One of the largest Italian-American festivals in New Jersey – the Feast of St. Ann – turns 100 this summer and will include some new additions when it kicks off for six days this week.
Thousands of visitors will alight on western Hoboken for live music, 80 street vendors, religious celebrations, and of course, the famous fried doughy treats known as zeppoles.
Nightly entertainment will include 1960s hitmakers Jay and the Americans, beloved Italian-American opera singer Cristina Fontanelli, the popular cover band The Nerds, and “Philly Soul” legends The Stylistics.
The culmination of the feast is the procession of the 600-pound statue of St. Ann, which this year has been refurbished with a fresh coat of paint that, according to lifelong Hoboken resident and chairwoman of the feast Marie Totaro, has made the statue almost “lifelike.”
“No matter how many times it happens year after year, the people are truly devoted.” – Marie Totaro
The St. Ann statue is the original statue that Italian immigrants who founded the feast brought to America from their native Italy.
“After 100 years, who wouldn’¬t need a makeover?” she said.
‘Cake Boss’ involved
Among the biggest attractions at the festival each year are the famous zeppoles, the Italian doughy pastry that even President Ronald Reagan had heard about when he visited the festival in 1984.
“It’s a top secret recipe,” Totaro said. “We have lines around the block. You can’t keep up. Listen, we started the lines and then Carlo’s came in.”
In fact, Carlo’s Bakery will bake a 100th anniversary cake for St. Ann’s Society for the festival.
According to organizers, there will be plenty of attractions for feasters, like a bar, 12 game booths, eight rides, and a stage for live entertainment. But for Totaro, the coming together of friends and family is at the heart of this century-old tradition.
“People can go into the church yard and get a couple of tables and food and catch up with one another,” she said. “It’s a reunion for people who have come and gone. And for the newcomers to town, it’s a way for people to get to know each other.”
A century old
St. Ann’s Feast was a lot different in the early 1900s than it is today. Brought to the U.S. by Italian immigrants from Monte San Giacomo, the St. Ann’s Society started in a small basement on Fourth Street in Hoboken. After the successful construction of St. Ann’s Church on Seventh and Jefferson Street in 1906, the Society began a feast to honor their patroness, St. Ann, grandmother of Jesus and mother of the Blessed Mary.
The first St. Ann’s Feast was a one-day affair held on July 26, 1910, which offered various Italian foods and opera music. The culmination of the festival was the procession of the statue of St. Ann, as well as a large framed picture of San Giacomo or St. James the Apostle, the patron saint of the hometown in the mountains of Italy.
The feast remained a small event with only a few vendors and tents until 1990, when Chairwoman Marie Totaro and others helped build the festival into the six-day feast it is today.
“That’s when it all started,” she said. “We had maybe four arches. Now we have 22 arches.”
For Totaro, a born and raised Hoboken resident and lifelong member of St. Ann’s Church, keeping St. Ann’s memory alive is one of the main goals of the festival.
“When I first started, there weren’t too many people that knew who St. Ann was,” she said. “That had to change.”
You may not have heard of Jay and the Americans, but you know their song “This Magic Moment,” which catapulted the group to stardom in 1969. They will perform this coming Thursday at 8:15 p.m. on the main stage right across the street from St. Ann’s Church on Jefferson Street.
The Nerds will return to St. Ann’s Feast on Friday night. The Jersey-born cover band has performed their brand of cover songs and stage antics at the festival for over 15 years.
To kick off the performances on Wednesday, July 21, Brooklyn-born singer of Puerto Rican decent Ray Sepulveda will perform with his orchestra at the festival’s Latin Night. Sepulveda has performed at prominent venues like Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Totaro said that this year’s music lineup is one of the best she can remember, and said it’s a treat to be able to bring entertainment to her community.
“Not everybody can afford to go to the theater,” she said.
For more information on the feast, go to www.st-annchurch.com.
Sean Allocca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Entertainment every night:
The following musical acts will perform at the St. Ann’s Festival this week:
July 21 – Ray Sepulveda and Orchestra
July 22 – Jay and the Americans
July 23 – The Nerds
July 24 – Ryan Pelton: Tribute to The King
July 25 – The Stylistics
July 26 – Cristina Fontanelli and the Jordan Thomas Orchestra