Editor's Log Polka Celebrations En Masse
Polkadate: September 2018. Last month was the first part of a two-part series documenting large gatherings of people coming together to share a common theme, music. This month is a listing of polka music festivals from the 1960s onward. My apologies to any festival the writer might have overlooked and would be grateful for any documentation on any music festival that meets the criteria below. Special thanks go to Kathy Hofner-Fielding, Roy Haag, and Rita Holland keeping and sharing documents from these events.
THE DAYS WHEN ALL DANCERS & LOTS OF BAND TRAILERS CONVERGED ON A SINGLE SPOT
Annual polka music-oriented events began their rebound in the last half of the 1960s, beginning with the La Grange festival in 1965 and the All Lavaca County festival beginning in 1967 that were discussed last month.
While there are many “festivals” and there is no mistaking that each has a festive atmosphere, to qualify for this column by this writer’s standards, there must be more than three bands performing and the focus would be on the music. Many smaller festivals are tied to fundraisers or communities celebrating their uniqueness.
When an event has more than three bands performing, the logistics increase exponentially. While dancers love the amount of music, the performers see it differently in how far they have to drive to play for how short a short time, for how little pay. And the music is just one of the many attractions at the festival (carnival, cook-offs, auctions, etc). From the organizers' perspective, it's the scheduling of the bands to make everyone happy (good luck with that), and all the logistical issues highlighted in the previous column. A festival just about the music is a hard sell.
Since the previous column, which ended in the late 1960s, a few more festivals have emerged from the archives from that time period. The same year (1965) of the La Grange festival, a gathering of six bands occurred in Hillje, which is southwest of El Campo. In October '65, a new chapel and wing to the SPJST retirement home was opened. This all-day celebration was performed with the musical accompaniment of Bill’s Polka Boys, Ed Junot’s Trio, Gil Baca, Lee Roy Matocha, Leroy Baklik & Rhythm Masters, and even Ray Baca and his dulcimer came out of semi-retirement and performed with the current Baca Band.
The community of Ennis, southeast of Dallas, has always been the sparkling star on the top of the Texas polka tree, a Christmas tree outline of polka interest that fans out in a southern direction from Ennis along the Interstates 35 and 45 to San Antonio-Houston with the base being in Lavaca, Fayette, and Fort Bend counties. This shining star of Czech music and culture has always anchored the North Texas Czech community with several polka radio shows, many bands, and personalities.
In 1967, Raymond Zapletal, Len Gehrig, and Joe Liska decided to do something with all the knee-deep music and culture that they lived in. The three approached the Ennis chamber of commerce with the idea of a festival that would focus on Czech culture and music. The community agreed with them and plans were set in motion.
With a stellar lineup of the Petter Polka Band, the Polka Playmates, and the Lee Isle and Tommy Vanek Orchestras, at the National Hall, the stage was set for the first Ennis Polka Festival. But wait! There was more: at the K.J.T. Hall, the Nemec Polka Band, Fritz Hodde & His Fabulous Six, the Markman’s from San Antonio, and the Johnny Mensik Orchestra were playing the same day. And if that wasn’t enough, the Kaluza Polka Band, Sil Krenek’s Orchestra, the Hub City Dutchmen, and Eric Honza’s Orchestra were all at the K.C. Hall in Ennis.
Whewww, got to catch my breath. Over at SOKOL Hall, the West Polka Band, the Temple Rhythm Masters, Charlie Adamcek’s Polkatones, and the (Ennis) Music Masters, were blowing and going. But wait there’s even more! At the last minute, the Vrazels Polka Band and the Hi-Toppers were added.
The festival was almost too much a success taking the founding committees by surprise, when thousands of dancers showed up; however, the resilience of the Czech community, took it in stride, and in three years attendance was up to 30,000 revelers. The crowds were handled by using all four large halls located within a couple of miles of each other in Ennis. The festival has grown each year but has managed to keep its theme of Czech and polka culture intact. The 2018 lineup was headlined with Brave Combo and Alex Meixner. Filling the dance floors, were Fritz Hodde’s Fabulous Six, the Jodie Mikula Orchestra, the Czechaholics, the Czech Melody Masters, Alpenmusikanten, the Texas Dutchmen, and the Czech Harvesters.
