Thanksgiving Polka Party – Cleveland, Ohio USA – November 2011
Article by Mary Lou Downs & Charlie Tomecek
"Thanksgiving Polka Party 2011"
How lucky we Canadians are to be able to observe two Thanksgiving celebrations -
the Canadian one in October and the American one in November. The Thanksgiving Polka
Party in Cleveland OH is always a highlight of our year. Charlie and I organize
a bus group to go to Cleveland for the three-day festival which runs from Thursday
through Saturday. This year was a milestone in that Tony Petkovsek, polka promoter
extraordinaire, is celebrating his 70th birthday, his 50th year as a polka radio
DJ, and his well-deserved retirement. And what a retirement party it was! Three
days of non-stop polka music by the best bands and performers of Cleveland-style
polkas and waltzes were enjoyed by a sell-out crowd. There were no more rooms available
in the Marriott Hotel and no more tickets for the festivities. Upon arrival in Cleveland
on Thursday, our bus group went directly to Sterle's Slovenian Restaurant for their
huge family-style dinner. Roast turkey and dressing, pork roast with mashed potatoes
and gravy, and of course schnitzel - and all the fixings! While feasting we were
entertained by Fred Ziwich who is famous for his large repertoire of music styles
and his incredible talent. What a thrill for me to have him pull his stool up to
our table and sing two different "Mary Lou" polka songs for me as a birthday treat.
Fred is a full-time musician and teacher and has been involved as music arranger
and director at the Polka Hall of Fame awards show for many years. And he does a
spectacular job of that. When we were finished eating, our group the Button Box
Buddies which consists of Andy Miinch, Dennis Uhlik, Charlie and me, enjoyed a small
jam session with the Grkman family. Joe, Steve, and Mike Grkman , fabulous musicians
all, were outshone by seven year old Ben on bass guitar and two year old Luca on
miniature button box, but I guess they are used to their young ones stealing the
show. The lobby of the hotel rings with polka music as people are arriving and checking
in - Linda Lee Brown and the Wayne Tomsic Combo put people right into the polka mood.
Music had already started in the main ballroom by the time of our arrival and it
was continuous until midnight, with one band after another taking the stage. You
can see the band line-up elsewhere on this website so I won't repeat. There is also
entertainment going on in the Superior room adjacent to the main ballroom. and people
mingling throughout the hallways greeting friends they haven't seen in a while. Even
after the formal program ends, the Superior room is available for jamming all night
long and there are parties going on in many private suites. It is a joyful time.
Friday morning, Charlie and I joined some friends for breakfast at Barristers, a
nearby restaurant. Even breakfast turned into a party with John Gerl & Kathy Paulenich,
Andy & Cecile Miinch, Dennis & Beth Uhlik, Gary Bouc, Frank & Joyce Okicki and us.
Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ontario were all represented! Then we were back
to the Marriott Hotel where Charlie and I organize a jam session for our bus group.
Along with Andy and Denny our Button Box Buddies, musicians were Joe & Mike Grkman,
Frank Moravcik, Linda Hochevar, Frank Svet, Ken Dowling, Mike Masten, and more. There
were about 20 musicians in all. A number of us headed over to Cebar's Euclid Tavern
to enjoy the Rodick Jamfest. Eddie and Kim Rodick organized this event and invited
our group to play. The place was jumping by the time we got there and packed with
talent. We love jamming with Ron Likovic, button box maestro. This jamfest is what
I imagine the Cleveland bars to be like in the "old days". Apparently there were
polka bars everywhere in the heyday of polka music, so we are happy to be able to
experience something that we missed in our youth. What a great time! Then all too
soon we returned to the Marriott Hotel for the program and non-stop music there.
As it happened, the night ended with a huge button box jam session in the lobby.
We got to play with some real stars - Ronnie Likovic, Alex Meixner, Andy Miinch,
Dennis Uhlik, Tom Borris and Jim Savastano of the Fairport Jammers, and others. We
left to go to bed at 1:30 and they were still going strong. After checkout on Saturday
the bus headed over to the Czechoslovakian Sokol Club of Cleveland where we played
music led by Bonnie Weber and danced in their ballroom, followed by a delicious pork
roast dinner. The Polka Hall of Fame awards show is the climax of the weekend -
the academy awards of Cleveland-style polka music. This year the theme was not only
about honoring the musicians but also Tony Petkovsek retiring after 50 years as radio
and internet DJ. Check out the winners and pictures elsewhere on this website. It
was a wonderful program and a fitting tribute to a man who has dedicated his life
to the music. Serenading us all the way home on the bus with more wonderful accordion
music were Andy Miinch, Dennis Uhlik, and Mike Mahler - a wonderful way to end a
polka journey. Let's do it again next year!!