Johnstown Slavic Festival entertainers

The fifth annual Johnstown Slavic Festival will be held Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, and Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in the parking lot of Heritage Discovery Center in the Cambria City section of Johnstown. Entertainers will be (clockwise from top right) Bombici, Danka Folk Ensemble, Orkestar Zabava, Pajtasi, Polka Floyd and Balkan Babes.

A festival featuring authentic entertainment, food, crafts and presentations will be showcased in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.

The fifth annual Johnstown Slavic Festival will be held from 4 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday in the parking lot of Heritage Discovery Center, 201 Sixth Ave.

The festival will highlight traditional Slavic music and dance, including Bulgarian dance, Balkan brass music, Slavic folk music, accordion players and polkas. 

“This event has really taken off from when we started it five years ago under the leadership of the late Dan Kisha,” said Richard Burkert, president of Johnstown Area Heritage Association.

“Dan insisted that the festival should be 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.

“He was right.”

The entertainment on Friday will include Polka Floyd, covering more than 40 Pink Floyd songs, from 5 to 7 p.m., followed by Bombici from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., entertaining with traditional dance tunes, originals and coceks.

Performances will take place on stages in the Heritage Discovery Center parking lot and in the courtyard.

At 7 p.m., there will be a nutroll-eating competition, where participants will have five minutes to eat as much nutroll as they can.

Cash prizes and trophies will be awarded to the winners.

On Saturday, entertainment will feature accordion player Joe Malloy from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.; Balkan Babes, traditional folk music, 1 to 2 p.m.; Danka Folk Ensemble, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.; accordion player Jacob Czerak, 2:45 to 3:45 p.m.; Danka Folk Ensemble, traditional dance, from 3:30 to 4 p.m.; accordion player Mia Miller-Gretok, 4 to 5 p.m.; Slovak folk acoustic band Pajtasi, 4 to 5:30 p.m.; and Orkestar Zabava, 6 to 9 p.m., entertaining with a repertoire of songs and dances from Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

“Expanding the festival to two days is an exciting development for us,” said Brian Subich, chairman of the volunteer committee that works on the festival.

“Our Friday evening entertainment is designed to please a younger crowd, with bands presenting exciting new twists on Slavic music, while Saturday’s daytime entertainment is more traditional. We’ve got something for everyone.”

Authentic Slavic food will be sold in the courtyard and feature Carrie Currie, of the Better Batter Cake Shop, who was the winner of the 2017 Slavic Fest nutroll contest, selling nutroll; St. Nicholas Serbian Church Men’s Club, serving cevapi; Kraus Hunky Cuisine, serving pierogi, haluski, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa and chrust; Darlington Inn near Ligonier, serving Hungarian julyas, sztrapacska, stuffed cabbage and kremes; Steel City Chimney Cakes in Pittsburgh, serving chimney cakes; William Penn Association, serving palacsinta; Old World Catering, serving nalysnyky, haluski, zahkushy, palachinky; Parrot Bay in Johnstown, serving pierogi, haluski and white pizza; Babcia’s Lunchbox; Live, Cook, Love Bakery; and The Phoenix in Johnstown, serving Slavic specialties.

Beer imported from seven Slavic counties will be available. They include Krolovacko (Croatia); Obolon (Ukraine); Baltika (Russia); Lasko Pivo (Slovenia); Golden Pheasant (Slovakia); Primator (Czech Republic); and Zywiec (Poland).

This year, the festival has been able to license the parking lot, where the main stage is, for alcohol consumption, so people will be able to drink beer while watching the performances.

Back for the third year is Baba’s Nutroll Throwdown, a nutroll-baking competition.

Judges include Subich, Jennifer Shearer, Cambria County President Commissioner Tom Chernisky and Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic, who will proclaim the winner at 2 p.m. Saturday.

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 and Croatian Fraternal Union.

In addition, Paulette Simunich will demonstrate psyanky egg decorating, and Karen Mesaros will demonstrate Slavic folk pottery that also will be available for sale. Dolly Yonkoski will sell aprons and fabric art, and Austro-Hungarian Empire will have novelties and clothing.

Cooking demonstrations will be held in Galliker’s Café. Joanne Todorich will make palacinke or Croatian-Serbian pancakes from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by Rose and Kristina Marinkovich, demonstrating Gibanica, a type of cheese pie from Serbia, from 2:15 to 3:15 p.m.

Speakers will present a variety of related topics in the discovery center’s education center.

Dean Poloka will present “Carpatho-Rusyn Dances Explained” at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

“Johnstown’s Slavic Catholic Women and the Importance of Folk Religion” by Aaron Rovan will be offered at 2:15 p.m. Saturday.

Rob Sivec will speak about “The Slavic Miners of Windber” at 3:45 p.m. Saturday.

There is no admission fee to attend the festival.

The Heritage Discovery Center and Johns-town Children’s Museum will offer free admission during the festival.

Paid parking will be available in the Best Window lot on Sixth Avenue, near Broad Street, which benefits the event.

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 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, visit www.johnstownslavicfestival.org.

Kelly Urban is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. She can be reached at (814) 532-5073. Follow her on Twitter @KellyUrban25.

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