In 1986, Johnnie Krejca and his wife founded the first (and now 32nd) Polka Dance Contest of the National Polka
Festival, where the crowned King and Queen travel about Texas representing the polka tradition.
Ennis has managed to perpetuate the city’s musical heritage through the cultivation of younger generations picking up instruments and following in their elders’ leads both in language and melodies. The younger bands, whose members range from high-school to under 40 years of age, have been nurtured by performing and gaining experience from the National Festival all the while building a fan base.
Apparently, the National Polka Music Festival was running so smoothly, that the musicians of Ennis (of which, there are many) decided to start another music festival which focused solely on the music. In 2006, the Ennis Czech Music Festival was born. The event is organized and operated by the members of the area bands, families, and their fans. This one-day event is held at the SOKOL Hall in February of every year. The Feb. 9, 2019 lineup features the Jodie Mikula Orchestra, Czech & Then Some, The Moravians, Ennis Czech Boys, All-Around Czechs, and Czech Harvesters. How Czech can you get? This year will also feature Texas Folklife’s Big Squeeze Accordion competition for up-and-coming accordionists from the area; the winner will proceed on to the state contest in Austin.
TUPA CREATES MUSIC AWARDS FESTIVAL
In the 1990s, Julius Tupa, who was all things to polka: musician, disc jockey, promoter, president of the Texas Polka Music Association, and the founder of the paper that you are reading, decided to fulfill “a dream to recognize and honor those who have done so much to ensure that our future generations will enjoy polka music.” So, in typical Julius Tupa fashion he set about organizing the First Annual Texas Polka Music Awards Festival at the Convention Center in Belton, Texas, March 15-17, 1991. Mr. Tupa was a lover of all music styles and included a few other bands, that were not strictly Czech/German polka to widen the crowd’s musical tastes as well as cultural groups.
The massive event kicked off Friday at noon with the Fabulous Six and Bobby Jones. At six that evening, opening ceremonies were held and shortly thereafter, the music kicked into high gear with Adolph Hofner & the Pearl Wranglers, Ed Kadlecek & the Village Band, Jerry Haisler’s Melody Five, Tony Janak Orchestra, Litt’l Fishermen, and Vrazels Polka Band.
As if that wasn’t enough music, Saturday was, well, a humdinger. At 10 am, the Alpine Village Band, and Leroy’s Swinging Orchestra loosened up the dancer’s muscles for the afternoon which saw The Dutchmasters, El Campo Melody Boys, The New Edition, Jimmy Brosch’s Band, the orchestras of Jodie Mikula, Henry Rejcek, and Wence Shimek, Czech Harvesters, Texas Dutchmen, Swinging Dutchmen, Kovanda’s Czech Band, The Seven Dutchmen, The Twilights, Country Boys Polka Band, and a crowd favorite, once again, the Bobby Jones Band taking the stage at 10:30 that evening. Intermingled with all this dancing, performances by the Lodge 88 Choir, The Haygood Fiddlers, The Fire-On-The Mountain Cloggers, The Dallas Concert Orchestra, The East Bernard Czech Singers, Conjunto Sueno & J.R. Ramos, and Tejano accordion wizard Valerio Longoria gave the dancers a chance to catch their breath.
On Sunday morning, after a quick trip to the store to replace worn out shoes, a Polka Mass was held at 10 am in the central hall (the Dome). The afternoon wind-down dances (if you can wind down while polkaing) had the Leo Majek Orchestra, The Sulak Brothers, Valerio Longoria, Czech Harvesters, Alpen Fest, and Walburg Boys providing dance music. Also entertaining the crowd were the Czech Folk Dancers of West, and the cloggers returned to the stage. At four pm, the Texas Polka Music Awards ceremony was held honoring outstanding contributions to the genre such as best band, arrangers, song of the year and life time achievement awards.
The following year, the event was scaled back and held for the next two years at the Fort Bend Fairgrounds in Rosenberg, then Sealy, and then El Campo for several more years in a more manageable form of fewer bands. This writer, in his conversations with musicians who performed at the first festival always regard it (without prompting) as one of the best shows they have ever participated in and were pleased to have been a part of it.
THAT '70S POLKA FEST
Back in deep Central Texas, 1975 saw Moulton hosting the 7th Annual Lavaca County Polka-Waltz CELEBRATION, “rain or shine.” The lineup had changed some since 1969, not necessarily that the original bands had retired, but that a one-day festival can only cram so many bands into one day. This reveals the quantity of orchestras in one county alone.
