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   Thanksgiving, Cleveland 2010

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IT'S TIME FOR A POLKA PARTY

By Cassandra Shofar

 

Little did Tony Petkovsek realize that as a child the nights he spent living above a tavern hearing polka music blaring through the floorboards would mold the rest of his life.

 

This Fairport Harbor resident soon will be heading into his 50th year on the radio and 47th year hosting America's longest running daily polka radio show.

 

"My knowledge of polka music was that I did play the accordion growing up," Petkovsek said as he geared up for his show Tuesday afternoon. "And I grew up in a tavern, well we lived above it. So I heard it all the time through the walls and floor. It was the music of the day then."

 

Petkovsek said this community was always very active in the polka scene. It was based on the Slovenian melodies, but Frank Yankovic and other similar musicians adopted their own style, putting an American, or more specifically, a Cleveland twist on it.

 

"It's part of my life," he said, leaning back in his chair, enveloped by hundreds of polka tapes and records.

 

"I'm single and I've gotten to see the whole world by promoting polka music and taking bands and people ... through Kollander World Travel."

 

While he said he'll know a year from now what his future holds, he plans to continue with the show — which airs from 2 to 4 p.m. daily and noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on WELW-AM 1330 — and plans to hold a dedication banquet next year for his 50th anniversary.

 

But all of that is irrelevant for Petkovsek at the moment.

 

His most prominent task starts Thursday, hosting the annual Thanksgiving Polka Party at The Marriott in downtown Cleveland.

 

The events, sponsored by Pat O'Brien Chevrolet, start today and run until Saturday and include polka bands and musicians from Canada, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Tennessee, Minnesota and Alaska.

 

There will be an American-Slovenian Polka Foundation Awards Show on Saturday as well as a "Meet the Winners" reception and dance Saturday evening.

 

"I am a drag-along. I live with a man, he calls it a passion, but it's an obsession," said Jeanne Kearney, jesting about the last four years she and her husband, John Hasper, attended the Thanksgiving Polka Party.

 

American-born and raised, Kearney now lives with her husband, who is from the Netherlands, but they always make the long trek for the Cleveland polka party each year.

 

"As soon as (Hasper) discovered eBay, he started buying polka records. My house is just records," she said with a laugh. And while she isn't a huge polka fan, Kearney said the atmosphere alone is enough to make the experience very enjoyable.

 

"I love the people," she said. "I really do love them. It's not anything you've ever seen in your life. And it's happy music. I've never said no to listening to it. I came with trepidation, but now it's vacation for us."

 

For Bob Kravos, who helps organize the party's events and the two overnight jam sessions, it's about the entire culture and his heritage that pulls him to the music.

 

"I'm the great nephew of Frank Yankovic," he said, popping into Petkovsek's house several minutes before he went on the air.

 

"I try to keep up my uncle's legacy. I love the music, my heritage and culture. I play the accordion and have a band called Bob Kravos and the Boys in the Band."

 

For more information about Slovenian and Cleveland-style polka music, visit Hasper's website at www.polkas.nl. For more information about the Thanksgiving party events, visit www.clevelandstyle.com.