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John Filcich

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Ivan (John) Filcich

BACKGROUND

Information: Ivan Petar "John" Filcich (Filčić), teacher, author, and organizer.

John was born in Fiume, Italy, in 1924. The village is today called Rijeka in Croatia. When John was born, the village was called Fiume, the post World War I "free city-state" which was later annexed by Italy. For his father it was in Hungary, for his grandfather it was in Austria, and even earlier the area was part of Napoleon's Illyrian Provinces.

He immigrated to the United States when he was eight years old. His family settled in Gary, Indiana, the steel mill city with Croatian, Serbian, Polish, and other Slavic cultures and has had many years of experience with thier music. He later moved to Arizona.

In 1935, when his father gave him an old phonograph and a stack of Bulgarian, Croatian, Macedonian, and Serbian records, his interest in international music was fostered. In 1946, the family moved again to California where John saw foreign dancers in their native costumes. By 1947, John was folk dancing every week in Oakland, California. With singleminded dedication, John devoted himself to the study of the origin, history, dance, music, and language of his people. Then, in 1948, the International Institute of Oakland asked him to form a Yugoslav dance group to perform at the Festival of Nations. He did even more, he formed two groups – Croatian and Serbian – and he was also dancing six nights a week!

Seeing a great need, he opened his first record shop in 1949 in the San Francisco Bay Area, specializing in Balkan and international music and folk dance records (he later opened another record shop in Los Angeles). That same year, he attended the College of the Pacific Folk Dance Camp in Stockton, California, which was later renamed the Stockton Folk Dance Camp.

This led to his teaching of Yugoslav "kolo" (circle) dances at the camp and his subsequent founding of the San Francisco Kolo Festival. According to his niece, Sharen Skorup, "And my mother's brother, my Uncle John, was in the music business and was into dancing. As a kid I worked in his record store in Oakland. Uncle John started the whole Kolo movement here in the Bay Area back in 1940. He had a performing dance company of mostly Croatians. That was before I was born. In 1952, he started the Kolo Festival as a benefit for a friend and well-known folk dancer named Vyts Beliajus." The festival's name was later changed to the California Kolo Festival."

John was a credited advisor on the feature documentary film "American Rom: A Stranger In Everybody's Land," written, produced, and directed by Jasmine Dellal. He speaks five languages. To his many folk dance friends, he is known as "Kolo John," a moniker that Millie von Konsky solidified in print in "Let's Dance!" magazine in November, 1957.

John, with his Festival Records label, was a principal supplier of folk dance recordings to North America and the world. His record shops, Slav-Art Music Center in Oakland, Festival Records in Los Angeles, and Festival Folk Shop in San Francisco, were must stops for folk danceers, square dancers, ethnic musicologists, and Rom from all over the world. Because of his life-long interest in the Rom culture, he is often invited to their weddings, religious celebrations, and other community activities and was the North American supplier for Rom music, candles, and other items for many years.

John was married in a ceremony in California and a traditional wedding in his home town, which included the buying of the bride. Although he is now divorced, he is very proud of his two children, Jana and Mark.

John has now closed his shops. A big party with live music honoring John was thrown in Los Angeles on November 11, 2000, with dancers and teachers, including Dick Oakes, flying in from around the country. Dick Crum, John's long time friend, did the officiating. Naturally, John led everyone in his favorite dance, Veliko Kolo. He hasn't given up selling records, though – you can still purchase some of your favorites from John by writing to info@festival-records.net. Also, John has constructed a website, www.festival-records.net.

On March 20 and 21, 2004, 'From the Heart: A Musical Tribute to "Kolo" John Filcich' took place at the Harold M. Williams Auditorium, J. Paul Getty Center, Los Angeles, California. Some of Los Angeles's finest Eastern European folk musicians paid homage to "Kolo" John Filcich. Performers included the Yeseta Brothers Tamburica Orchestra, Tzvetanka and Ivan Varimezova, and the Roma Band.

In 2005, John received the National Folk Organization's "Preserving Our Legacy Award."


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