At the 7th festival, the Louis Nevlud Orchestra performed till 1:15. At 1:15, Joe Patek’s Orchestra polkaed till 2:30 when the Hub City Dutchmen performed till 3:45. At that time what is now referred to as a jam session with the band leaders performing until 5 pm happened. At this time George Machart’s musicians kicked off the evening set, followed by the Charlie Tousek, Tommy Vanek, and Rudy Kurtz Orchestras exercising the remaining dancers until 10 pm. General admission was $2.50 a person and children under 12 were a dollar.
Gonzales’ radio station KCTI was broadcasting live to those folks who couldn’t make it to the VFW hall. To fuel the dancers and musicians, the Moulton Volunteer Fire Department kept the fried chicken coming all day long. This tradition of featuring Lavaca County bands continued for several more years under different titles with the 16th Annual Czech-German Polka Waltz Celebration held in Moulton with only four Lavaca County bands, the Hub City Dutchmen, and the orchestras of Charles Tousek, Wence Shimek, and George Machart.
By 1990, Shiner’s Polka Day Celebration began flying the Lavaca County polka flag by hosting Leroy’s Swinging Orchestra, Bohemian Dutchmen, George Machart Orchestra, New Edition, Wence Shimek’s Orchestra, The Dutchmasters, The Red Ravens, and The Starlights.
NEW BRAUNFELS POLKA SCENE
In 1988, the German polka scene in New Braunfels was quite active with about a dozen bands. To the band leaders a Bavarian Village themed area of New Braunfels would be the place to stage a polka festival, however this only lasted two years, but the seed was planted that sprouted eight years later. In 1996, interest in a music festival showed promise, so New Braunfels organized an event featuring only area bands.
The lineup for this mostly German festival were: The Cloverleaf Orchestra, Litt’l Fishermen, The Seven Dutchmen, Oma & the Oompahs, Ed Kadlecek & the Bavarian Village Band, the Bohemian Dutchmen, The Swinging Dutchmen, Jubilee Polka Band, and Der Klein Steins. The event was held in the Wursthalle in Landa Park and ran two days. This proved to be successful and was repeated for the next nine years.
Westfest, was founded in 1976, as a means for the small community of West, just south of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, to raise funds for a variety of community projects to improve the cultural and citizen assistance programs of this Czech community. Since its meager beginnings, the focus was on West’s Czech culture and its music.
The first year had Czech dancers, SOKOL exhibitions, with music by the Harold Strand Orchestra followed on Sunday by the Hi-Toppers and Panther City Polka Boys. The 1989 lineup featured the Jodie Mikula Orchestra, Vrazels Polka Band, Jerry Haisler & the Melody 5, Eddie Ray and The Polka Dots, Bohemian Dutchmen, and Harold Strand, and that is just Saturday’s lineup. Sunday of ’89 kicked off with the West Polka Dots, Brave Combo, Czech Harvesters, and Dick Gimble. Over the years the crowds kept coming and Westfest kept growing and adding music.
The Aug. 31-Sept. 2, 2018 lineup includes Westfest super veterans, Brave Combo, and crowd favorite Squeezebox featuring Mollie B will headline the event. Appearing along with them will be Chris Rybak, Praha Brothers, Melody 5, Westfest veterans Czech Harvesters, Jodie Mikula Orchestra, Ennis Czech Boys, The Moravians, and Czech & Then Some. The 10 bands will make more than one appearance.
This year will be a special year as Westfest will pass the MILLION-dollar mark in giving back to the community, a community that once had basic needs, but now, due to adverse events in the recent past, needs assistance in moving forward.
YOAKUM POLKA PARTY
In September 1991, an ambitious festival was held on the fringes of the Polka Belt in Yoakum sponsored by the local KCs. At the Community Center, 10 bands performed for your dancing pleasure over a two-day period. The great lineup on Saturday was Bobby Jones, Tony Janak, The Texas Plainsmen, and Leroy’s Swinging Orchestra closed it down at midnight. The volunteers were up and ready with BBQ lunches Sunday morning when the music started at noon with Fritz Hodde & Fabulous Six, then the City Polka Boys, Red Ravens, Donnie Wavra’s Orchestra, Henry Repka Band, and the Vanek Brothers played till 9 pm. What a great line-up!
