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Issue Date: November 2011


Polka Spot

As the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame readies for its Nov. 26 awards ceremony, organizer Tony Petkovsek talks about our city's second most famous musical export.
Chuck Bowen

If the name Yankovic instantly reminds you of "Weird Al," it's time to hang up the Hawaiian shirts and find some suspenders. To polkaphiles, Cleveland is known as the home of the late Frankie Yankovic, America's Polka King.

If you listen to Tony Petkovsek's afternoon radio show on 1330 WELW, you already know this. He has been promoting polka music on the radio here for the past 50 years.

Every Thanksgiving weekend, Petkovsek brings busloads of polka lovers to town for the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame awards ceremony. The hall's 1,500 members vote in 12 categories, including band of the year, song of the year and the lifetime achievement award. This year, the weekend includes a festival featuring 15 polka bands and a Nov. 26 awards ceremony at Euclid High School auditorium.

We caught up with Petkovsek to talk Cleveland-style polka, get some listening suggestions and ask what he thinks about the Grammys dropping the music he loves.

Q. How is Cleveland-style polka different from other styles?

A. Polish-style polka is more a big band with trumpets and other fine instrumentation. Cleveland is more basic with accordions and a rhythm section — bass, sax, clarinet, maybe a piano — but not trumpets. German and Bohemian styles will have more of a brassy sound.

Q. I know nothing about polka. What are some albums or artists I should check out?

A. The biggest-selling album over the course of time has been the Polka Mass, which was promoted by a priest in Minnesota. This has been the major seller. They take the familiar melodies, many of which are folk songs, and they adapt the lyrics for the various parts of the Mass. It came out in the early 1970s. There are polka Masses all over the place. It's not done regularly, but we'll have one at our festival in November. We have a bishop that does it. The promoting priest from Minnesota, [The Rev.] Frank Perkovich, comes into town.

Q. What about modern polka acts?

A. Some popular bands these days are Joey Tomsick; Bob Kravos, who is Yankovic's great nephew; Eddie Rodick; and Don Wojtila.

Q. How did you feel about the Grammys eliminating the polka category in 2009?

A. A lot of polka players and their followers protested it. It did add a lot of promotion to polka music. ... [But] they just eliminated it — boom! You had a Polish band that dominated it, Jimmy Sturr, a first-class band, but he was winning it every year.

Q. What's it take to get into the Hall of Fame?

A. Generally, it's the middle-age to older folks who have been around for a long time, who have devoted their lifetime to it. ... You have to preserve that. The Hall of Fame always will be a place for people to research it, and it'll be around. If we didn't establish that, it would maybe get lost.

MORE INFO clevelandstyle.com


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