HerrinFesta crowds almost back to normal | Local News
JOHN D. HOMAN The South
HERRIN — The event organizers call it Chamber of Commerce weather. Sunny skies and temperatures ranging from the low 70s to the mid 80s. This year’s edition of HerrinFesta Italiana had its share of that kind of weather last week and it led to some pretty big turnouts.
For the first time in three years, the festival was running at or near full speed. There were no COVID-19 restrictions hanging over anyone’s head. Masks were rare.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been larger crowds at Festa celebrations in recent years, but not noticeably larger.
“I think things have gone really well this year,” Festa president Cris Trapani said. “I still worry about the same things every year – the safety of our attendees and whether people are having fun or not. And from what I can tell, there hasn’t been any negative feedback so far. There were only a few minor injuries reported over the week and these have been treated very well, I couldn’t be much happier with how things turned out.
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Trapani said the live entertainment in the big tent, which was free to the public, drew rave reviews Friday through Sunday nights.
“I think Friday night was maybe our biggest involvement with The Jungle Dogs and Hairbangers that night,” he said. “When you add it all up – the carnival attendance, the shows, the parade, the pétanque tournaments, the car show and the competitions – we had between 25,000 and 30,000 attendees.”
Trapani added that it was “a good decision” to go to free shows.
“And we’ve increased the size of our carnival by about 25%,” he said. “A lot of people have told me that they were looking forward to coming to HerrinFesta and that they didn’t go home disappointed. I think most of the changes we made were very well accepted.”
A new wrinkle with the parade was the inclusion of a handful of autistic children.
Event planner Joe Helleny said the parade was meant to appeal to children.
“At least, that’s always how I thought about it,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘What would keep the kids away from the parade?’ And it occurred to me that children with autism would have a problem with sirens and other loud noises. Children with autism have sensory issues.
“So what we did was invite these kids to the parade assembly point outside the South Side school and have volunteers walk them around to see the many parts of the parade without all the noise. “, did he declare.
“We only had five attendances this year, but that’s five that otherwise wouldn’t have had any attendance. Hopefully we can increase that number by next year. We want the parade and any the HerrinFesta Italiana are as inclusive as possible to all children and we will work hard to be so.
Trapani said he was “very proud” that Helleny came up with the idea of partnering with autistic children.
Trapani said Festa committees will meet in a few weeks to further assess this year’s extravaganza.
“We are always looking to improve,” he said. “One of our greatest abilities over the past 32 years has been to adapt to the times. I like to think we have quite a few progressive thinkers.”
Trapani also highlighted this year’s motor show, which was held in the city park.
“It was one of the biggest shows we’ve ever had. Auffenberg Motors sponsored it and there was a nice memorial to Chris Gaugh, who worked there for years. He and Auffenberg were big supporters of HerrinFesta for years. It was nice to see a memorial to Chris.”