The Times West Virginian

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May 15, 2014

From pepperoni to parades, Three Rivers Festival has something for all

FAIRMONT — North Central West Virginians and their regional neighbors have long appreciated a delectable and convenient snack that pairs soft, baked-to-perfection bread with one of America’s favorite and most common pizza toppings.

And all those who have enjoyed the taste of that snack, the one and only pepperoni roll, have Country Club Bakery’s founder Giuseppe “Joseph” Argiro to thank for its invention. Argiro is credited by many for creating the popular food at his bakery in Fairmont in the 1920s.

So it seems only natural that the pepperoni roll would be the focus of Fairmont’s own West Virginia Three Rivers Festival, which is hosted every May during Memorial Day weekend.

Not only does the festival feature a Pepperoni Roll Bake-Off, of which the public chooses the winner, but it also brings together amateur and professional eaters and tasks them with the challenge of eating dozens upon dozens of rolls in a matter of minutes.

Last year’s winner of the Pepperoni Roll Eating World Championship, renowned competitive eater Joey Chestnut, amazed fans by eating 28 pepperoni rolls over the course of 10 minutes. Chestnut is expected to attend the competition and defend his title this year.

West Virginia Three Rivers Festival vice chairman Bob Sapp said the Pepperoni Roll Eating World Championship, which is sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating and is set to take place in the afternoon on Saturday, May 24, is one of the highlights of the weekend’s festivities.

“Since Fairmont is the home of the pepperoni roll, the pepperoni roll eating contest is a big draw,” Sapp said. “It’s amazing to watch.”

The competition has become so popular that Guy Ward, who serves on the festival’s Board of Directors, said the only other eating contest that draws more contestants is the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, which airs on ESPN.

Not only does the pepperoni roll eating contest provide entertainment to spectators, but it’s also a way to reflect on Fairmont’s history.

The pepperoni roll, which was widely known as a popular lunch option for coal miners, is a symbol of the role that the coal industry has played within the Friendly City. When the festival was first established, it was called Septemberfest and local coal companies were the ones offering to be responsible for many of its financial obligations. For a period of time, the name of the festival was even changed to the Three Rivers Coal Festival — a true reflection of the coal companies’ involvement.

The festival has now been known for many years as the West Virginia Three Rivers Festival, however, and is held at Palatine Park near the point where the Tygart and West Fork rivers converge to form the Monongahela.

And although the festival, which is celebrating its 35th year, has evolved over time, its mission has remained the same.

“It’s just a good weekend to bring your family out for some great entertainment,” Sapp said.

In addition to the Pepperoni Roll Eating World Contest, festivalgoers have a variety of other activities available to them to enjoy. From watching Miss Three Rivers Queen Andrea Mucino and Miss Three Rivers Teen Cassy Trickett ride through the streets on floats to listening to live performances at Palatine Park’s amphitheater, those in attendance have plenty of activities to choose from.

Sapp said the fun begins Thursday, May 22, with the Grand Feature Parade. Then on Friday, May 23, local bands will take the stage at Palatine Park. In previous years, bands such as 3AM, Taylor Made and the Davisson Brothers have graced the stage at the Three Rivers Festival. This year, Rick K. & The Allnighters are scheduled as the final performance.

“They’re a cover band and they do a lot of the ’50s and ’60s early rock ’n’ roll,” Sapp said. “They’re pretty phenomenal, and they put on an amazing show.”

After a long night of dancing and singing along with the bands, community members can reconvene Saturday for Kids’ Day in the Park, which features a magic show — Extreme Illusions & Escapes starring Josh Knotts and Lea.

“We’re bringing in a lot of activities for the kids,” Sapp said. “There will also be some educational opportunities for them.”

Also taking place Saturday and new to the festival this year is the North American Strongman contest, which Sapp said will be sure to please audiences.

“We’re bringing in the guys that pull the trucks and carry the big tires,” he said.

And if that’s not enough, the festival also features the Jerry Ragen Car Show, carnival rides, food vendors and a fireworks display.

The West Virginia Three Rivers Festival is sponsored by the City of Fairmont, the Marion County Commission, the West Virginia Division of Culture & History, Valley Distributing Co., Pierpont Community & Technical College, the City of Pleasant Valley, the Town of White Hall, The Pepsi Bottling Group, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Nuzum Trucking Co. and Consol Energy.

“The community has always been extremely supportive,” Sapp said. “Without the financial support from the businesses, government agencies and so forth, we couldn’t do it.”

Ward encouraged community members and visitors to join together in celebrating the theme of the 2014 West Virginia Three Rivers Festival: “35 Years of Bridging the Past with the Future.”

“There’s something for everybody,” he said.

The West Virginia Three Rivers Festival will take place May 22-24 in Fairmont. For more information, visit www.wvthreeriversfestival.org.

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