A classic ice cream dessert that’s been making people smile since 1904 is once again deserving of an annual summertime salute.
Latrobe serves up its 115th Great American Banana Split Celebration Aug. 23-25.
The party takes place in downtown Latrobe, where the banana split was first invented by David Strickler, an apprentice pharmacist at a local drug store.
This is the sixth year of the official celebration and new events have been added, says Isaac McDaniel of Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, event director.
“The first year, 2013, was more of a local event where we unveiled a Pennsylvania Historical Marker at the site of the former Tassell’s (later renamed Strickler’s) Pharmacy. Then it hit us, ‘Everyone should know the banana split came from Latrobe!’ And so we grew.”
Additional stage, expanded activities
This year’s celebration features an additional third space for musical entertainment with the Technimark Stage at the intersection of Main and Alexandria streets.
There also will be an expanded program area that includes activities for children and adults. The first Banana Split Princess pageant was held in June. The princess is expected to be present at the Banana Split Celebration Aug 23-25.
Each day will have a theme for the children’s area in Rogers Park. Aug. 23 is “Gooo Bananas,” Aug. 24 is “Daniel Tiger – Kindness Matters” and Aug. 25 is “Superhero Day.”
“One challenge I gave to the activities chair (Tawnya Rockwell) was to create a space for adults. From that came a variety of games that will be played in the streets: cornhole, oversized Jenga, oversized pong and chess,” McDaniel says.
Cornhole and pong will have daily tournaments as well as a local version of the TV show “Minute to Win It,” with adult and junior divisions and players vying for banana-themed awards. Daily sports themes will involve crafts and trivia contests: Friday is Pirates baseball, Saturday is Arnold Palmer and Sunday is Steelers football.
Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers
Headlining the variety of entertainment with a free concert in downtown Latrobe will be Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, performing from 7-9:30 p.m. Aug. 24 on the Sendell Motors Stage.
The performance will be a homecoming of sorts for Grushecky, according to a press release.
“I grew up in Irwin but have been living in Pittsburgh since the ’70s,” he says. “We’ve played in Latrobe and that area a number of times over the years.”
Also new this year, adults attending the show may enjoy adult beverages while listening to the show. Latrobe City Council approved the addition, which will permit four local breweries, two distilleries and three wineries to serve drinks in a closely monitored over-21 area.
Local talent to shine
“Each stage has a lot of local talent booked to perform throughout the weekend,” McDaniel says. “In past years we’ve invited groups to perform in the mornings at the stages. We’ve had so many groups wanting to do a demonstration that a whole area will be dedicated to it.”
The Expo Area located next to the Latrobe Art Center will be a Saturday-only feature with martial arts, dance, musical demonstrations and goat yoga mini-sessions.
An annual tradition is the 5K Banana Run on Saturday morning, Aug. 24. Check-in starts at 7:30 a.m. with a 9 a.m. start from Latrobe Memorial Stadium. Participants can register the day of the event for $25.
Tom Webb, director of operations for Valley Dairy Restaurants, sponsor of the celebration along with the chamber, anticipates that they will dish up some 3,500 banana splits, 500 more than last year, in three Latrobe locations — two restaurants and a satellite location downtown — during the three-day celebration.
Neon Swing X-perience headlines the Yellow Tie Gala Friday at 6 p.m. NSX takes the stage at 7. Swing dance lessons are also available prior to the show. Make sure to wear your most yellow formal attire. Tickets must be purchased in advance and proceeds benefit the Latrobe Art Center.
The proper banana split
“We’re proud that we serve the original version of the banana split: banana peeled and sliced lengthwise with the halves pressed against the sides of three scoops of ice cream – vanilla, chocolate and strawberry – lined up in a banana boat dish,” he says.
The vanilla is topped with pineapple sauce, the chocolate with chocolate sauce and the strawberry with strawberry sauce. Each scoop is then topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with chopped peanuts. The scoops on each end are topped with maraschino cherries and the scoop in the middle is garnished with a paper American flag.
Briana Tomack, Chamber president, says the Great American Banana Split event is part of Latrobe’s rich history.
“Celebrating the invention of the banana split is more than just a reason to have a festival,” she says. “Over the last several years, the celebration has grown into an event that brings many visitors from outside the area to enjoy our beautiful city, and provides a fun-filled weekend for our local residents to enjoy together.”
Parking will be free in downtown Latrobe throughout the weekend.