September 2011

Hilton Head Island: Italian Heritage Festival

Author: David Gignilliat

The posters for the upcoming Hilton Head Island Italian Heritage Festival are hard to miss. Striking, to say the least. Advertisements for the event feature a whimsically tilted replica Harbour Town Lighthouse, suggestive of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the famous bell tower in Italy’s Tuscany province. The detail is thorough, right down to the six precariously stacked Romanesque loggia, alternating between the red and white of the lighthouse and, of course, the Italian flag. A lone gondolier strokes nearby in the Calibogue Sound.

The signs are a clever homage to the Old World created with a bit of New World (read: Photoshop) ingenuity and sleight-of hand. And it’s that same mix of old and new that perfectly captures the spirit of the upcoming cultural festival, to be held September 24 from 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. at Shelter Cove Community Park.

“We think it’s going to be perhaps the most successful event on all of Hilton Head,” said Chris Tassone, president of the Italian American Club of Hilton Head Island, the event’s sponsor. “Weather permitting, we think we’re going to have one of the best festivals this island has seen in a long time. There’s no question about it.”

The festival will offer a full slate of activities for visitors. Booths and spaces will be dedicated to Italian foods (cheeses, breads, pasta, calzones and refreshing sweets (Italian ice, gelato, biscotti), many sponsored by 18 local Mediterranean-inspired restaurants. There will be space dedicated to grape stomping, reminiscent of the iconic I Love Lucy episode. There will be a pasta-eating contest, a spaghetti sauce (or “gravy,” as it is euphemistically known in the Italian culture) contest for island bragging rights.

For the sports-inclined, there will be bocce (one of Italy’s national pastimes) and stickball available, where participants can learn and play the sports.

“Stickball is something that I played as a kid, and it’s something that many of the children down here have not been exposed to,” said John Pagluica, the club’s secretary. “It’s a great way for kids to learn a part of the Italian culture.”

The Italian-American Club is non-profit, with a devout community service base. Just last year, the group distributed over $33,000 to local charities, service organizations including Programs for Exceptional People (PEP), Hospice Care of the Lowcountry and Memory Matters. The club also offers scholarships to deserving students in the greater Hilton Head/Bluffton area.

“Our main focus is to promote the Italian heritage, and yet, at the same time, give back to the local community,” added Tassone, a financial advisor with AXA Advisors.

While at the festival, attendees can also learn more about the club itself, which now boasts 120 members and meets multiple times a month throughout Hilton Head.

“This club is open to anybody with an Italian heart, which is the way I like to say it—if you enjoy being and doing things with Italian people,” said Pagluica, who moved to Hilton Head from New Jersey seven years ago. “If you enjoy Italian food, you enjoy Italian music and enjoy Italian heritage, this is the club for you.”

The Hilton Head Italian Heritage Festival will be held Saturday, September 24, 2011 from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Shelter Cove Community Park. For more information about the event, please visit the Facebook ‘event’ page at To learn more about the Italian-American Club of Hilton Head Island, including membership and upcoming club events, please visit

For those who miss the festival or just want to double up on their immersion in Italian culture, the Italian American Club is also sponsoring the “Zin Experience” on October 26, 2011, at The Shorehouse, the Hilton Oceanfront Resort’s dazzling oceanside venue in elegant Palmetto Dunes. The event is a tribute to the enduring popularity of red and white zinfandels. In addition to wine and hors d’oeuvres, local purveyors and distributors will be on hand to educate participants on the virtues of the versatile zinfandel grapes.

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