PITTSBURG, Kan. — Students and history enthusiasts alike will have the opportunity to experience living history during the 33rd annual Little Balkans Days Festival in Pittsburg.
The three-day festival that kicks off Friday highlights and celebrates the community’s rich heritage and history marked by significant immigration from Eastern and Southeastern Europe, a region known as the Balkans, by those who came to work in the coal mines in Southeast Kansas.
Little Balkans Days features a variety of food, vendors, music and special contests.
“The festival began in 1984, and it started out to honor arts and crafts and the true handmade crafts and folk life, as far as music and storytelling,” said Amanda Meyer, president of the Little Balkans Festival Association. “It was meant to celebrate where we came from and the coal mining heritage we have.”
Admission to the festival is free and $5 buttons will be for sale, which will serve as a one-stop pass to all of the events.
“It’s our 33rd year and we have a new, but old location, so a majority of the events are back in Lincoln Park,” Meyer said.
The festival also features a variety of music and live entertainment including local artists Shane Duling and Conway Jackson.
“As far as live music goes, we have a ton,” Meyer said. “Friday night, we have a ’50s and ’60s band at the (Meadowbrook) mall. Saturday, we start at the Band Dome with the Baby Contest and a Junior King and Queen Contest, and there’s a dog show. We have Pittsburg Idol, which is cool if you have kiddos who sing.” It will be from noon to 3 p.m. at the Band Dome.
One-hour train rides will be traveling to the festival — tickets are $7 per person. The train departs at 9 a.m. on Monroe and Elm streets.
More than 200 students will visit the Living History: Civil War Re-Enactment Camp held at the Crawford County Historical Museum, 651 S. Highway 69, Pittsburg.
Kansas has a rich history in the Civil War and entered the Union as the 34th state in 1861.
“Starting Friday, we’re going to have a re-enactment of Bleeding Kansas,” said Amanda Minton, museum executive director. “It was the Kansas, Missouri border wars. It was a precursor to the Civil War.”
The re-enactment camp will also be open on Saturday during the festival from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the museum.
On Saturday, there will be a Folk Life Festival beginning at 10 a.m. in the west end of Lincoln Park at the Apex Stage. Music ranging from rock to polka will be featured during the event.
“The Folk Life Festival is being emceed by J.T. Knoll,” Meyer said. “We start at 10 a.m., and he has everything from country, rock ’n’ roll, storytelling, poetry, gospel and polka music. At 2 p.m., we have Julian Davis, who was a Pittsburg High School student featured on ‘America’s Got Talent.’
“Then, at 3 p.m., we have an eastern European band named Kolograd,” she added. “They play kolos, which are circle dances. It’s like polka but very ethnic, very local heritage for us. We even have a portable dance floor for the Folk Life stage. It stops at 5 p.m.”
There will also be a polka dance from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Meadowbrook Mall, 202 Centennial Drive.
About 100 vendors have signed up this year for the festival.
“It’s a really good reflection of the history of our community, the ethnic culture of our community, and it’s a way to see what Pittsburg’s all about,” Meyer said. “We have so much to offer. It’s truly a way to experience all of Pittsburg in a weekend.”
The full event schedule with times and locations can be found at littlebalkansfestival.com/events.