make their sauce, place it in a jar and bring it to the food tent by noon on Saturday, the 13th.

Winner of the spaghetti sauce competitions gets a $100 cash prize, with cash prizes also given to the second and third place winners.

Spaghetti sauce competition is followed by a spaghetti-eating contest for kids from 1 p.m. through 2 p.m. Categories are for kids who are ages 5 and under and from 6 to 12, Dusenberry said.

Competitors are required to eat from a plate of spaghetti — with no hands, Dusenberry said of what looks to be a colorful event

Cash prizes will be awarded to winners, with each child participant getting an Italian Festival apron, Dusenberry said.

House music, announcements and an open microphone are set from 2 until 3 p.m. on the main stage.

Live music is scheduled from 3:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday by the Michele Warren Duo.

Following a brief break, the duo's performance is set to be followed by Chris Morris and Blue Zebra from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m.

Activities are shutting down at 7 p.m. Saturday to give everyone an opportunity to attend the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival in downtown McAlester, featuring free musical performances from Rayland Baxter, Shawn Mullins and Will Hoge.

Dancing Rabbit Music Festival organizers did not plan any extra daytime activities for their event, to keep from clashing with the Italian Festival.

This year's Italian Festival also includes pony rides and inflatables for children, organizers said.

Event organizers say they are missing Bobby Lenardo, a longtime chairman, cochairman and member of the Italian Festival Committee, who passed away last December.

Italian Festival Committee member Yvette Martin noted the loss of a very key member of the committee. Festival committee members are still committed to putting on the best festival ever, she said.

Sumner also noted Lenardo's many efforts on behalf of the Italian Festival.

He said organizers are committed to making this year's festival a success — both in Lenardo's memory and to continue bringing a major event to the city.

With a chance of precipitation in Saturday's forecast, Dusenberry said the Italian Festival will be held rain or shine.

He said past festivals have shown that people will not let rain prevent them from attending the popular event.