Banana Split Celebration takes over Latrobe streets
Mix a hot summer day with food, entertainment and fun, then top it off with a banana split.
That's the can't-miss, good-time recipe for the annual Great American Banana Split Celebration, set for Aug. 25 to 27 in downtown Latrobe.
Expect more “cool stuff” than ever to be going on, says Allen Martello, event director and interim president of the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Along with the aforementioned, there will be an expanded children's activity area in Rogers Memorial Park with a large coloring wall, banana boat races, photo cutouts of Daniel Tiger and Friends and princess mini-makeovers.
A historical element also has been added, with displays and activities along Strickler Way between Ligonier Street and Jefferson Avenue.
To work off the banana splits — or to make room for more — two 5K activities for runners and walkers are planned in Latrobe Memorial Stadium.
Music and more
“One of the great things we've done is doubled the entertainment,” Martello says. “We'll have two big stages, and it's all free. It starts when we open on Friday and runs the whole way until we close at 5 p.m. Sunday.”
Musical headliner will be the Commonheart, a Pittsburgh-based rock-and-soul outfit that will take the Sendell Motors Stage at 7 p.m. Aug. 26.
“They're an up-and-coming band in the area, and we're really excited to have them as our cornerstone act,” Martello says.
Says the band's drummer Shawn McGregor: “Banana split lovers? Who isn't!”
“Latrobe is in for a treat in more ways than one,” says Gene James, organizer of Greensburg's SummerSounds concert series, where the group played June 30.
“Clinton Clegg, the front man for the Commonheart, has a gift for gritty, wailing blues,” James says. “The Commonheart was one our most popular bands in years.”
The five-piece Derek Woods Band will warm the crowd up, beginning at 5 p.m.
The local rock-and-roll/jam band is a staple at area festivals and venues like Mr. Toad's and Black Rok Ale House in Greensburg and Mr. Smalls Theatre and Club Cafe in Pittsburgh.
Woods says his group will deliver an “upbeat and danceable set list” of originals and reworked-but-still-recognizable covers.
Other entertainment over the three-day festival will include more rock, country and bluegrass music, along with a hip hop crew, a martial arts demonstration and the Diamond Dolls twirlers.
Festival. Pie-eating contest. Nothing new there.
Except that there probably aren't many such contests where the prize is a championship belt worthy of a WWE superstar.
Be the first to down your banana cream pie at the Eat 'n Park Great American Pie Eating Contest at 11 a.m. Aug. 26, and you'll have your name inscribed on a belt made by Andrew Lazarchik of Latrobe, owner of Wildcat Championship Belts. Lazarchik actually does make the hefty leather-and-metal sashes for World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest and other high-profile events.
Unfortunately, the belt doesn't go home with the winner. Between contests, it's displayed in the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Chamber of Commerce office.
It's only fitting that Lazarchik would be the one to supply the prize. His father Tom Lazarchik owned Strickler's Pharmacy, the successor to Tassel's Pharmacy where the banana split was created, from 1965 to 2000.
Pie-eaters must be 18 or older.
Yellow Tie Gala
Latrobe Art Center goes bananas with one of its signature fundraisers, held yearly in conjunction with the festival.
A block of Ligonier Street in front of the center is closed for the gala, where yellow-clad guests enjoy outdoor dining and dancing to Neon Swing X-perience.
Inside, the counter from Tassel Pharmacy, where the banana split was created, is pulled out of storage to serve its original purpose. Latrobe Dairy Queen employees and Latrobe Art Center board member “Malt Shop Marty” Singer dish up ice cream treats.
Martello encourages people to attend the gala if for nothing else than to belly up to that piece of local history: “I feel like we don't make a big enough deal about still having it,” he says.
Center director Gabrielle Nastuck says the gala fee of $50 for members and $60 for others might seem a little steep, but not when you consider what's at stake.
“It's one of our main fundraisers,” she says. “It helps us keep the lights on and keep doing what we're doing, to be at the center of what happens in the community.”
Details: 724-537-7011 or latrobeartcenter.org
How it all started
Apprentice pharmacist David Strickler liked to get creative at the soda fountain of Tassel Pharmacy in Latrobe. One day in 1904, the 23-year-old came up with the banana-based, triple-scoop ice cream sundae that became his claim to fame and his lasting legacy. The 10-cent sundae, which cost twice as much as other sundaes, caught on with students at nearby St. Vincent College.
Word of the new dessert quickly spread far beyond Latrobe. Over the years, it evolved into its current configuration of a banana split lengthwise and topped with ice cream, nuts, whipped cream, sprinkles, maraschino cherries and syrups.
Other people and places have tried to claim the banana split, including Wilmington, Ohio, which has its own banana split festival in June — but in 2004, the National Ice Cream Retailers Association gave Latrobe's mayor a certificate honoring the city as the banana split's birthplace and Strickler as its creator.