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Festa maids and others take to the dance floor at a past Italian Heritage Festa.

Baton Rouge’s annual Italian Heritage Festa features a “grape stomp,” when teams of women wearing coordinated outfits perform a dance routine and — you guessed it — stomp grapes.

This year, the lighthearted charity event will be tinged with sadness. Buddy Amoroso, the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council member killed in a bicycle accident June 30, had always been one of the grape stomp judges, said Festa co-chairman Frank Arrigo.

Arrigo said organizers had intended to leave a judge’s seat open to acknowledge Amoroso’s absence. But a meeting with Denise Amoroso, his widow, led to a change of plans.

“I said, ‘Denise, I can only think of one person who is worthy of filling that chair,’” Arrigo recalled. “‘You.’ She said, ‘You’ve got it.’”

This year’s Italian Heritage Festa, hosted by the Greater Baton Rouge American Italian Association, begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday with an Italian dinner and a show at the Belle of Baton Rouge. Joe DeNone & His Band, billed as "Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Louis Prima all in one,” will perform. Visit gbraia.org for ticket information.

The free festival is runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Belle. Along with the grape stomp, this year’s festival includes a new event: a “charity dance off” featuring first responders.

Genealogy expert Sal Serio is back this year to help festival attendees trace back their heritage. There will be music, food and shopping, a display of exotic Italian cars and activities for the kids.

This year’s festival also continues the tradition of presenting the Italian Festa Heritage maids. Girls ranging in age from 3 to 15 will be presented to the public by their fathers, grandfathers or brothers, Arrigo said.

“It’s not a beauty contest,” he added. “There’s no competition. It’s just a matter of the young girls being taught to celebrate the Italian heritage.”

Twenty girls are expected to participate, including two grandchildren of Buddy Amoroso's. 


Italian Heritage Festa schedule

11 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Events inside Belle of Baton Rouge air-conditioned atrium

A.I.A. membership table: Festa T-shirts and Italian specialty beads for sale

Bella Belle Italian Cafe: Dine-in Italian cuisine and specialties — food court rotunda

Bistro Italia: Italian and American food favorites and snacks — side of rotunda

Vino Stroll: Proceeds benefit Anna's Grace Foundation

St. Joseph's Altar

Exotic Italian cars: Atrium and side door entrance

Little Italy shopping village

Genealogy & history by Sal Serio: side room

Face Painting: By Tabatha Miller, free

11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.: Music by New Orleans Express, stage

11:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.: American and Italian national anthems, stage

11:45 a.m. to noon: Scholarship and essay winners, stage

Noon to 1 p.m.: Italian Cooking 101 by Peter Sclafani, side room; music by Joe DeNone & New Orleans Express, stage

1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.: Presentation of the 2018 Italian Heritage Festa maids, atrium stage

1:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.: “Eh Cumpari,” audience participation, stage

2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Celebrity Charity Grape Stomp, stage

2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Kid's activities (Adult must accompany), side room

3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.: Baton Rouge Police K-9 Unit demo, stage

3:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m: “First Responders” Dance Off for Charity, stage

4:15 p.m. to 5 p.m.: Performance by Joe DeNone, stage