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June 23--The road race will chart a new course, there is a new mural by a local artist decorating the main outdoor altar and stage at Gloucester's St. Peter's Square, and there are a couple of new bands and faces on the entertainment schedule.
But make no mistake. When the 87th edition of Gloucester's five-day St. Peter's Fiesta opens this weekend, it will indeed be focused on the traditions and the heritage of Gloucester's fishing industry and fishing families. That should make it much like the other Fiestas that have paid tribute, especially through Gloucester's Sicilian and Italian communities, to the patron saint of the fishermen since 1927.
"The most important parts of it to me are the traditions," says Joe Novello, the member of the St. Peter's Committee that coordinates the five-day festival. "The most important things, to me, are the religious aspects of it, and the fact that it continues to bring families together.
"In a lot of communities, people will move or travel far from home, and they usually come back to come together at Christmastime," Novello said. "In Gloucester, they all come home for Fiesta time.
"It is a religious event, it's a family event, it's a family fun event -- and we aim to keep it that way," he said. "It seems to have worked for 87 years, and we're not going to change it a whole lot now."
This year's Fiesta kicks off Wednesday with the 5 p.m. opening of the carnival presented by Salisbury-based Fiesta Shows -- headed for Gloucester after a weekend run at the Hampton Beach Fair in New Hampshire. It will, as always, include food, games and rides for kids of all ages, nightly music and entertainment on the stage/altar that has been in place since last week. It will again feature sporting events from Thursday's Fiesta 5K road race to the popular seine boat races and the traditional Greasy Pole competition.
But it will culminate next Sunday, with a 10 a.m. outdoor Mass to be said by the Right Rev. and Bishop Arthur Kennedy, the Archdiocese of Boston's "vicar of the new evangelization," and the ensuing procession through the streets of Gloucester with the statue of St. Peter and other religious icons, offering prayers for the city's fishing fleet past and presence. The procession and the Blessing of the Fleet will also feature the Rev. James Achadinha, the new pastor of the Cape Ann Roman Catholic Collaborative that has linked the local parishes of Holy Family and Our Lady of Good Voyage.
By the time it is complete, the festival will both cost and bring in $130,000 to $140,000, said Novello -- with expenses including fees for the entertainment, security and insurance costs, and revenue drawn largely from the committee's contract with the carnival, private donations and "banner" sponsorships from a number of local businesses, including the Times.
There will be a few changes, Novello noted.
One will come in the course of the Fiesta 5K road race, which is co-sponsored and run by the Cape Ann YMCA.
In the past, the race has both started and finished at the Fiesta grounds, based at the foot of Washington Street at Rogers and Commercial. But the race has grown to such an extent that city police and the Fiesta Committee agreed to shift the starting line to Stage Fort Park, with the race still looping into the city's downtown and finishing at St. Peter's Square.
"It should just be a lot less congested and safer," Novello acknowledged, noting that the race has grown from an initial 30 runners to nearly 900 last year -- a crowd that packed the Fiesta grounds and the Square even before the race began.
Another change can be seen at the rear of the altar, where a new mural by local artist and former fishermen Phil Cusumano offers a backdrop of a coastal scene with waves crashing over rocks in front of a lighthouse.
And a few other changes will be heard -- with vocalist Natalie Pinto returning after a few years' absence with a new band Panorama to ring down the Sunday night festivities.
Novello and other Feista organizers, like the city and its Police Department, hope all of those festivities come off without incident -- and certainly without the cloud of a clash between late-night St. Peter's Club patrons and police and sheriff's deputies that became charged when deputies used muzzled K-9 dogs to clear the street in the wee hours of the morning last Fiesta Saturday.
This year, police Chief Leonard Campanello sent notice to a number of businesses around the Fiesta site, seeking cooperation with the city's rules for serving hours and bar/restaurant capacities. And Novello said the Fiesta also sent letters encouraging all nearby businesses to cooperate in the name of safety.
Novello, who reiterated that virtually any alcohol-related "trouble" around the Fiesta grounds is not on the actual site, and usually after the Fiesta grounds have closed, said festival organizers are very aware of the need to maintain a drinking-and drug-free atmosphere. There is no alcohol sold or allowed on Fiesta grounds.
"Like I said, this is all about families, all about fun -- and all about family fun," Novello said. "We always want to keep it that way."
Editor Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email at [email protected].
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