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April 28, 2023

Local artists will pay tribute to Jerry Blavat at this year's Italian Market Festival

The annual celebration returns to Ninth Street from May 20-21 with food, sports tournaments and a greased pole climbing contest

Festivals Family-Friendly
Italian Market Festival Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

The Italian Market Festival is returning to Ninth Street in South Philadelphia on Saturday, May 20 and Sunday, May 21 with a musical tribute to Jerry Blavat and tons of Italian food to sample.

Jerry Blavat, the Philadelphia radio DJ and performer best known to his fans as the "Geator with the Heater," will be posthumously honored with a musical tribute during the Italian Market Festival on Ninth Street next month. 

The annual block party at the nation's oldest outdoor market will take place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 20 and Sunday, May 21. South Philadelphia natives and visitors alike can meander through the Italian Market and experience long-held traditions like the Procession of Saints, greased pole climbing contest and the John Marzano Halfball Tournament

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Blavat died from an autoimmune neuromuscular disease on Jan. 20, leaving arts institutions throughout the region devastated as performers and radio personalities remembered his seven-decade career. Columnist Mark Casasanto will host a tribute to Blavat beginning at 12:30 p.m. on May 20, with live performances from Billy Carlucci, ChiChi, Remember Then and DJ Eric Bartello. 

Organizers will raffle off Blavat's merchandise and memorabilia during the event, with proceeds benefitting the Jerry Blavat Endowment Fund sponsored by the Kimmel Center.  

In addition to the greased pole climbing contest and John Marzano Halfball Tournament, visitors can compete in a cornhole tournament on Sunday, May 21 beginning at 2 p.m. at 916 Christian St. Registration is $30 and benefits the John Marzano Wood Bat League. 

The block party is also a popular spot for foodies looking to try all kinds of Italian and Italian-American foods. Guests can wade through the crowds and indulge in fresh pasta, homemade sausages, cannoli, imported cheeses, pizza and roast pork sandwiches, sold by curbside vendors and specialty shops. 

Deer Park is also hosting a Cheesesteak of the Year contest at the festival to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Philly residents can nominate their favorite spot in the weeks leading up to the festival, before the winner is announced at 11 a.m. on May 20. The winner will receive a trophy, $5,000 for the charity of their choice and, of course, bragging rights. 

While sampling some of the food South Philly has to offer, visitors can shop for handmade gifts and artwork at a vendor market along Ninth Street. This year's vendors include Jean Broden Art, Honorable Oak, Al Moretti, Bee Handmade Boutique and Susan Rifkin Jewelry. 

The Italian Market Festival is free to attend and all food and activities are pay-as-you-go. The weekend-long event is happening rain or shine, so visitors should dress for the weather. For more information about the festival, including a map of the festivities, check out the festival website

2023 Italian Market Festival

Saturday, May 20 and Sunday, May 21
11 a.m. until 6 p.m. | Pay-as-you-go
S. Ninth St. from Fitzwater to Wharton streets, Philadelphia, PA 19147