JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Slavic entertainment, food, crafts and presentations will be featured at this ethnic celebration.
The seventh annual Johnstown Slavic Festival will be held from 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and from noon to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 17 in the parking lot and the courtyard of the Heritage Discovery Center, 201 Sixth Ave., in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.
“The festival is held here at the Heritage Discovery Center because its themes, including immigration to the area and steel and coal history, are directly related to the history of Slavs in this region,” said Richard Burkert, president and CEO of Johnstown Area Heritage Association.
Brian Subich, event committee chairman, said the festival was the idea of the late Dan Kisha, who wanted to have an event that was simply and strictly Slavic.
“What makes the Slavic festival special is we entertain with Slavic performers and provide Slavic food and drink, but we also educate with our speaker series and cooking demonstrations,” he said.
“The cooking demonstrations and educational speakers help to showcase our Slavic roots and serve to educate the next generation to carry on the traditions.”
Subich said the festival continues to grow each year.
“The first year, there were probably 300 to 400 people, but as the years have gone by, it has grown significantly and now we get thousands of people each day,” he said.
“Once people get to the festival, they realize this is authentic and really traditional. I think they like that.”
Performances will take place on the main stage in the Heritage Discovery Center parking lot and in the courtyard.
“There’s a number of Slavic nations, so there’s not just one type of music,” Subich said.
“We try to get a cross-section and get bands that everybody can enjoy and connect with.”
Main stage entertainment for Friday will include John Stevens Polka Band from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., followed by folk dance lessons from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and Sviraj from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
From 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Bronco Toter will perform on the courtyard stage, followed by Jessica Schulte from 8 to 9:30 pm.
On Sept. 17, the main stage entertainment will feature St. George Adult Tamburitza Ensemble from 1 to 1:30 p.m.; Pajtasi from 2 to 3:30 p.m.; St. George Adult Tamburitza Ensemble from 4 to 4:30 p.m.; Gerdan from 5 to 6:30 p.m.; folk dance lessons from 7 to 7:30 p.m.; and Radost from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
Courtyard performances include Jessica Schulte from noon to 1:30 p.m., followed by Jim Vizzini from 2 to 3:30 p.m., Bronco Toter from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and Jerry Intihar from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
“Every year, we like to bring in new musicians and search for musicians and bands that people have not heard or seen,” Subich said.
He said that Ukrainian band Gerdan is fronted by 2020 Grammy Award winner Andrei Pidkivka, who produced the soundtrack of HBO’s miniseries “Chernobyl.”
“All of the members of the band emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine, and they’re based out of Washington, D.C.,” Subich said.
“When we say that we bring in authentic Slavic music, I don’t know what more validation I could present to people than that.”
Authentic Slavic food will be offered from Ace’s, Babcia’s Lunchbox, Darlington Inn, Fredo’s Deli, Gosia’s Pierogies, Klosky’s Cuisine, Life’s A Treat, Old World Catering, Phoenix Tavern, St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church, Steel City Chimney Cakes, Tulunes and the William Penn Association.
“This year, we have more food vendors than we’ve ever had and a few new ones,” Subich said.
“There will be some food that people have never heard of before.”
Beers representing eight Slavic countries will be available.
They include Karlovacko (Croatia), Pilsner Urquell (Czech Republic), Primator (Czech Republic), Zywiec (Poland), Ozujsko (Croatia), Lomza (Poland), Czechvar (Czech Republic) and Baltika (Russia).
Stone Bridge Brewing Company will offer its Slavic Suds Pivo, which is made exclusively for the festival.
Slavic crafts will be available for sale, and a variety of organizations will be on hand to share information, including the William Penn Association, Johnstown Area Genealogical & Historical Society, First Catholic Slovak Union and Slovenian National Benefit Society.
“There’s everything from matryoshka dolls to pysanky eggs to handmade Czech glass and beads,” Subich said.
Cooking demonstrations will be held Sept. 17 in Galliker’s Café.
At 1:30 p.m., Cheryl Chovanec will make a pigs-in-the-blanket casserole.
Brian Shustrick will make pelmeni Ukrainian dumplings at 2:30 p.m.
At 3:30 p.m., Georgette Brnilovich will make Serbian burek, a pastry made of phyllo dough and filled with meat or cheese.
On Sept. 17, speakers will present related topics in the discovery center’s education center.
From 1 to 2 p.m., Rick Vukmanic will present “Croatians – Who We Are and Where We Come From.”
Members of Gerdan will share the traditional music of Ukraine from 2:15 to 3:15 p.m.
From 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., Donna Vranesivich will present “Srbski Warodnd Seirbian Folk Costumes.”
There is no admission fee to attend the festival.
“We want to entertain and educate at this festival,” Subich said.
“Hopefully, people will go home with something they’ve learned, whether it’s how to pronounce a food they ordered or a beer they drank, how to make a traditional food or just have a better understanding of their Slavic heritage.”
The Heritage Discovery Center and Johnstown Children’s Museum will offer free admission during the festival.
Paid parking, which benefits the event, will be available in the Best Window & Door lot on Sixth Avenue, near Broad Street.
According to JAHA, the Slavic people immigrated from nations such as Belarus, Bosnia and Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Macedonia and Ukraine.
The Slavs also include the Carpatho-Rusyn people, whose descendants are present in the Johnstown area.
From 1880 until 1920, thousands of Slavic immigrants came to Johnstown to find employment in the area’s mills and mines.
By 1920, 25% of Johnstown’s residents were of Slavic descent. They created a rich network of churches and social clubs to support their way of life and culture.
For more information on the festival, visit www.johnstownslavicfestival.org.