Dean Martin celebration returns to original format

The Dean Martin Hometown Celebration is reverting back to its former format, with family-themed activities at Fort Steuben Park and after-hours fun at Spot Bar.

Spot Bar owner JoJo DiAlbert said he couldn’t be happier.

“I’m very comfortable with it,” he said. “I think it’s something we probably should have done before. Talking to (Steubenville Mayor) Jerry Barilla (who’s also the fort president) over the years, I told him I thought the fort would be a lot nicer venue than having it on the street. The fort has a better setup — it has seating, the stage, as much room for vendors as they would want.”

And DiAlbert admits that after last year, when the entire festival from start to finish played out in front of Spot Bar in the 200 block of South Fourth Street, he’s ready for a break.

“I didn’t want to go through it again,” he admits. “I’m just burned out after 23 years, it’s time to downsize. We’re still going to do our own thing here, but not as much as in the past.”

Fortunately, Historic Fort Steuben Executive Director Paul Zuros said they were ready to pick up the slack, organizing food and craft vendors and musical acts that have become the hallmark of the three-day celebration, along with trolley rides, museum tours and karaoke.

“We’re going to have a lot of food vendors, some crafters and a lot of entertainment down here at the fort this year,” Zuros said. “It all kicks off at our Thursday night concert with Bob Morelli doing his Dean Martin Tribute at 7 p.m., with the Vince Villanova Band following at 8 p.m. on the stage at Berkman Amphitheater.”

Both are crowd pleasers, he said.

“They’ve been staples at the festival for many years,” Zuros said. “Bob takes on the persona of Martin and entertains the crowd, much like Dino did on his shows, and he sings all the classics, too. Vincie Villanova plays all those big band tunes that were popular in Dean’s day. It’s rare to see a big band today that plays all those great classics, but the band still is a popular addition to the festival.”

And right after the concerts at Berkman wrap up, the fun will be just beginning at Spot Bar with the annual karaoke contest.

“The winner gets $100,” DiAlbert said, “but it’s not about the money, it’s about bragging rights, being able to say ‘I’m the best ‘Dean Martin impersonator’ that was there. People come from pretty much everywhere to enter. It’s an exciting night, everyone has a great time.”

That’s not to say people don’t take it very, very seriously.

“We’ve had some people in the past who didn’t win who took offense,” he admits. “The people who perform are serious about it.”

The karaoke contest will get under way at 9 p.m. at Spot Bar.

“We wanted to build up the festival,” Zuros said. “Last year we had it on South Fourth Street, which was great, but after discussions with JoJo at Spot Bar, we all decided to bring it back down here, to Fort Steuben Park. We have the facilities — the amphitheater, seating, restrooms, room for the vendors. It just seemed easier. We want to make it as family friendly and accessible as possible, so we have a packed schedule starting Thursday through 9 p.m. Saturday, so we have a lot going on.”

The goal, he said, is to “try to build it up some more.”

“It was such a popular festival years ago,” he said. “We still get a lot of visitors from out of town who want to come and celebrate Dean Martin. We want to make it worthwhile for people, especially people coming here from out of town.”

Zuros said there will be photo opportunities, too.

“We’ve got our display inside the Visitor Center with the Dean Martin cutout,” he said. “This year, I think, will be the first that visitors to the fort for the Dean Martin festival will be able to see the historic sign we have out in front of the building, so there will be opportunities for people to get their photo with Dino. We’ll also be playing a DVD inside the Visitor Center of Dean Martin every time he mentions Steubenville — a medley, a compilation of every time he mentioned Steubenville.”

And, of course, there will be a lot of his music playing.

“There’s a fellow coming in who’s going to do a tribute to Neil Diamond, too,” he added. “It’s not just Dino, it’s music of that time period.”

DiAlbert is hosting two musical guests he says never fail to deliver: Dave Salara, a Frank Sinatra tribute artist, and Tom Stevens, who does a mean tribute to Dean Martin as well as his friends. Salara will take the stage at Spot Bar at 1 p.m. Saturday, and Stevens at 9 p.m. Friday (for a Dean Martin tribute) and again at 9 p.m. Saturday (for his tribute to Dean Martin and Friends). There’s a $15 cover for both of Stevens’ shows.

After Salara’s show Saturday, DiAlbert said they’ll host the annual auction to raise money for the Big Red Musical Scholarship.

Later, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Spot Bar also will host an auction of Dean Martin memorabilia to raise money for the Dean Martin Statue Fund.

“We’re actively raising money for it,” he said. “We’re trying to raise at least $80,000 for the statue, so we’re just getting started. We wanted to have everything ready to go for the festival so when people came they could understand what we’re trying to do. The statue will ultimately go in Fort Steuben Park, by the historical marker.”

Sponsors for the 2022 Dean Martin Festival are Trinity Health System; Barium & Chemicals Inc., the trolley sponsor; Cardinal Operating Co.; Mayor and Mrs. Jerry Barilla; Naples Spaghetti House; Steubenville/Fort Steuben Visitor Center; Ace Optical; Hauser Furniture; Softite Community Federal Credit Union; Downtown Bakery; and First Choice America Community Federal Credit Union.

“It was a huge festival in years past, so many people came out for it,” Zuros said. “Especially in 2017, what would have been Dean’s 100th birthday. It was a huge, huge event. It’s still very popular, we get calls all year long, people want to come and (be part of) the festivities. We’re going to keep it up as long as we can. The festival has changed over the years, but we still think what we offer is a big draw for the community and from outside the community as well.”

Festival goers can enjoy open house at the Jefferson County Historical Museum, including a visit to its Dean Martin room, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Saturday only, you can catch the trolley to the Historical Museum between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., with pickup at 120 S. Third Street.

Historic Fort Steuben is offering a $1 discount for tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. all three festival days.

There will be food, craft vendors and live entertainment at the fort Friday from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and again Saturday from 2 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The festival’s entertainment lineup includes:

* Thursday

7 p.m., Bob Morelli “Tribute to Dino” (Berkman Amphitheater)

8 p.m., Vince Villanova Big Band (Berkman)


4 p.m. Roz & Lynn (Berkman)

5 p.m. Two Friends Trio (Berkman)

6 p.m. Bob Morelli: Tribute to Dino (Berkman)

7 p.m. Chis Denem: Tribute to Neil Diamond (Berkman)

8 p.m., Jim Frank Combo (Berkman)

9 p.m., Tom Stevens: Tribute to Dino (Spot Bar, $15 cover)

* Saturday

1 p.m., Dave Salera, Tribute to Frank Sinatra (Spot Bar)

2 p.m., Roz & Lyn (Berkman)

3 p.m. Bob Morelli: Tribute to Dino (Berkman)

4 p.m., Two Friends Trio (Berkman)

5 p.m., Chris Denem: Tribute to Neil Diamond (Berkman)

6 p.m., Mirella the Musician (Berkman)

7:45 p.m., Flashback (Berkman)

9 p.m., Tom Stevens & Friends (Spot Bar, $15 cover

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