Cleveland, Ohio - Last winter, it took four Kurents to scare off winter at the inaugural Slovenian Kurentovanje winter festival in the St. Clair-Superior area. Or at least try.
This year, winter has been so brutal the organizers of the unique fest - the only one of it's kind in the United States - are upping the ante with more of the mythical Slovenian monsters. Ten furry Kurents will march in the parade at the second annual Cleveland Kurentovanje this Saturday.
"We have purchased ten of the Kurent costumes from the city of Ptuj in Slovenia," says Michael Fleming, Executive Director of the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation "It's the capital of the Kurent."
St. Clair Superior Development Corporation is not only adding Kurents to this year's festival, which started as a last-minute grass roots effort last year. There will be more activities at the Slovenian National Home, and more groups in the parade.
The ten Kurents will be joined in the parade by marching bands from area schools, including St. Martin de Porres, floats from area business, and even a DJ Kishka float. Kids can paint their faces in the basement of the Slovenian National Home and march, too.
The parade will begin at noon and proceed from from St. Vitus Church on Lausche Ave. to the Slovenian National Home on St. Clair Ave.
Other events Saturday include a party from 1 to 6 p.m. in the Slovenian National Home with ethnic food including krofe and sausage sandwiches, wine, beer, music and dance and crafting stations for kids; and a 6 p.m. to midnight After Party with schnitzel and polka at Sterle's Country House.
"When we started this off last year we were fishing for ways we could celebrate the neighborhood, and came up with this about three months out," says Fleming. "We saw this quirky event that we had not heard of before and said this sounds like such fun. The local Slovenian community was wild about the concept and they quickly pulled it together."
Last year's fest attracted 2000 to 3000 says Fleming. This year they expect many more, based on word of mouth.
"It's become something that's helping to put this area on the map, a place that is really undiscovered," says Fleming. "The festival is so unique because its one of those events that are common in Europe but very rare here."
"It's got its own following and a growing list, there are even people coming in from Canada. ... It attracts Slovenians but also many other Clevelanders . We heard from so many people last year that they were so glad they came out, they didn't even know this area was here."
Brad Nosan did know where St. Clair-Superior was, as a Slovenian-American who grew up in Greater Cleveland, but attending last year's Kurentovanje has made him more of an activist for the neighborhood where his father grew up. Nosan, 25, recently moved back to Cleveland after living in Chicago and Oxford, Ohio.
"I happened to be in town last year around this time and went to the fest for a little bit," says Nosan. "When I moved back I wanted to get involved."
This year, Nosan is on the board for Kurentovanje, helping to organize the fest and also brainstorm ways to attract new visitors - young and old, Slovenian and not - to the neighborhood.
"It's everybody's community, but we're saying, 'hey come on and check out our culture, it's about educating and bringing in younger people. One of the great things about Cleveland is we have all these cultures in one city. St. Clair-Superior is a redeveloping neighborhood that is doing a good job of tapping into those currents."
One venue in the St. Clair-Superior area that is succeeding in tapping into those currents is Sterle's Country House, home to the Kurenotvanje After Party.
Since purchasing the Slovenian mainstay in 2012, Semersky has revamped the beloved restaurant with more import and craft beers on tap, edgier live music on Thursdays and fresh menu items such as schnitzel sandwiches – all the while keeping the Old World favorites that sustained Sterle's for more than 60 years.
After Party events at Sterle's include classic polka by Joey Tomsick inside and DJ Kishka spinning in the Bier Garden, which will be open during the fest.
"It was great to see a younger crowd at Kurentovanje last year," says Semersky. "It was really in tandem with everything we've been doing, we're both trying to bring in younger crowds for the next 60 years."
Says Nosan, "It's about bringing in people from all over the city, much in the same way everybody goes to the Feast in Little Italy or downtown for St. Patrick's Day. One day maybe we'll be thought of like that."
What: Slovenian-style winter festival in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. After Party 6 to midnight at Sterle’s Country House.
Where: St. Clair Avenue between Addison Avenue and East 60th Street.
Tickets: Admission free. Parade begins at noon from St. Vitus Church on Lausche Ave . Activities begin at 11 a.m. in the Slovenian National Home (6417 St. Clair Ave.) and continue after parade until 6 p.m. After Party at Sterle’s Country House (1401 East 55th Street) from 6 p.m. to midnight.