Polkafest returns to Johnstown
BY KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent
Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, in partnership with St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church, will present the 22nd annual PolkaFest May 31 through June 2.
This free, family friendly festival will take place under St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church’s pavilion, located on the corner of 5th and Power Streets in Johnstown’s Cambria City neighborhood.
Once again this year, attendees can expect to be entertained by a wide variety of bands playing Slovenian and Polish music, plus food options around every corner.
“This is the first big festival of the season in town,” said Jayne Korenoski, director of advertising and sales at Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “It attracts locals as well as people from Ohio, Maryland and New York. Everyone is just ready to get out there and dance, eat and mingle.”
This year’s line-up features both new bands and returning favorites.
“A new local band that we’re excited to welcome this year is Johnstown Polka Friends,” Korenoski said. “This band is made up of talented musicians from polka bands that are no longer playing together.”
Grammy nominee Lenny Gomulka and Chicago Push, as well as Polka Family Band and Don Wojtila Orchestra, are some of this year’s popular returning acts.
“People just love these bands,” Korenoski said.
Polka music being polka music also means that people just love to dance, and the St. Mary’s pavilion provides ample space for dancing in front of the stage.
“You see people from every age group dancing,” Korenoski said. “Even if they don’t know how to polka, they improvise. No one judges you. I would definitely call that a non-judgmental dance floor.”
A polka mass featuring The Knewz will be held Sunday morning under the pavilion beginning at 11 at a.m.
“It’s a great mass,” Korenoski said. “The instrumentation that a polka band brings to the hymns and songs makes it really different.”
Vendors will be selling food, drinks and desserts throughout the weekend. Ethnic foods such as kielbasa and pierogis can be purchased inside St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church hall, while other foods, including pizza and ice cream, can be purchased on the grounds outside.
Jewelry and other vendors will also be on-site, and Korenoski said official PolkaFest t-shirts will be for sell.
Korenoski emphasized that this annual festival brings so many people together for a memorable weekend, but it wouldn’t be possible without the support of and partnership with St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church.
“Monsignor (Raymond) Balta and his parishioners at St. Mary’s work so hard,” she said. “They cook all of the ethnic foods and host this event year after year. Having it under their pavilion is the perfect venue for this event.”
For more information about the festival, visit www.visitjohnstownpa.com/polkafest or call 800-237-8590.
The festival will be held rain or shine.
Korenoski said she hopes all attendees enjoy the “happy atmosphere” that PolkaFest offers.
This year’s schedule is as follows (please note that the following bands and their respective time slots are subject to change without notice): Friday: Rosie and the Jammers from 4:30 to 6 p.m.; Don Wojtila Orchestra from 6 to 7 p.m.; Polka Family Band from 7 to 8 p.m.; Don Wojtila Orchestra from 8 to 9 p.m. and Polka Family Band from 9 to 10 p.m. Saturday: Johnstown Area Button Box Club from noon to 1 p.m.; Johnstown Polka Friends from 1 to 2 p.m.; Box on Band from 2 to 3 p.m.; Don Wojtila Orchestra from 3 to 4 p.m.; Box on Band from 4 to 5 p.m.; Don Wojtila Orchestra from 5 to 6 p.m.; Polka Family Band from 6 to 7 p.m.; Lenny Gomulka and Chicago Push from 7 to 8 p.m.; Polka Family Band from 8 to 9 p.m. and Lenny Gomulka and Chicago Push from 9 to 10 p.m. Sunday: polka mass from 11 a.m. to noon with The Knewz; Johnstown Polka Friends from noon to 1 p.m.; The Knewz from 1 to 2 p.m.; Box on Band from 2 to 3 p.m.; The Knewz from 3 to 4 p.m. and Box on Band from 4 to 5 p.m.