Ready, set, polka! Historic Polka Fest brings 15 bands and lots of fans to Black BearAccording to Florian Chmielewski, polka started some 150 years ago when a 15-year-old Czechoslovakian girl set to music the rhythmic marching of soldiers. “She was watching the soldiers, you know how they do that quick catch-up step,” Chmielewski said. “You keep doing that step during the polka.” From Czechoslovakia, the polka spread across Europe, to Poland and Austria, even to the ballrooms in Paris.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
According to Florian Chmielewski, polka started some 150 years ago when a 15-year-old Czechoslovakian girl set to music the rhythmic marching of soldiers.
“She was watching the soldiers, you know how they do that quick catch-up step,” Chmielewski said. “You keep doing that step during the polka.”
From Czechoslovakia, the polka spread across Europe, to Poland and Austria, even to the ballrooms in Paris.
“Johann Strauss seemed to always have a polka beat in everything he did,” said the grand master of polka, the man who’s been making people dance for more than 65 years.
Now the Chmielewski International Polka Fest is coming to the Black Bear Casino Resort. Starting Friday at 11 a.m. and running through Sunday 10 p.m., there will be polka music galore played from morning until night by bands from Wisconsin, Alaska, Oregon, Canada and, of course, Minnesota.
Chmielewski is excited to have a new venue for his annual Polka Fest, and anticipates an even bigger crowd for this year’s event than the 2,000 who danced their way through last year’s event at the Lost Isle.
If anyone would know how to spot a good place to polka, it would be Chmielewski.
Not only has he been playing for more than six decades – usually as part of the Chmielewski Funtime Band with brothers and children and longtime bandmate Lorren Lindevig, all kinds of musically talented loved ones – he’s been organizing the Chmielewski International Polka Fest for 34 years.
It began at the Pine County Fairgrounds in 1977, Chmielewski said, but the festival soon outgrew its birthplace. From there, he took it to the Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington, Minn. When the sports center closed, he moved the festival to Ironworld, in Chisholm. Ironworld was a good fit, and the “extravaganza” of polka music made its home there for 25 years total.
“It looks very promising at Black Bear,” Chmielewski said, adding that the festival will be held in the Otter Creek Event Center at the facility, which will be smoke free and have plenty of room for dancing (as well as seating for 800).
Featured bands include the Top Notchmen, Eddie Karosa and the Boys from Illinois, Alaska Polka Chips, Jolly Zuks, Dr. Keilbasa, Johnny Snidarich, the Singing Slovenes, the John Qwest Band and the Chmielewski Funtime band, among others.
Even though he has some of the best polka musicians in North America playing the festival, dancing is an equally important part of appreciating the lively tunes and remarkable accordion music.
“There will be dancers here from practically every state,” Chmielewski said, “the West Coast, East Coast and, of course, Wisconsin, where the polka is the state dance,” he added, telling how he once played polka music at a high school dance in the Badger State, to the delight of 1,100 teenagers who all knew how to dance to a polka, of course.
There will be dance contests for both the polka and the waltz, held from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, as well as Hall of Fame inductees.
Whether you dance or not, the 34th annual Chmielewski International Polka Fest promises to be a toe-tappin’ good time.