It was the chance to perform that brought award-winning Italian classical crossover singer and composer Michal Castaldo to the Italian Food & Heritage Festival at DelGrosso's Amusement Park last year.
But it was something a little different that made Castaldo even more excited to return this year - the Italian food from DelGrosso's and other local vendors that make up the heart of the festival.
"My wife and I are foodies," said New York-based Castaldo during a phone interview. "We were just astounded by the quality of their tomato sauce. So when they called us back, I said 'Absolutely.'"
Giving performances at both 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., Castaldo will be the featured performer at the 23rd annual festival, which will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Having studied in both classical and jazz vocal stylings, Castaldo describes his music as classical crossover or operatic pop, in the same vain as artists like Josh Groban or Andrea Bocelli.
"Those attending the festival who appreciate those artists will appreciate me," he said.
If you go
What: Italian Food & Heritage Festival
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: DelGrosso's Amusement Park, Tipton
Details: Free parking and admission, and $10 for a carload of up to 10 people for all-day ride passes. Food prices vary.
Castaldo was born in Toronto, Canada, but is fluent in both English and Italian due to his ancestry and the large Italian-speaking population in his hometown.
Castaldo also keeps strong ties to his family in Calabria, Italy. He sells the olive oil they've been producing for three generations, shipping it out annually across the United States and Canada.
"It's just a nice side passion of mine," he said. "Because of that, I decided to name my last CD 'Olive You.'"
"Olive You" is a 12-track disc of both classic and original songs sung by Castaldo, some in English, some in Italian and even one in Spanish.
It will be on sale alongside his family's olive oil at the festival. Castaldo said he believes it's possible to enjoy music in any language because of its universality.
"You don't have to understand the lyrics to appreciate it, it's the emotion that comes through in the lyrics," he said. "It's like saying you would need to be Italian to enjoy Italian food, which is obviously not true."
The Italian Food & Heritage Festival showcases that certainly isn't true in the local area. Amy Mearkle, director of marketing and advertising for DelGrosso's Amusement Park, said the festival is a popular annual activity for people of all walks of life.
"It's a chance for folks to really enjoy great Italian food," she said, adding that the park's spaghetti Wednesdays are also popular throughout the season. "This is even better because it's more options."
Amongst the various tents and sheds that will house food from the DelGrosso kitchens, Angelo Pacifico & Son's Bakery and the Mount Caramel Social Committee, options will include everything from Italian soups, sandwiches and entrees to desserts of rum cake, tiramisu, cannoli or pizzelles.
"And it's the 65th anniversary of the park, so it will be fun to celebrate the heritage of DelGrosso's food, the DelGrosso's Amusement Park and the DelGrosso family," Mearkle said.
Castaldo said he met many members of the DelGrosso family last year, and described them as "kind, gracious hosts." He added he hopes the local community will come out again this year to celebrate Italian music, food and culture.
"Italians and Italian Americans have contributed so much to the world and humanity," he said. "We want to keep our heritage alive, and we all have a story to tell in our own way."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.