The seven-day feast begins Friday July 20 at 6 p.m. outside the Church of St. Ann on Jefferson and Seventh streets, extending over a six-block area that stretches from Madison to Adams streets between Sixth and Eighth streets.
More than 60 vendors are expected to take part in the festivities, which have been expanded by one city block this year to include an additional third stage for bands, as well as a new display labeled Artist's Row for Hoboken's artists.
"It's a chance for the Hoboken community to get together and show their devotion to St. Ann," said Marie Totaro, the feast's first-ever woman chairperson who for 14 of the past 18 years has been the event organizer. St. Ann was the mother of the Virgin Mary, and is the patron saint of women and fertility. Women have prayed to her in order to conceive.
Although Totaro acknowledged that many individuals come purely for the festivities, as opposed to the religious aspect, she added, "People come for the warm feeling you get while you're there. Even if you're not religious, you have the spiritual experience, with the love and joy and everything that goes into the celebration. You feel it in the air, there's an energy here."
The event is being co-chaired by Mario Ferrara.
This year's feast will feature 21 bands performing everything from early 1960s dance favorites and popular music to classic Italian operettas every night from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. The celebration will open up with "Latin Night" on Friday with singer Johnny Ray performing his salsa hits to kick off the weeklong event.
On Saturday, the entertainment will continue with Italian Night, featuring "Uncle" Floyd Vivino, a native of Paterson, who will be performing a comic routine. Vivino will be accompanied that night by an array of Italian singers performing onstage.
Another crowd favorite that has been part of the St. Ann's feast for at least 10 of the last 15 years is The Nerds. The high-energy, pop-rock cover band, known for their harmony, will be singing hits from the '50s through the '90s and beyond, on Monday July 23.
On Tuesday, an early '60s-era favorite, "Joey Dee and the Starliters," will bring a burst of energy to the stage, being known for performing such hits as "Peppermint Twist," "Shout," and "Cara Mia." Also, singer Frankie Valli's brother Bobby will be accompanying the band, singing many of his brother's hits.
On the last night of the festival, soprano Christina Fontanelli will fill the streets with her sweet operatic sound as she sings Italian classics. The award winning Fontanelli, who has toured all over the world and performed in countless operas and for presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, will be joined by the Jordan Thomas Orchestra.
In addition to the music, expect your senses to be overwhelmed by the tantalizing aromas that engulf the blocks surrounding the feast, courtesy of Italian favorites like fried calamari, rice balls, and sausage and pepper and various other ethnic dishes such as Polish pierogies, Mexican fajitas, French crepes, and homemade crab cakes imported from Maryland.
Along with the sounds and smells that attract thousands of attendees year after year, one of the most memorable features of the feast is its annual procession of a 600-pound statue of St. Ann, carried by the women of the St. Ann Guild throughout the streets of Hoboken.
The event blesses the houses of parishioners while signaling the end of the feast. The procession will also include the John "Duke" Terrieri Feast Band.
Immigrants who settled in Hoboken brought over the tradition from the Italian town of Monte San Giacomo early in the last century.
"[The procession represents] a prophetic presence of God's love and hope," said Fr. Thomas Crangle O.F.M. Cap, the pastor of St. Ann's Parish, who will be holding a nine-day Novena in honor of the patron saint. "It's amazing what these women go through, in the burning July heat. They are able to make it through the streets carrying 600 pounds [as a result of] their faith."
The Novena, or solemn prayer of intentions, will begin Tuesday July 17 and end Wednesday July 26, the last day of the feast.
New features and old favorites
For the first time, the St. Ann's feast will have a third stage this year, located on Seventh Street between Monroe and Madison streets, where spectators will experience the sounds of rock, jazz, fusion, funk, New Orleans, brass, and Latin music.
The stage will be an addition to the feast's main stage across from the church and its secondary stage in the rectory parking lot.
The secondary stage will host a karaoke night, a kid's rock and roll band, and several other acts throughout the week. Nearby is the Café Under the Stars, which contains the feast's 30-foot, fully stocked bar.
In the area around the new stage, approximately 20 Hoboken artists, many of whom from the Monroe Center for the Arts located at 720 Monroe St., will exhibit their work, allowing residents to appreciate another appealing aspect the city has to offer.
Another new attraction at this year's feast will be a NASCAR show-car, which will be available for viewing throughout the week.
But the festival would not be complete without what for many is its most defining feature - its legendary zeppoles. The 97-year-old zeppole recipe is one of the most closely guarded secrets of the St. Ann's Guild, which, in addition to carrying the St. Ann Statute in the procession, is also responsible for cooking the Italian treat.
Within the guild, only a few of the women who actually do the cooking, known as the "dough girls," are allowed access to the secret recipe.
Over 50,000 people are expected to attend this year's feast, according to Totaro.
Michael Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.