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Dance Time
by Jennifer Pijanowski
© 2017 Polish American Journal

IPA Showcases Talent at 49th Annual Convention

I cannot think of a better way to end the summer than by enjoying some of the greatest bands in the polka industry with several hundred friends. The International Polka Association held its 49th annual convention at the Millenium Hotel in Cheektowaga over the Labor Day weekend. The hard work and dedication of the IPA, its board, directors, electors, and other volunteers was apparent as each part of the event was strategically planned. A prestigious facet of the weekend’s events is always the awards banquet, held on Saturday morning. Honorees are inducted into the IPA polka Hall of Fame, and accolades are given to the year’s favorite musicians, bands, songs, and individuals.

This year’s Hall of Fame inductees included Andy Fenus, Fred Ziwich, Marge Machay, and Elmer Schneid, with the Pioneer award being bestowed upon Buffalo native Ed Kutas, Sr.

Kutas was a promoter in the Buffalo area who originally starting bringing live polka bands to Western New York. Being the proprietor of the Warsaw Inn, located on the East Side of Buffalo, gave him the opportunity to promote many bands including Marion Lush, Eddie B, and Lil’ Wally — all of whom frequently jammed at his venue after their gigs. The Kutas family carries on that family tradition at Polish Villa I and II by offering warm Polish hospitality, delicious food, and showcasing polka music several times a year.

At the dinner, each inductee and award winner gets a chance to speak and each story underscores the passion these leaders in the polka world have for their trade. Andy Fenus humbly accepted his award giving much praise to his brother Steve, who has been playing and singing alongside him since the band’s inception in 1954. I have very fond memories of making the trip to see the Trel Tones at Fiedors Grove to enjoy those sweet brotherly harmonies. Another inductee Fred Ziwich, a Cleveland native, took time to read every single bio from each inductee of the polka hall of fame before accepting his award. Fred started taking accordion lessons at age five and since has also become proficient at drums, saxophone, button box, & clarinet. His ability to play any type of polka is evident on over 1,200 recorded musical selections.

I would be remiss if I did not mention one other inductee. Marge Machay was one of the honorees in the deceased category. As dear friend Tish Blazonczyk spoke of her commitment to polka music, it was clear that Marge was an incredible, selfless person who was committed to the continuation of polka music. Owning and operating first the landmark Polonia Grove and later Polonia Banquets, which showcased polka bands as well serving on the IPA Executive board, are just a couple of the things Marge did to strengthen the music. The IPA Hall of Fame is actually located on the second floor of Polonia Banquets, which is still operated by the Machay family. In accepting her award, Marge’s twin grandsons did a spectacular job expressing their pride and happiness in a tribute to their grandmother. There was not a dry eye in the house as one of the boys read a poem which was read at Marge’s funeral — the comparison of our lives to a train ride that resonated with everyone in the room. It was a breathtaking moment which I was grateful that I got to witness.

Polka music was the center of the celebration as John Gora and Freeze Dried kicked off the Friday night event. John, joined by a huge ensemble of musicians, kept fans dancing and entertained with his talent, quick wit, and charismatic personality. Freeze Dried and its unique style gave folks an opportunity to enjoy the not-so-traditional polka sounds for which they are well-known. These two bands set the tone for what was to be a spectacular weekend.

Saturday started off with a pool party featuring Stephanie. If you have been reading this column for any length of time, you will know that Stephanie is one of my favorites. Her honky beat and ability to crank those old Wanda and Stephanie hits always keeps polka lovers entertained. Afterwards, it was full-fledged polka time in the ballroom featuring The Project, IPA Tribute Band, and Lenny Gomulka & the Chicago Push.

The Project’s new recording, which dropped in May, has created quite a buzz. Many were waiting with anticipation to watch this incredible band perform and they were well worth the wait. At one point, the band sang the Krew Brother’s original “Judy Polka” and after finishing spotted Tony Krew in the crowd. They quickly gave him props and, bringing him onto the stage, performed the song once again with Tony singing lead vocals. That is a wonderful memory that will stay with me for years to come.

IPA Tribute Band is created by talented musicians who pay homage to all of the polka greats. The second set of this band’s performance at the IPA convention has become a showcase for old and new inductees into the hall of fame to come join the band for a song or two. Andy Fenus stepped up and brought his brother Steven as well to play a few honky songs with the band. There is much respect for these musicians who allow these Hall of Famers to shine on their special weekend. Next we were all in for a treat as Fred Ziwich took the stage, first performing a Slovenian song on the button box. For his second song, he showcased his own arrangement of clarinet polka playing his amazing arrangement both the clarinet and sax during the song. Many other hall of famers joined the band as well, including Stephanie, Fred Bulinski, Randy Koslosky, Mark Trzepacz, Ed Guca, and Mike Nowakowski.

Lenny Gomulka has maintained his spot as a favorite polka band for years — and with good reason. The band is extremely talented, entertaining, and appreciative of their fans. Song after song this band gave the crowd exactly what they wanted. The dance floor and the front of bandstand were constantly packed during their performances. Even with decades of performing at the biggest events worldwide, Lenny’s sincerity and passion for the music hasn’t tarnished.

Sunday kicked the last day off right with the Pro Am Jam which continues to grow in numbers, year after year. The future of polka music is bright when you see the exciting talent that is so evident. Congratulations to Randy Koslosky on having a vision for this youth jam and turning it into an event that both participants and onlookers enjoy equally. What a thrill for these youths to [play alongside musicians that many of them idolize. Later, the ballroom rocked with The Boys, Music Company, The Knewz, and Polka Country Musicians. The convention committee of IPA had a strategy in mind when booking this Sunday lineup, as it was a must-see for all polka lovers. Fans were in high gear into the wee hours of Monday morning after this spectacular lineup.

The International Polka Association will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary next Labor Day at the Millennium, so make plans to attend. There’s little doubt that they will have an impressive celebration planned for its golden anniversary.

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