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Italian Festival celebrates anniversary by going back to its roots

Twenty years later, the Sons of Italy 2662 is going back to its roots to celebrate the start of its annual Italian Festival: a parking lot, but with musical and edible merriment.

With hopes for sunny skies, the Socastee-based lodge will stage its 20th anniversary shindig 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday outside Inlet Square in Murrells Inlet, by Frank Theatres.

Mounting its first festival in 1992, though, rain chased the festivities inside the mall. Karen Crisalli, who handles publicity for the lodge, said that first fest happened long before she joined the lodge, but she’s heard stories about “torrential rains” that struck in the middle of that one-day inaugural event.

Crisalli said Jim Ditta, the current club president who chairs the festival, thought of the idea to brings the 2012 back to the mall “because that was the first place, and we can show how much we’ve grown in these 20 years.”

She remembered when the club would meet in the town of Surfside Beach’s civic center. For four years, a 2,500-square-foot clubhouse has been headquarters, and work began a few weeks ago on refurbishing a second building on the two-acre site.

Crisalli, married to Joe Crisalli, vice president, said about 375 people make up the membership, from as far north as Calabash, N.C., west to Conway and south to Pawleys Island. About 50 percent of the club base lives on the south Strand, but the folks “are sprinkled around.”

Grateful for use of The Market Common’s park areas in recent years, Ditta said festival officials expect this return to the mall, where it all started, to be the club’s largest such affair, and that the all the food will be matched with “good entertainment.”

Ditta said the return of Sister Act as headliners – real-life siblings Andrea Giammalvo and Celeste Santini, from New York City, with their variety show of music – for one-hour sets each day, excited festival planners as much as they have previous festivalgoers.

“Everyone is asking for them,” Ditta said, “so I’m happy to have them coming back. There’s also another great band scheduled: Longitude & Friends, from Pawleys Island. And Larry Tanelli ... and Gene Sartini ... he sounds a lot like Frank Sinatra.”

No trouble turned up in scheduling the acts or the vendors, Ditta said.

“They all called me and wanted to know when the festival was coming back,” he said. “They all wanted to come back.”

Coordinating the festivals for the past three years, Ditta said besides trying to gauge the right amount of food to have available for sale, “it’s fairly simple now” to put this party together, amid the club’s spring and golf tournaments to benefit the Community Kitchen of Myrtle Beach and Law Enforcement United, respectively.

Tossing in another element of Italian culture for the festival, Crisalli said officials will scope out a “flat, green, grassy area, so people can learn to play bocce.”