The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 31, 2010

Polish proud | Vinco man keeping heritage alive through polka music

Bill Marano of Vinco is 100 percent Polish and  proud of it.

“You have to be proud of your heritage,” said Marano, better known as “Polish Bill.”

“You have to keep it alive and not lose it, because those were the good old days when everyone was with one another and everyone was family.”

Marano was nicknamed “Polish Bill” when he was a Boy Scout.

When he needed a handle 23 years ago as a disc jockey and he was playing predominately Polish music, it seemed fitting that “Polish Bill” was the way to go.

“Nobody knows me as Bill Marano, it’s ‘Polish Bill,’ ” he said.

“I even get mail that is addressed to ‘Polish Bill.’ ”

Marano, and his wife, Deb, who serves as his producer, host a polka music radio show from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on WNTJ-FM, but he doesn’t limit what he plays to one ethnic group.

"Johnstown is really populated with many ethnic heritages, so I play about 75 percent Polish music along with some Slovak, Croatian, Italian   and German songs,” he said.

It takes Marano more than one hour to sort through his collection of 1,500 songs to choose what he wants to play each week.

He did the show live, but now it is taped and he is in the studio every Thursday, recording voice tracks.

“Polka music is a tradition on Sundays for many people,” he said.

“It’s the music you grew up with and the music you love to hear.”

In addition, the “Polish Pride” TV show airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on Atlantic Broadband Channel 9, featuring edited versions of past local festivals or performances.

But Marano wanted to do more to bring Polish music to the masses and to expose the style to a younger generation that may have never heard the music.

It was out of that desire that the Friendly City PolkaFest was established 13 years ago.

“Polka music has come a long way,” Marano said.

“The bands of today are putting a rock-type beat to the music, but the older people can still dance to it, so it’s the best of both worlds.”

The first year the festival was held at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena and attracted 350 people.

In the following years, it took place at the Johnstown Masonic Temple and now at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in the Cambria City section of Johns-town.

This year drew a record-breaking 10,000 people to the event.

“I never imagined this would become what it is today,” Marano said.

“I thought it was great when we had 350 people the first year.”

This past year’s festival boasted 10 bands, including nationally known and awarding-winning artists from across the country.

“When we started, we were trying to book the best bands we could get, and now we have a waiting list and people are calling us,” Marano said.

Local bands featured included Rosie & the Jammers, the Rhinelanders and Johnstown Button Box.

“We had an outstanding lineup this year,” Marano said.

Marano gives a lot of credit for the success of PolkaFest to the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which assists in coordinating and promoting the event.

“They really have helped us to get in touch with people and spread the word,” he said.

The June event continues to grow in popularity and has been prominently featured in Polka Times, a monthly publication out of Farrell, Mercer County.

“It was my dream to have a free event and see this many people coming to Johnstown,” Marano said.

“I think we have put Johnstown on the polka map.”

Marano said he has no plans to slow down and will continue to share his love of polka music with everyone who cares to listen.

“God be willing, I’ll be doing this until I’m 120 and keeping that Polish blood flowing,” he said.

“There is just something about polka music, I never get tired of it and it perks you up and the next thing you know you’re smiling, clapping your hands and snapping your fingers.”


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