By Mary Lou Downs & Charlie Tomecek

Chatham, Ontario, Canada.


We go to many music festivals and dances in Canada and the United States, and we thought it might be nice to let others know of the fun times we have, the wonderful musicians we get to hear, and the great friends we have made through our common love of this wonderful happy music.  First though, we will tell you a little bit about ourselves.


My name is Mary Lou Downs and I’m a sixth generation Canadian, born to parents of English and Irish descent.  Although I inherited my love of music from my mother who played the violin, I was never exposed to accordion music, so the ethnic music I enjoy today is relatively new to me.  My husband Charlie Tomecek, was born in Canada to parents who emigrated from the Moravian region of Czechoslovakia in the early 1920’s.   Accordion music and Czech folk-dancing have always been a part of his life.  We have been married for twenty years and recently retired from our everyday work lives. We live in Chatham Ontario Canada which is situated (luckily for us) about one hour from the Windsor/Detroit United States border.


We have always loved to dance.  In 2002, Charlie and I attended a dinner-dance at the Slovene American Club (SAC) in Melvindale Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, and it was here that we were exposed to the Cleveland-style music and button accordions. On our first visit to Slovenefest, the big three-day festival at the Slovene Recreation Center in Enon Valley Pennsylvania, Charlie bought himself a beautiful Melodija button box, and a year later at the same festival we bought one for me. We are still novice players but the fun is in the learning!


Watching the Melvindale Button Box Club entertain the crowd inspired Charlie and I to start a monthly polka jam in Chatham as a means to learn to play and to gain exposure to the music.  Charlie has always had great organizational and promotional skills, so he put these skills to use.  He called everyone he knew who played accordion or polka music, found a drummer, arranged for a venue – and in November of 2002 the monthly polka jams were born.  They have continued ever since.  Once a month (except during the winter) we have from fifteen to twenty musicians come out to play together at the Kent Belgium Dutch Hall (KBD Hall) and we usually entertain anywhere from 60 to 100 people.  Polkas and waltzes are the basic music with some two-step (fox-trots) and latin added for spice.  It is the only function of its kind in all of Southwestern Ontario.


Another event that we organize is the annual “Polkas in the Park” in Chatham that evolved from a music party we had at our home.  It was such a success that we formed a committee to assist with the preparations and the next year we moved the venue to a municipal park.  Originally started as a Czech and Slovak musicfest because of Charlie’s heritage, it continued to grow each year with attendees and musicians from all other ethnic nationalities.  Soon it was realized that in order for the event to continue to flourish, the music would have to reflect the diverse ethnic backgrounds of many European immigrants.  Today the festival includes among others, the music of Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Poland, Germany, and of course the “Cleveland-style” music of Ohio and Pennsylvania.   Again, it is a jam session, although structured to feature various bands and individuals. It has grown every year since inception and this year we expect to have over 1,000 people into Tecumseh Park in Chatham for the day.  It is always held on the last Sunday in July so in 2009 will take place on July 26.   Our DJ friend from WNZK in Detroit, Dan Coppens, brings a busload of polka-lovers and broadcasts his radio show, The Sunday Polka Party, from the park that day.


Charlie and I have been instrumental in putting together bus trips to some of our favorite polka festivals –  including the Memorial Day Polka festival in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, and the Thanksgiving Polka Party in Cleveland in November.  Together with Dan Coppens, radio and internet polka DJ from Detroit, we have expanded this so that now there are two busloads and a waiting list each year.  We also write a column entitled “Squeeze Play” in the Polka Times monthly newspaper.


Although it has come later in our lives, Charlie and I are avid promoters of the polka and waltz music that we enjoy so much.  We are awed and amazed at the many talented musicians who are in this music business and we would like to see these people achieve the recognition and stature that they deserve.  We hear so many stories about the old days when the dance halls were packed and the musicians were treated like rock stars.   Things have changed since then, but we believe that we can all do our part to keep this music alive.  Because the internet has a world-wide audience, Polkas.nl is a wonderful instrument for promoting that wonderful Cleveland-style music that Charlie and I love.  We want to thank John for devoting so much time to this website - we know it is a labor of love.


Mary Lou & Charlie.


     Squeeze Play

Charlie Tomecek & Mary Lou Downs

A little bit of Biography



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