By Gabriella Vaccaro | The Duquesne Duke
The third annual Strip District World Festival – a three-day celebration with a focus on the different nationalities present in the city – took over Penn Avenue this past weekend.
But even though the vendor selection definitely favored quality over quantity, the experience was still worthwhile.
Why did this cultural celebration begin? Festival producer Sal Richetti said the goal of the event is to shed light on the rich cultural variety of the Strip District.
“I’m an event planner … and have an entertainment business so it all ties together,” Richetti said. “I wanted to showcase the neighborhood of the Strip and all the different ethnic groups.”
Richetti said the festival highlights the different types of music and food from Italian, German, Irish and Polish cultures specifically. The Strip District in general showcases these nationalities through restaurants, shops and entertainment. Throughout the festival, several vendors and tents stuck out above the rest.
The Bacon Jams, a company based out of West Chester, Pennsylvania, makes “spreadable bacon.” Different flavors include Original, Black Pepper and Red Chile & Garlic. Liquefied bacon is undoubtedly an interesting concept, and the texture definitely came as a surprise. The jam had a slimy and gooey feel to it, with bacon bits adding some crunch.
Further down the line of vendors came Mercurio’s Pizza and Gelato. The restaurant, founded in 2012, specializes in Neapolitan Pizza and homemade Gelato. It filled the air with savory smells as freshly made pizza cooked in a brick oven right next to the tent.
“We come to [festivals] to promote our business in Shadyside and to reach out to different parts of the city,” Anna Crucitt, the co-owner of Mercurio’s, said. “I like [festivals] because it’s a different environment from the restaurant, and a change of scenery.”
The Pittsburgh Party Peddler, which resembled a bar on wheels of sorts, was another notable attraction the festival featured. The Party Peddler offers an entertaining, yet eco-friendly way for adults to exercise a little and explore different parts of the city on a large, multi-person bike. The bike is decked out with a barrel full of beverages, long banquet tables with stools and the Jolly Roger proudly displayed in support of the Pirates.
When the ride was over, customers came off laughing, and the bike’s popularity was clear as groups throughout the day enjoyed the activity.
The most interesting vendor, however, was by far Ehrlich’s “Pestaurant.” The pest control company used “giving away bugs” as a promotion for the business, said Blake Pennock, a sales representative for Ehrlich.
“Pestaurant is our take to promote the Ehrlich Pest Control name, and to promote people using insects for their diet,” Pennock said.
He informed attendees that many countries include bugs in their diets as a source of protein.
The “menu” included sweet and savory treats such as Roasted Crickets and Mealworms, Salt and Vinegar Crickets, BBQ Mealworms and Ant and Cricket Lollipops. If you ate an insect, the workers rewarded you with a box of mealworms and Ant lollipops to go.
The chilly and rainy weather did not deter the high spirits of the attendees and vendors. Not only did the festival feature food, but also live entertainment. The quiet and relaxed atmosphere of the festival picked up near the stage, and provided a place to gather with friends.
As the rain really started to pour, the 26th Street Market and Café acted as the perfect safe haven with the an open street section to let the music pour in.
Pittsburgh-area native Mia Zanotti, known as Mia Z, was a finalist on NBC’s “The Voice.” Zanotti performed an hour-long set of original songs, refusing to allow the rain to cause a speed bump in her show. Her incredible vocal range and stage presence made it extremely hard to believe that she is just a junior in high school. Throughout her music, a heavy brass and bass created an upbeat bluesy feel.
“Pittsburgh is a cool little city, it has a warm and welcoming environment,” Zanotti said. “It’s really intimate … I definitely like performing to people who live around here and who know me and support me for who I am.”
Throughout the festival, nine bands and artists performed, filling the streets with energy and a mixture of music from all genres. Other artists ranged from reggae to classic rock groups.
Zanotti added that she believes it is important, especially for young people, to experience different genres of music and cultures from around the world, rather than sticking to current American pop.