Polka festivals: a sure sign of spring

PolkaCover_1rev2Almost all states with an official dance choose the square dance, but not Wisconsin. Not by a longshot.

We picked the polka in 1993, as a nod to ethnic heritage, but the dance doesn’t acknowledge just German ancestry. “Polka Heartland: Why the Midwest Loves to Polka” (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $30) by folk music historian Rick March and photographer Dick Blau explains the passion and pride behind the oompah-pahs that stay especially popular in central and southeastern parts of the state.

“Polka is the distinctive music for a Milwaukee fish fry, and despite the fact that today only a few diners are likely to be skilled polka dancers, the music remains an expected part of the experience for many,” the author writes. He mentions Lakefront Brewery’s boisterous beer hall fish fry as an example. (It’s 5:30-8:30 p.m. Friday only, with music by the Polka Kings. lakefrontbrewery.com, 414-292-0808)

We bounce or shuffle to “Beer Barrel Polka” during the seventh inning stretch of Milwaukee Brewer baseball games and turn the Budweiser theme song into a reason to polka during the Fifth Quarter of University of Wisconsin Badger football games.

We chant “Who the hell is Alice?” at county fairs, but not outdoor polka masses on Sundays. It doesn’t matter if you prefer the Polish hop, German schottische, polka-tempered Mexican music or simply listening at Kochanski’s Concertina Bar in Milwaukee, Martin’s Tap in New Berlin, Laack’s Ballroom in Johnsonville, Amerahn’s Ballroom in Kewaskum or The Blue Top in Stevens Point.

The polka is a sweaty workout, a friendly dance of courtship, a reason to step out solo with a baby in your arms. Spring is the season for reconditioning polka feet as toe-tapping festivals pop up from Wisconsin Dells to Oconomowoc.

“By June, all hell breaks loose” with regard to bookings, says “Tuba Dan” Jerabek of Oshkosh, president of the Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame and a longstanding polka meister, best known as bass horn player in the Dick Rodgers Orchestra, then leader of the Tuba Dan Band. He has hosted the weekend morning “Tuba Dan Polka Show” on WRPN-AM 1600 for about 45 years.

Will the polka fade away as dancers age? Tuba Dan does his part to prevent that by directing the Polka Dots, a 28-piece piece polka band at Carl Traeger Middle School. Son Dave directs a polka band at Winneconne High School.

“They show up every Tuesday morning, for an hour before classes, to practice,” Tuba Dan says, of his students. He also has organized polka music concerts as school fundraisers. Musicians donate their time, and schools hop away at least $800 apiece.

Every November, the Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame inducts more polka kings and queens, based on votes cast by polka enthusiasts. Dues are $10 per year or $100 for a lifetime membership. wisconsinpolkahalloffame.com

“It’s almost like a presidential election,” Tuba Dan says, about the voting. But certainly not as nasty.

Polka dancing is commonplace in Green County, especially on the maple dance floor of Turner Hall, 1217 17th Ave., Monroe, during most Sunday afternoons. Admission is $10. turnerhallofmonroe.org, 608-325-3461

“Polka for the Swiss,” a fundraiser for the nonprofit Swiss Center of North America, is 3-7 p.m. April 17 at New Glarus Hotel Restaurant, 100 Sixth Ave., New Glarus. Admission is $10. Save room for cheese fondue. theswisscenter.org/who-we-are-2, 608-527-6565

Look for polka in the Mayville Park Pavilion, 475 Park St., Mayville, from 1-5 p.m. April 9, 16 and 23. mayvillecity.com, 920-387-7988

The annual Wisconsin Dells Polka Fest at Chula Visa Resort, 2501 River Rd., is April 22-24. Admission is $12 on April 24 to $40 for a weekend pass. Festival admission, two nights of lodging and buffet breakfasts costs $170 per person, based on double occupancy. dellspolkafest.com, 877-624-0685

A World of Accordions Museum, 1401 Belknap St., Superior, is open 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Admission is $10. The fourth annual Willard Palmer Festival (a music scholar, composer) begins at 6 p.m. May 4 in the concert hall of the museum, a former church and home to at least 1,300 simple to rare accordions. worldofaccordions.org, 715-395-2787

The 2016 Polka Pow Wow is May 7-8 in Stevens Point and marks 159 years of local Polish heritage. Admission is $15 on May 7 at Moose Family Center, 1025 Second St. North, and $10 on May 8 at The Blue Top (inside Rookies Sports Bar), 3425 Church St. polkapowwow.com

The Blue Top also hosts the annual Spring Polka Fest from 5-11 p.m. April 16. Admission is $12. rookiessportspub.com, 715-344-7026

Ten bands perform Dutchmen, Polish, Czech, Slovenian and German music on two wooden dance floors at the Wisconsin State Polka Festival, May 12-15 at Olympia Resort, 1350 Royale Mile Rd., Oconomowoc. Expect a dance exhibition and polka at the Sunday church service. It’s $40 for a three-day pass or $15 for one day. Ages under 14 years are free. wisconsinpolkaboosters.com, 262-894-6998

The 41st annual Ellsworth Polka Fest is July 8-10 on two wooden dance floors at Pierce County Fairgrounds, 364 N. Maple St., Ellsworth. Tickets are $11 (for July 24) to $37 (for a three-day pass). Grounds are open for camping that weekend. Expect pancake breakfasts by Vietnam vets and barbecue chicken dinners from the Lions Club. pressenter.net/~epolka, 715-273-5596

The 38th annual Pulaski Polka Days, July 21-24, which includes music from many bands, dance lessons, a dance contest, parade and the 5-kilometer Polka Trot. Stay tuned for ticket prices. pulaskipolkadays.com, 920-822-1192

Need a warm-up for all that hoofing? Admission is $10 to the Spring Polka Dance, 6-11 p.m. tonight (April 9) at Zielinski’s Ballroom, 149 W. Pulaski St., Pulaski. 920-822-5665.