Editor's Log Woodstock & Polka Fest History

Polkadate: August 2018. This month is the 49th anniversary of the Woodstock Music Festival where a mass gathering of people and bands joined together to celebrate music as a bonding agent. This writer’s only link to that epic event was that a new football coach came to Schulenburg. Rick was fresh out of college, and was hip to (and actually seen some) of the bands that were filling the airwaves of KTSA & KILT, that I was listening to. He later told me that he had an offer of free tickets to Woodstock. Coincidentally he also had a job offer from Schulenburg. His wife made the decision for him. Last I saw him he still was wondering “what if I had gone……”

The gathering of multiple polka bands and dancers has been a rather intermittent happening, at least in Texas. Basic research has brought to light a polka happening 83 years ago. The Sept. 25, 1935 Waco Tribune announced that the Brazos Valley Free Fair will host a contest between a dozen Bohemian and Czech orchestras that Saturday afternoon, two dances during the day. Everett M McCracken, Claude Burns, and Bill Krauledat, musicians and band directors of Waco have been named judges in the orchestra contest.

Three orchestras will be selected as prize winners, and in the coliseum at 9:45 pm they will furnish music for a battle dance. Orchestras entered are Patek Orchestra of Shiner, Simek O. of Jarrell, Jazek O. of West, Kohut O. of West, Gabriel Snapka O. of West, Andrle O. of Waco, Frisch O. of Taylor, Mikolaj O. of Taylor, the Baca Original O. of Fayetteville, Happy Cousins O. of Fayetteville, Sablatura O. of Ganado, and the Migl O. of Moulton. Unfortunately, the results were not published.

Research did not reveal if some intrepid Texas promoter worked out the myriad details and scheduling to put on a multi-band event in the 1940s or 50s.

POLKA FEST FLURRY

In the 1960s, there was a flurry of festivals which were the result of efforts of the Polka and Waltz Association of Texas. In May of 1965, they held the first one at the La Grange Fair Pavilion. Performing were Jimmie Brosch & His Happy Country Boys, the Majek Jolly Pearl Boys (Corpus), The Jolly Dutchmen (Corpus)?, the Sil ____ Boys (El Campo)?, and the orchestras of Havelkas, Cloverleaf, and Lee Roy Matocha. The question marks denote faded newprint. That was the afternoon matinee.

In addition to the bands, the bandleaders and favorite polka DJs performed several songs together. In the evening, the Bay City Dutchmen, the Lone Star Polka Band (Sinton), and the orchestras of Tony Janak, Hi-Toppers, Ray Baca, George Machart, Henry Brosch, and J?Cerverly? (Waco) filled the dance floor.

El Campo’s polka proud radio station, KULP, was celebrating its 18th birthday in 1966. A festival of a different note with an ingenuous format of a month-long roving celebration was held. Beginning on Feb. 2, Bill’s Polka Boys played at Riverside Hall in East Bernard. On the 4th, the Bringalls played at the National Guard Armory in Columbus, the 5th, Johnnie Holub was in the Plainview Community Center (CC), El Campo; Tony Janak was at the Music Box in Port Lavaca; and Tony Rivera’s Latin Orchestra was at the Pan American Ballroom, El Campo.

On Feb. 6, the Vrazels were at the Pan American Ballroom, El Campo. Five days later on Feb. 11, Little Tommy and His Rhythm Knights were at the El Campo CC. The 12th saw George Pavelka’s Orchestra at New Taiton and Tony Rivera in Victoria at La Famosa Lomita. The 13th, Ray Jurecka’s Orchestra played at Blessing’s American Hall. After a break, presumably to run the radio station, The Edna Polka Boys played the Inez CC on Feb. 19 and Victor Caka was in Hillje the same day. Also, on the 19th, The Young-Old Timers from Point Comfort played at the Ganado KJT Hall.

The 20th wrapped up the party with Gil Baca playing at the Hallettsville Recreation Hall, Leroy Baklik & His Rhythm Masters at Frelsburg Parish Hall and Tommy Vanek’s Orchestra played at the Hungerford CC. Whew!, I wonder if someone tried to attend them all. Next time you see Clinto, tell him KULP needs to do this again with him in charge. Not connected to the festival, but noteworthy at least to this writer, The Santa Anna Hillbillies played in Columbus at the Hill Top Inn. If anyone knows who these cats were, please contact me.

In the spirit of county pride, Lavaca County orchestras put on a festival in 1966 that showcased only bands from Lavaca County. At this time, band listings are not available.

The month-long event in 1966 must have been strenuous on KULP’s staff because the next year, 1967, they sponsored a one-day festival, on June 11, in Ellinger’s CC. They advertised 11 hours of music on two bandstands. Performing were the Bay City Dutchmen, Bill’s Polka Boys, George Machart and His Polka Boys, and the orchestras of the Cloverleafs (Dallas), Hi-Toppers, Jimmie Brosch, Johnny Knesek, The Peppermints (Dallas), Ray Baca, Rudy Kurtz, Tony Janak, and Victor Caka. If memory serves me correctly (50/50 chance), the event was actually put on by the bands themselves and sponsored by KULP.

Lavaca County’s first festival was successful, so on Oct. 8, 1967, the 2nd annual Polka Day Celebration was held in Shiner which proclaimed itself the Polka Capital of Texas. Starting the day off with a parade of the bands through Shiner to the Legion Hall, the music and dance marathon began. Groups performing: Elroy Sternadel & His Happy Six, The Hub City Dutchmen, Melvin’s Polka Band, Leon’s Polka Boys, Victor Caka & His Polka Timers along with the orchestras of Tony Janak, Tommie Vanek, Rudy Kurtz, Henry Brosch, George Machart, Charlie Tousek and Joe Patek.

In June 1968, KAWA, a polka-friendly radio station did a two-hour broadcast from the 4th Annual Polka and Waltz Festival held at Geneva Hall. Performing were The Bay City Dutchmen, Bill’s Polka Boys, Gordon Zunker’s Cloverleafs (New Braunfels), The Peppermints, Vrazel Polka Band and the orchestras of Ray Baca, Rudy Kurtz, George Machart, and Hi-Toppers. This ends the first part of the series on Texas Polka Festivals.

To put on a festival of this magnitude took a team of people who found a location, juggled all the band schedules, so they could play there and possibly somewhere else that evening, arranged the food and beer (how many people will come? licenses?), advertising, stage setup/teardown, hall preparation/cleanup, parking, ticket sales, handling the money (who gets paid, who doesn’t; where does the cash go?) and dozens of other details that make it successful. And all of this was pre-cell phone, email era!

Free Shiners and kolaches to all the folks who took the time, effort, and dedication to pull off these "Woodstocks of Polka" that brought musicians and dancers together in one spot.

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