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Dean Martin Festival prospects are shrinking

STEUBENVILLE — With every day that passes, JoJo DiAlbert admits it feels less and less like the Dean Martin Festival will happen this year though he’s not ready to throw in the towel.

“I feel like it’s not going to happen, but I hope I’m wrong,” DiAlbert, the festival organizer, said. “If something isn’t done in the next couple weeks, I don’t think it will take place. Usually, we start working on it at the end of February, trying to get bands together, and then in March we start trying to get (information) out to the public – if we’re going to do it in June, we’ve got to have a couple months to get it out there. I think we’re running out of time.”

The three-day festival is typically held in mid-June, but organizers had to pull the plug in 2020 because the coronavirus pandemic, still in early days, had prompted Gov. Mike DeWine to issue stay-at-home orders and curfews, close schools and bars and ban indoor dining at restaurants.

While the restrictions aren’t as severe this year, DiAlbert said the festival will still have to comply with the governor’s guidelines limiting the size of public gatherings.

“Until he lifts the (restrictions) and says get back to business as usual, we’ve got a problem, I don’t think we can go ahead and say we’re going to do it,” he said.

“And even if he does, who’s going to come? We get a lot of older people, are they going to jeopardize themselves if (the pandemic) is still going on? Even if he says go ahead and do it, are they going to show up? I don’t know. With the young kids it’s no problem, they’ll go, they’re not afraid of anything. I’m 71 and I’m being careful. Business sucks right now because everybody is being careful.”

Last year was particularly disheartening because the Steubenville Visitors Center and the Dean Martin Festival Committee had decided to join forces and throw one big, three-day birthday bash on South Fourth Street between Adams Street and Steve’s Fish and Chips.

“We were working together,” DiAlbert said. “Last year Jerry (Steubenville Mayor Jerry Barilla) said let’s … open it up to vendors and outdoor entertainment. We just put our heads together to make it work. I was looking forward to it, to doing it outside.”

DiAlbert pointed out there’s a lot of preparations that go into a successful festival.

“You’re not going to have fun putting it together, even being part of it,” he said. “Seeing everybody have a good time, that’s what makes it worthwhile — everyone having a great time. But getting it to that level is a real pain…”

DiAlbert said having to cancel two years in a row would be disheartening to the entire committee and demoralizing to those in the community anxious to see life get back to normal.

“We had people come in from all over the world,” he said. “But those people that came in from out of town … I don’t think they’ll travel (now). It would be pretty stupid to travel, that would be asking for trouble, unless everybody has had the (vaccine) and it looks under control.”

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