WHEELING – Ohio Valley residents had the opportunity to experience Greek gastronomy as well as culture through the Grecian Fest taking place last week. Beginning July 29, it welcomes an Italian neighbor for shared festival weekend like no other.
For those who want to experience the best of both worlds, it is only a three-minute drive or a 14-minute walk from St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church to the Undo’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival. Attendees will get a chance to discover Italian cuisine, music, and tradition.
The mutual goal of both organizers is to bring even more people into downtown Wheeling during the weekend, eliminating any thought of competition between them.
Italian Heritage Festival President Michele Fabbro and Grecian Fest Director Gus Kayafas share the same vision. Fabbro sees late July as a chance for two prominent ethnic groups in Wheeling to join forces and spread their culture with festive goers.
“I just see it as two really strong ethnic groups that are going to have fun during the weekend,” Fabbro said. “When it brings people into the community here in Wheeling, it’s a win-win for both of us, both the Grecian Festival and for our festival.”
“We’re here for the same purpose- to share our cultures with people,” she added.
Throughout the weekend, both cultures’ heritage will be on display.
At the Grecian Fest, patrons can take tours of St. John the Divine Church and learn about the Greek Orthodox faith. They also can hear a youth choir perform Byzantine Chant Liturgical Hymns inside the church each day at 4:45 p.m.
Visitors outside can listen to Greek traditional music and watch dancers perform three times each evening, all while enjoying authentic Greek food like souvlaki, spanakopita, and gyros.
“We’re hosting people at our home and sharing with them our hospitality, our delicious food and our rich culture and faith,” Kayafas said.
During the Italian Festival, people can enjoy current popular music as well as Italian favorite groups like Avanti, the Rex Taneri Band and Ray Massa’s Big Italian Show. The festival will hold a Catholic Mass at 10 a.m. Sunday and also welcome the return of both the bocce tournament and the Little Italy attraction.
At Little Italy on 12th Street, festival-goers can explore the Italian cuisine and glance through vendors selling Italian goods such as prosciutto and sopresatta, pasta and pasta machines and clothing.
Fabbro said the Italian Festival is a local favorite due to its variety of food options, the entertainment it provides to the waterfront, and the unity of the community. She believes people are drawn to the festival because of its efforts to assist charities which in turn support locals.
“I think a lot of people realize that the benefits from the festival go toward our scholarship, so it supports the young people,” she added.
Both Fabbro and Kayafas hope people from the Ohio Valley take the chance to explore both sites and broaden their cultural horizons this weekend.
“We think it’s great for people to come down and sample both festivals,” Kayafas said. “I know if I was going to one, I’d probably say, ‘hey, let’s try to go over and see what’s happening at the other one.’”
“We don’t see it as competition,” he added. “We’re not in it for the money. We’re in it for the community and anything that happens is a windfall.”