Tony Kotsopoulos hasn’t always lived in Fayetteville. In the late 1980s, he lived in New York. The Greek Festival there was a lot of fun. The food, the dancing, the camaraderie, the music — it all resonated with him. The way it showcased the beauty and unity of the Greek community and so openly shared the culture and customs of his people just felt right. It reminded him of another tight-knit community, one that didn’t have a Greek Festival but probably should.
“When I came to Fayetteville in 1988, I asked my father-in-law, the late Pete Parrous, why there was no Greek Festival here,” said Kotsopoulos. “He said ‘I don’t know; no one ever brought it up.’ So we brought it up and started talking about it. We got together with the Greek community and the community leaders and decided to jump. There were so many people involved in getting it started. Everyone worked hard to make the festival happen.”
In the fall of 1991, the congregation of Sts. Helen and Constantine whole-heartedly invited the entire greater Fayetteville area to come and break bread with them and enjoy the hospitality of the Greek community. And they have done it every year since then.
This year, the Greek Festival takes place on Sept. 11-13 as part of a fun-filled weekend that includes both the Greek Festival and the Lafayette Birthday Celebration. It’s an opportunity to learn about two significant parts of the Fayetteville community.
The Greek Festival starts at 11 a.m. on Friday Sept 11.
“This is a really special day for us because not only do we open the festival, we also have festival field trips for schools,” said Greek Festival co-chair Vince Higgins. “They come out and we give them a tour of our church, they get a history lesson, a geography lesson and learn about our church and iconography. They get lunch and see dancing and dance some, too.”
On Saturday, Sept. 12, the gates open at 11 a.m., with the opening ceremony at 12:30.
“We will have 82nd Airborne Division Chorus at the opening ceremony and they will perform the ‘National Anthem’,” said Higgins. “We will have Dr. Gail Morfesis sing the Greek national anthem and we will have a few words from Mayor Nat Robertson and then the dance troupe will perform.”
This year’s festivities include all the favorites and a few new things, too.
“We always try to involve the military because the military is a big part of Fayetteville. There are many people who support and appreciate the armed forces but there are some that are not familiar with what they do. They just know they (the service members) are there,” said Higgins. “So in addition the having the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus, there will be military attractions including Artillery and a Humvee static display. This is our first year doing this — hopefully it is something we can grow later.”
Get a taste of the islands at the many food vendors at the festival. Enjoy classic dishes like gyros, spanakopita, souvlaki and more. Save room for Greek pastries. Foodies and aspiring chefs won’t want to miss the cooking classes and wine tastings. Pick up a few items at the Greek grocery, too.
Take a guided tour of the church and learn about the beliefs, customs and iconography of the Greek Orthodox faith.
Enjoy Greek music by the Baltimore band Zephyros. Specializing in Greek and American music, Zephyros has entertained audiences for more than 19 years with their lively music. And what is music without dance? The Sts. Helen and Constantine dance troupes will perform throughout the event as well, showcasing traditional Greek dances.
Take home a memento from one of the many vendors at the festival and enjoy the many activities offered by Fayetteville’s finest.
“We’ve got so much going on. We have kids activities including community outreach by the Fayetteville Police Department, the Cumberland County Sheriff, the State Patrol and Fayetteville Fire Department, which includes static displays, K-9 demos and robot demos for bomb disposal,” said Higgins. “The Cumberland County Library will be there registering kids for library cards. The blood donor vehicle will be there, too.”
Valley Auto World BMW and Volkswagen will be in attendance with several BMW and Volkswagen models. Guests can get a sneak peek at the all-new all electric BMW i3 as well as 2015 North America Car of the Year, the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Enter for a chance to win a trip to Greece. Raffle tickets are $5 each or five for $20. Each ticket offers the chance to win either $2,000 or two round trip airfares to Athens, Greece. Purchase of a raffle ticket also includes a chance to win one of the many hourly drawings.
Though the festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, don’t look for things to slow down anytime soon. “We are not changing things but adding on. Provided we have good weather, we expect anywhere between 15,000 to 25,000 people throughout the weekend,” said Higgins. “I am proud to be a part of this community. This festival isn’t just for us but for everyone and it is great to see how everyone looks forward to it and how they come and enjoy themselves.”
“My favorite thing is working the festival and tasting the food and meeting the people. It’s good seeing the people come and enjoy themselves and have good time. They bring their families and it is a festive time — a great time — for everyone. We all need a festive time once in a while.”
The Greek Festival takes place at the Hellenic Center and Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church at 614 Oakridge Ave. Entrance is free. For more information, visit www.stsch.nc.goarch.org/or by calling 484-2010. The festival runs from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. on Sept. 11-12 and from noon – 6 p.m. on Sept. 13.