The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Vision 2013

April 28, 2013

Festivals draw scores to Johnstown

JOHNSTOWN — The festival season gets off to a rousing start with one of Johnstown’s most popular events, 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 preparing to welcome thousands of polka enthusiasts to the city May 31 through June 2.

Jayne Korenoski, the visitors bureau’s advertising and sales director, called the event one of the top five festivals in Johnstown.

“We view this as the first major event of the summer season, where people can get outside and enjoy a true celebration of the region’s heritage,” Korenoski said.

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

The Friendly City PolkaFest began in 1998 when “Polish Bill” and Deb Marano pursued a dream of creating a Polka Festival in Johnstown.

The Maranos, both polka veterans with their own radio show, knew Johnstown’s strong ethnic heritage would provide a perfect welcome mat for the event.

“Polish Bill” approached the Johnstown Business District Coalition, and with its promotional efforts and financial backing, the group helped launch a successful event.

In 1999, PolkaFest attracted about 1,500 participants.

In the fall of 1999, the visitors bureau assumed coordination and promotional responsibilities of the event.

“Polish Bill” remained chairman of the event.

PolkaFest regularly attracts as many as 10,000 participants to see nationally acclaimed musicians perform Polish and Slovenian-style polkas and waltzes.

People come from throughout the country to enjoy PolkaFest.

“We do have more and more buses coming to PolkaFest,” Korenoski said. “Many of these performers, some of whom are Grammy Award winners, have a loyal following and travel the county to see their favorites.”

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

Organizers are pleased that by blending polka bands and ethnic food, visitors can sample old-world traditions in Cambria City, which is a National Register Historical District.

“I also think people just want to get out following winter’s wrath,” Korenoski said. “It’s one big Polka Party – Johnstown style.”

A wooden dance floor provides the perfect platform for dancing to the continuous sounds of some extraordinary performers.

Other perks visitors will enjoy about PolkaFest are its no admission fee and free parking.

PolkaFest includes food, craft and merchandise vendors and ethnic specialties prepared and served by members of St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church.

The menu includes crowd favorites such as kielbasa, pierogi, haluski and cabbage rolls.

Seating is available, but guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.

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

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