PITTSTON — It started with a downpour. But it’s sure to finish with a bang.
The 32nd Annual Pittston Tomato Festival kicked off on Thursday, Aug. 20 and concludes Sunday in Pittston. Thursday’s opening ceremonies were pushed back one day because of heavy rain, but that didn’t stop people from coming out in droves on the first day.
Any doubts Thursday’s rain would put a damper on the annual festival were quickly dashed once 5 p.m. hit on Friday. Festival-goers came out in droves early to get a chance to eat their favorite foods and play their favorite games.
In its 32nd year, the festival is bigger than ever. Co-chairman and former Pittston mayor Mike Lombardo has been working with the Tomato Festival for 18 years. He believes it’s a chance for the city to show off some of the progress it has made in the last several years.
“This is a great event and the nice thing about this year is we’ve made a lot of tangible progress downtown with the new bank and the mural,” he said. “That’s my favorite part. I like to show off the city. I always thought that was our role — be a mousetrap to get people to see the city and come back.”
The festival features 55 vendors and offers everything from cheesecake on a stick to the famous Sabatelli’s sopressata sandwich. You can find basket raffles and games, along with some of the best entertainment in the northeast.
The opening ceremonies on Friday featured Tomato Festival committee member Jim McFarland introducing the sponsors and several key figures to the success of the festival. Msgr. John Bendik of St. John the Evangelist Church gave the blessing by singing “God Bless America” with 13-year-old Gianna Charney.
By that time, however, the festivities were already underway.
Many vendors were jammed most of the weekend. During busy hours, vendors dealt with lines that extended out to the walking area around the festival.
According to Lombardo, many of the local class and family reunions are based around the Tomato Festival. Former residents comeback to the city and get the opportunity to see old friends, he said.
“I love seeing a bunch of family and friends,” he said. “That’s the part I like. I like to see the crowd and I love the music. It’s always fun.”
Thousands of people lined the street for the annual Tomato Festival parade, which was held Saturday morning. The Miles for Michael 5K race, which also included a Fun Walk this year, preceded the event.
Following the rain-filled day on Thursday, the weather broke and the festival saw clear skies for the remainder. Sunday, those attending the festival will be treated to an afternoon full of fun entertainment.
From 10:45 a.m. to noon, the Little Miss and Mr. Tomato Contest will be held at the bandshell. Then, it’s all about the bands. Perfect Harmony Center for the Arts will perform from 1 to 1:45 p.m.; County Lines from 2:15 to 3 p.m.; The Poets from 4 to 5:30 p.m.; The Sperrazza Band from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.; and The Jeanne Zano Band from 8 to 9 p.m.
When it’s all said and done, Lombardo and the Tomato Festival Committee will meet and lament on the weekend. Just a month after that, the first committee meeting will be held to start planning next year’s festival.
“Getting it over with means a lot of different things,” he said. “It means the summer is over. There’s a little bit of sadness. While it’s tiring, it’s great to see so many people.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick