Simply Slavic festival survives setbacks

Correspondent photos / Brandon Cantwell... Catherine Katrenich of Brecksville walks in the Parade of the Slavic nations during the weekend’s Simply Slavic festival at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre. In the years since the event’s beginning, the strolling table girl has become a symbol and mascot of the event, capturing all 13 Slavic nations in one outfit.

YOUNGSTOWN — An explosion that shook the downtown area nearly three weeks ago and a gas leak on opening day could do little to stop thousands from enjoying the diverse cultural flavors of the Simply Slavic festival Friday and Saturday.

Simply Slavic opened its gates at 5 p.m. Friday, bringing in talents from all over the region. The opening ceremony at 6 p.m. officially kicked off the event and featured a parade of flags of the 13 countries whose immigrants settled here.

Aundrea Cika Heschmeyer, one of the festival’s organizers, said they already had concerns — primarily visitor experience — following the change in venue to the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.

“How were they going to manage with the change to one gate, a security swipe, walking down or around to food tents or even new parking options; it was a big unknown,” Heschmeyer said. “Sharing our feelings, some entertainment came into town earlier in the week to check out the significantly bigger stage to be ready.”

Heschmeyer said Friday’s gas situation was very challenging, as they needed to evacuate the site for hours during the event’s setup, going to the Covelli Centre to wait.

“We messaged all vendors who were scheduled to arrive and intercepted them to join us. We stayed hopeful and positive,” Heschmeyer said. “The toughest thing was not knowing when we could announce that we were a go and jump back in to set up.”

Heschmeyer explained that because of the gas leak, many attendees erred on the side of caution, choosing to stay away. However, Saturday looked to be a rebound with attendance to give both visitors and vendors a better experience, she said.

Catherine Katrenich of Brecksville returned yet again to serve as the festival’s iconic strolling table girl, Rodina, a role she’s played for the past six years. Katrenich said giving her proper access plays into the festival’s planning, as they need to make sure she has room to roll and walk around.

“The table can be hard to move in, but once I get moving, I’m rolling,” Katrenich said. “Getting into the costume takes some time, putting on the headdress and getting into the table are the last things to do before I head out.”

This year’s festival drew an array of vendors from all over the country. One of these vendors was Recultured Designs owner Alexandra Lisiecki, hailing from San Francisco. She said she makes sure to include two Midwest festivals solely to attend this one.

“I have had the pleasure of attending the Simply Slavic festival on two separate occasions, and each visit has only deepened my appreciation for the event and the wonderful people involved,” Lisiecki said. “Both the Cleveland and Youngstown communities remind me so much of my beloved Detroit community, with their warmth, diversity and strong cultural heritage.”

“I may live in California, but my heart always belongs to the Midwest,” Lisiecki added.

Rodina Lager was available at the festival after Friday’s 6 p.m. ceremonial tapping, presided over by Mike Ekoniak of Youngstown and Adam Keck, owner of Modern Methods Brewing Co. in Warren, which created the event’s signature beer.

Keck explained the beer’s flavor has been the same since the collaboration with Simply Slavic began nearly a decade ago, but the slight variation in ingredients make the keg tap exciting so they can see how it turns out.

This year’s blend included raspberry and ginger, something he said they added at the last minute at Friday’s opening ceremony.

Keck said this year’s keg sold out in record time. With people asking if they can get it in cans for next year, Keck added they might consider it.

A portion of each sale of Rodina Lager goes to Simply Slavic’s scholarship fund. Keck said over the past seven years, they’ve raised several thousand dollars for it.

The festival closed with the traditional Vatra, or bonfire, Saturday night, an event that also has become a popular symbol of Simply Slavic.

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