The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Features

May 5, 2013

Polka party | Three-day festival will feature Slovenian and Polish bands

JOHNSTOWN — After a seemingly endless winter and an abbreviated spring, the people of Johnstown are ready to kick up their heels.

And there is no better opportunity to do that than by attending the Friendly City PolkaFest.

The Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention and Visitors Bureau and St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church co-sponsor the event.

They are ready to welcome thousands of polka enthusiasts to the city May 31 through June 2.

The bands go onstage at St. Mary’s pavilion, Fifth Avenue and Power Street in the Cambria City section of Johnstown, and provide continuous music throughout the three-day event.

Throughout PolkaFest, Jayne Korenoski, the visitors bureau’s advertising and sales director, has tried to alternate Slovenian and Polish bands.

Korenoski explained that Polish polka music features more brass instruments while Slovenian uses more accordions and button boxes.

“The difference will be evident beginning the first night of the festival when we have wonderful examples of each style,” Korenoski said.

Opening night will feature the Don Wojtila Orchestra and Polka Family Band.

“Don Wojtila is a fan favorite and Polka Family is one of the hottest polka bands in the country,” Korenoski said.

“Polka Family has performed at Carnegie Hall and is a multi-Grammy nominated group.”

Korenoski said one of the highlights of the evening occurs when the bands blend their distinctive Polish and Slovenian sounds.

“There is a point when the two bands start to jam together and it’s wonderful,” Korenoski said.

Ethnic food is as much a tradition with the festival as the music.

Items such as pierogi, haluski and cabbage rolls will be prepared by members of St. Mary’s church, said Monsignor Raymond Balta, pastor of the church and one of the event’s key organizers.

The PolkaFest is as much a social event as it is a community event.

“PolkaFest is a reflection on the heritage and traditions of Johnstown as well as the true spirit of the community,” Balta said.

“By providing these customary ethnic foods, we view this as an effort to continue to preserve the history for future generations that has meant so much to their parents and grandparents.”

Tours of the church will be given, depending on interest.

Balta said he is prepared for a large crowd because it seems the festival grows each year.

“We have invested in some of the most state-of-the-art equipment that allows us to produce large quantities of food,” Balta said.

“For example, we can prepare up to 1,200 stuffed cabbage at one time.“

Other food and craft vendors will be set up along the streets adjacent to the pavilion.

“There will be pizza, gyros, crab cakes, roasted nuts, and ice cream from the Penn State Creamery,” Korenoski said.

The nationally known groups have a huge following and many make their way to Johnstown for the festivities.

Korenoski said loyal fans follow these groups and show up when their bands play.

“Many of these visitors, some from as far away as Canada, have made friends in Johns-town over the years and look forward to returning to Cambria City each year,” Korenoski said.

Some big-name groups include the Maestro Men from Chicago, who have been named the International Polka Association’s favorite instrument band, from 2004 to 2012.

“We have gained a reputation for providing a phenomenal lineup with a mix of national award-winning bands as well as local groups,” Korenoski said.

“We now have many of these groups calling us to see if they can perform.”

Music is virtually nonstop throughout the event, which draws an estimated 10,000 visitors each year.

“It is very difficult to estimate our attendance each year because it is a free event,” Korenoski said.

The following is the schedule of entertainers for the Friendly City PolkaFest:

May 31

6 p.m.: Don Wojtila Orchestra

7 p.m.: Polka Family Band

8 p.m.: Don Wojtila Orchestra

9 p.m.: Polka Family Band

June 1

1 p.m.: The Rhinelanders

2 p.m.: The Polka Quads

3 p.m.: Polka Family Band

4 p.m.: The Polka Quads

5 p.m.: Polka Family Band

6 p.m.: Don Wojtila Orchestra

7 p.m.: The Maestro’s Men

8 p.m.: Don Wojtila Orchestra

9 p.m.: The Maestro’s Men

June 2

11 a.m.: Polka Mass, featuring John Gora Band

12 p.m.: Johnstown Button Box

1 p.m.: John Gora Band

2:30 p.m.: The Boys

3:30 p.m.: Lenny Gomulka & Chicago Push

4:30 p.m.: The Boys

5:30 p.m.: Lenny Gomulka & Chicago Push

Kick up your heels

What: Friendly City PolkaFest.

Where: St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church, 411 Power St. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.

When: May 31-June 2.

Admission and parking: Free.

Information: 536-7993, 800-237-8590 or www.visitjohnstownpa.com/polkafest.

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