POLKA IN SAN ANGELO
San Angelo, Texas, which is 200 miles due west of Waco, is not generally thought of as a polka hot spot, but in reality, is home to a small outpost of Czech/German farmers that live in the surrounding 100-mile radius. In 1989, the polka-starved dancers decided to start their own festival and the West Texas Polka Festival was founded.
The three day-festival featured five bands playing several sets over the period. By the third year, five bands representing different types of polka were appearing, the Vorderbruggen Band from Minnesota, the Bohemian Dutchmen of New Braunfels, the Ray Konkol Band of Wisconsin, the Walburg Boys, and the Dave Salmon Band of Nebraska were entertaining the dancers from Garden City and Wall, small communities of dancing enthusiasts who periodically make the trek to Central Texas for dancing.
There are many honorable mentions that go to organizations that put on three- and four-band festivals that have not been mentioned here. Thank you for plugging the gaps between the big shows. My apologies in not listing all of them. Everyone who has been in the organizational level of any event knows that success requires hard work and responsibility.
And speaking of hard work to put on a successful, by all accounts, event, The Bohemian Princess, Theresa Cernoch Parker, this paper’s own publisher, has emerged from the latest polka-oriented multi-band event in recent history. Theresa, her staff, and her friends recently threw a polka party to fulfill Julius Tupa’s dream and celebrate this paper’s 30th anniversary. At the KC Hall in Schulenburg, celebrants were breaking down the doors early to get a good seat (actually, someone forgot to lock the front door). Thusly, the doors were opened and the music started early as the revelers had almost filled the hall 30 minutes before the official start time.
The first of six bands started at 12:30 pm and finished at 11ish that evening, with nonstop music and entertainment through the whole day. While, the Czechaholics, Red Ravens, Chris Rybak, Ennis Czech Boys, Das Ist Lustig, and Mark Halata & Texavia kept the dance floor packed, the crowd went through 70+ cases of beer, gallons of water and soft drinks, 20 dozen kolaches, many, many links of sausage, 25 pounds of Texas Trash, and 200 slices of birthday cakes. Attendance was estimated to be 800 celebrants. The length of the festival ensured that the hall remained full and many came and went and came back again. Those folks just couldn’t get enough of that polka stuff.
LABOR DAY SUNDAY PICNICS
St. Stanislaus Chappell Hill: Catered meal by Chappell Hill Bakery & Deli. Music by Daniel & The Country Boys will play from 4-8 pm.…St. John Fayetteville: BBQ beef, pork, sausage dinner. Larry Sodek will lead a polka jam starting at 10:30 am. Lost Cause will provide the music from 7-10 pm…Sts. Cyril & Methodius Granger: BBQ, fried chicken, dressing dinner. Fritz Hodde/ Fabulous 6 will provide the music from 7-11 pm…Sacred Heart Hallettsville: KC Hall. Fried chicken, stew, dressing dinner. Kovanda’s Czech Band, 11 am-1 pm; Dujka Brothers and Czechaholics, 1-7 pm…St. Mary High Hill: Fried chicken and stew dinner. Dance in the pavilion to the music of Texas Sound Check from 11 am to 3:30 pm, and Mark Halata & Texavia from 4-8 pm. Texas Dream provides the music for the dance at night…Sts. Cyril & Methodius Shiner: KC Park. Shiner Picnic Stew, fried chicken, and country sausage dinner. Accordion jam at 11 a.m. Shiner Hobo Band takes the stage at 2 pm, and the Red Ravens will start playing at 4 pm. Outside entertainment features American Idol contestant Steve Curd, Classic Top Hits with Vic & Beav, and Los Kolaches. The Emotions will shut down the picnic with a dance from 9 pm to 1 am.
SS CYRIL & METHODIUS, MARAK
The parish annual Homecoming Picnic is set for Sun., Sept. 9. The day starts with Mass at 10:15 am, dinner starting at 11 am, and games and booths opening at noon. You’ll love the home-fried chicken and sausage dinner served with all the trimmings. Praha Brothers will provide the music from 12:30-3:30 pm in the Vrazel Pavilion, and chances are there may be a guest artist or two join the group, like someone with the last name of Vrazel. Just sayin’. Enjoy the games, auction, and entertainment for the entire family. See ad, p. 35.
ST. JEROME, HOUSTON
St. Jerome’s in the Spring Branch area of Houston is celebrating 53 years of family, food, fun, and faith at its annual fall festival on Sept. 29-30. Great music with DJ OVI all weekend. Black Tie Affair will play from 7-10 pm on Saturday playing your favorite Top 40 hits in English. Sandy G y Los Gavilones will take the stage on Sunday at 5 pm. Weekend entertainment also includes a mariachi group. See ad, p. 28.
HOLY TRINITY, CORN HILL
Holy Trinity Catholic Church of Corn Hill invites you to its annual bazaar on Sun., Sept. 16. Mass starts at 10:30 am followed by a meal and festivities in the Parish Activity Center. Enjoy polka music by Fritz Hodde, Edward Kopecky, & Friends from 11 am-2 pm. The BBQ and Corn Hill fried chicken dinner with dressing and all the fixings is served from 11 am-1pm. Take part in Bingo, cake walk, silent and live auctions, and children's games. See ad, p. 30.
ST. JOSEPH, CYCLONE
The parish near Temple is celebrating its 73rd annual church picnic on Sun., Sept.
23. Jerry Haisler & Melody 5 will provide the music from 11 am-2 pm. Enjoy sausage and home-fried chicken dinner from 10:30 am until they run out. Take a ride on the Cyclone Express Train and play some games, which all start at noon. The auction begins at 2 pm. See ad, p. 35.
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION, SEALY
The church’s annual Bazaar and Homecoming is set for Sun., Sept. 30 at the KC Hall in Sealy. Feast on a barbecue dinner beginning at 10:30 am. Mexican food will also be available. Enjoy music by Kovanda’s Czech Band beginning at 11:30 am in the pavilion. Get your bids ready for live and silent auctions. Try your hand at winning plants, groceries, and gift cards. Browse the country store. Take a cake walk. And bring the kids. They can enjoy the games and get all sticky from eating snow cones. See ad, page 31.
HOLY ROSARY, HOSTYN
Come to the Big H on Sun., Oct. 7. Located on FM 2436, intersecting with FM 609 on one side and Hwy. 77 on the other, it creates an “H” on the map, and leads you to Queen of the Holy Rosary Church for its 162nd fall picnic. Start the day listening to the Czech choral concert in the church at 9:30 am before the 10 am Polka Mass. Enjoy the fried chicken and sausage dinner, then work off those calories dancing to the Incredible Music Makers from 11 am-3 pm, and the Dujka Brothers from 3:30-7:30 pm. You’ll want to get in on the bidding at the auction that starts at 1 pm, and you’ll love the Balloon Artist Magic Show at 3 pm. See ad, p. 31.
ST. MATTHEW, HOUSTON
Looking for great entertainment and delicious food? Drop in to the annual fall festival at St. Matthew the Evangelist on Sun., Oct. 7. You'll hear a variety of music from DJ Paul, Waltrip Jazz Band, Sol de Mexico with Ballet Folklorico, Tony & The Silverbacks, and Grupo Creacion. Feast on the best fajita tacos specially made by the KCs, Mexican and Filipino food, BBQ plates, turkey legs, and delicious homemade desserts like funnel cakes and more. Play some special card games, cruise the crafts, and let the kids enjoy the games at this family affair. See ad, p. 29.
HOLY CROSS, EAST BERNARD
Holy Cross Parish Bazaar will be held Sun., Oct. 14 at Riverside Hall, one of the great Texas halls for dancing! And the music will be great, too. Dujka Brothers get the party started at noon, then Red Ravens take the stage at 3 p.m. And don’t forget all the usual trappings of a church picnic – barbecue dinner (with homemade dressing, yum!), Czech pastries, country store, grand auction at noon, raffle, and the kids will love the games, starting at 11 am! See ad, p. 32.
STS. PETER & PAUL, BELLVILLE
The 19th Annual Oktoberfest will be held on Sun., Oct. 28 on the church grounds. Feast on barbecue beef, pork, and sausage, hamburgers, and hot dogs. The Dujka Brothers will provide the music from 11 am-1 pm. Fun family games, live auction at 1 pm, silent auction, pony rides, petting zoo, bounce house, and kiddie games. See ad, p. 37.